Do you think an outstanding ending can make up for a mediocre story?
Right up front I have to admit that I was never a very big Blackadder fan. It never appealed to me in the same way Monty Python did. But, then again, I never got to watch much of it. Over here in the States, PBS would only show Blackadder during fund drives and even then they showed the episodes out of order. I remember being so confused because in one episode, Blackadder was an Elizabethan snob and the next he was an officer in the British Army in WWI. Of course, now I know that every season (or series for our British friends) took place in a different time period but no thanks to PBS. And, NO!, I don’t want the stupid tote bag just show Fawlty Towers and shut up.
I had never planned to go back and watch all four seasons but I ran across an article talking about how amazing the series finale was and, still living in the warm post-orgasmic glow of the Breaking Bad finale and hungry for more, decided to give it a try.
I found the first series almost unwatchable. Rowin Atkinson’s insipid imbecile version of Blackadder was always annoying and never funny. The supporting cast, likewise, just seemed to do a lot of shouting. In the second season, things picked up a bit when Blackadder became a blazing cynic and snide comeback artist. And it was fun to see Hugh Laurie, whom I knew primarily as Dr. Gregory House, doing what he was apparently born to do. Also good to see Stephen Fry. But most of my snickers were polite at best. During the third season, I actually got a few belly laughs and the fourth was funny all the way through, if not amazingly so. I mean, to remember my friends talking about Blackadder back in 80s, it was funnier than Monty Python and more acerbic than Fawlty Towers. To me, this was just a genial portrayal of life in the officer corps during the days of Empire, something that had been better portrayed in Python’s Meaning of Life.
And then the finale came and reset my opinion of the whole series. SPOILER ALERT: In every season ender of Blackadder all the major characters end up dead or doomed. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the principals did the thing Blackadder had been struggling to avoid for the whole series: Go over the top and march bravely into the teeth of German machinegun fire.
Now this may have something to do with the aforementioned Jonesing for Breaking Bad, but the emotional connection I made with the series finale was so strong it swept back through me and elevated my opinion of all the previous series. Except series one, which is just awful.
This effect, which was similar to the shock induced racial memory from Childhood’s End where the sight of the Overlords is so shocking, it sends the memory backward through time informing the human race’s image of The Devil, reminded me of the final episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I was a huge Buffy fan but even I noticed the quality of the show fell off sharply after the third season. That’s not to say they didn’t still have great episodes (Hush comes to mind) but there were some serious stretches of credibility with the Initiative, the knights of old riding horses to attack the RV the Scoobies are trying to escape in, Willow’s addiction to magic, and so on. Watching Buffy in those seasons following the destruction of the mayor became a kind of crapshoot. Every Tuesday night the first question was, is this going to be a good episode? If not, then the second question was, will this shitty episode have some good scenes in it? If not, then you had to hope there was at least a couple of good Whedonesque lines in it. Something you could quote at the water cooler on Wednesday morning. For instance: “Can you vague that up for me a little?”
But the 7th season largely returned to form and the series finale was good enough and bittersweet enough to redeem the whole series. It was like a perfect slice of cheesecake that redeems an overdone steak at an expensive restaurant.
Or is it just me? I can be a pushover so it could just be me that gets sucked in by a good finale and uses that as an excuse for every flaw and excess in the series that led up to that finale.