Red Band Society, Season 1, Episodes 11-13
Aired Saturday, 8pm (ET) on FOX
Red Band Society ends the season strongly with a set of episodes that are each bittersweet, hopeful, and triumphant. As a whole the show has been sporadic with its narrative as well as ham-fisted and manipulative with its drama, but throughout the season there have been great moments. The very strong young cast at the series’ core has been able to push the right buttons in order to, at times, get the audience to overlook these obvious issues. As episodic as the show has been, the series memory is fairly good, with mistakes made by the characters (or more accurately, the writers) in earlier episodes addressed and factored into the resolution of those characters arcs. The final three episodes reward the audience with an ending that gives closure to the series in a way that is satisfying and both honest and optimistic.
Although the series is now officially cancelled, Red Band Society‘s last three episodes make a strong case for viewers watch it despite its limited run, as it embraces the fleeting nature of life itself. The thesis for these final episodes is that one should enjoying the time they have and to live it to the fullest without fear of the inevitable. This statement is made even stronger because of the series’ shortened lifespan, much like the terminally ill kids on the show.
The final episodes pick up by resetting everything that the previous episode had done, dramatically bringing back the exiting Red Banders due to a simultaneous relapse of their respective illnesses after their premature departure. As ridiculous as it is that both patients are in dire straits and must return to the hospital, the emotional narrative demands that they do so, as the dramatic implications are far more important than realism to the series’ climax. The most poignant development in the episode “The Guilted Age” comes with the actions of Hunter (Daren Kagasoff), who goes into surgery after filing papers to donate his heart to Kara (Zoe Levin), the most annoying and least loved Red Bander. At the beginning of the series, Kara’s character arc had the potential to be the most engaging, but it has not lived up that potential throughout the season. In these final episodes she finally realizes that potential and although it is very heavy handed, the emotions explored do come through, mostly due to the impressive performance by Levin. She plays the bitchy character almost too perfectly and comes off very grating, but the message the series wants to leave is that even a terrible person that may not seem deserving of love or affection needs it in order to heal. She is given Hunter’s heart and with it she begins the process of healing her relationship with her mother. This mother/daughter relationship has been one of the most uneven plots in the series, as each time the mother appears to Kara she seems underdeveloped. Though she’s always purposefully dismissive of Kara, the reason and reaction seems to vary depending on the writer, yet the resolution to this arc holds weight despite these character discrepancies.
Leo and Emma’s arc is also very strong and improved from prior episodes. Emma had been a supporting character to Leo in the early episodes and throughout the season, the writers have actually made that submissive role factor into her plot. Dash breaks it down well, saying that right now, Leo is bad for Emma, because she needs to learn to love herself first and if she’s with him, things will get worst for her. Emma’s journey now becomes about accepting her eating disorder and mending her fractured relationship with her parents. These last episodes have done the most for Ciara Bravo’s character and it is satisfying.
Throughout, the most entertaining and developed characters have been Leo and Dash. Charlie Rowe has been a great central protagonist for the show and he does get his own arc to play out in the final episodes, one that has its own stakes and shows Rowe’s range. Leo learns that his cancer has returned and his demeanor changes, affecting the other Red Banders, as he doesn’t have the fight anymore that he has taught the others to have. This arc resolves in tandem with Dash’s, which works, despite being completely unrealistic and cheesy, because the performances by the actors are very strong, particularly Astro as Dash. His monologue wherein he states that he “can’t kill a Unicorn” is very funny, and moving at the same time.
The adult players also get their due, although to a smaller degree. Nurse Jackson’s arc plays the most into the ‘appreciate the time we have with the ones we love’ theme of the series. Her relationship with Dr. Naday (Adrian Lester) moves forward and she struggles with committing to it too soon. Their relationship quickly turns from that of the joys of accepting the other person to having to say goodbye in the span of two episodes. Although it’s quick, this gives Octavia Spencer some nice beats to play. As for Dr. McAndrews, he remains a very wooden character (the writer’s attempt to add drama by introducing Mandy Moore as his estranged wife does very little to improve this issue), but at least the character is consistently played by Dave Annable. Oddly, Nurse Brittany is vastly improved in these final episodes, as her arc appears to be that she has learned her role as a Nurse. Also commendable on the series has been Wilson Cruz, who has played Nurse Kenji Gomez-Rejon and given the series many well-delivered quips and joyous moments.
As the series closes, the most disappointing missed opportunity has been the show’s inability to utilize the supernatural mind space between life and death that was introduced in the pilot episode. The most notable use of that curious void was as a plot device in “We’ll Always Have Paris”, when Kara meets with Hunter during her operation. It is actually a very good utilization and it makes for one of the series’ best episodes, but the potential for more unique applications would’ve made this show much more interesting. As it stands, the show is a very solid one season wonder that is worth the time spent watching it.