I had all but given up on this show, but there were moments in the last half hour of the finale when I saw glimmers of hope for the future. The defeat of Marwan and the destruction of the missile were absurdly anti-climactic, and I went back and forth between being glad that the whole mess was over and pissed that they had wasted so much of my time with it only to brush it off so inconsequentially. After that, though, with the Chinese Consulate out to get Jack, each new wrinkle in the storyline brought to my mind potential for a radically different take on the next season: Jack in a Chinese prison, Jack on the run from his own government, a war between the U.S. and China, Jack dead and CTU in shambles without him, anything. The thing this show needs more than anything is to shake up its formula, get past the same terrorist threats and CTU maneuvering that were tired halfway through the second season. The actual ending, with Jack faking his death and wandering off into the sunset, left me hopeful and even willing to give next season a shot. That is until I read this article, in which co-creator and executive producer Robert Cochran talks about how they will be getting Jack right back in the saddle at CTU, and the word is he'll be dealing with - wait for it - another terrorist threat. For all the press this show gets for being so "daring," the producers are deathly afraid to mess with their formula, which is just about the only thing that would keep me watching. Small glimmer of hope or not, I probably won't be back for the next season.
Overall this season was a big improvement over last year, especially when they got away from the stand-alone episodes in the second half. That said, the finale was a bit of an anti-climax and maybe a little too absurd for my tastes. The 28 Days Later ripoff zombies? I could have done without them. The cheap shock ending that came out of nowhere? Nothing like the emotional impact of season two's awesome cliffhanger. And this is the culmination of the Rambaldi prophecy? Kind of a limp way to resolve that after years of building it up. Still, there were some great lines and I loved seeing Lena Olin back, however briefly. I think J.J. Abrams may be spreading himself too thin, and unlike Lost, which has a fellow creator and guiding force in Damon Lindelof, this show really suffers without Abrams' strong hand at the helm. I also worry that it will go out with a whimper with next season's move to Thursday, much like Felicity petered out in its fourth season without Abrams around. It'd be a shame to see this show decline like that, and I'll keep my hopes up that it won't happen.
Another to count me out on, as the finale didn't do anything to persuade me that this show didn't just blow its wad in the beginning of the season and have nothing to back up its admittedly intriguing mysteries. I lost interest in why Mary Alice killed herself months ago, and the explanation wasn't shocking and it didn't shed any interesting light on any of the characters. Most importantly, it didn't feel like it had any sort of impact on the lives of the people on the show. I appreciate the effort to set up some new mysteries, but I couldn't care less about what Alfre Woodard's character is hiding in her house. With Rex presumably dead and George the annoying pharmacist signed as a regular for next season, I have very little hope for anything to keep my interest. It's sad to think back to the sharp and often laugh-out-loud dialogue of the pilot and wonder what exactly happened to all the cleverness that this show once had.
This is one show that had a mediocre finale but will still get me coming back for more. First of all, the penultimate episode was great, and I think the finale would have been much better with the same plot points compressed into one hour. At two hours, it just emphasized how little was actually happening. There were a few great moments (Arzt blowing up, the kidnapping of Walt), but far too many boring non-developments. Overall, though, this has been an incredibly exciting season, and I don't think this is a show that would be well-served by laying all its cards out on the table too soon. At least I have faith that the producers have planned things out ("If you start making it up as you go along, you're in Doomstown," says co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof in the new TV Guide), unlike the people who run 24 and regularly admit to having very little in the way of concrete long-term plans.
Of all the shows I was on the fence about, this probably had the strongest overall finale, but it still wasn't enough to get me to tune in next season, especially now that it's going to be on against both Alias and Survivor, both of which I definitely plan to keep watching. It seemed like Josh Schwartz really paid attention to all the problems with the season and addressed them to some extent in the finale. I liked that the kids and adults actually interacted in a meaningful way and their actions had consequences for each other. I liked that they kept to a certain continuity, remembering that characters like Hailey, Caitlyn and Jimmy (who, if he's back for next season as it seemed, is a welcome return) exist, even if they did totally forget about Lindsay. I liked that Seth and Summer weren't totally grating on my nerves, and that the dialogue had genuine humor. The cliffhanger, while better than last year's, still feels like the sort of thing they'll have to quickly backtrack on, and, most importantly, I just don't trust them to come up with sustainable plotlines for more than just one episode. I'd consider watching it if it weren't for the timeslot dilemma; as it is, I have to say goodbye.
Saving the best for last, as it were. I've gone on and on about how great this show is, both here and in my TV column for Las Vegas Weekly, so I'll keep the gushing brief: This was an excellent and very satisfying ending to both the season and the Lilly Kane murder mystery. I thought the penultimate episode, with Veronica finding out who raped her, was a little too cluttered with characters from the past, and the finale struck a perfect balance between showing us people we want to see and not losing focus on the central drama. I am very happy that UPN is bringing the show back next season, even if it's going to be on against my second favorite show, Lost. I do worry a little that it will be hard to come up with a second-season mystery as compelling as the first, but I put all my trust in Rob Thomas and his team that they'll accomplish it.