Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Long Goodbye (5.4)

There's always been something almost exploitative about most depictions of death on television, since it's almost always used as a narrative trick to get folks weeping. Generally, there's also some behind-the-scenes reason for it. Sometimes an actor wants to leave, other times the show wants a ratings spike. It's an easy way to ratchet up dramatic weight, and few shows can entirely justify character deaths without it coming off a little cheap. Dawson's Creek falls into an area in which Mitch's death isn't entirely justified in a dramatic sense, since so much of The Long Goodbye is as generic as they come. Death is so commonplace and predictable an outcome on television that it's weak to not try and find new corners to explore as a result of it.

You could probably play a good drinking game while watching this. There's the part where Dawson has to choose his father's coffin, a character making an off-color remark and then feels bad about it, people bringing their own experiences of death to the table, a public freak-out after so much stoic silence, a ton of unnecessary guilt, fond memories and flashbacks of the dead character in question, a last-minute reformation of love and emotion, and a weepy montage before the credits roll. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I'm probably being a little harsh, I get it. There's nothing at all wrong with The Long Goodbye, it's just painfully predictable, writer Tom Kapinos cycling through every post-death cliché with no real awareness of how generic it all is. When Buffy's The Body and Friday Night Lights' The Son, as well as the entire run of Six Feet Under, are able to examine death in this raw, gut-wrenching manner that it winds up making you feel almost voyeuristic for watching something so unbearably intimate, an episode like The Long Goodbye can only look trite and obvious in comparison.

Still, there is obviously power to this kind of storytelling, as annoying as it may be. Gosh, I did shed a little something at that final montage, Mitch taking a photograph with his family and looking around at his home and the lake and realizing that his life is actually pretty wonderful, and it's hard to not be moved by the inherent awfulness of losing a parent. Mary-Margaret Humes is also wonderful here, conveying so much devastation at suddenly becoming a widow. But it doesn't make this episode anything better than simply "all right", those aforementioned series casting an enormous shadow over most of what this episode does. C

Credits
Guest stars
John Wesley Shipp (Mitch Leery); Nina Repeta (Bessie Potter); Busy Philipps (Audrey Liddell); Mary-Margaret Humes (Gale Leery); Jodi Thelan (Susan)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director Robert Duncan McNeill

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