If the devil has all the best tunes, then Howard Stark has all the best lines.
Five minutes into Season 2’s finale and Dominic Cooper returns as Stark – ready to brainstorm, quip and flirt with the best of them. Which is just as well, because it helps distract us from a surprisingly sedate closing episode.
‘Hollywood Ending’ starts dramatically enough, as we deal with the fallout from last week’s zero-matter explosion. At last Whitney Frost has achieved her evil goal and absorbed it all; our heroes flee from the devastation, lucky to escape with their lives.
At which point the action decides to take a break and put its feet up. Whitney goes from being a wild unstoppable force to being the mad woman in the attic, obsessively covering the walls in a stream of formulae and calculations looking for a way to open a permanent, stable rift into the zero matter world.
Conveniently this gives the good guys time to take stock and to take breakfast. After which they open a rift, lure Whitney to it, expel the zero matter and close the rift again. All in a day’s work for the SSR, leaving plenty of time for farewells before the credits roll.
OK, maybe it’s not quite as simple as that. But it is an oddly uneven climax. The actual process of dealing with Ms Frost, after all this time, is disappointingly easy – she arrives as planned, they trap her as planned, they expel the zero matter. As planned.
The only thing that doesn’t quite go to plan is closing the rift again. Before Whitney arrives, Dr Wilkes gives the gang a short health and safety lecture – in particular, he indicates how far away they need to be to avoid being sucked in.
When somebody stresses that “once that rift begins to close you don’t want to be on the other side of that line” you can be sure that once that rift begins to close somebody’s going to be on the other side of that line. Come on guys, if you want to put your characters into some real jeopardy at least have the decency to contrive it in a more subtle fashion.
Sure enough, we soon discover that Howard’s remote control rift deactivator is not working meaning that they have to use the manual control inconveniently attached to the base of the rift generator itself. While the rest of the SSR debates the issue, Sousa crosses the line and goes to close the rift – although even the prospect of a tragic, tear-stained ending is snatched from us when Jarvis saves the day, closing the rift by sacrificing Mr Stark’s hovercar instead. (Don’t ask.)
So with the zero matter threat finally dealt with, do they all live happily ever after? Mostly. Mr Jarvis has Ana back safe and sound, Dr Wilkes has a new job courtesy of Stark Industries – and Peggy and Daniel have a very passionate kiss back at HQ.
On the other hand… in an unexpected final twist, Chief Thompson is shot at point blank range by an unknown assailant. Whether it’s a cynical bid to win a third season, or a cheeky lead-in because they’ve already got one, I don’t know.
I’d like to think it’s the latter, despite my moaning about this lacklustre finale, because most of the time this has been a very enjoyable season; sharp, witty, constantly surprising. It’d be a shame for it not to be back again next year.
To be continued! (Hopefully.)
Aired at 9pm on Thursday 31 March 2016 on FOX.
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