It’s upfronts week, which means the brightest of the network heads (or not, in NBC’s case) come together to renew, or cancel, a whole bunch of shows and announce their schedules for next season. You’ll find the announced schedules linked to below, as well as several season finales that either proved eventful, excellent or downright ludicrous–and if you’ve been to this blog before, you can probably guess what show had a finale exceeding what it takes to be terrible.
Once Upon a Time – And Straight On ‘Til Morning
Look, I’ve been pretty vocal about my dislike of the most recent episodes of Once Upon a Time’s second season, but I’ve always held a hope–however dwindling–that what I used to enjoy about the show would find some way of returning. And then I watched this week’s season finale, and suddenly all that hope found itself falling into a metaphorical portal, disappearing into some distant world.
If I was to simply sit and say that the finale was every bit as ludicrous and lazy as the most recent episodes have been, I wouldn’t be giving it as much credit as the show deserves. If, like me, you think the show has been using magic as a far too convenient plot device, then you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the finale.
Where do I even begin? Okay, with the ridiculously anti-climactic resolution to the failsafe problem where Regina and Emma simply stand over a crystal, hold their hands out and the magic flicks the problem aside? Or with the shoddy answer to the ‘leave Storybrooke, forget who you are’ conundrum that involved a magical potion just appearing out of nowhere? Maybe with the continued antics of Greg and Tamara that have now led them, and half of the cast, to Neverland for season three?
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where I start because it’s all the same. By far and large the biggest problem with Once Upon a Time at the moment lies with the writers, who at this point appear to be conjuring scripts out of thin air with as much effort as it takes them to resolve plots in their show. There’s just no consistency, and having magic conveniently solve a problem doesn’t work after the fiftieth time using it. It’s lazy, it’s destroying the show and if it continues in season three, I won’t be around to deal with it for much longer.
To say that the show is struggling at the moment would be an understatement. It’s balancing a large cast of characters with the difficulty in maintaining a constantly expanding fantastical foundation, and it’s collapsing under the weight of everything it has to handle (the finale was evidence of that; the voyage to Neverland wasn’t done because it needed to be, simply because they haven’t been there yet so why not). In more ways than one, it feels like the show is stretching out fifteen episodes of material across to twenty-two, focusing on characters and plots that get resolved horribly to fill in the gaps. It was the same way in season one, but far more consistently done.
I’m reluctant to write off the show completely even now, because for all the damage the writers have done to it this season, it still has some good ideas, a great cast and the potential to be a wonderful show. But right now, it’s falling faster than it’s ever fallen before, and if the last handful of episodes–finale included–are to be taken as indicative of the show’s future, then I’m not sure it’ll ever be able to halt that fall. If I do return for season three, I’m not sure how long I’ll stick around for it because I just don’t have the time or inclination to watch something I know to be disappointing.
Castle – Watershed
Castle has always been a show that I can give or take. I enjoy it for its characters most of all, and sometimes its stories are interesting. Also, I’m not afraid to admit that I was, and still am, a fan of the ‘Caskett’ relationship that’s dominated the show’s five-year life so far. For the last two season finales, they have always focused on that relationship, with season three’s ‘I love you’ to Kate as she lay bleeding, and season four’s eventual hook-up. So, naturally, this finale did the same, only with far, far less success.
Before I get to that element, let’s discuss the in-between parts. If you weren’t already aware that this was the season finale, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking it was just another regular episode. That’s because if you stripped away the scenes that actually felt finale-esque, you were left with just another murder solved in just the same way. There was nothing there at all to make this episode feel like it was bringing the season to a conclusion, and as a result it ultimately failed in what it was trying to achieve.
Now, in regards to the material that actually was season finale worthy, it was thin on the ground at best. Beckett’s deliberation over whether she wanted to take the job being offered to her and lose her relationship with Castle was never really brought to a conclusion before the end of the episode, nor did it feel consistent with the events that happened merely weeks earlier when Castle would’ve died in an explosion just to be with her. Guy is willing to be blown to smithereens for you and then weeks later you’re taking time to decide whether your relationship is going anywhere? Bitch please. If anything, switching this episode with ‘Still’, the aforementioned episode, would’ve produced far better, and more believable, results.
If I’m being honest, as much as I like the Caskett relationship, this episode felt like it only existed to give the ‘shippers’ something to swoon over for the Summer. I do believe that Castle has become a better show since it dispensed with the endless ‘will they, won’t they’ nature of its premise last year, but it’s in danger of taking over the entire show. You could argue that this has always been the show’s defining story, and you may be right, but there are other characters and other potential stories for the show to be telling rather than concentrating on just one thing for the duration with little progression. Castle proposing to Beckett is significant progression, yes, but ten seconds of momentum in a forty-minute episode does not equal a strong finale–unless you’re a shipper.
Nevertheless, Castle’s fifth season has been more consistent than last season, that’s for sure. Removing the continuous back-and-forth nature of the show’s central relationship worked wonders for improving the flow of the show that, at times, became a little too repetitive in its fourth season. I’m just disappointed that this stronger season had to be wrapped up with an episode that neither moved its main story further than just one step nor actually felt worthy of being a finale. You can say what you want about last year’s season four finale but at least it took several huge steps forward. ‘Watershed’, in comparison, simply hovered with its foot in the air.
Arrow – Sacrifice
And that, ladies and gentlemen and showrunners and vice versa, is how you do a season finale!
If all you ever wanted from Arrow’s season finale was all-out carnage, chaos and mammoth plot developments, then you’ll be considerably satisfied. ‘Sacrifice’ was not only the strongest episode of the show’s debut season but also one of the best season finales to air during this current sweeps period, and it will have a hard time being beaten.
One of the things that worked the most with ‘Sacrifice’ was the fact that it knew what it was and what it was aiming for, and instead of trying to shy away from it, it just threw itself into making the most of it. This wasn’t supposed to be the most believable or realistic scenario (unless earthquake machines are probable, which I doubt). It was supposed to be overly dramatic and brilliantly intense because it was mostly nonsense, and in some ways it felt the most comic book-esque that the show has ever been: the good guy fights the bad guy, kills the bad guy but fails to stop the bad guy’s plan, and people die because of it–and by heck, it just worked.
Even with throwing everything into the air, Arrow’s season finale also made good on pushing forward with several game-changing developments to comfortably head into season two with: Moira throwing herself under the bus to protect the lives of thousands will have significant impact on the dynamics within the Queen family; Tommy’s supposed death will potentially shake up the love triangle that formed between him, Laurel and Oliver; and the Glades being utterly obliterated is just an insanely huge move with the impact it’ll have on the story and the characters being balanced in equal measure.
‘Sacrifice’ was, essentially, at least two hours of material condensed into a forty-minute episode, with the fat trimmed off because it wasn’t necessary for what it was aiming for. I’ve had my issues with Arrow throughout this season (none of which were ever considerable enough to make me want to give up on the show, mind you), but this finale was more than I was ever expecting from this show. As far as wrapping up a season’s worth of storylines and pushing forward with more for the next season goes (and that’s basically what you generally expect from a finale), ‘Sacrifice’ did absolutely everything it needed to do and then some, and the bar for season finales this year has been set rather high indeed.
Scandal – White Hat’s Back Off
Oh Scandal, you terribly brilliant thing. How is it possible for you to be this good so consistently? Believe me when I say that Scandal’s second season has been nothing short of outstanding from start to finish, and it was only fitting that the show go out on a huge high–and boy was it huge.
Anybody that watches Scandal should know what to expect by now, whether it’s just a regular episode or a season finale. We’ve all become accustomed to the sudden plot twists arriving around every corner, forcing the story ahead at a speed most other television shows could only dream of maintaining for twenty-two episodes. We’ve gotten used to the characters and how effortlessly they fit into the narrative, and how memorable they always are. We know what to expect from Scandal, and we get nothing less than that each week.
So how big was the season finale, you might ask? BIG. Not only did we get something resembling an end to the ‘mole’ story arc that’s dominated this second half of the season, but we also had rather big movement in the Olivia/Fitz love affair, where it looked like it was heading all the way to a church altar and then to the Oval Office but ultimately came back around full circle to where it was at the beginning of the season. I no longer ‘ship’ this couple so this element of the finale didn’t have such a profound impact on me as it would others, but the fact that it didn’t really seem to end anywhere different was frustrating. I know their affair is the very definition of ‘forbidden love’ but that doesn’t make it any less irritating when it ends exactly where it started.
Nonetheless, ‘White Hat’s Back Off’ was an extremely strong finale to an equally strong sophomore season, culminating in a traditional ‘HOLY HELL WHAT THE FUCK’ ending that Scandal is perfectly adept at. Seriously, I would take my hat off to anybody that saw it coming because I did not, and it floored me in a way doesn’t happen too often with television. This is what Scandal has been aiming for all season, and it’s delivered tenfold, over and over again.
This show is, with no hesitation, one of network television’s most exciting, must-watch-live shows that has, if I’m not mistaken, had one of the biggest audience growths over the last nine months, and it’s not hard to see just why that is. It has an exquisite blend of interesting characters and a story that flows at an insanely high speed to make it utterly unmissable. You don’t just watch Scandal; you experience it, in all of its outlandish, crazy, maniacal glory.
Grades for other episodes I watched this week (episodes in red are season finales):
Game of Thrones – The Bear and the Maiden Fair: A-
Mad Men – Man with a Plan: B+
Revenge – Truth Part 1/2: B+
Nashville – A Picture of Life’s Other Side: B
SVU – Brief Interlude: B
Elementary – The Woman/Heroine: A-
Grey’s Anatomy – Perfect Storm: A-
The Vampire Diaries – Graduation: B
Hannibal – Fromage: B+
Nikita – ‘Til Death Do Us Part: A
Doctor Who – The Name of the Doctor: A-