A review of the first season finale of VH1's Single Ladies after the jump. You can read all my reviews of the show here.
There's something really frustrating about the Val character – both how she's written and how everyone on the show responds to her.
For the first half of the season, we watched her cycle through a series of silly sitcom-style dates with men who had some flaw that made them undesirable to her. Then we watched how a mature, wealthy, deeply respectful man like Jerry could calm her down enough that she lost some of that childish nature that made her damn near insufferable in the first couple of episodes.
And throughout, Val was the character that everyone treated like the delusional chick who lived in a fantasy world. On some level, that's exactly who Val has been. But it was incredibly uncomfortable to watch the other characters suggest that Val breaking up with Jerry was a mistake. And not just a mistake, but a mistake that fits the pattern set by some of her earlier, irrational behavior.
Except not wanting to settle for a man who has a fundamentally different view of where a relationship can go is not a character flaw or a sign of some kind of delusion as some of Val's earlier decisions might justifiably be characterized. Suggesting otherwise is bizarre.
I get that we can't lose sight of Val as the hopeless, somewhat irrational romantic, but the show did a terrific job last week making us understand exactly why being with a man who wouldn't marry her just wouldn't work for her. Val's breakup with Jerry wasn't the melodramatic "put a ring on it" nonsense of the end of her relationship with Quinn. It undercut Val's growth tremendously for the other characters – and the show – to suggest that the end of she and Jerry put her exactly where she was when she ended it with Quinn.
But as frustrating as Val can be, she at least has been a part of a storyline that is interesting. Keisha and April are characters stranded in storylines that haven't been terribly well-constructed and are tonally inconsistent with the rest of the show.
And the primary problem with both women's stories was evident in the resolutions that we saw tonight – Malcolm and Darryl have never been sufficiently defined characters. They are men defined solely by their relationship to the women – boyfriend, estranged husband. Absent any motivation for their behavior, these men are just plot devices.
We know nothing about Malcolm's business and even though Rick Fox's character dropped lots of innuendo about Malcolm's deceit, we really still don't even know what the hell is going on with Malcolm. That's deeply problematic. And Darryl has been nothing but a cartoon villain from jump and I had actually been fine with the show just dropping his character altogether over the last couple of episodes. True to form though, his return was just completely and totally absurd.
As a result, neither storyline was remotely satisfying because there is just no way for the audience to get emotionally invested (though LisaRaye did a nice job trying with that great emotional, wordless reaction to the revelation that everything Malcolm has said is a lie).
The problem with Single Ladies this season has been that the plotting supercedes character, rather than flowing from character. Val backslides with Quinn and undercuts some character development we've seen over the course of the season because it serves the needs of the writers who want to set up a cliffhanger. Similarly, feds show up looking for Malcolm not because he's done anything that we know, but because it sets up a cliffhanger for Keisha. And Reed works into his contract that April can be a junior A&R exec at his new label, rather than showing over the course of the season why she even deserves it.
It isn't that the show can't get to these plot points at all, but that they have to earn them. Very little this season outside of the Val-Jerry relationship has been earned.
I wrote a few weeks ago that I think the show would work better as an ensemble. In order for that to happen, every character needs to be fleshed out into a full-blooded human being, particularly the supporting characters. Christina has to lose the wild child randomness that derails every single episode, or we need to understand where that comes from. Omar's development over the course of the season has been interesting, but it needs to be ramped up and it'd be interesting to know if he does more for Val than just assist.
But most importantly, the writers need to think less about where they want the story to go and more about how the characters will get them there. And that means they need to understand better who these people are and stay true to them.
We'll see how it all goes in Season Two.
Some final thoughts
- Wait – April doesn't want to be an A&R exec anymore? So…what the hell has poor Charity Shea been doing all season? Please get her a better storyline next year, writers.
- I really hated that Val blew Omar's spot up. It was so blatantly, patently the wrong move that I couldn't believe that Val would even do it. It was just an excuse to let Travis Winfrey play something different – anger – and set up a new relationship with Derek.
- Speaking of, it's weird that the show always suggests that people can make total emotional turnarounds and prove their love by spending money. Derek wants to take Omar on a trip, so Omar isn't annoyed by Derek anymore? Everything is ok with Darryl and April such that she will give him half of her money? And the best thing about Jerry was that he is rich so Val made a mistake by not staying with him? All of this is incredibly troubling subtext.
What did you guys think about the finale and this season of Single Ladies?