It was a balmy evening in Providence way back when in the summer of 2002 when my girlfriend and I decided to check out this small independent comedy playing at The Avon Cinema called Wet Hot American Summer. A a mere 13 years ago, the internet was nothing more than an instrument for AIM chats and thirty second AVIs of pixelated porn. It was not yet the handy resource for Googling, Facebook arguments, and copious amounts of HD porn. This is all a roundabout way of saying we had no idea what WHAS was beyond a token blurb in the movie section of the daily Journal. The most we knew was that it was an 80’s camp comedy featuring Janeane Garofalo (“HEY! I spelled her name correctly!”), Paul Rudd (“HEY! I love that guy from Clueless!”), and those hysterical dudes from The State (“HEY! Those guys!”).
I can’t tell you the first time I watched Silence of the Lambs, but viewing it in my younger days I’ll always remember the unsettling sight of Buffalo Bill dancing to “Goodbye Horses” or the satanic eyes of Anthony Hopkins. For years I felt that Hannibal Lecter was the defining role of Anthony Hopkins’ career, even after sitting through the VERY disappointing Hannibal (More Prometheus Ridley Scott than Alien Ridley Scott) and Red Dragon (a Brett Ratner joint, nuff said).
Sons of Anarchy Season 7: Episode 3- “Playing With Monsters”
Sons of Anarchy Season 7: Episode 4- “Poor Little Lambs”
Sons of Anarchy Season 7: Episode 5- “Some Strange Eruption”
Sons of Anarchy Season 7: Episode 6- “Smoke Em If You Got Em”
So do to work, weddings, and being sick I missed the last FOUR episodes SOA, and was looking forward to catching up binge-style (like the good lord intended) yesterday and today in anticipations of tonight’s episode.
I was floored to see that by the end of episode 7.6 “Smoke Em If You Got Em” NOTHING HAS FUCKING HAPPENED GOD DAMMIT YET. Oh sure, Gemma and Juice finally separated (off-screen mind you)… Lin easily figured SAMCRO was behind all their recent troubles, blowing up the Ice Cream Shoppe (yawn, they did that with the Irish already last season) and brutally murdering all their escorts including the lovely Kim Dickens in a thankless role… Jax and Lin had their
much anticipated street fight leading to Lin’s arrest when the real cops showed up… Chibs is knee deep in police pussy (I still can’t tell if Annabelle Gish is working Chibs or not because she isn’t even a character, she’s a prop)… Unser has been kicked out of Teller/Morrow for wanting justice, and all the while ex-junkie Wendy pines for the man who in SOAs time bubble just injected her with heroin a few weeks ago, their son becomes a sociopath with all the acting skills of a piece of wood.
Other things sort of happened, except they didn’t go anywhere. Marilyn Manson showed back up briefly. Jury hasn’t appeared since his “family” was murdered, though I expect him to surface as the one who ratted out SAMCRO. Poor damn Nero is going to end up in a pine box for trusting Jax and Gemma. And tonight’s episode sees Juice come face to face with Jax. Will he finally bite the bullet? All signs point to no, they’ll just talk a lot and kill time to till the finale.
With my Leave of Absence from work earlier this year, I began devouring TV shows and movies on Netflix by the pound, powering through series upon series until I was all caught up with each individual selection. I originally did this when the 5th and final season of Breaking Bad was about to premiere, and sitting through all four seasons on Netflix was like a religious experience for me at the time , and made me realize what I was missing out on. I soon realized binge watching doesn’t always turn out to be so enlightening, but as a completest I always feel the need to finish what I’ve started.
(Spoilers for both shows to follow. Duh.)
Knowing I had a lot of time to kill during my recovery the first thing I did when I signed up for Netflix was dive right into Dexter, an infamous show I had heard so much about over the years. While living with Ruy Batello I had watched one episode Dexter since this was at the time a weekly religious experience for “The Portuguese Sensation”. I believe it was a season six episode and Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) professed her love for her serial killer adopted brother Dexter (Michael C. Hall), and I can’t say I was very impressed at the time. A devoted fan of amazing television (Breaking Bad) and hot garbage shlock (The Walking Dead) I officially entered the world of Dexter with much trepidation.
I confess I’m a binge TV watcher, and can digest an entire television series within a very short time span. While living with Ruy I devoured all four previous seasons of Breaking Bad leading into its epic fifth season and plowed through eight seasons of How I Met Your Mother within a couple of weeks so I could be fully caught up for the uneven 9th season this past fall.
Without rehashing the convoluted history of Dexter I will say that flat out the first and second seasons of Showtime’s most successful series were its strongest. While a show like Breaking Bad started off strong and only got better Dexter hit the ground running and maintained a steady level of quality throughout its first two years. Season three was a bit sluggish, though Jimmy Smits did his herculean effort to raise the bar and the final coupe of episodes saved the third season from being a total wash. With season four, it was once again the season long guest serial killer who saved things as John Lithgow dove into his persona as the Trinity Killer. But watching season four and it’s “game changing” finale just served to help me understand why I hated the following four seasons so much.
Dexter has no arc on Dexter.
I look to my friends at Wikipedia, helping best explain this predicament.
Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. In a story arc, a character undergoes substantial growth or change, and it ends with the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story:
The end of a narrative arc is the denouement. It shows what happens as a result of all the conflict that the characters have gone through.
—Author Jenna Blum in The Author at Work, 2013
Dexter the Television show always tried to find a way for Dexter the character to return to the status quo of its series premise. Whether it was eliminating Doakes (while putting a nice little bow on the Bay Harbor Butcher storyline with Lilah’s crazy fully blossoming), killing Rita off and sending the step-kids packing, or having the recurring players go from stupid to ignorant based on episode, Dexter the character never truly evolved (even when Michael C. Hall’s voice over did its best to TELL us he was changing). Even when they tried to change the game, like Deb FINALLY finding out about Dexter’s killer ways, it attempted to find ways to return Dex to his original place ‘in the world’ (his ridiculous world, not the tangible real world of any kind).
I pretty much skipped over season five once I saw Julia Stiles pop up as the recurring love interest for Dexter. With season 6 and the Colin Hanks/Edward James Olmos storyline I routinely threw my hands up in the air over the ridiculous plot contrivances (PS I already knew that Olmos was a “ghost dad” like James Remar, so there was no swerve for me in that regard). Season seven seemed to pick things up slightly, and I do love me some Yvonne Strahovski (see; Chuck) but was forever bored with the lack of resolution to certain stories. The final season was a train wreck, and limped to the silly finish line where they laughably killed Deb and made Dexter become a lumberjack (a true, punishing comeuppance that echos Wolverine’s purgatory as a lumberjack in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
I hate to keep going back to Breaking Bad, but the evolution of Walter White (and the supporting characters around him, specifically Jesse) is a masterstroke of
televisionwriting. The fact that Showtime refused to have Dexter killed or caught for his sins in their series finale shows just how shortsighted they were. There’s absolutely no shame in having an endgame and giving finality to your characters.
I can’t really tell you why I never did, but I do distinctly remember watching a couple of random episodes here and there while flipping through the channels back in the day and finding it charming. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to continuity and story arcs spanning multiple seasons, so right off the bat Chuck was hitting the right notes for me. I can also forgive many faults for a series (cheesy special effects, complacent and repetitive case-of-the-week episodes) when the greater arc is served and evolves the characters at the end of the day.
So basically the anti-Dexter.
The first season of Chuck took a little while to fire up, but the chemistry between Zachary Levi’s Chuck and Yvonne Strahovski’s Sarah was instantly there, in addition to the wild card status of Adam Baldwin’s John Casey (Hey, that’s me!). The second season is one of the best plotted seasons of TV I’ve seen for network television and the continued expansion of side characters into this world was nothing short of amazing (John Larroquette, Scott Bakula, Chevy Chase, Brandon Routh, Matthew Bomber, etc).
While Chuck suffered the same NBC bullshit that Community suffered through (another NBC TV show I was late to the game with unfortunately) the show runners Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz always had an endgame in the pipeline, filming nothing short of 4 possible series finales before getting saved at the last minute. The fifth season would be Chuck’s last however, which Fedak and Schwartz helped accentuate throughout the final thirteen episodes leading to their final arc for Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Morgan, et al.
So about that final arc. I can’t believe they gave Sarah amnesia! I can’t believe they had such a crappy final villain in Nicholas Quinn (Angus Macfadyen) after wasting Brandon Routh earlier in the season! I can’t believe they ended the series like that!
But here’s where I’m going to sound like a giant hypocrite after bitching about Dexter not getting a period put on his story, I fucking loved the ending of Chuck, and even if they never tell another story in this world I applaud them for ending on such a beautiful, open-ended note. The reason? Well for one Chuck earned it. I read A LOT of reviews and comments after catching up on the series, and saw a lot of people unhappy with them ret-conning the previous five years out of Sarah’s mind. But that didn’t happen at all.
In the final two episodes Sarah was already getting certain memories back, and even if the Morgan suggested fairy tale kiss didn’t work the fact that NuSarah wanted Chuck to try shows us that there is a happy ending in the cards for these two, and they’ll do it together.
One of my favorite finales all time was on Angel (S5: Not Fade Away) which saw Angel, Spike, Illyria, and Gunn prepare to take on the demons of Wolfram & Hart in a battle they were sure to lose horribly. The series cuts to black just as Angel declares “Let’s go to work.”
AND THEN IT CUTS TO BLACK OMG ARE YOU SERIOUS ANGEL?????
But it leaves such a rousing feeling in your gut, an open-ended feeling of what’s next that it was the perfect way for Angel the TV show to end. And a much better finale than Buffy for what it’s worth.
I loved the finale of Chuck, and while I’d certainly welcome a followup story to tell us what happened next (I mean Jesus Christ even Heroes is coming back to TV) I wouldn’t be terribly upset if that’s how their tale ended.
DEXTER FINAL GRADE: D-
CHUCK FINAL GRADE: B+