Sticking the Landing - Part One

The last two weeks have seen the final episodes of two long-running television series, Psych (8 seasons) and How I Met Your Mother.  It’s not all that often that shows get to go out on their own terms and make a true final episode.  For these two shows, though, the issue was how to end their runs after so many years.

WARNING: I’m not going to hold back on the spoilers for the rest of this post.  If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now!

Of the two shows, Psych had the easier time bringing things to a close.  The comedic mystery series had always been more about the comedy than the mystery side of things.  My son worked out the basic formula for a Psych episode several years ago: someone is murdered, Shawn Spencer names a suspect, the suspect turns up dead, and then Shawn finds the real killer.  Not bad for a kid who was barely out of elementary school when he worked that out, and he was absolutely right. 

The final episode’s mystery fit right into this formula.  A man is found dead, his business partner (played by Billy Zane) is the most likely suspect but also has an alibi, a different man is determined to be involved, and then that man is found dead as well.  From there Shawn and his friend and partner, Burton “Gus” Guster, are able to trace the sequence of events that lead to the killing, barely staying ahead of the Santa Barbara police’s new head detective, Betsy Brannigan.  They find yet another dead body before Shawn is able to prove that Billy Zane is the killer after all. 

Again, the mystery didn’t really matter, and it was obvious from the moment he showed up that Billy Zane would be the killer.  Psych has no issues with making the big name (or semi-big name) guest star of the week the killer.  They aren’t out to fool the audience.  The show has mentioned Billy Zane many times, and they finally got him to guest.  The same is true for Val Kilmer, who had a fun cameo at the end of the episode.  This episode’s case was basically irrelevant.

But then, as I said a little bit ago, the mysteries were always secondary.  Fans watched the show for the characters…not to say that the characters really developed all that much.  Shawn, Gus, and Juliet are basically the same people in the final episode that they are in the first.  The real conflict (if it can even be called that) of the episode is Shawn trying to find a way to tell Gus that he’s moving to San Francisco to be with his girlfriend, Detective Juliet O’Hara.  This Shawn is slightly more mature that the one we met in Season One.  He does finally decide to go with Juliet and even proposes to her.  The Gus of Season Eight is more willing to take a risk than his Season One self.  He accepts that he doesn’t want the life of a pharmaceutical rep.  He wants to be an adventurer (his words) and continue solving cases with Shawn.  He goes so far as to follow Shawn to San Francisco, so that they can continue to work together.  In his proposal, Shawn lets Juliet know that Gus is part of the package.  She knew that already, though. 

But speaking of Juliet, between Season One and the series finale she…um…okay.  She didn’t really change at all.  And if I’m completely honest, I have no idea what she sees in Shawn.  I’m just going to leave that alone.

The real character development went to Carlton Lassiter, who also got the most touching moment of the finale, as far as I’m concerned.  The man who stopped Shawn’s confessional DVD and snapped it in half before calling his wife and asking to coo at his baby on the phone is not the same embittered divorcee we met in the first episode.

The finale benefitted from the set-up work that was done in the episodes leading up to it.  Shawn’s dad, Henry, sold the family home to Lassiter and his wife a couple of weeks earlier, and Henry told Shawn that he was looking to move on.  So while Henry was in the finale and had several nice moments, the episode didn’t have to spend a lot of time wrapping up his character.  The biggest events, though, were the departures of Chief Vick and Juliet for San Francisco coupled with the arrival of Detective Betsy Brannigan.  With Juliet gone, Shawn lost one of the major reasons to stay in Santa Barbara.  Brannigan, meanwhile, pretty much made Psych (the detective agency, not the show) unnecessary.  She showed herself more than capable of finding clues and tracking down perpetrators.  With her around, Shawn and Gus were going to be out of work.

Despite being the last time we would see these characters (until the inevitable TV movie reunion), the final episode of Psych was in many ways just another episode, which was the point show creator Steve Franks said in a post-show interview.  The show had no overall story arc to complete or mystery to solve.  Yes, Shawn, Gus, Juliet, and Chief Vick have all moved to San Francisco, but the audience has the sense that the stories will continue much the same way there.  This could have easily been a season finale leading to a 9th season relaunch/shake-up set in San Francisco.  The episode still worked as a series finale, though, since we did get closure on Shawn’s time in Santa Barbara, while still giving us the feeling that the adventures will continue (My favorite example of this sort of finale is the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

Did anyone watching the final episode of Psych have any major expectations beyond that they would get to spend one more hour watching characters the like?  Probably not.  The biggest questions hanging over the show were probably the fate of Shawn and Juliet’s relationship (It’s a comedy, so this wasn’t a big worry) and whether or not anyone else would learn that Shawn wasn’t psychic (But did that even matter anymore? I’d say no.).  I came away from the episode satisfied, which is about all you can ask of a finale.  Psych was a fun show all the way along and held true to that in its final bow.

Next week, I will look at the last episode of How I Met Your Mother, a finale facing much higher expectations.  Did it meet them?  Come back next Sunday to find out.

-Alan Decker

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