Two ABC finales went by over the past few days without me reviewing them, and there’s a reason for it. Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives each lost my interest this year, the latter towards the beginning and the prior towards the end. I have gotten to the point where the dramas seem like a never-ending cycle of happy and unhappy, usually remarkably quick to turn the delightful into the depressing. And, it was therefore somewhat disheartening to see that the finales of both shows tended to reflect this: Grey’s ended on one of the most depressing sequence of events in television history, and Desperate Housewives ended with someone swinging from the rafters. As a result, I can’t help but feel disillusioned with these series for taking the easy way out. They ended with cliffhangers of a shocking nature, designed to beat our senses into submission. It is therefore that I highlight the only ABC finale of the past week which handled itself with subtlety and grace, and the only one that had the balls to end happily. That finale is “The Matriarchy”, the season-concluding episode of Freshman success Brothers & Sisters.
I didn’t start out watching this show, I really didn’t, but after catching up I must admit I found it to be an enjoyable blend of comedy and drama which has crafted a strong series of characters. And, over the past twenty-two episodes, the series has had its share of dramatic moments. It’s dealt with adultery, death, mistresses, illegitimate children, bi-partisan politics, questions of sexuality, and even a premature birth. And, at certain points, people have been as depressed as Meredith and Co. ended up on Grey’s Anatomy. The season began with the death of the family patriarch, William, and the rest of it has been one hidden secret after another emerging into their world. However, unlike those other shows, this season actually meant something other than a cycle: these characters showed real growth within this finale, and when the entire cast jumped into the pool at the end you could sense a certain cleansing: at the place where William died, everyone who loved him before and hated him after washed away some of that drama and just had fun.
For Nora Walker, the Matriarch in question, this episode was incredibly tough. Sally Field, for like the umpteenth time, stepped up to the plate with some fantastic acting as she depicted a mother facing both her newly engaged, formerly estranged daughter (Moving in with her senator-fiance) and her former drug addict son (Shipping off to Iraq) leaving home. Her performance has been the centerpiece of this drama, and I’m calling it right now: Sally Field will be nominated for an Emmy for this role. And yet, even through all of the heartache, even after saying goodbye to her son at the airport, she is still the one to pull her family out of their depressed rut to have a little fun in the pool. She is the leader of this family, this matriarchy.
That matriarchy is starting to stabilize, even as some rather disruptive elements make their way into the equation. The episode was at its core a celebration of Kitty and Senator McAllister’s engagement, in the form of a rather wild party at the Walker estate which featured Uncle Wiener (Garry Marshall in a guest starring role) and the rest of Senator McAllister’s crazy family stopping by. The occasion is a reuniting one of sorts, bringing together people who have fought in the past or perhaps have lost touch. Holly and Sarah called a truce in their long-term feud and decide that they’re tired of hating one another. Jason McAllister decides that Kevin being an asshole is a turn-on (Ummm…okay) and decides to maul him in the pantry. And, perhaps most surprising of all, an old friend (Milo, portrayed by Michael Nouri [Dr. Roberts on The O.C.]) of Saul’s who recently came out of the closet and seems to be pushing his former pal in the same direction. The last one is a bit disruptive, sure, but it at least finally gives Saul a storyline for next season (Even if it’s the polar opposite of his “I love Holly” one from earlier this year).
The episode was good at introducing only small amounts of drama which provide potential for the seasons ahead. Rebecca, for instance, finally revealed her dark secret: at the age of 16 she embarked on an affair with a teacher, followed him to Chicago to continue it after convincing her mother not to press charges, and then after being discovered by his wife a second time the teacher killed himself. This rather depressing story was told to Justin, and her breakdown was fairly real: Emily Vancamp did a good job of showing her vulnerability, and her reaction to immediately admit her own culpability in her kiss with Joe seemed natural. I like, however, that this was a revelation just to Justin, not to everyone; it was a small secret, kept selectively, and thus is planting seeds for next season.
And really, that is what a finale needs to do. We’ve got Justin on the front lines of Iraq, Kitty’s pending nuptials, McAllister’s Presidential campaign, Sarah and Joe’s divorce or whatever it will end up as, Saul’s sexual confusion, Kevin’s attempt to stop being such an ass, Rebecca’s struggle to redefine her life, Holly’s struggle to come to terms with her own loss, Tommy and Julia’s struggle with their son and the effects of post-partem depression (Well, they can’t all be interesting)…and then Nora to hold it all together at the centre of this matriarchal clan.
I will be talking more about the season as a whole over the next few months, but this was the perfect end: a family unit under a powerful father has been transformed into a family unit under a powerful and loving mother. They’re not perfect, they’re certainly not drama-free…but for that fleeting moment, and as we’ll remember them for the rest of the summer, they’re happy. And that, really, is what makes the finale that much more satisfying.