Finalewatch: 'Army Wives'
After a season full of big, oftentimes too big drama, the season finale of Army Wives rebounds with a nice tight episode that refocuses on the premise of the show. There are no stalkers or rapists, no motorcycle accidents or shady drug pushers, but instead the story focuses where it needs to be, on the lives of the core characters and how the constant uncertainty of the Army makes for a life that can be incredibly rewarding and incredibly unnerving, all at the same time.
In the finale, the Holdens reveal their plans to leave Fort Marshall, and while the gang is stunned by the inevitable but still uneasy truth that their tribe was going to be broken up sooner or later, the news pinballs further into an unexpected career shift for Joan as well. Meanwhile, Trevor is pondering his mortality and tells Roxy that he wants to have a baby, but Roxy first must deal with the neverending question of whether she will be able to reconcile her career goals with the bar alongside the fickle hand of fate in the Army. Pamela too is struggling with the question of reconciling an Army wife's duty to her husband versus her goal of having her own career, a question that comes back to bite her in a big way.
If you wanted to be critical, you could make the argument that maybe this episode was a little too didactic - that maybe characters sitting around and talking about 'this is what our lives are like' might be a little on-the-nose and not exactly realistic of the way people talk. The dialogue in the episode does that repeatedly. "I love being an Army wife," Claudia Joy says at one point. "I'm a soldier," Joan adds elsewhere. "This is what life's like in the Army," Emmalin contributes. A little on-the-nose? Probably. But I don't really care. It's important that Army Wives hammer home the themes of the show and make it clear after the struggles of the midway point of this season that it knows what the show is supposed to be about. And this episode does that. In short, being part of an Army family requires significant sacrifice and submits you to the constant possibility of major upheaval, but the knowledge of serving the greater good and the chance to be a part of a close-knit community make those sacrifices worth it.
Those are some of the answers as to what the show's about. Now, as far as answers as to how the main storylines of the latter part of the season would resolve themselves, that's another thing entirely. There's not a whole lot of resolution and finality going on around here, with more questions than answers. As the season ends, there are several cliffhangers in play, and each of the five main families on the show have had their lives turned upside down.
As the episode begins, the Holdens have to break the news that they're leaving. When Claudia Joy gathers her circle of friends to share the news, everyone is stunned. Claudia Joy tries to tell everyone that they have to be rational about this, that they all knew that there would come a time sooner or later when their circle would be broken up, but nobody is really ready to accept that inevitability. Claudia Joy was the glue that held everybody together, and when confronted by her possible departure, several characters start falling apart. Denise is so distraught that she literally just runs away from the news, saying she can't deal with it.
More drastically, though, Pamela is so thrown by the news that it seeps into her radio show, with very negative consequences. When Pamela gets a caller who wants to ask about starting her own career for the first time, Pamela launches into a talk on how that's sometimes impossible, given that an Army wife must always play second fiddle to her husband and may at any time be told that she has to move to another part of the globe without having a say in the matter. It's entirely true, and although Pamela's tone during this talk seemed generally calm and reasonable, it starts a major firestorm. People start calling in with how disgusted they are by Pamela's attitude, even though that frankness was what people supposedly loved about her all along. "You're up on your soapbox, holier-than-thou. You should be ashamed of yourself," one caller berates her. The lines are lighting up with people saying that they used to love the show but are now so upset that they're no longer going to tune in. It's ironic, because Pamela's callers are saying the same thing about Have At It that real-world fans were saying about Army Wives about six weeks ago.
Michael, meanwhile, breaks the news of his departure to Joan. But the big news here is that Michael's replacement as the commander of Fort Marshall is going to be neither Joan nor Evan. It's an outsider, General Rutledge. Unfortunately for Joan, Rutledge may be an outsider to her, but he's actually an old friend, coworker and drinking buddy of Evan's. Joan instantly sees the writing on the wall. The new commander is going to make Evan his #2, and in effect will be demoting Joan in the process. By the end of the episode, that indeed becomes official. We spent so much time wondering whether or not Evan was really a bad guy out to steal Joan's job out from under her, but in the end, Evan didn't really have to be the bad guy at all. The dirty work was done for him. Evan gets Joan's job without having to resort to outright villainy.
... Well, mostly. See, the one thing Evan had done this season that was probably indefensibly nasty was trying to censor Pamela's radio show. And late in this episode, Evan finds Pamela to share some bad news. Using the recent negative feedback about Pamela's show as justification, Evan tells Pamela that the show is being canceled. Her replacement on the air? None other than Jennifer, who in the interim also managed to ruffle Claudia Joy's feathers by telling her how she looks forward to filling Claudia Joy's shoes as an official of the FRG.
Joan, meanwhile, has even worse news. Not only is she being stripped of her position on post, but she's being shipped off altogether. Joan is going to be sent off to Iraq, just months after giving birth. "I'm a soldier. I knew this day would come. I just didn't know it would come so soon," Joan says to Roland through tears. Joan laments how awful it would be to have to miss out on Sara growing up, but suddenly she has no choice.
While Joan now dreads having to be sent to Iraq, Trevor theoretically is still anxious to get back there as soon as he can, although that issue is on the backburner here. Trevor has something else he wants to do before he deploys next, which is to make a baby with Roxy. Given everything that's been going on lately - having lost a friend who was part of his unit, the death of Betty, Roxy starting to patch up her own family, and the revelation that their friends are about to move halfway across the world - Trevor has been thinking about mortality and the need to do the things that matter while they still can. And that means having a baby of his own. Roxy definitely agrees that it's something she is open to in the future, but argues that now is just not the time. "We will have our baby, just not right now," she insists.
Roxy's in for an entirely different possible upheaval to her life. Betty's nephew Collin shows up in town. Roxy was right that Betty had to have had family somewhere, and Collin is apparently it. He brings Betty's ashes to Roxy, acknowledging that Roxy was closer to Betty than he was. But that's not really what Collin wants. He now owns half the bar, given that Betty did not have a will and he inherits her life's possessions by default.
Trevor suggests that it might not be the worst thing in the world for Roxy to have a partner in the bar. That might allow Roxy the time to raise a new baby, for starters. "He wants to knock me up and give away half of Betty's," Roxy just grumbles to Pamela. But it turns out that Collin doesn't actually want half of Betty's. He wants the whole thing. He makes a cursory lowball offer to buy Roxy's half, but when Roxy declines, Collin says that he'll probably just win it in court anyway, since the documents that Roxy and Betty signed granting Roxy her half of the bar aren't likely to hold up in court. That's how Roxy's season ends. I suppose there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Roxy knows an actual lawyer now, which she technically didn't when she got sued earlier in the season. The bad news is that that lawyer is Jennifer Connor.
There was a definite Army Wives Dead Pool going into the finale, given that the promos for the episode hauntingly warned of the possibility of a tragedy that would rival last year's. In the end, though, nobody dies. That news would have to be most welcome to Frank and Jeremy, who seemed to be the two most likely candidates for the Dead Pool. Ultimately, though, the Sherwood family drama merely amounts to Jeremy catching his father together with Jordanna. So the cat will finally be out of the bag for Jeremy as far as figuring out that things aren't exactly peachy between his parents. Jeremy has no way of knowing that while his father is having diplomatic relations with a fellow officer, Jeremy's mother is up to far more back home. In the end, Denise isn't really having any second thoughts about her marriage; she seems to be completely ready to pursue a relationship with Mac instead. It is instead Mac who may put the brakes on that relationship, as Mac's ex-girlfriend shows up and announces that she intends to win him back. There's a whole, whole lot of open-endedness with the Sherwood clan here. I'd have expected a little more clarity and resolution to what'll happen with Denise and Frank, but instead any finality is shelved until next season.
That brings us to the very end. After her initial freakout upon hearing the news that they are going to be moving, Emmalin tells Claudia Joy that she has calmed down and accepted things. After talking it through with Logan, Emmalin has decided that they can simply become penpals, like they were before, to maintain their relationship and see where it takes them. "Logan's a soldier, and this is what life's like in the Army," Emmalin says.
Moving day. Everything is packed up, and the Holdens are ready to depart. Claudia Joy had had a lot of trouble packing things up in the house, having to come to grips once again with Amanda's death by packing all of her things into cardboard boxes. But in the end, it's not Amanda who may end up keeping the Holden family in town after all. Emmalin is gone, vanished. Her talk of how she and Logan would be able to accept being apart was indeed just talk. Emmalin and Logan are officially AWOL, driving off together as the episode and the season conclude.
OK, so what now? I'll just do a little bit of speculation, and leave the heavy-duty speculating to you all below. Understandably, nobody really seems to believe that Michael and Claudia Joy will actually be leaving the show, so Emmalin's getaway certainly represents the possible way out of that. In fact, nobody really seems to be leaving the show. Denise's story with Frank is not remotely concluded. Joan may be heading to Iraq, but Roland's not going anywhere. Pamela and Roxy both face major changes to their employment options, but they're certainly sticking around. If Pamela doesn't get her radio show back, it might be a blessing in disguise for the character. The radio show was a good way for Army Wives to tackle the topics of Army life, but Pamela needed something else to do, since she really got the short end of the stick with plotlines this season. So giving her something fresh to do is certainly understandable, whatever that may be.
Conspiracy Theory Alert
I warn you in advance that the following paragraph will be the strangest thing I write about Army Wives all season, as we tackle our first and only conspiracy theory: Who wrote this episode? The credited writer of this episode was somebody named "Wendy Gillis." Now, if you know anything about TV, you know that season premieres and finales tend to be written by the head writers and showrunners on shows. The current Army Wives showrunner, Nick Thiel, wrote last week's penultimate episode. Previously, the former head writer and series creator Katherine Fugate wrote last year's finale and this year's premiere. Wendy Gillis has never written an episode of Army Wives before. Wendy Gillis is not credited as a producer, writer, or anything in the series credits, and never has been. There is no Wendy Gillis listed on IMDB as of right now. A Google search doesn't yield any evidence of there being a writer by that name. Is "Wendy Gillis" a pseudonym? Who really wrote this episode? Did Katherine Fugate secretly come back, but not want to submit the episode under her name because of the unhappy way she departed? This concludes the weirdest paragraph I have written about the show this season.
It's time to compose a wish list of the top three things I would like to see next season.
1. Just Say No to "Emmy bait." We've talked about this one enough over the last few months, but you really don't need to be so melodramatic with the storylines. In particular, it felt as if the constant flood of terrible things happening to Claudia Joy was an effort by the producers to try to swing an Emmy nomination for Kim Delaney by giving her these big heart-wrenching moments to play. And Delaney was quite good; there's no doubt about that. But the material was a little over-the-top.
2. Establish some continuity with the directors. The first twelve episodes this season were shot by twelve different directors. That's not exactly a surprise; most shows on TV use a whole bunch of different directors. And that's exactly why there are few shows on TV that have a unique look. If I were to ask you, 'what does Army Wives look like?' the answer would have to be 'it looks like any other show on TV.' Maybe this is just my thing, but I love shows that are aesthetically interesting. There's an obvious correlation between shows that have a unique look and shows that have an in-house director who also receives producer credits in each episode, the best available indication that there is an effort being made to establish a distinct look on the show. Some of my favorites include Jeffrey Reiner of Friday Night Lights, Daniel Sackheim of Life, Michael Rymer of Battlestar Galactica, Allan Arkush and Greg Beeman of Heroes, and Barry Sonnenfeld of Pushing Daisies. I'd love to see the executive producers of Army Wives make an effort to bring a director on board who will forge a distinct look for the show. A unique look for a series is something that can make the difference between a good show and a great show.
3. Beg, cajole, bribe and if necessary harass Tanya Biank into writing an episode. Series creator Katherine Fugate is gone. But while Fugate created these characters, she didn't necessarily create the world they inhabit. The foundation of the setting for the show is derived from Tanya Biank's book. And while the credits at the end of each episode list Biank as a "military consultant" on the TV series, it has never been entirely clear how much input she has on the show. Biank isn't a TV writer; she's a journalist. And that's exactly why it'd be exciting to see what happened if the TV show gave her the keys to the show for a week and let her write an episode, because she would bring such a different perspective from Hollywood writers. There's precedent for this, and in fact there's precedent at this very network. The former Lifetime series Blood Ties was based on a series of books by author Tanya Huff, and the writers of the TV show asked Huff to write an episode of the series, which turned out to be a really fun one.
And with that, I turn over the keys to you. What's your take on the season finale? Were you happy to see the show return more to its roots, or unhappy that the episode left so many questions unanswered? How do you think those remaining unresolved plot threads will play out? What, in terms of either storylines or broader perspectives, are you hoping to see in season three?
One final thing: I'm toying with the idea of using this page, right here, to post offseason updates and news - things like casting announcements for next season, ratings analysis when the numbers come in, and so on. What I would basically do is post those offseason updates as comments at the bottom of the page, so that if you bookmarked this page you could check back periodically for news about the show. Let me know if it's something you would be interested in or not. Thanks!