Not Quite Sticking the Landing

Halt and Catch Fire Fall Quote

Well, not fall, exactly, but maybe a little stumble, right there at the end.

It’s been a busy weekend here at Unicorn HQ. The big excitement this weekend was the series finale of Halt and Catch Fire, though that didn’t turn out quite as we had hoped. More on that in a minute. First, the other news. As I’ve mentioned, I’m teaching a new class this semester, and I have to drive almost two hours to do it. That eats up a lot of my Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. At least S had a chance to do some laundry while I was out, so at least one of us did something productive.

Today we’ve been cleaning around the house. Doing it all at once would just be too depressing, so we’re doing one room a day. Or at least that’s our goal. We haven’t quite been meeting that goal, but it’s still a lovely goal to have, all the same, don’t you think? I certainly do.

Pretty soon we’re going to have start thinking seriously about our NaNoWriMo project again. We developed the outline and the character profiles back during July Camp NaNo, but we haven’t looked at them in a couple months, so we’ll need to review them and talk a bit more about who is going to be responsible for writing which parts. But that can happen another time. Right now we’re resting after cleaning our living room and slowly working our way through a pair of well-deserved Bloody Marys.

When we haven’t been cleaning this morning, we’ve been dissecting the Halt and Catch Fire finale. As I put it to S last night before bed, it was a three star finish to a five star series. It wasn’t horrible, but it certainly could have been better. Last week, S said, “assuming they stick the landing, it will rank as one of our favorite shows of all time.” Well, they didn’t quite crash, but the landing was a bit bumpier than you would hope for.

The scenes between Donna and Cameron were all fine. But there were probably too many of them. And the resolution of their relationship came at the expense of Joe, who basically disappeared for the length of a Bible during the last episode. The Donna/Cameron storyline feels as if it came to a satisfying conclusion. But Joe just wandered off, and when we saw him, he was hanging out with random people we didn’t know and had never met before. Where was his resolution with Donna? With Cameron? With Haley (who could be seen as a surrogate for Gordon)? What we got was a letter written to Haley and read by her to Cameron, which would have been fine if there was going to be another episode after this. And we got a scene of him teaching a class, which would have been a fine place to leave him if there was going to be another season in which he could reconnect to the other two main characters. But this was the end, and it just felt very strange and unsatisfying to leave him there. As S and I decided last night, the show really needed to show him getting a phone call from Cameron, asking for some unspecified help on Donna’s exciting new idea. Just something to assure the viewer that he and Donna and Cameron will continue to have a relationship moving forward, because the heart of the show has always been the relationships between the main characters. It’s a little disappointing that the writers seem to have forgotten that, and right after we’d complemented them on doing it so well last week, too.

So it wasn’t as good as it could have been. But it wasn’t terrible. It certainly wasn’t the last episode of Justified, but at the same time, it wasn’t the last episode of How I Met Your Mother, either. It’s not like it took our love for the show and stomped on it. The bottom line, I suppose, is that we’ll probably still buy the whole series on DVD or Blu-ray. We just might not watch that last episode very often.

J

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The Unsinkable S.S. Klaroline

RMS ?Titanic?, 1911.

Pictured: not the S.S. Klaroline

As we’ve mentioned many times before, we enjoy a number of the cheesy fun shows on the CW.  Some of these we never really warmed to, some of them we stopped watching when they got tiresome (I’m looking at you, Flash and Arrow).  But we’ve kept up with Vampire Diaries and The Originals.  Many is the time we’ve been sitting around in the evening, bored and looking for something to do, when S will say to me, “Well, we’ve got vampire shows on the DVR.  Wanna watch them while I fold laundry?”

And I mean no offense when I say that’s pretty much the level of engagement we have had with those two shows recently, particularly Vampire Diaries.  They’re something mildly interesting to have on in the background.  They’re basically our equivalent of old-fashioned daytime soap operas, if you want to think of them that way—something to have on the TV while you dust the living room or peel potatoes for supper.

Even so, Vampire Diaries has been a part of our lives for years now, and we’re sorry to see it go.  I can’t say I thought the finale episode was earth-shatteringly awesome.  It certainly wasn’t like the finale of Justified (as S wrote, the ending of that show was absolutely perfect).  But it fulfilled the basic function of a series finale—wrap up all the storylines in a satisfying way so the viewers think they’ve gotten what they came for.  And don’t do anything to destroy the good will the show has built up, or pull some “clever” slight of hand that makes the viewers feel like they’ve wasted their time.  Some shows find that surprisingly hard to achieve actually.  Think of the last episodes of How I Met Your Mother or Roseanne, for instance.

Our favorite thing about the finale, of course, was that little nod to Klaroline shippers.  I won’t say that S responded to this by letting out an ultrasonic squee of delight and doing a little dance on the couch, but I won’t deny it, either.  We actually saw the episode up at my parents’ house, where we were visiting, and all the way home in the car, every twenty minutes or so, whatever we happened to be talking about, S would turn to me and say, “Oh, and by the way, J?  Klaroline is endgame!”  As S has mentioned before, Klaroline (Klaus Mikaelson and Caroline Forbes) is one of her favorite TV ships.  And as she noted yesterday, it’s the only one on this list she made more than a year and a half ago that has so far ended happily (or at least ended in such a way that we can imagine it ends happily).

So all in all, we’re pretty pleased with how Vampire Diaries turned out.  Now we just need another show to watch while S folds the clothes.

J

Hopeful Analysis of the One Compelling Thing. Or Something.

SAILS-master675

Toby Stephens as Captain Flint on Black Sails

Tonight we had a meet up with our local NaNoWriMo group. We haven’t seen several people since our wrap up party at the beginning of December, so it was awfully good to see and chat with them. Lots of topics were discussed, but I’ll admit that I specifically brought up a question that’s been puzzling me lately, no more so than today, and that is—why on earth am I rewatching Black Sails?

For those unfamiliar with it, Black Sails is a Starz show about the heyday of piracy in the Caribbean at the beginning of the 18th Century. But it’s not a light-hearted Johnny Depp kind of thing. It’s a violent, unromantic view of this life, featuring early versions of characters we know from stories such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, including Captain James Flint, Billy Bones, and John Silver. But trust me, this isn’t your father’s RLS. The show stars Toby Stephens as Captain Flint, and Season 3 just started last night on Starz. In order to catch viewers up, the first two seasons are currently free to stream on the Starz website, so I’m watching them again. Even though I had huge problems with the show on my first viewing. So, again, I wonder, why am I doing this?

UPDATE: The free offer seems to have ended. Sorry folks!

Hope

One of my friends at the NaNo meeting suggested that I’m watching in hope that it is better than I remember, that something will strike me differently this time, and I will enjoy it more. I think this is absolutely part of the impetus. Many secrets are revealed in Season 2, and I will admit that I pretty immediately wanted to go back and rewatch Season 1 with this new knowledge, because so many hints had been dropped, and I was eager to see how certain people (particularly Flint and Miranda) reacted to each other in Season 1 knowing the things I learned in Season 2.

I also read a quite good 138K word fanfic after finishing up Season 2, and that made me extremely excited to revisit the characters that story focused on. (Those characters would be Flint and Thomas.) However, since the fanfic is set in the period after Season 2 and its storyline will never be canonical for several reasons, it didn’t necessarily excite me for Season 3 as much as a reevaluation of what I’d already seen. (Also, so far, I haven’t subscribed to Starz, so I couldn’t watch Season 3 even if I wanted to.)

I was also hoping that on this rewatch, the elements that bothered me (namely how much I dislike every female character on the show except Miranda), might not be as bad as I thought. Lots of people enjoy the show. And I know lots of smart women who like the show, so I could be wrong. It was worth another look, especially since Starz was offering it for free. Right?

Analysis

Another dear friend at the NaNo meeting attributed a much more intellectual explanation for my desire to rewatch—I obviously want to analyze the show more closely. And it’s true, I do. What works about the show really works—once again I cite Flint and his relationships with Miranda and Thomas, but I can also cite the development over the two seasons of characters like Billy Bones, John Silver, and Charles Vane. But what doesn’t work—unnecessarily complex plotting involving characters I just don’t give a crap about, such as Max, Anne, and Jack, and anytime Eleanor is on screen—really doesn’t work for me. Why is that? How a show can hit the mark so accurately in some areas and miss the target so egregiously in others is something definitely worth contemplating. And a second, closer inspection is needed to do that.

One Compelling Thing (SPOILERS COMING!!!!!)

But when discussing my reasons for rewatching with J on our way to the meeting, I suggested my primary motive might be the fact that it has One Compelling Thing. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I watched One Life to Live for 25 years, and no one watches a daytime soap for that long without being able to overlook and forgive some questionable storytelling and unlikable characters. But for 25 years I could never quite make myself stop watching, because there was always at least one storyline I was invested in and couldn’t let go.

The same theory applies to regular TV series, and in the case of Black Sails, it has a very strong One Compelling Thing—Flint. Of course, he’s most compelling with—say it with me again—Miranda and/or Thomas. Since Miranda and Thomas won’t be in Season 3 (unless there are some flashbacks planned—it’s hard to know which actors and characters are still on the show, because IMDB doesn’t have accurate cast info), I’m not terribly interested in seeing Season 3. But I can still see them altogether in Seasons 1 and 2. To be honest, there have been moments I’ve been tempted to fast forward and just watch their scenes, although I haven’t so far. The storyline that unites these three characters is fascinating, and all three actors are fantastic and have great chemistry. (I mentioned earlier that Flint is played by Toby Stephens, and I should probably mention now that Miranda is played by Louise Barnes and Thomas is played by Rupert Penry-Jones, an actor I’m always thrilled to see.) Why wouldn’t I want to see them again?

Why?

A third noveling buddy at the meeting suggested I write this blog in an attempt to figure out just why I’m rewatching Black Sails. I have to say that having now written the post, I still don’t know for sure. There’s so much good TV, and so much of it I haven’t seen even once, that watching a show I’ve enjoyed, disliked, and found extremely frustrating by turns is not the best use of my time. But, at least for now, I think I need to keep spending my time this way. I feel utterly compelled to continue my rewatch. Is it simply my shipper feelings? After all, after having read an extremely long fanfic dedicated to characters from this show, maybe I’m just so in love with them I’ll put up with anything in order to spend more time with them. Perhaps. Maybe I’ll know when I’ve finished Season 2 again. For now, I need to get back to it—Season 1 Episode 5 awaits. Time and tide, what, what.

~S