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Season Finales: Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
May 2, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 5 comments
 

The May ratings sweeps have begun, ushering in a bumper crop of season finales. The Good Wife, The Following and The Americans just presented theirs, with varying results…

Of those shows, it turns out that two out of three ain’t bad. In fact, they’re excellent. But the third — oh, my.

This is where, reluctantly, I have to add an obvious warning: If you haven’t seen the season finales of these three shows, and would rather not read details of their relative merits, stop now. My point of view, though, is that great TV is made to be praised and discussed, not kept a secret until the last straggler gets around to watching it.

CBS’s The Good Wife, once again, demonstrated its impressive ability to surprise while still remaining true to long-running plots and established characters. The season finale hinged on the gubernatorial election of Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), who could either win or lose in what appeared to be a very close race.

It also hinged, though, on two other continuing plots: the efforts of Matt Czuchry’s Cary Agos to recuit colleagues for his new startup firm, and the lingering feelings between Will Gardner (Josh Charles) and Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), even though she had just renewed her loyalty to once-estranged husband Peter.

The fast-moving season finale involved an 11th-hour court argument over a ballot box that may have been stuffed. It turned out the ballot box was tampered with illegally, but not by Peter’s opponent. It was stuffed by a member of his own camp — and whether that action was approved by Peter, or by his campaign manager Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), was left tantalizingly unambiguous.

One shocking plot development, though, was made clear: In the final image of the show, Alicia opened her door to admit the man she had invited to come over to offer herself. I expected it to be Will, and I suspect most viewers did the same – but it turned out to by Cary, and Alicia’s offer was not romantic, but professional, as she agreed to join his new firm.

That stunning closer sets up all manner of conflicts, and story lines, for next season. It was a great move, for a show that represents the best dramatic series writing on broadcast television — and one that served as a satisfying shocker of a cliffhanger.

On cable, FX’s The Americans served up a first-season finale that was eminently satisfying as well.  Matthew Rhys’ Phillip and Keri Russell’s Elizabeth, though estranged as a couple, agreed to work together on a high-risk mission as undercover KGB agents. He learned, at the last minute, she was walking into a trap set by the FBI, and whisked her away — but only after a car chase and some gunfire. One bullet ended up wounding Elizabeth, and he took her to a safe house for an off-the-books operation to save her life.

Not only did it bring the couple back together — but to cover their absence at home, Phillip called his next-door neighbor to ask him and his wife to please watch Phillip and Elizabeth’s kids. That neighbor, of course, was Noah Emmerich’s Stan, the very FBI agent who had closed in on them hours before, though neither knew of the other’s involvement in the day’s intense events. Great touch.

The season finale showed just how tenuous both of their marriages are — and, as well, their relationships with their superiors, based on how their current mission succeeded or failed. As with The Good Wife, The Americans set up next season very intelligently. It ended on more of a grace note than a cliffhanger, but a great one: Phillip and Elizabeth’s daughter, snooping around in the family laundry room, coming close to discovering the secret stash that held Elizabeth’s weapons, disguises and fake IDs.

 The final image was of her looking intently, but in the wrong direction, away from the hidden, incriminating evidence. So near, and yet so far. Nice move. Nice, tense scene. Wonderful way to end a season.

And then there’s Fox’s The Following.

I stayed with this series, much longer than I wanted to, just to see whether it would redeem itself as it resolved its season-long plot line. Nope. Not even close.

Instead, it ended with a fiery climax, in which the cult leader Joe (James Purefoy) apparently perished. It was the kind of death scene, though reminiscent of comic books and adventure serials, where there was enough wiggle room, somehow, for the writers to resurrect him, should they wish to go the “faked death” trick.

But boy, did The Following itself die a slow and painful death, week by week, thanks to a completely humorless approach, with an illogical approach to match.

It would be hard to rank Ryan (Kevin Bacon) and his investigative teammates by order of stupidity, because if a wrong movie or bad assumption could be made, they made it. The cult members, like its leader, displayed a completely different personality almost every episode, making it feel as though the producers were making things up as they went along, with no clear plan, and almost no regard for credibility.

And the last scene? Ryan and his reunited lover Claire (Natalie Zea), Joe’s ex-wife, get attacked by one of Joe’s cult members — another of Ryan’s ex-lovers. She stabs Ryan in the gut, then stabs Claire in the back as Ryan screams “No!” End of episode. End of season.

And with no final-episode echo of the Edgar Allan Poe obsessions that supposedly fueled Joe and his followers, all I can do is supply my own.

After that season finale, will I give The Following another chance?

Quoth the raven: Nevermore.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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5 Comments
 
 
kevin
watched only one episode of the following. could not go any further.............
May 10, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Goofball Jones
Hey, I pegged The Following as ludicrous from the very first show. I didn't continue watching it after that. It was implausible, contrived and poorly written. And it looks like I totally pegged how the season would play out with "hidden" or "sleeper" followers of the Purefoy character.

And it looks like my instincts about The Americans was spot on. This is my favorite new series in a LONG time. As I've commented before, it's a plausible story, it doesn't insult it's audiences intelligence and doesn't rely on contrived plots. There's also no "fantasy" gadgets or anything like that. They took their stories seriously and decided to make them realistically instead of some BS like you see on the myriad of CSI shows or Bones....where they seem to exist in some parallel universe where they have beyond-our-tech gadgets like 3D holographic displays or whatever. This is why The Americans was a breath of fresh air. I look forward to it's 2nd season!
May 9, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Joy Sanz-Agero
I love the answer to your question. So clever! Also why I watched it to the last episode? Kevin Bacon? I am finished as well. Might as well watch Criminal Minds reruns.
May 5, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Hask
Did you mean tantalizing ambiguous or did I miss something?
May 4, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Bob
Loved the ending of The Americans, as with the whole season, it has been intelligent, sophisticated, thoughtful and emotionally mature, and brilliantly executed. It has become my favorite show.

As for The Following, "it was the kind of death scene, though reminiscent of comic books and adventure serials." As Poe would say, "This it is, and nothing more."
May 3, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
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