"People live through a lot of things you never thought they could." -Charlie Crews"Life" has certainly lived longer than most of us assumed that it would. Its ratings in season one were awful, and it only stuck around because NBC couldn't afford to dump any original scripted programming with the writers strike looming. The strike lasted long enough that NBC couldn't have a normal development season, so they renewed it again. And NBC's problems in other areas -- not to mention their awareness that "Life" is a good show -- led to an unexpected full season pick-up. But the ratings have never been better than awful, regardless of the timeslot, or the competition, and I've viewed most of this season as the show living on borrowed time.
I know we all like to hold out hope about the possibility that NBC might order a third season, and Rand Ravich suggested on Monday's conference call that he had some ideas for a third season, but this was an ending. It was absolutely an ending. Among other things Ravich did with "One":
• He killed off the documentary filmmaker who had been an occasional presence in the series from the opening frames of the pilot.
• He killed off Roman, the closest thing Crews has to an arch-nemesis.
• He took us back to Charlie's orange grove, last seen in the pilot.
• He had Mickey Rayborn reveal as much as is possible about the conspiracy, factoring in the time frame of the episode and my suspicions that not even Ravich understands all the details of it.
And, perhaps most importantly...
• He ended with the very strong suggestion that Crews and Reese are starting to think of each other as something more than a work partner.
I want to start with that last point, which was the only really sour note of "One" for me. One of my favorite things about "Life" is how it never, until this episode, even hinted at any kind of attraction between Crews and Reese. This was a partnership, and a friendship of sorts, between two equals who just happened to be of the opposite sex. The few times other characters suggested they might be a couple, Crews looked confused and Reese looked horrified. Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi had great chemistry together, but chemistry doesn't always have to be romantic. If Ravich thinks he was giving some kind of gift to the fans by ending the series (or setting things in motion for an improbable season three) with all those hints -- Crews' reaction when Agent Bodner said he met his wife on the job, the look on Reese's face when she sees Crews has survived his encounter with Roman, the Zen audiobook narrator explaining that when 1+1=1, it's love -- I think his own math may have been off about how the show worked and what its fans wanted to see from it.
Beyond that one miscalculation, I thought "One" was a fine send-off (if that's what it turns out to be) for "Life." Maybe it wasn't quite as viscerally exciting as last season's similar finale, "Fill It Up" -- swapping out cell phones isn't as innately cool as swapping out cars, and we didn't get very much of Damian Lewis with a gun in his hand -- but it was close. It gave us as much closure as was possible (see above). It used the entire ensemble (plus Gabrielle Union and Helen McCrory) well. And, in the final encounter between Charlie and Roman in the Escalade, it showed us once and for all that, no matter how much Charlie likes to pretend that his life is ruled by Zen thinking, what really carried him through 12 years in prison and several very dangerous years back in the real world weren't the koans, or the fruit(*), but the fact that he is one tough, relentless SOB.
(*) And how thematically perfect was it that Crews kills Roman by whacking him in the Adam's apple?
I don't know that the finale makes any more sense than "Fill It Up" did -- whether Roman had FBI agents in his pocket or not, surely there have to be consequences for Charlie going rogue like this again, and for Tidwell's enabling of him -- but up until those final seconds, I felt very Zen about this being the series' swan song. Maybe there won't be episodes after this, but as Crews says, "There can't be nothing." We'll still have the DVDs, our memories of the partnership, and the rest, and I know this won't be the last we see of Damian Lewis on these shores.
Some other thoughts:
• Note the clever use of the bag on Reese's head to allow director Fred Keller to give us several full body shots of her even though Sarah Shahi's pregnant belly is quite noticeable. (Click on the image to the right to get a good look of how those scenes would have looked without a body double.)
• And while Shahi's pregnancy kept her mostly on the sideline these last few episodes, I liked seeing Dani applying the second-hand bits of Zen she picked up from Crews to intimidate Roman: "You're connected to me. I'm connected to Crews. He'll find you."
• Of course Tidwell's ringtone features bagpipes. And, as another "this is the last episode" moment, we had Crews finally figuring out how to use modern technology when he *69'ed Seever's number, then read Stark's text.
• Roman also gave us closure, sort of, on Jack Reese, telling Dani that he killed Jack. He could, of course, be lying, but something tells me that was an easy way to take care of a problematic character, third season or no.
• The biggest thing I still don't understand about the conspiracy: Mickey wanted to use Rachel Seybolt's dad to turn Crews dirty and recruit him as his successor in the criminal conspiracy, right? And Kyle Hollis was somehow affiliated with the conspiracy, right? So even if Hollis somehow goes nuts and slaughters the Seybolt family, minus Rachel, why would Mickey and his guys want to frame Crews for it? And why on Earth would they give Rachel to crazy Kyle to raise?
• With the muscle car wrecked again, and with Agent Bodner's testimonial about all the features of his minivan (which I'm guessing was product integration), if there were to be a third season, do you think we'd see Charlie going for a vehicle with 18 cupholders and a DVD player?
Finally, before we say goodbye to "Life" (for now, if not forever), I have to once again honor my pledge about including a William Atherton '80s movie quote at the end of any episode featuring Atherton. And since reports of Rayborn's demise proved to be greatly exaggerated, let's dip back into the bottomless well of "Real Genius" lines one more time, with Atherton as Jerry Hathaway and Gabe Jarret as young Mitch Taylor:
Jerry Hathaway: Mitch, will you miss your friends?What did everybody else think? And if there were to be a miraculous renewal, what would you want to see out of a third season? (Other than the obvious, which is a return appearance by Christina Hendricks.)
Mitch: Well, no. I think I intimidate other kids.
Jerry Hathaway: Good boy.