Thursday, September 15, 2016

BSN Mini-Review: "Finale"

The finale of Bright Summer Night is more hopeful than it might appear at first glance. The Mechanicals reconcile and play their hearts out. The Lovers giggle and tweak each other’s noses. Awhina ends a bad night on a good note. And Puck… well, Puck breaks down.

Puck’s ending is unhappy, but not unhopeful. They’re in a bad place right now, and there was never any chance of fixing that in a single night. Puck went to the party a deeply unhappy person; they’re leaving the party a deeply unhappy person. (Not to armchair diagnose, but what they describe to Bryn certainly sounds like depression, and that can’t be fixed in a night.) The difference is that now, Puck is willing to show that unhappiness to someone who cares.

Puck has spent the night aggressively, often cheerfully, insisting that nothing and no one matters, scoffing at offers of friendship and concern. In “Finale,” they admit, at long last, that not caring isn’t grand, and it isn’t inevitable—it’s terrifying. And when Nicky, for the third time in the series, reaches out, Puck finally sheds their shell of nihilism, lets her in, and cries. They’re not happy. But they’re honest, and they’re not alone. That’s better off than they were at the beginning of the night.

Nearly everyone leaves BSN better off than they entered. Lena and Deme found someone they like to kiss. Petra put together a kick-ass musical protest piece with her band, which is now slightly more functional. Zander and Mia worked some kinks out of their relationship (in more than one sense). Nicky got to sing her song. Awhina freed herself of a stifling relationship. The only person who doesn’t benefit from BSN is Bryn. He starts the night selfish, lonely, and unhappy, and that’s how he ends it, brushing off Puck and heading off to nurse his wounds alone.

Bryn is not a villain. We’ve been inside his head just like everyone else’s, and we’ve seen that as much as his selfishness has hurt Puck and Awhina, it’s hurt Bryn himself as well. For all of Bryn’s charm and all of his friends, he is desperately lonely. His life is full of sound and fury and parties, but it lacks meaningful connections. Bryn could have stayed and really listened to Puck, and it would have helped them both. But instead he leaves insisting he’s okay. Not honest, and even more alone than he was to start with. And because Bryn is not a villain, that counts as a loss—perhaps the largest in the whole series.

That dichotomy—Puck’s honest break-down, and Bryn’s callous brush-off—gives the final episode of BSN an open-ended, bittersweet feeling, one that the (very fun, very funny) Mechanicals show in the middle only partially cuts. As lovely as it is to see the characters enjoying each other, to get a cap on all of the characters’ various subplots, to experience the glory of “Relationship Problems and the Environment,” Bryn’s and Puck’s stories bookend the episode. Bryn’s dismissive exit and Puck’s ongoing distress are what linger after the credits. And they do linger; one of BSN’s hallmarks has been its moody, memorable endings, and the finale is no exception.

It feels honest. As a whole, BSN does not feel rushed, but the endings of some of its subplots have felt that way—inevitably, perhaps, since most of those subplots have had to play out over less than 12 hours of story time and less than 12 minutes of real time. Funny and lovely as it is, even the Mechanicals’ part of the finale falls into that trap. (When exactly did the rest of the group learn to play Nicky’s song?) But some problems really are too big to resolve in one night. Sometimes the only change we can hope for is incremental. Sometimes, hope as we might, change never comes at all. A series that uses environmentalism as its binding metaphor should acknowledge that.

But as I said at the beginning, the note that BSN ends on is hopeful as well as bittersweet—fitting for a series that has been dark and funny by turns, but always, always humane. Relationship problems, like the environment, can’t be fixed in a single night. But progress is progress, and BSN insists to the very end that change is possible, if we care. If we do things for others. If we look outside ourselves. If we make connections.

Random Bits

“Relationship Problems and the Environment.” Oh my god. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make me laugh the hardest.

The lighting on that final bit is gorgeous. It feels just like the early morning after a party.

Okay, but how do Puck and Bryn know each other, damn it?

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