When a show gets an early pickup, it’s supposed to be a relief. Hart Of Dixie earned a third season before it was ever in jeopardy, part of a collection of early pickups in April by The CW, and if we were to travel back in time to when the season began, I would have been excited by this news. While a charming confection at its core, Hart Of Dixie began the season with a compelling take on a love triangle that allowed a messy, friends with benefits situation to naturally evolve into a messy but meaningful relationship. Rachel Bilson and Wilson Bethel’s chemistry was allowed to evolve Zoe and Wade from antagonistic tension to a decidedly romantic connection, up until the point when the show arbitrarily broke them up to prove a point.
It’s a decision that resulted in a season of two halves. The first half of the season used Zoe and Wade’s relationship as a central case study for the town of Bluebell’s collective crisis of identity (Lemon navigating her breakup with George, Brick’s mid-life crisis, etc.). While born out of a standard love triangle, their relationship was never so simple as true love, a messy and complicated partnership that one could argue was, perhaps, bound to implode in time. The problem is that the writers didn’t have anything to replace it with. While one could argue the writers ended the relationship because they felt they had run out of stories to tell, none of what followed held any of the same resonance. Zoe’s heartbreak and Wade’s self-destruction were interesting character shadings, but the writers didn’t have anywhere for them to go. The season effectively continued the two characters’ personal developments—Zoe searching for love, Wade aspiring to make more of his life—as the season went along, but there was nothing to string it all together. Even positive developments, like Lavon’s relationship with Annabeth, lacked a sense of weight that Zoe and Wade’s relationship provided.
Put simply, Hart of Dixie began the season as a show I took pleasure in, and by the end of the season it devolved into a show that I have trouble tolerating. I won’t necessarily say that the show has become dramatically worse. It’s always been uneven, and I don’t know how far it’s fallen on a macro-level as the season has moved on. But the choice to abandon a clear evolution in Zoe and Wade’s relationship without a clearer strategy for how to rebuild narrative interest resulted in a series of episodes that I actively disliked. Storylines got more hackneyed, character motivations became more muddled, and the only momentum the show has is in a direction that honestly makes me want to vomit.
This is perhaps more my problem than Hart Of Dixie’s, but the George/Zoe relationship makes me queasy. It’s as though my brain is convinced they’re cousins, and that it’s just inherently wrong for the show to position them in a romantic capacity. Scott Porter and Rachel Bilson aren’t without chemistry, but the show has done absolutely nothing to demonstrate that chemistry in the back half of the season. In “On The Road Again,” the love triangle returns not because the characters’ chemistry is just too powerful, but because the show forgot to build any other compelling storylines and had to resort to the place where the season began. In the process, the show torpedoed George and Tansy’s relationship in recent weeks with some astrology nonsense to get her out of the way, all in service of a relationship that’s only purpose is to provide narrative uncertainty heading into a third season.
“On The Road Again” is not as bad as the episodes that preceded it, but it suffers from a lack of clear development since Wade and Zoe’s breakup. Wade and Zoe finally get to speak honestly about that breakup during the finale, and it’s another great piece of acting from Wilson Bethel, but it’s also something the show marginalized in recent weeks for the sake of reestablishing George as a romantic interest for Zoe. That scene is emotional, but everything else around it is completely inert. Do we care that George is off on tour with Lily Anne, outside of an excuse for Scott Porter to bust out his singing voice? Was anyone surprised when Jonah showed up at the wedding, without having RSVP’d? And more importantly, is anyone emotionally invested in this love rhombus for any other reason than that it complicates the relationship between Zoe and Wade? “On The Road Again” spends a lot of time setting up an off-season question mark—will Zoe’s summer in New York with Jonah change her relationship with the other men in her life?!—but seems disinterested in treating anyone but Wade with the pathos necessary to make me care as an audience member.
Without caring, a show like Hart of Dixie becomes about 75 percent shenanigans. Lavon’s war with Filmore is an admirable attempt to give the show a greater sense of place, and Kaitlyn Black has been absolutely delightful all season in what could be a thankless role as Annabeth, but it all felt a bit too silly. Similarly, Lemon and Wade owning the Rammer Jammer is an effective framework for future storylines, but her over-the-phone efforts to convince Gloriana—the hipster Lady Antebellum I never knew I wanted—to play a secret show was a thin conceit and little more. These storylines were not without pleasures, and details like Lemon being referred to as a “Roadhouse proprietress” or Meatball’s obsession with Argo are part of the series’ charm. The problem is that the season’s uneven development led to these storylines concluding without the stakes necessary to have them resonate. The show never bothered to elaborate on Filmore’s feud with Bluebell until a few weeks ago, and the writers force Lemon to lie like a sitcom teenager to justify the whole Gloriana mess.
Hart Of Dixie knows what kind of show it wants to be. We can see it in how the finale concludes, with Zoe caught between three men and two different lives: one in Bluebell with Wade and George and the telenovela, and one in New York with Jonah and fancy weddings and surgical internships. In other words, the show Hart of Dixie wants to be is the show it’s always been, reverting back to the conflict of its initial premise. However, as much as that can be a realistic experience for some people, it’s resulted in a show that still lacks cohesion on a broader scale. While some finales work to shake up the status quo, I’m unsure if there was a point late in the season where I could direct you to the status quo for Hart of Dixie. There was something admirable about the show’s uneven charms as the season began, but by the end of the season, I had hoped to see something more concrete, something more solid. Instead, we find a show that didn’t need to try particularly hard to find conflict for its finale given how much had been built into the season’s erratic, unfulfilling narrative.
In all, “On The Road Again” was a collection of occasionally charming sequences that never felt entirely earned. There’s a scene where Reginald VelJohnson’s Dash Dewitt is interviewing George about “Zeorge” and “Zade,” and there are some shows where this comes across as cute and endearing. Instead, my eyes were rolling uncontrollably, and even as the show thankfully (mostly) veered away from George as a romantic partner for Zoe, it doesn’t change the fact that Hart of Dixie didn’t earn this sort of shenanigans. While the ratings were strong enough to earn the series a renewal, the narrative this season wasn’t strong enough to earn it a clear recommendation as Zoe—and the show—move forward into an uncertain future.
Episode Grade: B-
Season Grade: C+
- In keeping with Josh Schwartz’s other shows, Hart of Dixie has already been angling toward live country performances, but it appears Lemon’s plans for the Rammer Jammer mean we have another Bait Shop in our future.
- The sudden medical emergency on the plane was just an easy way to get Zoe on TV, but it was also incredibly jarring: The show is so rarely a medical show that such an outright medical storyline was disarming in a way.
- I think tonight’s episode set a new record for establishing shots in a single episode of television. Every return had like four of them stacked on top of one another. And yes, I obsess over establishing shots.
- Speaking of which, my sense of the show’s geographical Alabama isn’t helped by creating a fictional airport for Zoe and Jonah to land at. I can find no record of Quinby, Alabama.
- I might not find any particular reason to care about Lavon’s battle with Filmore, but I could listen to Cress Williams say, “No” all day. As much as this storyline hasn’t landed this season, I like the idea of Annabeth as the mayor’s wife and think there’s some potential for the small town politics once the writers get a better handle on how to make it stick.
- As always with any “full season” review, there’s not enough space or time to explore everything, so I’m hopeful we can talk about other parts of the season in the comments.