Wednesday, June 30, 2010

THE TUDORS and TREME Finales; Just Catching Up

While I was away on vacation I didn't get a chance to see the finales of two series I've been following regularly. HBO's TREME concluded its first season with some ends, some beginnings, and left the audience wanting just a bit more, whetting your appetite for Season Two.This story of life in New Orleans in the months after Katrina was as good as it gets,  allowing the audience to figure out plots and relationships without having to be spoon fed every detail. And SHOWTIME'S royal soap opera THE TUDORS drew to a close in its fourth season, with curtain calls from some players from previous years. For anyone who wanted a continuation of the series to chronicle the lives of Henry VIII's children, this would prove to be an impossible task due to a decision regarding characters in Season One....but I'll talk about that later.

TREME's finale answered the big question of why John Goodman was never given star billing in the opening credits. Goodman was the closest thing the show had to a household name after his years on Roseanne, and his Creighton Bernette character was one of the pivotal roles on the show. But as we feared in the penultimate Episode 9, Creighton did indeed commit suicide, jumping into the muddy Mississippi from the ferry. And honestly, I don't think I've been so angry with a fictional character in years....he had a teenage daughter who adored him, and a loving wife Toni (Melissa Leo). His despair at what had happened to New Orleans on so many levels was just under the surface, yet his suicide came as a shock because viewers never really saw the level of his hidden pain. But it seemed like such a wasteful cop out; how could he leave the woman who loved him a widow, and his daughter fatherless? It seemed so selfish on his part. Toni felt a sense of anger at Creighton's exit, and so did the audience.

Janette (Kim Dickens) decided to exit New Orleans and visit her folks before going on to New York, not before a somewhat feeble attempt by on and off boyfriend Davis (Steve Zahn) to get her to stay. Annie (Lucia Micarelli) appears to be finished with Sonny ( Michiel Huisman) after finding her abusive and drug addicted ex in her bed with some inked up babe. By the end of the show Annie was sitting on Davis' steps- he missed Janette for about 30 seconds- with Annie needing a place to stay. Davis and Annie seemed to be a better match than Davis and the driven, hard working Janette. Annie, the beautiful and incredibly talented violinist busking the streets and venues of New Orleans was probably the one Davis need all along, but had yet to know it.

 I really didn't know very much about Lucia Micarelli until fairly recently, and wondered if she was an actress who's playing was dubbed in. I guess I must have been living in a cave or something-  Ms Micarelli  is a onetime prodigy and graduate of the Julliard School . Though classically trained, she branched out into jazz, rock, and experimental genres while she was still very young.

She's been recording for years, and has toured with The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban, and Chris Botti, as well as recording  her own releases.

And even some classic rock....she's performed with the legendary Jethro Tull. Below, a video from a performance with Ian Anderson and company.

The last 10 minutes of so of the TREME finale were brilliant. LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and her family were at the funeral of her brother Daymo. During the service LaDonna flashes back to the day before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. We see Antoine (Wendell Pierce) and his family evacuating New Orleans, LaDonna waiting in a gasline, Albert Lambreaux (Clark Peters boarding up windows), Sonny and Annie walking down a deserted New Orleans street, Davis getting ready to sit it out, and the Bernette family huddled around the TV watching THE WEATHER CHANNEL, with Creighton reassuring Sophia and Toni that Katrina will veer away and they'll be OK- but the expression on his face betrays him. And we see Daymo's arrest on the bench warrant, and his imprisonment, where he'll meet his death.

At the end of the service the brass band and the line marches away, New Orleans style. They sway, they dance, and eventually LaDonna joins in. Death comes, life goes on....and mourning morphs into celebration.

And New Orleans goes on.....and will again, even after this latest disaster, man made this time.

The Tudors ended with Henry's (Jonathan Rhys Myers) physical decline accelerating, preceded by the death of longtime friend Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill). Bishop Gardner's plot to have Queen Katherine Parr (Jolie Richardson) arrested as a heretic backfires, and Henry banished Gardner from court. Forseeing his own death, Henry sends Katherine and the Princesses Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Laoise Murray) to Greenwich. And in his aged delusions Henry has visions of the three mothers of his three legitimate children (all of whom became monarchs), Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), and Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis).

Henry has Holbein paint a final portrait of him, but is displeased and has another done in its place. We leave the series at the point in which Henry views the portrait- Henry dies off screen. It was a choice of chief writer Michael Hirst to end the series in this way- Henry, in Hirst's view, was such a tyrant we couldn't even find sympathy for him in his suffering and death. A tyrant indeed, but a fascinating one.

And as for ending the series and not continuing with the stories of Henry's three heirs? Well, Elizabeth's story has been told often, and a decision Hirst made in Season One would have made continuing the story difficult. Without going into a long lesson in British history, here's what happened. Henry VIII had two sisters, Margaret and Mary. In order to avoid confusion with Henry's daughter Mary, Hirst combined the characters into one, called Margaret. In the series Margaret married a fictional Portuguese king, and later married Charles Brandon and died childless.

The real Margaret married the King of Scotland and was the grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary Tudor, Henry's sister, did marry Charles Brandon and had a daughter Frances before dying at age 37. Frances was the maternal grandmother of Lady Jane Grey. Both Lady Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots had claims to the English throne, being great-granddaughters of Henry VII and grand nieces of Henry VIII. When Hirst combined the characters of Mary and Margaret into one, this effectively killed any chance to continue the series past Henry's reign....there'd be too many holes to try to fill, as in trying to explain the paternity of these claimants when none had been established in previous episodes.

Still, The Tudors finale was a satisfying end to an intriguing bit of historical drama, with drama being the operative word. Sometimes it's best not to let facts get in the way of good storytelling.

I think I'll use that as a motto.

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