Pete and Alex are never going to kiss.
Just wanted to get that out of the way. The whole reason to do a will-they/won’t-they is because the moment when they finally switch over to the “they will” side of the equation can be so great. There’s nothing quite like a long build-up—executed over several episodes—before two people hook up. I’m not going to say this can’t get annoying, because it definitely can. But when timed just right and pulled off correctly, it can be so much fun. The run of Bent will, in all likelihood, end with that moment where Alex is inadvertently re-enacting the build-up to her sex dream with Pete in what appears to be an Ikea, a sweet, surprisingly sexy moment where the two have several feet of space between them, but they’re so obviously right next to each other in their heads. Now, we’re never going to get to see the moment when they finally do let that space collapse, because NBC had no idea what to do with any of the pleasant but not especially funny comedies it ordered last spring.
Tonight’s double episode feels like a solid finale for the season, though. I’m glad that the series didn’t rush putting Pete and Alex in bed (or even in a lip-lock), and just about every character got a moment or two to shine. (The possible exception was Charlie, who wasn’t in the first episode and mostly sat out the second. I suspect we’ll be seeing Joey King elsewhere in the near future, however.) There’s no possible way Bent will ever end up on DVD—and, hell, I don’t know that it will end up on streaming sites either—but I don’t think those who watch these episodes will be upset about unresolved cliffhangers or anything like that. No, the only thing to be upset about here is that this show had a lot of potential, and it’s never going to get to realize it. Oh, and the two leads will never kiss.
I preferred the second episode to the first, but let’s be chronological about things. In our first half-hour, “Mom,” Pete’s mom, a successful actress, drops in for a visit from London. Marcia Gay Harden plays the part, and once I got over my initial shock that she’s apparently old enough to play David Walton’s mom, I had a good time with Harden’s performance. The conceit of it is pretty goofy: She’s a woman who lives in London and lapses into a British accent on seemingly every other sentence she says. Harden plays the accent switching so perfectly and subtly that it completely works, and it’s a fun little parody of American stars who move overseas and pick up just enough of a British accent to sound like Americans doing bad British accents.
The supposedly animal attraction between Walt and his ex was a little predictable. Has there ever been a show with prominently featured divorced parents who didn’t hook up yet again? I mostly went along with it because I was enjoying Harden’s performance so much, but I don’t wonder if Walt didn’t become too much of a sadsack in this episode. There’s a fine line between making a character so pathetic they’re fun to laugh at/with and making them too pathetic, so you just feel odd pity for them, and I think the show might have crossed that line with Walt tonight. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed the material with Alex trying to make sure Pete hadn’t slipped back into his gambling ways (especially the scene at the Gamblers Anonymous meeting), and the stuff with the guys trying to fix the wall in Pete’s absence was obvious—they make the problem worse!—but funny.
Episode two works about as well as any season finale to a six-episode American order as I’ve seen. (The Brits are great at tight little six-episode arcs, but it’s rare to find an American series that doesn’t feel like it’s just getting started at the six-episode mark.) There’s an intriguing hint of where things might have gone in that last scene, but there’s also a nice acknowledgment that tossing Pete and Alex into bed together would have been too much, too quickly. These two are in for the slow buildup, and that will all eventually come to a head in some other universe where this is the biggest show on television. Here in our universe, we just have to imagine when they finally kiss in episode 100, long after we’re sick of their flirtatious dance.
The show actually set up a second will-they/won’t-they this season, one that seemed like a sort of parody of the main storyline, as Gary became fond of Screwsie, and she used that attraction to get him to do stuff for her. What I liked about the end of this storyline was that it gave us the kiss we’d been waiting for, but it also showed that Pete can be someone who’s all talk, no game when it comes to this sort of stuff. Gary takes his advice and just gives Screwsie a kiss, after she says there’s no romantic future for them. She hesitates at first, but she eventually seems into it, and we realize that in the world of the romantic comedy, at least, just giving someone a kiss is always a good way to force the issue. (This is not recommended for real life, where it can horribly, horribly backfire. Especially with a co-worker. Don’t try it at home, kids.) Plus, the episode showed that Walton and Amanda Peet continue to have some solid (if not incredibly smoldering) chemistry, and it reminded all of us that Peet is often at her best when she’s playing slightly unhinged.
I’ve come to really like when shows end their seasons not with life-or-death stakes, but with the suggestion of possibilities. We’re never going to see another episode of Bent, but the finale leaves us with places where we can continue the story in our own heads. There’s something really generous about that, as if the show knew ahead of time that NBC was likely just going to burn it off. I doubt I’m going to spend a lot of time thinking about Bent in the years to come, but when I do, I suspect it will have a lot to do with this finale. Does Walt get the voice-over job? Do Pete and Alex ever come together? Do Gary and Screwsie get to have some sort of inevitably complicated relationship? Does Charlie pursue a worthwhile career in theatrical house management? A second season would have complicated these questions—and maybe deepened them—but the way the show ends lets us fill in our own answers in the blanks. It doesn’t close off new possibilities; it encourages them. Sort of like the show itself.
“Tile Date: A-
- Gary’s dance at the end of “Mom” was pretty amusing, especially when he interrupted it to say, “The cat’s in the wall.”
- That said, the tag at the end of “Tile Date” seemed a little abrupt, especially after all of the pseudo-cliffhangers the show had left us with. It felt like it was leftover material from another episode or something.
- The tradition of bringing in a new love interest to force tension in the relationship was the sole false note in “Tile Date.” I liked that we got to hang out with the gleefully malicious Ben for a while longer—when he stitched up Pete’s hand, it was funny stuff—but bringing in a brand new character as a love interest for Pete, just to drive Alex crazy, was something that would have played more with additional episodes to flesh it out. Oh, for a 13-episode order!