Ask Matt: Mad Men, Finale Fever on Grey's, Revenge, Awake, More
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Question: As Mad Men's season begins to wrap up, I wonder what your take on it is. Generally I think it's been a strong season. I know there are a lot of Megan haters out there; I don't really share their feelings. But the episode revealing the fate of Paul Kinsey and the turn Lane's character has taken kind of pushed things for me a bit. What are your thoughts? — Miles
Matt Roush: The Hare Krishna interlude was not my favorite episode — felt like they were working off a particularly obvious '60s checklist of iconic fads, although I did enjoy the Star Trek spec-script reference and the reveal that the cult valued Paul as their best "recruiter." And Lane's financial dilemma has been brewing for some time, so that didn't bother me, although the clumsiness of his "miracle bonus" plan (which backfired) was startling. In general, I don't see this as Mad Men's best season ever — for the first time, I think it has serious competition in the best-drama Emmy race, with Showtime's Homeland and last year's Breaking Bad as powerful contenders — but it's still a very strong season, at times feeling like a compilation of great, artful short stories constructed around this amazing cast of characters living in a time of profound personal and cultural change. And that includes Don's marriage to Megan, who represents a more modern and independent spirit, enchanting and mystifying this alpha male in equal measure. From Megan's "Zou Bisou Bisou" bump and grind in the premiere through Roger's LSD trip, the Howard Johnson's debacle, the fabulously flirtatious scene of Joan and Don at the bar at Christmastime, Pete's sad fling with neglected suburban wife Rory Gilmore, the arrival of Ginsberg on the team, there has been much to savor. I have struggled with the Fat Betty storyline, in part because it seems such a facile way of dealing with her depression and disillusion, though it does seem apropos to the times.
And even as I was putting this column together, Sunday's powerful episode blew me away, juxtaposing Joan being pimped out (by everyone but Don) to land the Jaguar account with Peggy finally taking her career in her own hands, moving on from the mentor who was never going to give his protégé her due. Don kissing Peggy's hand was so poignant, as was the compromised Joan's look as Peggy walks confidently toward the elevator and her future. And I was completely snookered by the scene in which Don came to Joan's apartment to talk her out of her night of "very dirty business" (Roger's words), only to later learn she'd already done the deed, making this chivalrous gesture sadly empty. "You really have no idea when things are good, do you?" Peggy needles Don as the Jaguar celebration commences, his triumph soured by the realization of how Joan helped close the deal. Likewise, even in those rare weeks when Mad Men isn't entirely on its game, it's important to remember how good it is to have a show this deeply satisfying and original working its wonderful, elusive magic.
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Question: What do you think of Lexie's death on Grey's Anatomy? The majority of the comments I have read on the Internet have been negative, not because of the death but mostly because of the bitter end for Mark and Lexie. I know people are saying sometime you need to shake up the series but could they have not done like ER and replace its cast, while keeping major players like Meredith, Derek and Cristina; I don't really care about the others. I am PO'ed mostly because they end up taking away Meredith's family, her mother and now her sister. She was not the worst or most annoying character; I would rather have April kill herself. Mark and Lexie could have ended up together and move to New York and have their babies. I also think they should kill off Mark and then they can live happily ever after in afterlife. Do you think it was necessary to kill off Lexie or they could have gone with another plan or killing off another character? Do you think dark and twisty Meredith will be back next season? Even though Lexie isn't a huge character on the level of Meredith or Cristina, do you think Grey's will lose viewers? — Aadil
Matt Roush: When it became clear that Shonda Rhimes was going to throw another tragic monkey-wrench into the world of Grey's in the finale, I figured if she wanted there to be maximum emotional impact (with minimum loss to the actual core ensemble), either Lexie or Mark would be the most likely victims. Without sounding bloodthirsty, I'm generally OK with a show writing off/killing off characters if the storytelling rises to the occasion, and the immediate reaction I got (both while live-blogging on GetGlue and afterward) seemed to indicate that the final Mark-Lexie scene jerked the requisite tears, with Meredith's subsequent meltdown sealing the deal. (If memory serves, ER killed a number of characters along the way as well, though rarely with this kind of melodramatic buildup; Grey's is a much more romantically heightened brand of medical soap.) If Shonda felt she'd taken Lexie as far as she could, I'm OK with that, and I'm more than OK with Teddy leaving, and like you, I wish she'd taken April with her. I'm just sorry a rescue party didn't show up before episode's end. That was aggravating. And while I imagine Meredith will have some dark and twisty moments of grieving to come, she has a fuller life than she used to, so that's a relief. And do I think this latest event will cost Grey's viewers? No doubt. Exhaustion has already set in, as it does for any long-running show of this sort, but I still enjoy it enough to stick it out for at least another season. As long as we're not subjected to visits by (shudder) Lexie's ghost. I think they've learned their lesson on that front.
Question: Continuing to enjoy your column and to thank you for your support of Fringe and Awake. I agree with you that NBC is to be thanked for allowing Awake to be brought to a conclusion, even one outside the regular viewing season. This show definitely required a lot of thought and the ending even more so. I really appreciate programming that is different from the usual crime procedural, and Awake was certainly that. However, maybe it's just me, but I found the last five or 10 minutes somewhat confusing. I don't know whether the writers wanted us to think that anything is possible, at least in some reality; or that the wife was killed and the son still alive and the right people had been punished; or that the whole thing was just a dream; or that the story ended however, we wanted it to end. I would like to know your thoughts on what you thought the conclusion meant? - Faye
Matt Roush: Oh, what a rabbit hole this subject is. I loved so much about that finale: the scene in which GreenMichael visits OrangeMichael in prison, the bit with the bickering therapists side by side following Michael down the hall, and especially the surreal moment in which one Michael lies down and blends into the other in bed as he sleeps. Genius. And of course the coda in which Michael finds himself at last in a "reality" where his family is reunited, giving us a semblance of a happy ending. As I wrote on Twitter: "I'm still not sure just what it is I saw, but I'm sure glad I saw it." And as @sassone wrote me back, this was "the rare canceled show finale that managed to be open-ended, slightly confusing, yet full of closure/satisfaction."
In reading several post-finale interviews with the show's adventurous creator, Kyle Killen — the most thorough was Alan Sepinwall's Q&A, although I have to say the more anyone tries to explain it, the worse it gets for me — I'm left with the impression (simplifying greatly here) that to resolve the story of the conspiracy behind the accident, Michael had to acknowledge that one of his worlds (the Orange one, with Detective Vega in the penguin suit) was a dream in order to solve the case and put the crooked Captain behind bars. It appears he says goodbye to his wife in that reality, but when his therapist in GreenWorld suggests it's finally time to come back to living in one world, Michael literally freezes her out to conjure yet another dream world where both his wife and son are alive. As the episode's title and Dr. Evans suggests with the "it's just turtles all the way down" remark, what we're seeing here is more "infinite regression" as Michael continues to refuse to accept the loss. Killen insists that there really was an accident, this is not all just a dream of Michael's in some sort of coma, and (as some have wondered) the final scene was not tacked on because the show was canceled, but had always been intended as the final shocker of the season finale, regardless of the show's future. Beyond that, though, Killen leaves the rest up to your own interpretation. Whatever makes you happiest about having made it to the end of this mind-blowing experiment of a series.
Question: When are showrunners and networks going to realize that people do not want to invest in a show that most feel will not have a satisfying ending? They should treat any initial orders as if they are not going to survive and wrap these things up. How many others besides myself stopped watching Awake because they saw the show was not doing well and had no faith that the show would explain everything after the investment. I am just going out on a limb here making the assumption but why chance it. — Mark
Matt Roush: I understand this point of view, but am perpetually frustrated by it. By bailing early on Awake, potential fans robbed themselves of one of the more exhilarating, challenging rides of the season, which ultimately provided many (though not all) answers, especially regarding the accident that precipitated the premise. But even more, this attitude helps perpetuate a fear of risk-taking on the part of networks and showrunners still trying to work within a system that too often punishes ambition and innovation. While the end of Awake was mystifying and no doubt left many frustrated, it was also a thrilling hour of the sort I've rarely seen since Twin Peaks' brief, bizarre heyday, and the reaction I'm getting from most who made it to the end is a sort of perplexed gratitude. Another example from this season: ABC's horror thrill-ride The River (now on DVD for those who missed it), which probably never stood a chance but which now lingers fondly in my memory like an epic Twilight Zone movie (complete with ironic campfire-friendly ending). We should be encouraging showrunners and networks to tell the biggest, boldest stories possible, and while I agree that the creators of these shows should have a contingency in place to wrap the story as best they can when the time comes (even prematurely), that won't always be possible, and shouldn't be the determining factor on whether we take these leaps of faith in the first place.
Question: I've been struggling with my feelings toward Revenge all season long. A show that strives to be Dynasty-meets-Alias should be my favorite thing in the world, but it's only half as good as either of those classic shows, so it usually leaves me disappointed. The finale was no exception, especially when they tossed out ludicrous cliffhanger (if you don't know how TV works, Victoria could be dead!) atop ludicrous cliffhanger (speaking of Alias, Amanda's mom is secretly alive!) in the season's final moments. I won't even get into the reveal of a giant conspiracy behind David Clarke's death, which is the sort of plot that has doomed dozens of shows over the years. What did you think of the finale, Matt? Is Revenge your guilty pleasure, or is it just causing pain? — Donnie
Matt Roush: Revenge definitely belongs in the guilty-pleasure aisle, where eye-rolling not only comes with the territory, but is encouraged. I don't take the show seriously enough to allow myself to get terribly disappointed, even when they throw in a tired device like Victoria boarding a sabotaged plane. I certainly don't resent the reveal of the conspiracy behind the death of Amanda-as-Emily's father, because it has always been hinted at, and it opens up the world of the show to give her new adversaries beyond the Graysons, which Revenge desperately requires as it moves to Sundays to take over Desperate Housewives' time period. I'll forgive a show like this a lot if it gives me a scene like the one in the penultimate episode, where Emily and Jack grieved and tearfully bonded over the death of Sammy the dog, a genuine moment amid all the heightened nonsense.
Question: Not happy to be losing The Finder and GCB. Both shows deserved some time to grow on people. But what is done is done. Like someone suggested, I am hoping for some resolve of The Finder on a Bones episode. Now for some questions on Revenge: I am a little confused. Emily (Amanda), while beating the crap out of the white-haired man, tells him she is David Clarke's daughter and she was there for revenge but then lets him live. Although I am glad she didn't turn to murder, wasn't it really dumb to let him go? I figured the first thing he would do was go to Grayson and tell him his soon to be daughter-in-law was really Amanda. I mean, her face was all over the news and he had seen her photo with Daniel in Grayson's office (the one with the hidden camera). Love the show and glad it's returning. Good cliffhanger for an ending, but did I miss something here? — Sharon
Matt Roush: I assume the reason the white-haired fiend didn't spill Emily/Amanda's identity to the Graysons is that in their world, knowledge is power, and this gives him another angle to play for as long as he remains a menace to both sides of this tangled web. But this is a particularly dangerous piece of intel to be floating around out there, for sure. Emily stopping short of destroying White Haired Man might have made emotional sense to David Clarke's daughter, but it was one of this revenge ninja's weaker decisions, which I'm sure she'll come to regret.
Question: With Glee's move to Thursdays, I'm worried it's going to take away from The Vampire Diaries' already small audience. Do you think Glee could case TVD to tank? If it does, do you think The CW will be smart enough to move it rather than cancel it? I watch both shows but would definitely pick TVD if I could only save one from a burning building. :)
And if you feel like answering a plot-driven question, what do you think the odds are of Elena ending the series with Damon? I worry that the writers will do that to appease the 12-year-old Delena "shippers" who tweet their faces off every week, but think that would be the dumbest thing ever, considering Damon is still a loose cannon who tries to control Elena ("for her own good"), despite his sporadic heroic moments. Did the writers not watch Season 1? I'd say Stefan "consumed" Elena at one point as well. It's called infatuation — and sooner or later it wears off like new car smell. And unlike Stefan, who shares Elena's love for literature, journaling, etc. when her life is not in grave danger, Damon seems to have zero in common with Elena aside from being hot. Several people have become vampires on this show, and none of them had their personalities drastically altered — even Stefan and Damon seem to be themselves in flashbacks from long ago. So for Elena to suddenly (or not-so-suddenly) go for Damon after wanting Stefan for three seasons straight would just seem like an incredibly cheap (and pretty icky when you recall who has slept with whom) plot device to me. — Jennifer
Matt Roush: To clarify regarding the Thursday battleground: The Vampire Diaries and Glee will not face off in the same time period most weeks; Glee will now be airing an hour later, at 9/8c, while Vampire Diaries stays put at 8/7c, airing opposite The X Factor's results show. Even if they did go head to head, there would likely be room for both. Diaries' audience is remarkably loyal. And to your question about the (now) vamp triangle, I prefer not to get caught between "shipper" factions, but as Elena adjusts to her new (after)life, I imagine she will continue to vacillate for a while between the one who stokes her fire (Damon) and the one who is more evidently and obviously her emotional soul mate (Stefan). In the end, though, which is still a long ways off, I agree she'd probably find a more lasting peace with Stefan. It really depends, though, on where the story takes them all, and that's my primary concern.
Question: Am I the only one who found it funny that Hawaii Five-0 and Grimm ended with the same cliffhanger: "Mom?" Of course, Alias did the same thing 10 years ago at the end of its first season. And am I the only one tired of almost every show having to end with a cliffhanger? By the time the new season starts, it's hard to remember where everyone left off. I thought Fringe had the best finale since it was intended to work as the series finale if needed, with the last scene added on to set up next season. Once Upon a Time's was good as well, with Emma breaking the curse. But too many shows end with everything hanging and little resolution to ongoing storylines. I know they want to create buzz, I've just grown tired of it. — Dennis
Matt Roush: If you add the "Mom is alive" twist on Revenge to your list, we have an actual cliffhanger trend here. And I'm not sure how funny that is, but it certainly is typical. I agree with you that many of the best season-enders are more game-changers (like Fringe and definitely Once Upon a Time) than contrived cliffhangers. Even a sitcom like Modern Family deftly pulled off the trick with the reveal that while Mitchell and Cam weren't getting their new baby (thanks to the telenovela they found themselves participating in), Gloria was unexpectedly expecting, a terrific turning point from which to launch a new season. With so many network shows wrapping their seasons one after another through May, it can be overwhelming, exhausting and even irritating, I agree. But almost no show is so confident in its future that it doesn't want to make the end of a season — and the beginning of the next — seem anything less than a major event.
Question: What is the real worst-case scenario if NBC can't pull itself out of the ratings cellar? Would it just keep trying till it got the mix right? Declare bankruptcy? What then? Could it ever get so bad it goes off the air? For that matter, why do showrunners keep agreeing to let such a low-rated network have their shows? I understand show biz is tough, and there will always be hungry newbies out there just thrilled to have anyone buy/air their show. But to established folks (J.J. Abrams, I'm looking at you), why bother to take this risk when a higher-ranked network could pay more and perhaps offer an equal prime-time slot? Seems like being a big fish in a small pond — heck, a sinking ship in that pond — wouldn't interest a power broker. Thanks for the education. — Tricia
Matt Roush: As they say about England (which also used to be an actual empire), there probably will always be an NBC, even in its current diminished state. It helps to be associated with a studio (Universal) and a much larger corporate parent (previously GE, now Comcast) that values a brand that still has powerful assets, just not many currently in prime time. The rebuilding has been painstakingly slow, but part of that process is luring people with big and innovative ideas (last season including Smash and Awake; this season including Revolution) to get a platform that may not be available on a more successful network with fewer opportunities. It won't always work, but given that shows like Community and Parks and Recreation have been allowed to flourish (up to a point anyway) despite puny ratings that would have doomed them elsewhere, from a creative point of view there are worse places to sell your show. Taking a show to ABC, CBS or Fox is no guarantee of longevity, either. It's all a crapshoot.
Question: Not a question — but a comment. Instead of terminating Dan Harmon (even if it meant losing Chevy Chase), Sony should have shopped the show to TBS where it could have lived happily ever after (or at least #sixseasonsandamovie) with its "sister" show, Cougar Town. — Roy
Matt Roush: They would make a nice pair, wouldn't they? But from what I can tell about the way this all went down, even if Sony had been able to shop the show around (which you can't really do until you've actually been canceled), Dan Harmon probably wouldn't have been part of the package going forward. But should the next 13 episodes be the last that NBC orders, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony aggressively try to land it elsewhere to crank out more episodes for syndication. And if that sounds more like making sausage than TV, that's why they call it show business.
That's all for now. Keep sending your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and in the meantime, follow me on Twitter!
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