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'Oprah' Finale: Cutting An Angelic Figure, In More Ways Than One
May 26, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Oprah Winfrey's three-day, three-part TV series finale -- two parts Premature Burial fawning salute, one part sermon on the TV mount -- was a study in celebrity worship at its highest.


For two days, Monday and Tuesday, a parade of A-listers paid homage to Oprah, talking about nothing but her. On Wednesday's final day, Oprah accepted that load, and spent her last hour, with no guests, talking about herself and her audience.

At the end, raising her arms to soak in the adoring applause, she looked like a prophet, a religious figure, absolutely angelic. Yet it also gave me a disturbing sense of deja vu...

As she spoke of empowering the audience, and connecting with them, for 25 years, and as one camera shot after another captured images of her studio audience in thrall, Wednesday's finale suddenly reminded me of an image that, from that moment on, I could not shake.

A confident and attractive black woman, addressing her adoring TV flock in calming, quiet tones. An audience all but worshipping at her feet, accepting and embracing every affirming word. A use of television at its most potent, reaching out, grabbing and mobilizing millions with a single call to action.

I had seen this somewhere on TV before...


Specifically, I had seen it eight years ago, during the fourth season of the TV series Angel, created by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt as a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Near the end of the season, in April 2003, Angel presented a disturbing plot line in which a supernatural being -- conceived, quite literally, by other supernaturally imbued characters on the show -- arrived fully grown, looking like an exotic, beautiful black woman whose every look, word and purr soothed and charmed everyone around her.

Played by Gina Torres, who went on to star in Whedon's Firefly, this inspirational figure of worship was given the name of Jasmine. Everyone fell under her spell, but one character -- "Fred," played by Amy Acker -- eventually snapped out of it.


As a result, she, and she alone, could see Jasmine for what she really was: a maggoty, frightening demon intent on controlling all humanity for her own ends, which included sacrificing them for her own sustenance.

Please understand -- I'm not equating Oprah Winfrey with a deadly demon. Especially a maggoty one. But her spell is similar. In one episode, Jasmine decided, quite shrewdly, that the quickest way to make over the planet was to get on television and beam herself and her hypnotic message to millions of viewers at once.


On Angel, Jasmine started on local TV, just the way Oprah had in Chicago. We're shown a scene in which Jasmine appears on local TV for the first time -- and as Acker's unaffected character watches a diner-counter TV in horror, everyone else in the diner is rapt and spellbound.

Next step, if Jasmine isn't stopped: syndication.

Had Jasmine not been bested by the heroes of Angel, who knows where her influence could have spread? National television. Magazines. Book clubs. Even her own cable network.

In real life, Oprah Winfrey's spread has been just as overwhelming, like a one-woman, mass-media tsunami. We can be grateful for her legacy and motivations... but, based on how grandly she said goodbye to one line on her career resume this week, we should all be very, very grateful that, as TV "saviors" go, Oprah Winfrey is a benign force.


But wait a second. Now I'm flashing back on another TV series -- V -- where the charismatic and beautiful woman in charge there, as a visitor totally alien to our planet, arrived with a promise of good works, good deeds and the best of intentions.

And all she wanted to do, among other things, was rule the planet, drain its resources and, just like Jasmine, use humans as an expendable energy resource.

But Oprah Winfrey, as we all know, is no V.

She's O.



Davey said:

Man, are you gonna get blasted for what you compared Oprah to. Cultists don't take kindly to their tin gods being outed as little tin gods -- or angels in this case. I do laud Oprah for the good taste her book club pickers had. A lot of the fiction was really outstanding. Other than that, it will be a relief to have the weight of her incredible ego, obtuseness, and pandering gone.

She may have done some good with all her money, but the harm she did with her money-worship and toxic crap like The Secret and the "prosperity gospel" more than tip the balance to the dark side. I suppose history will gloss over all that, and in a few decades she'll be remembered as an epic and inexplicable money machine that produced no product anybody can detect.

Comment posted on May 26, 2011 3:07 PM

Eileen said:

There was more carrying on about the "final days" than there was about "The Rapture"; I found that very telling.

Overall, I like Oprah, but it's very interesting to me that her core audience is middle-upper middle class white women, and it's basically been that way from Day One of Oprah.

I do think she lost a lot of women (myself included) when she went overboard about Candidate Obama. I did vote for President Obama, but initially I was a Hillary girl. As a woman who came up through the ranks, I would have expected Oprah to be a little more Hillary; I do understand her affection/support for Obama, but I think she took it to the extreme.

The smartest move out of all of this? Dr. Oz was able to quickly move his show on Fox 5 from 3 pm to 4 pm -- beginning today. Ellen must be dancing in the streets! And Judge Judy? She's letting them all off the hook this week...

Comment posted on May 26, 2011 3:51 PM

Mac said:

Eileen's comment about the void to be filled is an interesting one. Locally (Philly), another hour of Action News, which the channel has been in the lead for a generation. Disney owned, I'm sure Disney is wondering what to do, since a national show owned by Disney would be a goal, but the local ad revenues keeps them greedy and quiet. I guess with Oprah gone, the shows she has have a $ interest (Oz & Phil) and are free to move to the time slot, but they ain't Oprah. They ain't, Ellen ain't, Judy ain't. Probably never going to be a solid national winner, let alone the force that is Oprah.

Comment posted on May 27, 2011 12:33 PM

Eileen said:

But, enough about Oprah...

Your "Best Bets" for tonight are about the most eclectic I've ever seen. Makes me actually appreciate tv for a change.

Apocalypse Now Redux is fantastic. I've seen it before, but I plan to watch it again tonight. I think the difference between Martin & Charlie is that for Martin it was a part, and just acting. For Charlie, well, fill in your own blanks. Martin Sheen remains one of our most unappreciated actors ever. How he lost the Oscar for this film is beyond reason. He WAS the film. My favorite all time Martin Sheen films still remains Badlands -- simply the best.

And John Candy... The most adorable, lovable big guy ever. So sad we lost him at such a young age. Trains, Planes & Automobiles was not only funny, but such a sweet movie. Loved Uncle Buck -- it's just laugh out loud good. And the Great Outdoors... He truly seemed like a real good guy on and off screen, but thankfully his movies will entertain for generations to come.

Happy Memorial Day to all out there. Please say a prayer for all our wonderful service men & women and their families for all their sacrifices on our behalf.

[Eileen, I loved this comment of yours, however off-topic. One of the next things we're adding to the site is an "Everybody's a Critic" spot, just for people to react to Best Bets either before or after watching them. If we were wondering whether it was a good idea, you just persuaded us. Thanks! And yes, Badlands is a masterpiece -- Terrence Malick's first film, and still remarkable in its beauty and tone. -- DB]

Comment posted on May 28, 2011 1:16 PM
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