I half suspect both of The Hour’s finales have been so satisfying because they build relentlessly, over the course of a single day, to a pivotal make-or-break broadcast of the show within the show. Taken on its face, this hour was full of the same sort of ridiculous plotting that has gummed up some of this season for me, but because the whole thing was building and building to that moment when the crew of The Hour doomed Freddie without even knowing it, it all clicked into place quite nicely. I’m still a bit irked that all of the season’s plots ended up winding their way through the El Paradis, but Bel and Freddie kissed, he nearly died, and then he was deposited on the BBC’s lawn to rasp “Moneypenny” to the skies (or, alternately, he dragged himself from the El Paradis to the BBC, like a cat that’s been hit by a car, to see his lady love one last time). If ITV guy is right and only one newsman can be in a relationship (and if Freddie survives the beating), maybe he’ll be the one to leave the journalism game, while his girlfriend keeps going.
It’s a nice, satisfying end to a season that probably didn’t deserve one. The general consensus has been that this season of The Hour has been stronger than the first, at least here in the States, but I’m having trouble getting on board with that argument. There are lots of strong pieces in this season, but the relentless focus on El Paradis has robbed the show of some vital character development. The first season’s spy storyline was probably dumber than the El Paradis storyline was, but it also took up less time. There was a full hour at that country house, where all we did was get to know the characters, and we also did some useful rooting around in Freddie and Bel’s pasts. This season, character development happened in spite of the El Paradis story. It was helpful when displaying how, say, Freddie had become a much more skillful journalist than he had once been, or when showing how Bel hated making promises she couldn’t keep, but it also robbed us of vital time getting to know some of the newer figures in the show’s universe. The season was already overstuffed; I’m not sure it needed to be more so.
Take, for instance, Randall Brown, who’s an interesting figure, in that he’s played by Peter Capaldi, and Peter Capaldi can make anything interesting, but isn’t exactly a vital figure. The season premiére set up conflicts between him and Hector and him and Bel that didn’t really play out, and that would be fine if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked into a subplot about how he had a baby with Lix back in the day. (Sidebar: I do like how the show has now set up “Bel/Freddie” doomed would-be pairings in three generations. It’s like Peanuts in there.) In and of itself, this wasn’t a bad thing, because it’s always fun to watch Capaldi and Anna Chancellor play off of each other, and the final revelation—their daughter had been killed in the war—was nicely despairing. But it also always felt like wandering into a different show altogether, and Brown’s character wasn’t revealed nearly as well via his actions as I think everybody involved hoped it would be.
Anyway, here I am, bagging on an episode I really quite liked again. Let’s face it: The reason we watch this show is because we like the central three characters and the actors playing them, and in that regard, the finale offered more than enough to recommend it. Was it overwrought when Bel read the letter she’d written to Freddie while he lay possibly dying on the BBC’s lawn? Oh God, yes, but it was also kind of perfect, and it finally attained the kind of doomed tragedy Abi Morgan has been pushing for with these two from the first. (In reality, you have to imagine Freddie and Bel would have gotten drunk and hooked up, then found themselves getting drunk and hooking up more and more until they had kids. It happens in every newsroom.) The show’s operatic elements have always sat uneasily with its more realistic ones, and where the first season grounded its finale in the show’s realism and worked because of that, the second season finale goes all operatic, all of the time.
Okay, so not so much in the case of Hector and Marnie, who continue their delightfully small-scale reconciliation. That said, I’m just not sure what to think of the scene where she confesses she’s pregnant, because, uh, she got pregnant three weeks ago, so I think we’re supposed to assume the baby is somebody else’s (since Hector and Marnie haven’t exactly been sleeping together as of late), or I’m forgetting something significant from the season premiére. Anyway, no matter if the baby is Hector’s or somebody else’s—and I’m straining to think of whose it could be if it’s not his—the two of them seem at least somewhat happy, even though Marnie’s been essentially suspended for her husband’s indiscretions. Or I’ve completely misread this scene and should be fired.
By and large, the episode’s best quality is its propulsion, which pushes past the stuff that might not have worked in other weeks. In the early going, the staff of the show decides to take down El Paradis by any means necessary, before the scandal takes down Hector (who’s been chosen as the public face of it by Westminster, according to McCain). With a few nudges from their friend in the government, the staff eventually decides they’ll have to get Kiki on the program, because Commander Stern turned all of the photos over to the police, who destroyed them. (Naturally enough, a few of the photos featured Stern’s superior.) I wasn’t too impressed with the Stern storyline as recently as two weeks ago, but the show gave him a fine, tragic send-off as the guy who realized he could have been on the right side of history but got stuck on the wrong one. He watches The Hour in glum resignation, then shoots himself in the back of a car. It’s another arc that shouldn’t have worked but ended up working splendidly.
Opera works best when you feel the heft, the cost of the decisions made by the characters that lead to the tragic end. I’m sure that if Freddie lives, there will be those who grouse about how he should have died (and vice versa), but over this final hour of the season, we get a better sense of the cost these people pay to tell this story. If Morgan was going to set up a life-threatening cabal that could have snuffed any of these people out at any time, as she suggested at several points, then that life-threatening cabal probably needed to be more threatening a bit sooner (or given better shades of grey). But none of that’s worth quibbling about when Freddie Lyons lies bleeding in the grass, hoping against hope he’ll see the woman he loves one more time before he, what? Passes on? Lives to see another day? This is a show that wants to be about people who risk everything for the story, and in this final hour, it became that, finally, if only fleetingly.
- Sissy’s married, everybody! Ring the bells and get the drinks, because she’s going to be happy forever, or, if we know Abi Morgan by now (and we do), she’ll just be unhappy in her marriage by episode one of season three, assuming season three ever exists (which appears to be an open question at this point). And then Isaac will wait about seven or eight episodes to make his move. Hurry up, Isaac! I don’t think you’ll get a season four!
- Kiki’s real name is Patricia DeLane, which is positively delightful. I foresee a long future for McCain as her press agent.
- There was some concern about whether this episode would be drastically cut back for American broadcast, since it was shoved into a one-hour timeslot instead of the customary 75-minute timeslot, for no real reason. I will say that my screener did not appear to be heavily edited in any way, but it also seemed to be a bit shorter than the first five episodes, though not drastically so. (It was maybe a minute shorter, on the whole.)
- A couple of weeks ago, somebody stupidly asked me on Twitter if I was unspoiled for the season finale of The Hour, as though I spend all my downtime trolling the Internet for spoilers on shows I cover. (While I’m not anti-spoiler and don’t mind if I’m spoiled on things accidentally, I rarely seek spoilers out.) So thank you, person, for making me certain Freddie had died.
- With that, we say goodbye until an indeterminate point in the future. So far as I can tell, the show has not been renewed, but it also seems like the sort of thing that could gain enough of a cult audience that it comes back for a random Christmas special in five years, which is all about Freddie and Bel trying to teach their incorrigible moppet the true meaning of Christmas, and then Miranda from Miranda drops by. “Look, everybody!” says Bel. “It’s Miranda!” She turns to a studio audience that isn’t there, and Miranda’s face slowly falls. See you then!