Episodes draws to the conclusion most of its viewers would have predicted in its first-season finale, so the matter of whether you enjoyed the episode or not is really in the details. Like, if you like the sight of two grown men fighting like children, that definitely helps (I happen to enjoy such things). There's also some nice emoting from both Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan, who are both pros and do a good job of it, while Matt LeBlanc, who's actually been relied upon for most of the heavy lifting this season, settles into more of a wacky, quip-dispensing Friends role just to keep shit from getting too real. Crane & Klarik strike the balance between drama and comedy just fine, so while the predictability is an issue, the episode clips along quickly enough that it doesn't really matter.
The one question I wasn't certain on was whether Sean would discover Beverly's betrayal or whether some sort of secret-keeping plot would be dragged out for a second season (if a renewal is on the cards). I was very, very relieved to see everything come to a head quickly here, because that's a sitcom trope that does not need to be dusted off ever again. No, Sean quickly puts everything together (Beverly returning to him in tears, apologizing, stinking of cinnamon), and his rage flips between tearful realism ("Oh, for God's sake, grow some balls to go with that ridiculous cock and answer me!") and pathetic fury (attacking Matt with a catcus; throwing his silly cologne "Joey" at him).
Mangan has been reduced to a lot of eyebrow-raising over the last six episodes, so it's nice they let him bust out his dramatic chops. He kept his exchanges with Matt from being silly, didn't tone down his fury at Beverly, and really made the whole thing feel like something he might not get over (although if there's a season two pickup, he may be changing his tune). Still, this is very ordinary stuff, really, and since it made up the plotting of the entire episode (there wasn't any Beverly storyline to cut to, although we did get a bit of Merc ranting to break things up a little), it got a little tiring to watch.
That's why, you gotta figure, LeBlanc was given some pretty broad material to counter Sean with, especially broad given the situation. But that side of things mostly worked, I felt, because from the opening scene (where Beverly's sobbing in the bed and Matt reaches gingerly over her to nab her cigarette), it was established that Matt would probably have a bit more of a cavalier attitude towards this whole thing. That's really been established over the whole season. So it was okay that he was saying lines like "Let's not focus on that right now!" when Sean asked him how hard he tried to convince Beverly nothing had gone on with Morning, even though that really sounded like something Joey might have shouted at Chandler or Ross.
Actually, I was hoping for some sort of wonderful curveball at the end of the big fight with Sean in the form of a nice gay sex romp. That'd at least make everyone as culpable as everyone, right? But no, Episodes is too serious for that, I suppose. After their big fight, Matt and Sean help clean each other up and roll back over to Beverly where they learn the big news: Pucks! is getting picked up after testing through the roof (with Merc, of course, taking all the credit).
The success of Pucks! is undoubtely the least surprising twist because the show needs to keep going to keep Episodes going. But it makes perfect sense to me, all the more since the details of the show have been hidden from us. But the glimpses we saw made it look like a perfectly reasonable network sitcom, almost old-fashioned with the kids and the librarian and all. It's probably not something that would test as sensationally as Pucks! does but it's not implausible that it would go over fine with middle Americans who, Carol helpfully informs us, are bussed into L.A. for this sort of thing.
Merc's scenes with his cadre of yes-men felt lifted straight out of an episode of Entourage, especially his random firing of that one guy, which I definitely remember Ari Gold doing at least once. Merc is definitely easier to take in this setting (his personality disorders seem less absurd), but if the Sean, Beverly, Matt sex triangle is old hat, this is even... older hat. Yeah, take that, Klarik and Crane! Older hat!
So what happens next? The second season, if it does exist, will probably be along the lines of Extras' second season. In fact, it's something the show should be careful to avoid mimicking too exactly because the premise is eerily similar, the prestige project being twisted into something mainstream and dull and the creator watching by, horrified that his work has been mangled but happy at the fame and fortune that comes with it. Obviously, the Matt character and the love triangle and so on keeps thing more interesting, but a little less predictability in the storylines and more interesting detours like the episode where Matt visited his kid would be good. And keeping things from getting one-sided in terms of the idiotic network vs. the genius writers is a good idea too. The Carol character (and Beverly's general stubbornness) kept things balanced this year, perhaps more so than the creators intended, given some of the things they've said in interviews.
But Episodes has been a fun little ride. The central trio is very strong, with LeBlanc particularly a revelation considering the trope of an actor playing themselves is so overdone (and the hits keep coming; look at James Van Der Beek's new project announced this week). And there's definitely more material to plumb as the first season of Pucks! is shot and network interference becomes more of a day-to-day thing. I have no idea whether we'll see this back on our screens next year, but as of right now, I think I'd like to.
- Matt designed his cologne: "Turns out I don't have the most sophisticated nose; plus the day we did it, I was really hungry."
- Beverly likes the final edit of Pucks! a bit more, at least. "It's shorter." "So, there's less of it," Sean replies.
- Liked Merc telling the black exec ruefully, "Oh, if only I could fire you." This show needs more knowing lines like that one.
- "We're going home, to proper tea and gentle irony!"
- "My 4-year-old says I smell like a candle."
- "First of all, SHAG? I thought that was just from those Austin Powers movies. Seriously, that's a real word?"
- "What's a blimey?"
- Matt's moved by Sean and Beverly fighting. "The way you guys fight. We're like, 'Fuck you, FUCK YOU!'"