The ”Ugly Betty” finale: A death in the family
Based on the quality of Ugly Betty’s first season, I had no doubt this finale would be total snap, crackle, and pop. But I wasn’t ready for this. The promos touted enticing story lines: An engagement ring! A discovered birth certificate! Betty finally telling Henry she was willing to fight for him! Last week’s preview promised it’d be ”pulse-pounding!” and ”cataclysmic!” and packed with plenty of ”surprises!” But, man oh man (picture me shaking my head gravely here), I wasn’t ready for that gunshot.
When the episode was over, I literally sat here and thought: How could they do this to me? And my friends Betty and Hilda? And what about poor little fatherless Justin? Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten choked up nearly every episode this season. Remember all those Puffs-worthy moments I’ve talked about? But the death of Santos really hit me hard. It’s not that I ever really loved his character — he was relatively peripheral, not to mention that he had been a deadbeat rat for a long time — but the reaction of Betty and Hilda, lying in each other’s arms on the floor, crying together, hit me like a ton of bricks.
You could say I’m silly for being so wrapped up in such a sudsy television dramedy. Isn’t this the show that panders to every stereotype known to man, with over-the-top acting and a transsexual story line to boot? Yes, but it’s also got the biggest heart of any show on TV right now. This episode’s ending — leaving nearly everyone hanging in some major crisis — was superbly symphonic in its execution. And set to the haunting ”Somewhere,” with cuts to the scene in West Side Story where Justin is playing the gunned-down Tony. Ahhh….While the audience in the auditorium was crying, the same thing, I’m sure, was happening out in the real world.
Sorry to be obsessing over the ending (but that’s what finales are about, right?). The rest of the show leading up to it couldn’t have been better. This was the first episode in a while without any filler; the quip-filled dialogue actually helped advance the plot. Just for a quick recap, here’s where everybody was left going into the summer break: Henry and the pregnant Charlie are on their way to Arizona to do baby-related things. Santos is presumably dead after being gunned down in a convenience store. Daniel and Alexis are injured — or worse — after a car accident on the way to rehab. Claire is about to break out of a prison transport bus. Ignacio is stuck in Mexico, waiting for a visa. And Christina and Amanda are drunk and trapped in the Love Dungeon behind the fashion closet. Bradford, Willy, and Marc are the only ones who — at the end of the show — aren’t in some sort of peril.
Betty and Henry, for the first time, really seemed poised to get their legitimate relationship on. Betty confessed her love (”So here I am, fighting”) in the copy room. Luckily, she didn’t have to fight for long because Henry had already kicked Charlie to the curb. But somehow, I should have known the couple couldn’t really be happy together — that’s just not how this show works. Charlie showed up, knocked up, and good guy Henry said he couldn’t abandon his child. Betty’s screwed once again. It was clear from their emotional goodbye, even with that glasses-to-glasses kiss, that their relationship is meant to be. They’re dorks for sure (who loved Amanda’s ”dorkus interruptus” comment?), but they’re dorks with chemistry! I suppose that if we viewers did get what we want — a total, full-on Henry-Betty relationship — we’d get bored with it. At least this is interesting! But the evil voice in my head is screaming for Charlie to burn.
And what other relationship was on the rocks this week? Willy and Marc’s. After Fabia demanded that she have ”that girl” (Marc) in exchange for her booked wedding date at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Willy shipped Marc off. ”Are you smoking?” Willy said to Marc after he had been assimilated into Fabia’s posse. To which the beat-down Marc replied, ”Yes, she makes me. And she makes me eat pasta, too.” Ha! For only the second time this season, Willy showed her humanity (she’s not completely evil!) with those flashbacks — wonderfully set to Vanessa Williams singing ”The Way We Were” — of her and Marc’s good times (him injecting Botox, giving her pedicures, etc.). What a nice tribute to this wonderfully funny boss-assistant relationship! When he did finally get to come back to Mode, though, it was back to business, even though Willy couldn’t hide her happiness in having her partner in crime back on her side. ”You did not just hug me,” she said, in classic Willy deadpan.
The rest of the plots also had me on pins and needles. Christina discovered a birth certificate that said Amanda may be Fey Sommers’ daughter. Not exactly sure what this means, because the details about Fey are still foggy. Could that — God forbid — mean that Bradford may be Amanda’s father, since he and Fey had an affair? (Okay, that’d be really gross, seeing as how Amanda and what would be her half brother Daniel were intimate for a long time. Probably not likely, though, as Amanda said that Fey had been a family friend and that her father had handled Fey’s finances.)
Somewhere in the countryside, Claire was about to escape so she could get to Bradford. And now with Bradford and Willy’s wedding pushed back to November (sweeps?), she may actually have time to get to him and make a difference. Go for it, Claire! But sadly, all signs point to Claire being royally screwed, no matter what she does. (I have to say this — who better to play a woman going off the deep end than Judith Light? She’s already played every kind of crazy woman in TV movies. This is the role of her lifetime!)
And as for Daniel and Alexis, I’m wondering which one is going to wake up with amnesia. It seems inevitable that some character will have it soon.
Overall, this was the best hour of Betty this season, up there with the pilot and the big reveal about Alexis a few months ago. Though I had my doubts several times throughout the season about whether Betty’s premise was sufficiently strong to sustain a series, this episode and its many juicy plotlines convinced me that we’ve got nothing to worry about: Betty, as a character, is just the glue that holds everything together. The ensemble cast — with all their tangled stories — could keep this show going for years to come.
And now my top quotes of the night:
7. Marc, trying to calm himself down with breathing exercises: ”Inhale, Ricky Martin; exhale, Colin Farrell.”
6. The dental hygienist (a hilarious cameo by Kristin Chenoweth), urging Betty to take charge of her love life: ”Okay, maybe I do escape to the movies a little more often than I should. But this is your movie, Betty!…This is your chance for the happy ending you’ve always wanted! Now go home and put on some totally cute top and run a brush through that hair — or maybe a hat! And go and stop that plane! You’re Drew Barrymore!”
5. Justin, refusing to give any more wedding advice to Hilda: ”I told Mom if she went with the green organza for the bridesmaids, she was on her own.”
4. Willy, planning to take back her St. Patrick’s wedding date: ”Get Fabia over here. Wedding Summit ‘07 [fierce snap] is on!”
3. Fabia: ”You must come to the ceremony. I won’t be able to get married without my something old.” Willy: ”Oh, with the veins in your legs, you already have your something blue.”
2. Justin, preparing for West Side Story: ”Mom, I lost it! I go on in two hours, and I can’t snap. What kind of gang member can’t snap?”
1. Amanda, trying to make Christina think she’s imagining things: ”How drunk are you?” (This is also my new comeback to everything!)
What do you think, TV Watchers? Did the season finale live up to your expectations? Was the West Side Story connection too much? And how will the series go on from here?