Shiny Shelf

Ally McBeal: Bygones

By Mark Clapham on 24 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

To quote the great Egon Spengler, the very final episode of Ally McBeal is short, but pointless. Old clips, old jokes, old friends, old hat. You’ll cry, but mainly for the careers of those involved.

Let’s get on with the spoilers, for those of you who can’t be bothered to wait for the finale to turn up on Channel Four. (And believe me, next week’s Channel Four episode – the abominable Nine One One – will have even the hardcore fans out there contemplating jacking the whole series in for good.) OK? Here we go…

Even by the variable standards of David E Kelley’s plotting, this episode represents a bizarre combination of the utterly predictable and the completely random. We see various clips of old shows – predictable. Ally decides to move to New York because her daughter is having some kind of pubescent nervous collapse – random. Various old characters turn up to see Ally off – predictable. Richard gets married to Liza in a service involving a somnambulistic priest held up by a pulley system – random. There’s tearful farewells and all the characters, even the ones who don’t like each other, share their love and respect – predictable. John gives Ally a morbid farewell gift of a necklace made out of part of the World Trade Centre – random, and slightly disturbing.

Total result – incoherence, delivered with some of the most hackneyed and trite dialogue ever to be spoken by such an excellent cast. It’s like seeing the RSC performing their version of The Care Bears Movie, a complete waste of talent.

All the right buttons are pushed, I suppose. We get to see some old faces, including the inevitable ghostly cameo from Billy, and each member of the cast gets to stretch their emoting muscles for the CV they’ll be sending out to producers about now. But the need to make it Ally’s journey, for the other characters to only express their distress at her departure, denies us closure for them all. Sure, Richard gets married. But we don’t know how John will work through losing Ally. There’s no hint that Georgia or Renee have had any kind of lives since they left the show. The rest of Cage & Fish are just left hanging. It’s a terrible giveaway that this is the first and last wedding of a regular cast member in the whole five year run, a sign of how little any of the characters have moved on. There’s been flirtations and dating, but no real growth, presumably as the supporting cast couldn’t be allowed to develop faster than the star.

I’ve said it before and this is pretty much my last chance to say it – if Downey Jr had stayed on the straight and narrow, Ally could have got married and the series would have been able to grow. As it is, the constant resetting of the lead character to romantic neutral has, even with the unexpected daughter element, crippled the capacity for the show to grow in interesting ways. The oscillation between ’star vehicle’ and ‘ensemble show’ – which has seen characters turn from leads into little more than extras between episodes – is no more evident here. We want to get a feeling of where these characters are left, but none can be allowed to break the great Calista’s aura. Such a shame.

In spite of it all, there are a couple of touching moments. At one point the cast divide up into two groups, as some dance to Barry White while the others watch. Notably, the group dancing is made up of – Ricci aside – the cast members who date back to when the show was good. Seeing Nell, John, Renee, Ally, Georgia, Elaine and Richard dancing in slow motion brings back bittersweet memories of seasons two and three. The show was a true ensemble back then, plot lines interweaving and everyone getting something to do. Let’s hope the members of that ensemble get fulfilling roles elsewhere. It’d be a shame to see Greg Germann, Peter MacNicol, Portia de Rossi and co disappear into a wilderness of TV movies, only to re-emerge in a Dukes of Hazzard style reunion special ten years down the line.

Whatever. Bygones. Until we get Ally McBeal: Reunion in Vegas in 2012, let’s try and remember when the series was still telling great stories which were sharply written and acted and had interesting things to say, as well as the ability to have some emotional impact. Even with the inherent good will of a final episode, Bygones doesn’t manage to bring those days back to life. As such, it’s an odd farewell to a series that hit amazing heights in it’s prime, but an appropriate stuttering halt for a series that seems to have been in severe decline for much of this year.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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