'Terriers' Finale Recap: The Many Joys of Hanging with Hank and Britt (VIDEO)
by Maureen Ryan, posted Dec 1st 2010 11:05PM
With a lot of shows, you have to choose between plot and character.
'Terriers,' as the FX drama ably demonstrated in its well-crafted first-season finale on Wednesday, supplies ample servings both, and that's a rarity worth savoring. Plus the world 'Terriers' created in 13 episodes felt so real and complete that if I ever visit Ocean Beach, I expect to find Hank and Britt arguing over coffee and eggs in a rundown diner.
Of course I very much want the low-rated 'Terriers' to get a second season, but this isn't going to be one of those "Save 'Terriers'" pieces. This is simply going to be a celebration of the things this compelling, funky, smart show did well.
Get comfortable. We might be here awhile.
First and foremost, what came through loud and clear in the finale was the show's strong moral core. Hank, as we saw in past episodes, could be obsessive to the point of scariness. He could be arrogant, thoughtless and self-serving. He's certainly a deeply flawed guy. But all season long, it's been easy to root for him, because he's aware of his flaws even as he blunders into the next well-intentioned mistake.
What's more, even though he doesn't have much left in his life, he's put it all in service of helping people even more desperate and powerless than he is. And unlike Michael Westen on 'Burn Notice,' he doesn't have a lot of cool spy skills to help him turn the tables on the bad guys. In Hank's world (i.e., the real world), the truly bad guys have so much more money and power that most people don't bother taking them on.
The crazy stubbornness that often gets him into trouble is also his saving grace. Just on principle, he has to take on the worst people in the world, and Tom Cutshaw, the wealthy titan he finally confronts, is the worst of the worst. Not just because he clearly did something awful to children, but because this is a bad guy who thinks his money and his wall of lawyers should shield him from the ugliness that he's engaged in. It makes Hank nuts to think that his friend died because some rich jerk thought he shouldn't have to deal with the consequences of his actions.
Hank is a guy who knows a lot about consequences, having faced a number of them in recent years. And people who flout consequences cavalierly feed his deep need to make things right and hold the world accountable. By destroying the airport plan, he is, quite literally, tilting at windmills (or at least wind-measurement devices). And Hank's cause was not only justice for those who had died during the course of the Lindus/Zeitlin/Cutshaw case. He and Britt were also defending the right of places and people to stay weird, imperfect and undeveloped. They wanted Ocean Beach to have the same freedom that they did to aim low.
It made complete sense that Hank and Britt wouldn't actually bring down Cutshaw, and that the duo would be fine with just killing the airport plan. Destroying people like Cutshaw is not within their capabilities (after all, the show's motto is "Too small to fail"). All Hank can ever do is try to make sure the little guy doesn't get screwed -- or gets less screwed. In the finale, they probably went as high up on the local food chain as they conceivably can.
And it was thrilling to follow along as they finally got the heart of the airport conspiracy. Too many shows have weak or uninteresting villains, but the land grab story had quite a few, from Lindus to the corrupt councilman to Zeitlin to Cutshaw himself. And I thank 'Terriers' from the bottom of my heart for being one of the few TV shows to show a female reporter not as an unethical slut (as is the case on 99 percent of shows, even those that should know better) but as an inquiring, smart, ethical person. Now that's something you don't see... ever.
What's great is that the recurring characters of the Zeitlin plot weren't the only interesting people on the show -- far from it. Quite a few of the weekly guest stars were memorable too. We didn't have to choose between good supporting characters and interesting central characters. Almost everybody was worth our time (especially the transgender hooker. I would love to see her again).
Still, Hank was the galvanizing presence that made it all work. As the dogged detective, Donal Logue was able to play so many different notes and colors, and he effortlessly emanated Hank's slouchy charm as well. It was an unshowy performance of the highest caliber, but it wouldn't have fully worked if the vibe among all the actors wasn't clicking.
Of course he and Michael Raymond-James clicked beautifully, and though it took me a long time to get a fix on who Britt was, by the end of the season I was not only invested in Hank's partner but also in the story of Britt and Katie. I never would have predicted I'd care about that, but then again 'Terriers' didn't go the cliched route with those two. Their relationship and Britt's attempts to grow up were handled with realism, humor and believable moments of anguish and uncertainty. (Bonus question: Do you think Hank took Britt to jail? I do. If he wanted to prove to Katie that he was growing up, that was the way to do it.
Rockmond Dunbar was always a treat as the gruff Mark Gustafson -- that was another relationship that just felt real and complicated from the get-go. The way he helped out Hank in the finale lent even more joy to the proceedings: When a rag-tag band of outcasts forces the powerful people to their knees, it's a beautiful sight. Even if all the excitement got Gustafson smoking again.
Before I go, I have to mention the show's language. In the early going, the dialogue on 'Terriers' could be a little precious and forced, but it lightened up as the series hit its stride. I ended up really enjoying the dialogue and the voice of the show: It ended up being a beguiling, unique mixture of amusing shagginess and unexpected elegance. And sometimes, it was just plain funny. "We got to stop splitting up" was my favorite line from 'Hail Mary.'
Last but certainly not least, I loved, loved, loved that 'Terriers' took plot seriously and gave us the kind of delicious complexity and believable about-faces that really good crime novels have. Ocean Beach does not not appear to be the home of success-driven, go-getter types, yet the show itself didn't lack good pacing, frisky energy and shocking (but well-earned) developments.
Was there anything I didn't like about the finale? Not really. OK, sure, I wondered how Hank could take on Burke, a.k.a. Tan Suit, and win (and in that moment, I flashed on a similar fight scene in 'Rubicon'). But sometimes, tenacity wins the day.
I hope the same is true of the show itself.
Update: Links to several 'Terriers' finale pieces can be found here and here. Thanks, Myles!
Check out the site Terrierists and follow @WatchTerrriers and @SaveTerriers on Twitter for updates on the campaign to get the show a second season.
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