Thursday, June 9, 2011

Telly Finales: Which Got It Right and Which Got It Less-Right

Finales are tricky things.

Hell. Writing in general is tricky.

But I think finales are particularly important. They should tease a person. They should force the viewer to anticipate the return.

They should, in fact, torture a person with the agony of wondering what happens next.

Unfortunately, shows tend to have a very narrow definition of what it takes to get the audience to that hunger.

It's not surprising -- narrow is "safe" and "safe" usually means more money.

It's a difficult tension that telly has to navigate. But really good telly navigates it well.

Like in crafting a story in general, there are two broad elements that can drive a finale: plot and character. I prefer character stories myself because I find them to be more substantive, but as with all things, whatever floats your boat. I'll be looking at the finales from both of these elements.

I only have a few television shows I watch regularly (or somewhat regularly -- SGU pissed me off to no end with it's non-hulu streaming and then the crappy quality on its site, I just waited for netflix to stream it and finished watching it today, so I know I'm way behind on the real finales).

So here we go:


Glee is a guilty pleasure of mine even though I think the show has its issues. However, looking at it from a strictly craft perspective, I have to say that Glee's finale failed as a finale. It didn't rip my heart a new one (like another did), and that was nice not having to pick up the pieces (again), but even happy-ish finales can still produce that hunger for more. And Glee still failed in that regard.

The lack of character development really crippled the ability for Glee to craft a story that would make an audience hunger for what happens next (obviously, it makes the audience want more, but that's a different sort of want -- it's more of a this-is-tasty-let's-have-some-more, not an agony, I guess).

So, even though people are saying "i love you" and characters are suddenly together that never had any real chemistry before just becomes part of the normal scenery that Glee is in the habit of lobbing at the viewer. Basically, there is no resonance (well, for me, obviously) between myself and the people on the screen. I am not emotionally attached to people (well, except for Kurt), so at the finale ends, I'm not really hurting that I won't be seeing these characters for a few months.

Therefore there is no agony regarding the welfare of these people either on a plot or emotional level. Character development stalled out long before season 1 even finished its run -- I see no reason why season 3 should change its tune now (so that even rules out hope for something new). I fully expect to see the same melodrama in different clothes spun out in season 3 that was rehashed in season 2 and trotted out in season 1.

But it'll be done in song, so it'll be worth it.

Even the plot wasn't all that surprising. They couldn't win nationals because then there wouldn't be plot stakes for season 3. And, because there are only so many plots available to a high school glee club, there isn't really a lot of ground that hasn't been covered.

Unless they do something daring and surprising in which case -- more power to them!


I lurve Castle in the same way I lurve me some pie. Which is, I'm fond of pie. But I'm not like Dean-Winchester-in-Love-with-Pie.

I can survive without pie.

Castle is one of the more fun procedural shows (which I generally despise) for me to watch. But unfortunately, there isn't a lot of character development that goes on. So, the finale fell back on plot -- oh, no! Beckett's been shot!

But really, the viewer can't really feel anxious about her welfare because the chances that she'll live are high -- if she were to die, the atmosphere of the show would be drastically changed. The tenor would be different.

It would be a huge risk to kill off Beckett -- and if next season takes it, good for them.

But Castle plays it safe. So, even though I'm looking forward to its return, I'm not agonizing over it. The only real stake is if Beckett Will Live Or Die -- and as I've already explained, it's not much of a stake.


For procedural shows I supposedly hate, I seem to watch a few of them, don't I?

I haven't really cared much for this season of Bones -- I'm not sure why. Something's missing. But the finale bugged me -- Angela had her baby, Booth and Bones dressed up as these ridiculous characters undercover, and then Bones ends up telling Booth that she's pregnant.

It's probably just my thing against pregnancy story lines. But just for the record, I find it out of character that Bones wasn't on birth control.

I'm not really sure what the stakes are supposed to be here -- how Bones' and Booth's relationship will develop? I feel like this question has posed before though.

Anyway, the episode itself was meh. The question it poses is meh and a bit stale.


Oh Fringe. You know I love you. Fringe had a good season finale I thought -- it opened up new avenues of tension that hadn't been able to be explored before because of how the universes were so separated. But now they're not. That opens up a whole new world of conflict. So that's good--that's always good.

But then they made a mistake (I think from a craft perspective) of erasing Peter's character (I haven't kept up with the spoilers, but I'm assuming he's coming back?). But even if the character does return, taking him away essentially "reset" a lot of character development, especially in the case of Olivia.

So she used to be hard and emotionally closed off, but Peter helped break her out of that. Without Peter in her life, logically, her character should be reset to Pre-Peter.

If it's not reset, then there's issues with the plot and the rules its established. And that's never fun.


SGU had so much potential. And even though I wanted to shake their shoulders over the "Epilogue" episode (where their Other!Selves established a colonization) because they still had the girls in pioneering skirts instead of pants (they were wearing pants on the ship! why would they revert to wearing skirts when that's less practical -- so fucking gendered) and for not showing Ray's date (even though showed whom everyone else ended up with -- I don't care that Ray never got together with anyone but I do want to know who the mysterious "she" was) and for that terrible montage of women giving birth -- alkjadsfkldfsa.

deep breath.

SGU had its flaws.

But it had a beautiful finale. I'm going to classify it as happy, simply because it didn't make me want to pick up the pieces of my heart (again).

The plot is relatively simple -- if it had been renewed it would have opened up opportunities for new tensions, just as with Fringe. So, plot-wise, strong.

Its real strength, though, were its character moments. Eli comes into his own. And it's so beautiful the newfound confidence he has. And, as I was watching it (I hadn't realized I was on the last episode since I had lost count), I couldn't wait to see how his development would affect the other characters around him.

How would he handle himself when he exited the honey-moon period of newfound confidence? Would he regress? Would he change into something new, something great, something dangerous? Could he eventually replace Young as the captain of the ship? How would he and Rush get along? Sure, Rush seems okay with it for now, but there's nothing he can do about it, not when they have to make it for three years.

Oh, and yeah, plot question here -- does Eli survive? Does he manage to fix the pod? If he didn't, would he have had the courage to kill himself?

These are all questions I want answered.

And I will never get them answered because the finale ended on that final moment of endless possibility.

It torture knowing that I'll never see those possibilities explored.

And yes, this is probably the most surprising of the finales. When I was watching the season, I saw its potential, I saw it finding its feet, but I wasn't expecting the quality that the finale delivered.

It was a pleasant surprise.


The other finales focused on Sam and Dean which, despite my love for Supernatural, was a bit "safe." I mean, the show is about Sam and Dean. No matter what, they're going to pull through all right -- physically and characteristically speaking (not that I find the soulless!Sam plot a waste of time, all these moments of exploration are good too, but they provide different kinds of satisfaction than what a finale should provide, I think).

So focusing their what-happens-now moment on the third character that has grown by leaps and bounds and is positively one of the most beautiful and purest characters in the history of the show was a brilliant move, craft-wise.

Story-wise, it just broke my heart to fucking pieces.

I like the shift from "what-will-happen-to-Sam-and-Dean" to "what-will-happen-to-the-state-of-Cas's-character?" because there are real stakes there.

And it just seems to escalate, even though I'm trying not to take whatever I hear too seriously. Knowing that Cas was supposed to die at the end of season 6, knowing that Collins has been demoted from regular to guest just increases the anticipation.

Especially since the stakes are actually two-fold:

will Castiel die either as the Big Bad or in some other fashion early in the season?

and, the more important one to me,

will Castiel be redeemed in character whether or not he dies physically?

And that's torture.

So even though the finale just pounded me bloody (and it's still bleeding my heart, I think about Supernatural all the time), I think it was a really good move from a craft perspective.

The agony of not knowing whether Castiel will survive in tact (character wise, especially) is almost overwhelming for me.

And then of course, this question also affects the show's core too: how will it affect Dean's relationship with Cas -- and even Sam's, to an extent. Because he just stabbed the person he said he'd die for -- doing that does things to a person.

Then of course, there's also the plot element of the wall in Sam's brain being removed, and how he's gonna deal with that trauma.

Yeah. Having Cas become God is serving double and triple duty all connected to plot and character elements that are just pregnant with possibility.

I just hope they succeed in following it up and choose not to retreat into "safe and easy" territory. Which I don't think they will, it just wouldn't make sense from a craft perspective, but hey. Shit happens all the time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Doctor Who: The Story That Almost Was

So I just finished watching "The Almost People." I know this must disqualify me from being a true fan, but ever since my publishing class, I'm reluctant to download something illegally.

No wait.

That bit's a lie to make me seem more respectable.

I actually just got tired of seeing my favorite telly cancelled for lack of viewership.

So I try to keep it all right and proper, straight and narrow, all on the level, as they say.

So, in general, I don't like reviewing double-parters (or, as in this instance, tri-parters) -- because it's just not fair to judge something without all the facts.

But I have to say, this arc with The Gangers -- just did not do it for me.

At all.

Character development was so, so shoddy. First Jen (both flesh and genetic) is a sweet girl, and then she turns into a genocidal maniac. Then into a weird, creepy-ass spider thing?

I don't know. It was like. Nuance is too hard! Let's go for monstrous instead!

Just. No.

That was boring.

And then don't even get me started on Miranda.

It's so boring having all these people yelling for someone to die. I mean, I know it happens in real life all the time, but story-telling is a chance to really delve and see why people get all rabid at the mouth for a good old fashioned genocide in the park.

And then her random change of heart? Because she's dying from a clot?

Say what?

So. Let's talk about Amy.

Amy. The Almost Person.

But, the entire episode has been about how the Almost People are actually People.

So -- why did the Doctor disintegrate her?

And the look on her face when Rory leaves her. That was. Heartbreaking.

And it seemed so unlike Rory to leave Amy -- flesh or genetic. I just.


That bothered me. It really, really bothered me.

And I'm trying to figure out how the Silence fit into everything -- but maybe that'll be explained in the finale. Which, yes, I'm waiting a week unless my will crumbles.

But, right now, I just can't help but wonder if Moffat has stumbled into a classic story-crafting blunder:

Trying to be astonishing in all the wrong ways.

Finding out that someone isn't who you thought they were isn't astonishing.

People encounter that every day of their lives.

And, I'm sorry, but the main anxiety regarding The Gangers wasn't moralistic -- wasn't, who's more human, who's more of a person -- it was

Who gets to be the boy's father?

Now, good fiction doesn't attempt to answer hard questions. It just proposes them.

Doctor Who answered that question by tidying everything up all nice and pretty. Gangers and humans survive --

but there is not a double to be seen to ask that terrible question because Jimmy and Miranda and the other one are dead, they're all dead.

And the Doctor destroys Amelia Pond, the Flesh.

There will be no one asking:

Who is the baby's mother -- and wouldn't that have been interesting, Amelia Pond, pregnant and not pregnant on the deck of the TARDIS, experiencing the labor and pain of birthing a baby she doesn't even have in her womb --

Who is the Doctor's companion --

Who is Rory's partner --

because she's gone.

And so, I am disappointed.

But not with Matt Smith. Because he bouncing back between Time Lord and Flesh was fantastic.