Friday, May 18, 2007

"Hey, everyone. Betty's in heat.": Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty, apparently not happy to just come up with one mindblowing cliffhanger, just took a bunch of sort of mediocre cliffhangers and threw them all at the wall, hoping that, perhaps, having many cliffhangers would add up to having one awesome cliffhanger. And, perhaps surprisingly, it sort of worked. These sorts of "EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE" finales almost never work unless you're Joss Whedon, but Betty was smart to make all of the different cliffhangers play at different levels of seriousness. One was played as straight tragedy. Another was played as soapy silliness. Still another was mostly played for laughs. So as the long series of cliffhangers (seriously, only Marc didn't have a cliffhanger, if I'm counting right) unspooled, it didn't seem over-the-top, even though it should have. A cursory scan of TWOP shows me that there are some who disagree with this point of view, but we'll have all summer to debate it.

There's been a lot of criticism of Betty's last handful of episodes from the show's fans, and I'll agree that everything since the episode where Marc's mother came to visit hasn't been as sharp as the episodes before that one (which brilliantly summed up the show's central mission statement as succinctly as possible). In particular, the Mode plotlines have meandered, and the immigration subplot has gotten trapped in a long mire of story complications that just don't work. But so many of the subplots work in any given episode that I'm still willing to forgive the show its sins -- in particular, whatever Marc and Amanda do is entertaining, and I'm still on board with the Betty/Henry romance. The Hilda/Santos relationship and their attempt to build a relationship and a family with Justin also snuck up on me. In most episodes, there was more good than bad, but the show would do well to bulk up the storylines next season (particularly in such a competitive timeslot).

But, anyway, the finale.

I think my favorite thing about the finale was the concluding montage, set to the strains of West Side Story. It was grandly over-the-top, but it worked to ground the show's camp sensibilities in something approaching tragedy. While I have my doubts that Santos is truly dead (the gunshot looked fatal, but when you don't see the corpse, TV can do anything for a resurrection), the trick of cutting from him being shot to Justin acting out the same on stage in the musical was damn near gut-wrenching and one of the more ruthless editing choices this finale season. And Hilda's weeping in Betty's arms was well-acted, probably the finest moment this season for that actress. I also liked that the musical tied together some of the other cliffhangers in brief snippets.

The least interesting cliffhanger to me was the car crash, though I did like that karma came back to bite Alexis (when the car she took was the one the hitman had cut the brakes on to kill her father). It was just pure soapiness, without any fear for either Meade at all. I'm also unconcerned about Wilhelmina and Bradford's wedding, what with it not happening until November and all. Claire Meade's escape from prison tied in with this and was much more amusing, stoked in prison movie cliche as it was.

I liked that Amanda is the daughter of Fay Summers -- in general, I liked her whole sneaky approach to Fay's love dungeon (loved the spy movie moves she did early in the episode). And the Betty/Henry complications were sweetly dorky, like the whole storyline has been. Turning Charlie into an evil wench seems a bit beyond the pale (not just because it's Jayma Mays), since the character was initially constructed as the nice girl Betty couldn't hate, but I'm all for a good pregnancy scare cliffhanger.

Which brings me to my favorite scene in the episode -- when Betty and Henry met on the bridge and pledged their troth but admitted that Henry had to go take care of his child (or what he thought was his child at the time). Christopher Gorham and America Ferrera have a sweet chemistry, and I hope we get to see more of it next season.

So what are your thoughts on Ugly Betty, season one? And how about that Kristin Chenoweth? Delightfully insane? Or just insane?


Brenda said...

This finale was like a fireworks show, with cliffhangers exploding left & right. I agree that there is no doubt that Daniel & Alexis will be just fine; Santos, however, I'm worried about. I didn't expect such an tragic end scene to Ugly Betty, season one. It would be just cruel to kill him right when he & Justin are really starting to bond. I was pretty confused/distressed to see Charlie become randomly evil (HUGE Jayma Mays fan, especially in Heroes. You may be the only person in the world who loves her as much as I do!). All in all, a great finale. Can't wait for the DVD set.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

We are, essentially, the Jayma Mays capital of the Interweb.