We've been (re-)watching Wonderfalls as part of the TV.com Summer of (Re-)Discovery Club. You'll find links to past installments at the bottom of this story.
As is the case with all shows that have their lives cut prematurely, it's the final episode that often defines its legacy for eternity. And when that time comes the most important thing the audience needs is a proper sense of closure. And I'm not talking the kind of closure that series get when they know they're not coming back. Even shows that know they're ending sometimes get it wrong. I'm talking about those "well, this COULD be the end" situations.
In general, good endings feel like we've finished a book and are satisfactorily closing it for the last time, the once mighty weight of the pages now collected on the left and only the back of the back cover left to read quotes from critics. Bad endings leave us thinking that there must be one more DVD lying around somewhere or someone turned on the lights right before the third act was about to begin. When a show doesn't know if it's coming back, there's a bit of a gamble that goes on. Does the creator hang it off a cliff by putting its hero in a life or death situation that won't be resolved until next fall for maximum gasp-age and chatter? Or does it close the door almost all the way, giving its audience to take a deep breath and forget about it for a while? If you do the former, you'd better be damn confident that your show will come back. The latter might be less thrilling, but we're talking about eternity here and a solid ending goes a long way in carving out a nice space in the annals of television history. Who wants their last words to be an incomplete sentence? "Here lies Tim Surette, a TV critic that--" No thank you!
That's why the final episode of Wonderfalls, while not among the best episodes of the series (and probably only the fourth best episode of the last five), was satisfying. We all knew this was going to be the last episode of Wonderfalls no matter how many brass monkeys, chameleon puppets, or wacky Jaye outfits we sent to Fox along with strongly worded letters. So all we were hoping for was the show to say "The End!" And it did.
But aside from wrapping things up so we didn't leave I didn't know what to expect from the finale, but I knew that expecting anything in particular from a show like this was stupid. "Caged Bird" threw another unusual story at us, this time involving Jaye, Sharon, Mouthbreather, and a chubby security guard held hostage at Wonderfalls by a bank robber. The idea of wrapping up the main story (Jaye and Eric's possible relationship and Heidi's interference) by separating Jaye and Eric for almost the entire episode seems insane, and in retrospect it didn't entirely work. Instead, Jaye's target of fate was a security guard that failed as a cop named Wade.
In addition to making the episode incredibly ordinary and taking too much focus away from Jaye and Eric, the Wade story never floated to the top, instead obscuring our view of what we really came for (Jayeric). It didn't help that Wade never became likeable or did anything to win our favor. Heck, his attempt at heroism was interrupted by a heart attack, and he was just a liability after that. And ultimately Jaye's fateful intervention improved his life how exactly? By giving him a murderer's heart? This wasn't the typical cherry on top we're used to Wonderfalls.
For all the differences the Tylers have, they come together as family when it matters most and it's always touching. When mom and pop and sister and brother rushed to the scene of the crime and embraced the baby of the family, we felt the love through the screen. And when Aaron planted one on Mahandra without caring who saw, it was a fitting end to their story.
As for Jaye and Eric, it felt as though the series ran out of time to really square up on their relationship and smack it into our hearts. Instead, Eric returns to Wonderfalls to return his souvenirs and informs Jaye that he isn't leaving, he's no longer with Heidi, and that he's incredibly available should anyone *ahem Jaye* be interested. On the other hand, their relationship has always been schoolyard and immature and it was made clear that it was fate that brought them together in this odd way to make it as strong as can be. And Jaye's confident and jubilant grin at the end was the real reward. Finally, the girl can relax.
But again, the takeaway from "Caged Bird" wasn't meant to be a dynamite episode (because it wasn't), it was meant to be a proper closer. And close it did, albeit in lightning-quick fashion like it was late for dinner reservations. The biggest problem with the finale is that it felt like a mid-season episode with a finale ending tacked on to it. Yes, that's a bit of a cop out, but the alternative–a series finale with no solid conclusion–would have been devastating for the series' fans and for its place on TV's all-time best prematurely canceled series.
– Man those last few "previously on Wonderfalls" bits were TOUGH! How many times do we need to see Jaye look absolutely crushed while Eric re-marries Heidi!
– Wow! A Profiler reference!
– Wonderfalls Episodes 11-12: Finally!
– Wonderfalls Episodes 9-10: A Whole Lotta Love / The Skanky Ho Contest
– Wonderfalls Episodes 7-8: Finally!
– Wonderfalls Episodes 5-6: Family and Fat People
– Wonderfalls Episodes 3-4: Stalk It Out / Nun of Your Business
– Wonderfalls Episodes 1-2: More Timely Now Than Ever
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom