Red Band Society’s Fall Finale ends the year on a high note

RBS

Red Band Society, Season 1, Episodes 6-10
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm ET on FOX

Red Band Society‘s first season has been suffering from tonal problems and narrative inconsistency throughout most of its run, but with this final episode of the year, the show was able to find a way to unify the story, as well as develop the characters in a way that felt genuine, with promise for interesting growth. After a string of episodes that have felt disjointed from one another, emotionally contrived, and at times completely ridiculous and unremarkable, the fall finale shines. The episode effectively gives the kids an emotional story, having them react to the departure of two fellow red band-ers from the hospital, with the adults handling their own plot about interoffice dating. This episode not only offers a compelling story, but also ties in plot points from previous episodes that seemed random or unearned, and makes them almost feel like part of a cohesive season narrative.

It’s a shame that the series has only now found itself, just in time for the network to cut down their season by ceasing the show’s production, which leaves them with only a total of thirteen episodes. It does make sense that the network would do this, as the series had been struggling with finding and maintaining an audience for some time. Unofficially, the series has been canceled, even though more scripts had been ordered to ensure audiences that they do not intend to pull the plug too quickly, but as it is, a season two is very unlikely.

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The first few episodes of season one left off with Nurse Jackson doing something illegal in order keep Charlie in the hospital’s care. The repercussions should’ve been severe, but as these episodes revealed, not so much. There was an arc where Nurse Jackson was suspended from the hospital by Dr. McAndrews, and the extent of the punishment only came from his own appointment. The arc also revealed some backstory to Nurse Jackson that is just ridiculous and really doesn’t explain why she’s a nurse; it just seems like a pretty random career path to take, to go from backup singer to nurse. It appears as if the show is trying to add these genre trope character traits to give dimension to the series, but it doesn’t work because it doesn’t seem genuine. Another similar plot contrivance they tried to add was with Jordi’s mother being some kind of poker expert. It doesn’t seem to come to the character naturally; it seems to be just tacked on so that the character could have an interesting backstory for the sake of television.

Speaking of Jordi, these episodes have had Jordi emancipate himself from his parents and try to take responsibility on his own. This has been an interesting development for the character, and it has led to some of the more interesting story beats for him. The series quickly abandons the love triangle that they had built in order to focus on the relationship between Leo and Emma. This was actually a smart decision to advance their relationship and edge Jordi out, because he always felt like a third wheel to their story anyway. Kara has been the most grating character of the series, and she had only gotten worse up until the fall finale, where she is finally shows signs of depth and growth, although it does not feel entirely earned. They introduce a new character, Hunter, whom she falls for, and because she cares about him (we are told), she has changed. They have this strange, mutual verbally abusive relationship that often leads to them wanting to find a room, which just seems excessive. Hunter is actually a fairly interesting character, as he is the most cynical of the red band-ers, and does seem rough around the edges, but the performance by Daren Kagasoff really sells that there is a softer side he’s not showing.

Dash is underserved in these episodes, as he’s not given that much to do, but he is still a fun character to watch. They haven’t even introduced any family for his character, and it’s strange that we haven’t seen more of his backstory. As for the adults like Dr. McAndrew, the show introduces his ex-wife (Mandy Moore) as a source for conflict, which is very uninteresting. Also, the inevitable storyline comes to fruition where Dr. McAndrews sleeps with cheery Nurse Brittany, who then becomes bitter about it only having been a one night stand. It’s as annoying a subplot as you could imagine.

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A strange thing about this show is that, although all of these plots are happening parallel to each other, they all feel very disjointed and don’t blend together well. It’s like the only thing tying these stories together is the hospital setting. The most recent episode, “What I did for Love”, brought all these stories together, and they finally felt connected. The episode is clearly the best of the season, and that may be because it was written by the new acting showrunner Rina Minmoun, who had taken over for Margaret Nagle after the latter developed the show and wrote the pilot and second episode. All the other episodes have been under Rina Minmoun and her writing staff members, with this episode being the first that she is credited with, and it’s the episode that appears to have the clearest idea of what the show should be. Most of the other episodes have felt  episodic with conflicting ideas, as if the writers hadn’t agreed on a backstory beforehand or something. It may be a fair assumption that Minmoun is a better writer than she is showrunner. Another factor to enter into the quality of this episode is the direction by Todd Holland, who knows how to shoot and bring out interesting performances out of actors, as he has done in his other TV works, like WonderFalls and the “Life of Brian” episode of My So-Called Life.

Among the highlights of the episode is the Emma storyline where she goes home, although she’s not truly recovered from her illness. The dynamics between her and her parents are well established, raw, and interesting. Leo and Kara skipping out on the hospital for a day trip turned out predictably, but more-so honestly, as it addressed the chemistry they have had since the pilot. There was a great small moment between Dash and Hunter where Hunter told Dash that he’s leader material, and it didn’t seem out of left field, although it kind of was. Lastly, they gave Octavia Spencer’s Nurse Jackson a really fun romantic interest, and developed that story in a strong yet subtle way. Even the voice over narration didn’t seem as annoying as it usually is. This show has been hit or miss throughout the season, with mostly glimmers of great moments being overshadowed by a lack of unified vision.

It’s not known yet when (or if) Red Band Society will return with its final three episodes.

-JP

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