“Return to Queens Boulevard”
November 24th, 2008
In the interest of full disclosure, I despised the fourth season of Entourage. It was, to my mind, a show with the absolute worst sense of direction: nowhere. They finished the movie, an admittedly really intriguing little exercise for the show, and then just sat around while it slowly (and mostly in the background in the hands of the incompetent Billy Walsh) imploded to the point of them getting booed out of Cannes. While one could argue the season had a plot, it certainly never properly developed it into character development.
By comparison, the fifth season started with Vince lounging in a secluded beach in Mexico, struggling with Medellin’s failure and not looking to get back in the game. What we saw over the season was a slow build, allowing us to see Eric’s career begin to expand (to the writers of Vince’s movie and to young comic Charlie) while Vince bounces into a picture that was doomed to failure from the beginning. Where we found them in the finale was on a different kind of holiday: no longer simply an escape from a depressive reality, Queens was the equivalent of giving up and going home to regroup. This was not, in other words, a vacation.
So, why did it end like one? One of the most frustration things about Entourage is how much Vince’s life feels inconsequential, that it seems as if this is one enormous vacation where everything will work out in the end based on wish fulfillment and purely illogical events, and that was never more clear than here. We entered the episode with one crisis, Vince’s lack of a job and his tainted name in Hollywood, and midway through there was even (in a stark comparison with the fourth season) a personal, character driven event. And yet, by the end, we’re wholly crisis free.
And that’s the last place Entourage needs to be.
I need to make clear that, up until the final scene, I actually quite liked “Return to Queens Boulevard.” As someone who has enjoyed this show and its dynamic quite considerably in early seasons, there is something charming about the playfulness which defines their time in New York. Drama, especially, fits better in New York (which was a nice change of pace for the show); as a character who has been mostly sidelined all season, his purchase/naming of the bar was a terrible investment that nonetheless offered something that is instantly associated with Drama’s level of idiocy without feeling entirely forced.
And the return to New York had Vince feeling more at home as well – whether it was reconnecting with his high school flame Kara or having his mother worry about him (treating him like she usually treats Drama), Vince is more in his element here than he is in the rough world of Hollywood. Vince is the epitome of the pretty boy who emerges based on his looks and looks alone; this doesn’t mean that he’s dumb, but outside of the partying lifestyle his desires are more simple, and he is (indeed) shortsighted enough to blame Eric for the failure in regards to the Gus Van Sant film. Vince returning into a more comfortable environment, one where the entire neighbourhood and family still treat him like he’s family, would bring out the kinds of tension we saw a while ago as Eric started to take on more clients and Vince felt neglected.
So when Eric and Vince had their blowout in the street, it felt like something mattered; that, finally, one of Eric’s well-fought failures is too much for Vince to handle, that he would choose those who felt more comfortable to him than those who had other lives. At a certain point, I was convinced Vince was headed into a depressive spiral: Eric is busy with Charlie’s burgeoning career, Turtle is busy with his new lady friend, Drama is entering the exciting world of bar ownership…his Entourage appeared to be abandoning him, leaving him the only one without some kind of purpose in life. That, to me, is the perfect culmination of the season considering where it began: Vince isolated not literally, but within the one group that was supposed to keep him together.
This all meant that, when Ari shows up in New York with a mysterious phone call, I wasn’t too upset. I thought there was a definite poetry to E’s last action for Vince being getting him a movie, and other than the director I don’t think Vince as a Nick Carraway type is entirely far-fetched (the role is, essentially, supposed to seem generic and stoic by comparison to the eccentrics of the society he falls into, so Vince could fit the role within a modern context). No, I don’t think that either Gus Van Zant or Martin Scorsese would ever look at the footage we saw from Smoke Jumpers and see an amazing performance, but I like that they never went so far as to go beyond “he’s clearly growing as an actor.” While the cynic in me would have liked to see Vince sit on that for a while, having his efforts to improve (most obvious with his late nights on Smoke Jumpers) work isn’t too far outside of reality for me to call it wish fulfillment.
But the episode, sadly, wasn’t content to stop there. The ending they provided was the exact kind of bullshit that Entourage has been doing for too long, whitewashing a season for a final bro hug and a joyous reunion. It doesn’t even make any sense with any of the arcs previously discussed within the season, and it is entirely conflict-free. This show isn’t mining for diamonds, so I don’t know what ethical dilemma they have with leaving these people in interpersonal conflict. While one could argue they did it last year with Medellin, one could also argue that that film was building towards the blowout that Vince and Eric have midway through this episode. That’s about three seasons worth of tension exploding in one scene, and yet the show is treating it as if it was a mere slipup in their eternal and everlasting friendship.
I think that’s crap; what would have been the problem with leaving these characters in the state of success with somewhat apart? That montage before the final scene would have been a perfectly acceptable ending: if only E had returned to an empty office, sitting down at his desk looking back at his Aquaman Variety cover and realizing he’s put that part of his life behind him. I’m not suggesting the show keep them apart forever (E’s storylines have struggled ever since Sloane left), but for them to force them together so soon defeats the entire purpose. If there are going to be long term conflicts within the relationship, where’s the concern for its stability when last time it was resolved in a single act? This desire to leave us on a celebratory note is confounding to me: where is supposed to be our interest in seeing where the next season is going to take these characters, ignoring for a second Vince’s movie career.
What this finale does for me is convince me that, even with an improved season over the relative debacle that I consider Season Four, the show has no idea where it’s actually going. While one presumes with Drama’s purchase of the bar and Vince shooting his movie there that they will be spending some time in New York at the start of next season, the point of dramatic tension they’ve left us with is “What crazy hijinx will the entourage get into next?” And, while I know that I’ve been given crap for this before, I think the show was once about something more than that, and that with even until the final minute of this finale were capable of doing the same.
Two steps forward, one step back.
- I wonder how long they’ve wanted to go shoot in New York, but it’s more economically feasible now considering the recent tax breaks. While I don’t know how they plan on splitting their time next year, they bothered to set up Kara enough that I would expect them to spend at least a while in New York – considering the show’s patterns, though, forgive me if I don’t get too attached to one of his romantic conquests.
- One thing we will be seeing next year, though, is Gary Cole, who will be joining the cast as a series regular and one of the new partners at Ari’s office. I’m curious to see how that develops, as Ari was definitely given a somewhat weaker season this year. Hopefully there isn’t an Emmy episode for Jeremy Piven here so, you know, someone else can win one for a change. With Drama also shortchanged, this is definitely not an Emmy season for the show’s supporting players.
- Nice to see Turtle get a bit more time here, and for his relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler develop into something capable of some heartfelt thoughts for Turtle and the comic simplicity of his mother listening in on their phone sex. Sure, the latter seems ridiculously impractical (unless Turtle can’t pay his cell phone bill for some reason), but Turtle scrambling to block the door was darn funny. Now, how they handle the distance should be interesting, but with Ferrera and Sigler dating in real life she might stick around.
- As far as guest stars go, I thought Gus Van Sant’s monotone was actually quite good when paired against E’s annoying buzzing around, while Marty (as always) gives great “I’d never actually do this in real life” (See also: his great American Express commercial).
- Nice to see Louis Lombardi (who appeared as Ronnie previously, and who is best known for either his role on The Sopranos or as the lovable Edgar Stiles on 24) back on the show, although Drama’s first instincts were definitely right about that club.