I know. I’M SUPER LATE with this. I usually get this post out in December. Give me a break because of the year that just passed.
Due to the pandemic, many films and television shows were delayed. But we did have some good (and not so good) things happen in the world of pop culture.
Since a lot of these will pertain to season/series finales, here is a SPOILER WARNING. Proceed at your own risk.
The Television Episode That Kicked the Ass of Anything in Movies Award:
The Mandalorian: Chapter 16: The Rescue
Last year’s breakout hit from the fledgling Disney+ channel came roaring back for another exceptional season. Every episode built on the story of Din Djarin,The Mandalorian, and his foster child (whose name was revealed to be Grogu mid-season). We had some fan favorite characters from other parts of the Star Wars franchise appear, such as Bo-Katan (Katee Sackoff) and Asohka (Rosario Dawson) from Clone Wars and Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) from the Aftermath series of books. Not to mention that cult favorite, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), who has caught the imagination of Star Wars fans for 40 years.
All these characters, including the return from Season 1 of Fennec Shand (Ming Na Wen), Mayfeld (Bill Burr), and semi-regulars Greef Carga (Carl Weathers) and Cara Dune (Gina Carano), were woven masterfully into the story.
But boy-howdy, that’s nothing compared to the final episode of this season.
A previous episode saw our beloved Baby Yoda/Grogu kidnapped by Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) but not before Grogu sent a signal to force sensitive beings throughout the galaxy. Having secured the help of Boba Fett, Fennec Shand, Bo-Katan, Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado) and Cara Dune, Mando fights his way on to Moff Gideon’s Imperial Cruiser to rescue his child.
The action scenes are beyond amazing. One of the most gratifying images is seeing a band of women taking down storm troopers and taking over the ship. Then there are the Death Troopers, huge droids who put one in mind of Cameron’s The Terminator.
All looks lost when arguably the greatest cameo appearance of all time occurs: yes, it’s LUKE FREAKING SKYWALKER arriving to save the day!
There has been some predictable criticism of this plot twist: The CGI used to recreate a younger version of Mark Hamill is a bit creepy. It’s fan service for the people angry at seeing a disgruntled, cynical Luke in The Last Jedi. And can’t we just let go of the Skywalker saga part of the SW universe already, yadda, yadda, yadda?
Well, no we really can’t. If your story is based on an exceptionally talented force-sensitive creature during this era of Star Wars, with the Jedi all but reduced to myth by most in the galaxy and those who escaped Order 66/trained by survivors of Order 66 reduced to a small number, OF COURSE it makes sense for the one Jedi trying to restore the order to show up! FFS, PEOPLE!
And what a double-edged light saber: Luke was still pretty much a novice when we saw him at the end of Return of the Jedi. It was exhilarating to see him as a totally evolved Jedi Master taking down a cadre of Death Troopers. But we can’t ignore the future of this character, which is now canon: he will fail in his mission to restore the Jedi order.
What does that mean for the future of Grogu? Will he die with the other padawans killed by Kylo Ren? Or will he be somewhere else when this event takes place? What about his relationship with Mando? Are they parting now forever? Will Grogu still figure in future stories of the show?
Then there is the other surprising twist of the episode: Mando wins the Dark Saber from Moff Gideon. He tries to give it to Bo-Katan so she can take her place as ruler of Mandalore. But the only way she can take possession of it is by winning it from Mando, who is now her ally.
I LOVE when stories seem to come to an end, or twist in a totally different direction. Both things happen here, with the possible end of the Grogu story and the beginning of a struggle over who will rule Mandalore.
CAN. NOT. WAIT. UNTIL. NEXT. SEASON.
The Didn’t See That Finale Coming Award:
When I sat down to watch the final season of Vikings, I never imagined the finale of this blood-and-guts series would be so introspective and thoughtful.
As with many generational saga stories, the series faltered a little when it segued from the original characters of Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) and Largetha (Katheryn Winnick) to the fates of their children. I felt they were trying a wee bit too much to compete with Game of Thrones. There was a definite Joffrey/Ramsay vibe to Ragnar’s son Ivar the Boneless (Alex Høgh Andersen).
But this season shifted a bit, and it was a good shift. The end of Bjorn Ironsides (Alex Ludwig), Ragnar and Largetha’s son, was as epic as one could want it to be. As the season wore on, I asked myself, why did the story not return to England, where so much of Ragnar’s life was invested?
Lo and behold, the story returns to England, and a showdown with Alfred the Great.
But it also follows Ragnar’s son Ubbe (Jordan Patrick Smith) who takes a journey to Iceland, then what is obviously Greenland, until finally he and his wife Torvi (Georgia Hirst) stumble on some part of North America.
In both story threads, the three surviving sons of Ragnar each make the decision to stop conquering, in three different ways.
When Ubbe first lands in North America he comments that his father Ragnar envisioned ports and towns and trade in a new land. When the Viking band encounters a native tribe, it looks like the story is going to become a familiar one of European conquerors colonizing the lands of a native people,
That’s not what happens at all. Ubbe and his band decide to share with the natives rather than conquer them. And the show has a cameo appearance that is almost as wonderful as the appearance of Luke Skywalker on The Mandalorian.
Since the Norsemen who landed in America never established ports and towns and trade with Europe, it seems historically plausible that this is how the first Europeans who found it ended up.
The Deus Ex Machina Award:
I loved the first two seasons of this Danish post-apocalyptic drama (read my review of Season 1 HERE). But the third and final season was truly terrible. The world is ending and there seems no way to save humanity, so what does the show do? Invent some magical plant that eradicates the virus and is discovered by (who else) the heroine.
It was lazy and silly and really not worthy of the stellar first two seasons.
The Most Gratifying Series Finale Award:
This Brazilian series hit on all cylinders for all four seasons, and the final one brought all the plot threads together in a most gratifying conclusion. It was not without loss and tragedy but ends on a hopeful note. Right up to the end they found a way to keep the original concept (The Process, a test that decides what 3% of the population is worthy of living in luxury in a place called the Off Shore) running through the story. The final test is compelling and suspenseful.
American shows could learn something from this show about weaving all threads without leaving the audience mad or wanting more.
The OOOOH, SO CLOSE Series Finale Award:
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness
We don’t know for absolute certain if this is the final season of The Alienist, but there are a lot of indications is will be. Season or series finale, it ended yet another excellent season by stumbling right at the end.
The mystery series takes place in late 19th century New York City, with a trio of friends who investigate serial killings: Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Brühl), John Wood (Luke Evans), a journalist, and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning) a female detective.
The mystery story, focusing on babies who are kidnapped and later found dead, is very engrossing. It’s the personal story between John and Sara that falters at the very end.
Sara is living a very unconventional life for a woman of her time and does not desire marriage or children. Though she turned down John’s proposal, they do end up becoming lovers briefly, even though John is engaged to another woman.
The characters clearly love each other dearly, but each wants a different kind of life. Instead of letting them work out their relationship, what happens?
A convenient (and almost as irritating deus ex machina as in The Rain) surprise baby. John’s fiancé turns up pregnant, taking the decision out of the characters’ hands.
It was wildly refreshing to see a woman lead who unapologetically does not want children, which made this ending doubly disappointing.
If the series returns for another season, I’m putting my money on the fiancé getting knocked off so John can be free, have his genetic destiny fulfilled, and continue his relationship with Sara.
Come on guys.
The Best Cameo in A Disappointing Film Award
REDACTED in Wonder Woman 1984
2020 was quite the year for awesome cameos.
I loved the original Wonder Woman movie, absolutely adored it. But I found the follow up a huge, boring disappointment. However, it has a mid-credits cameo that almost made it worth sitting through the movie.
No, I’m not going to reveal who it is. If I had to sit through that movie to find out, then so do you.
The Put Hugh Grant in Everything Award
I was never a fan of Hugh Grant’s early 1990s goofy romantic comedy persona, but MAN, can this guy ACT when it comes to drama. He is without question one of our most criminally underused actors. He elevates the HBO miniseries The Undoing from slick entertainment to engrossing drama.
He will likely walk off with some awards for The Undoing. Start casting this man in more films and TV shows!
I leave you with Sleepy Skunk’s 2020 Movie Trailer Mashup: