Damn. That was... not bad. No, better than that. That was good. Confident, in character, funny on occasion (any scene with Che), genuinely touching at others (the comic book store intervention), really the most like itself the show has felt in a long time, maybe even going back to season one. There's too much bad karma built up over the last two years, not to mention too much plot that Josh burnt through in the first one, for the series to ever really recapture the magic of the good ol' days, but this was a quality level I didn't think the show could hit anymore. I actually watched it twice, and it's grown on me even in the week since the second time.
Ryan's cage-fighting sounded cheesey in theory, but it worked in execution, playing into his constant need for self-flagellation and difficulty in thinking without his fists. I've grown tired of dramas that do in media res openings, but that entire opening sequence -- from Ryan cleaning his wounds in that dingy supply closet to the WTF? meeting with Julie at the Mermaid Inn (where the two of them used to sleep with Luke and Theresa, respectively) -- really drew me in and hit harder when we revisted it two-thirds of the way through. (The reveal of where Kaitlin got the Pretty Woman boots was particularly nice.)
Back when Josh capped Marissa in the finale, I wrote:
Ryan has always been and will always be an angsty character. It's his reason for being on this show. But there's a difference between the "Sorry, nice rich Jewish man, for accidentally burning down your father-in-law's model home and getting into fights at every cotillion" kind of angst and the "My explosive temper triggered a series of events that led to the tragic death of the only girl I've ever loved" angst, and I don't see how either Ryan or the show pulls out of this. Julie can still be funny and bitchy after her wrinkly sugar daddy husband dies, but her daughter? Does Summer get over her best friend dying anytime soon? Is Taylor quite as amusing taking Marissa's place in the inner circle? Bah. No good can come from this.Mea culpa. The show isn't skirting the consequences of Marissa's death, but in spite of the mood lighting and the cage fights and Julie's pills, it doesn't feel overwrought, but just right. It also helps that I've seen the first four episodes and have witnessed some of the light near the end of the tunnel, but I felt okay with it even at the end of the first hour.
Marissa is proving a more useful character in death than she ever was in life. (Funny how much better she gets when Mischa Barton doesn't have to play her.) Everybody's responding differently: Ryan through his masochistic fights (and, after the intervention, by unbottling his anger to win his last fight and go hunting for Volchok), Summer by latching onto Che and keeping Newport at a physical and emotional distance, Seth by going into a corner and doing his best not to bother either his best friend or his girlfriend, Kaitlin by tempering her conniving with about 5% more compassion for her mom, etc.
Yes, parts of it are melodramatic, but that's what this show is -- just, on its better days, it's a smart melodrama. Ben McKenzie, Rachel Bilson and Melinda Clarke all gave among their best performances, and there was just enough of the funny ("Let me buy you a new toothbrush," Luke's dorky kid brothers) to reassure us that Josh knows where the show needs to go once he gets through this shiva period.
It's probably going to get slaughtered by "Grey's," "CSI" and possibly even "Supernatural," but at least I don't feel like I'm just watching the show out of nostalgia for the book-worthy days.
What did everybody else think?