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Monday, 11 June 2012

Desperate Housewives finale: not so ‘Wonderful, Wonderful’


Last night's Desperate Housewives finale left us cold; clichéd, contrived and rushed, it was more of a nostalgia-fest-cum-crowd-pleas

er instead of a satisfying end of a story arc. With old characters returning for contrived endings, it left an overwhelming, lingering sense of desperation. And not in a good way.
I've been a fan of Desperate Housewives since I delved in early Season 2. I never saw Mary Ellen shoot herself and the significance of her death doesn't seem to have had much of a bearing on the denouement of what became essential viewing in my household. But after (for most people) 8 years of ups and downs, laughter and tears, the writers have a responsibility to their characters and their audience. A responsibility that wasn't taken seriously enough.

A simple switch of the two back-to-back episodes (that were presented as two separate episodes to E4 viewers in the UK) would have been more than enough to placate my ire. But this last, filler hour was dull and lifeless coming after the powerful and poignant reinvention of Lynnette and Tom ScavoAnything after that just paled in comparison; lacking pizzazz and genuine emotion.

The typical mistaken identity storyline in the first hour was forgiven as we watched Lynette realise that Tom was mistaken: the man she was in love with was "you, you, you". This would have been a more than fitting ending – keep the viewers in suspense and give them the saccharine happy endings they really crave: tie up the loose ends by all means, but end on something meaningful - the closure of Tom and Lynette, the most realistically portrayed couple I've ever seen (never have a couple deserved a happy ending, or each other, more).

Harking back to the emotional moment they reunite, we see the writers falter, wanting to inject a bit more uncertainty and suspicion into their relationship, with Tom wondering if his wife will ever be happy. But that soon finishes when Lynette chooses the moment of her Maid of Honour speech to smooth things over and things, just like that, are back to how they were. Tears did come, again, for me, but nothing like they were when Lynnette dropped that bag of ice. It was emotional manipulation, disingenuously crowbarred in when they realised this last hour lacked feeling.

I'd already accepted a contrived finish to Bree's trial; a case that had great potential for truly exploring the limits of friendship, loyalty and great scope for betrayal - a storyline that could have really been squeezed for anticipation, tension and meaning, in the hands of a better storyteller. 

Instead we got a convenient ending and a waste of a much-loved character: Karen MacClusky, significantly exacerbated by the death of the actress who played her, Kathryn Joostenon June 2nd. Karen's death and final hours and days were given little meaning once her use as a ‘get out of jail free’ card was over. We simply saw her instruct Roy to play her chosen record, Johnny Mathis' 'Wonderful Wonderful' and she slipped by, mostly unnoticed by the cast who were fawning over Julie's new baby or celebrating at Renee and Ben's wedding. Shame then, that Wonderful Wonderful includes the lyrics “This world is full of wondrous things it's true 
But they wouldn't have much meaning without you”.

And what of new baby whose arrival made Julie and Porter parents and Lynnette, Tom and Susan new grandparents? How did Porter feel? Will he face up to his responsibilities? How does he feel about his new family skipping town? We missed out on a key part of a family's reaction to a newborn - all the joy, fear and anticipation, glossed over in montage.

Yes, there would have been a few tweaks required to the episodes to switch them - if the writers had truly needed Bree and Trip to be together then they could have had her show a bit of understanding to the motives behind Trip putting Gaby on the stand. Bree had no issues accepting Renee's explanation that she was trying to protect her fiancé, so why not Trip, trying to save his client and the woman he loves?

Renee has always been a tricky character for me - she's never really escaped Ugly Betty’s Wilhelmina Slater character - her behaviour and mannerisms are too similar to really escape the typecasting, so I never really saw her as part of the core cast. And, it seems, neither did the writers, even though they saw fit to dedicate a large part of their last ever episode to her wedding. She’d never really infiltrated the close-knit group of women, who failed to invite her to their last poker match – she was forever on the outskirts until she became part of a useful plot point ora comic foil.

The closing 10 or so minutes of "this is what happened next" and Susan's departure from the Lane was seemingly tacked on: a nod to the nostalgia of the cast rather than a fitting ending for the stories of what were great characters. Gay BFF neighbours Bob Hunter and Lee McDermott were largely ignored (even though they first appeared in Season 4) and we're supposed to believe that Bree has a future in Kentuckyconservative politics despite her self-confessed 'murky past' which included a murder trial. I might believe her, but I'm betting her US constituents, even ones of the future, might balk at the idea of a woman with a past as a representative.

Instead of a truly wonderful finale, we got a ghostly ending, the dead characters watching silently, dressed resplendently by a collaboration of The White Company and GAP, as Susan drove a lap around Wisteria Lane for the last time. I couldn’t have felt more let down.

Give your series some credit, some gravitas, some respect, by allowing the characters to go out with an emotional bang. A montage is for new beginnings: a wardrobe makeover, trying on wedding dresses, a reinvention of a flabby body into an athlete, not an ending. It felt cheap and worthless; marred and tarnished by overwhelming disappointment at a desperate end.

Contributed by Tannice Pendegrass



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