It’s amazing what setting a real end date can do for a show. Last season, One Tree Hill was a complete mess: a boring, meandering, plot-deficient blob of a show obviously on its last legs. It was so surely the end that the season finale was even crafted to serve as a makeshift series ender, eschewing setup for a new season for happy endings for its characters and callbacks for longtime viewers. When the show was picked up for a 13-episode final season before the finale aired, it was almost impossible to imagine there were any more stories for One Tree Hill to tell.
I should have known better than to count this show out, though. You don’t survive this long in the modern television landscape without having a few tricks up your proverbial sleeve, and if there’s one thing One Tree Hill has always been good at, it’s tricks. In season nine’s case, it was the story of Nathan’s kidnapping (by some hilariously stereotypical not-Russian-but-yeah-they’re-playing-them-Russian gangsters) and ultimate rescue by estranged father Dan. It was gloriously over-the-top and ridiculous, spanning several episodes and giving all cast members involved a surprising number of good emotional moments to play. Combine this with the attacker Brooke sent to prison returning for revenge, Clay’s fugue state blackouts and the reveal of a forgotten son, and Chase’s vicious beating of a child’s abusive father, and this season was definitely not light on action. In contrast to the banality of last season, it was practically Emmy-worthy in its ability to actually tell coherent, somewhat interesting stories.
This is where the finale gets tricky, though. With all of the drama-heavy plots wrapping up in prior episodes, and because last season’s finale already covered so much ground the actual series finale would probably tread, there was really very little to do here. Wisely, the series treated the finale much like any other episode of the show, as a giant music montage set to the backdrop of the 10-year anniversary of the show’s in-house rock club, Tric. By setting the episode up as a series of scenes loosely held together by a few live music performances, the show basically embraced everything that was good and bad about how it told stories at the same time.
To be fair, the device works really well at first. One Tree Hill has always been adept at choosing and placing music, and the bands used here are equally well thought out. The trope of a show with a built-in music venue and live performances is more than played out, but it’s almost always been in the fabric of this show, enough to make it feel almost essential here. As the episode goes on, however, the structure is completely abandoned, and it simply becomes a series of scenes about these people, divorced of any time, place, rhyme, or reason, interspersed with the Tric performances. The content of the scenes is actually pretty heartwarming and wonderful, with enough sap to make it feel like an ending without falling too far into sentimentality for sentimentality’s sake. But if you think about what’s happening for more than 30 seconds, it becomes really unclear what day it is, what time it is, and what kind of magical place Tree Hill must be for everyone to be two places at once.
Aside from the shaky structure, though, the content of the finale really was very pleasant, if a bit rote. There are a lot of different ways to handle a finale, but One Tree Hill obviously wanted to go for maximum fan satisfaction, and it’s hard to argue with that impulse. This is a show built and buoyed by its loyal fans, so wanting to give them happy endings for all of their favorite characters is a perfectly noble impulse. It’s a testament to the writers that they managed to give everyone happy endings after just giving them completely separate, equally happy endings last season. Brooke gets to reinvent her unhappy childhood by raising her family happily in her old house, Nathan and Haley get to keep being awesome, Clay and Quinn get married and officially get Logan back, and Mouth somehow gets $500,000 from Dan and starts a scholarship fund. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not daring. It’s, in places, kind of silly. But it respects its fans and most of all its characters, which really is enough to make any finale work.
So thus ends the story of a show that survived two networks, nine seasons, two main cast member departures, a four-year timeline jump, and 187 episodes. It also survived stalkers, numerous psycho killers, even more car crashes, kidnappings, a multi-episode guest arc from Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, and more product placement than should be allowed by law. It was never really great, was often very bad, and yet was somehow consistently kind of fun and satisfying.
As someone who has been watching from the start, One Tree Hill isn’t necessarily a show that I will miss. But it still was nice to have around when it was here.
- One time this happened.
- And this. And this. Also? This.
- All of the callbacks to iconic moments throughout the series really were lovely. Especially nice were Nathan and Haley kissing in the rain, Haley and Jamie leaving wishes behind the brick, and the entire cast singing along to “I Don’t Want To Be” at Tric.
- I know it was likely impossible, but it really would have been nice to have even a cameo from Chad Michael Murray and Hilarie Burton in the finale to bring things full circle. At least fans got a recreation of Peyton’s bedroom and a few callbacks to Lucas from Haley and Jamie.
- Favorite crazy Tree Hill moment: Go!