Sunday, May 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Arrangement' - Megan Is Fully Immersed in a New Program at the Institute in 'The New Narrative'

E!'s The Arrangement - Episode 1.10 "The New Narrative"

While Megan and Kyle must deal with a secret that has emerged from Megan's past. Terence and DeAnn work together to deal with a possible threat to the Institute.

For the longest time, it feels like The Arrangement is taking an "ends justify the means" approach to its story in "The New Narrative." Last week's episode was the pinnacle of all of this show's soapy conventions. It worked because the show leaned into those conventions hard. In the finale, things are less tantalizing and soapy. They are more grounded and brutal to watch. Those are elements the show has never been all that great with in the past. It could be fascinating to see Megan fully drinking the Kool Aid when it comes to the Institute of the Higher Mind. And yet, when it seemingly happens here, it just feels too disingenuous and forced.  Of course, that's ultimately the point. Megan has not been fully brain washed. She's just a really good actress. This finale works because of that final twist. That makes everything work retroactively. And yet, there are still a number of problems in this finale that are just frustrating and get even more so the more one thinks about them.

Terence has always been the villain of this story. Whenever the show has tried to make him human or sympathetic, it's just been too weird and random. He works as an obvious villain. The true nuance comes from the uncertainty of DeAnn's allegiance. She's the character where her actions are more murky and complicated. But with Terence, he needs to be the villain so that there is a clear source of tension for everyone else involved. What he does to Megan here is absolutely horrifying. He kidnaps her multiple times. He traps her in a place where she cannot leave until she works the program. And then, he drugs her so she may come around on his way of thinking. That's brutal and abusive. He does just as much damage to her as her stepbrother did. That should be abundantly clear to the audience. He's breaking her down because her past could destroy everything he was worked so hard to create. He's not doing this to help her. He's just trying to help himself and his business.

But then, the finale makes the audience believe that Megan is perfectly fine with all of that. She's relatable and sympathetic when she refuses to work the program at first. She sees that Terence is a liar just like the audience does. She wants nothing to do with him. It's badass to see her escape attempt. It's heartbreaking when it doesn't ultimately work out for her. It's weird when Kyle shows up though. Making him complicit in all of this lacks a certain amount of depth. The audience doesn't fully understand why. He's just a small part of this finale. It's largely just about Megan's story.  That's fair because hers is very important. Kyle either needed to have more or less screen time. The final blend was awkward. He knows the horrors that go on in this place. He knows what's happening to Megan. And yet, he decides to sit on the sidelines and do nothing. He feels it's the right thing to do because Terence always fixes his problems when they get too big to control. Even though he's angry with Terence, that's still the case. All of it is just building up to that photo shoot of him in a fishbowl. It's a weird way to end him for the season. It shows that he's trapped but he's not being completely honest about his life either. He wants to be seen as the nice guy. A romantic partner for Megan. His inability to do anything here though makes him toxic as a character and really difficult to care about the central romance.

The whirlwind romance has been a major component of the season as well. It's understandable why it's not a bigger deal here. But the moments where it is don't really land well. This show is ultimately about what's real and what's fake. It's spent the entire season showing the audience who Megan and Kyle really are. For the finale to suggest that's all a lie carefully constructed by the individuals doesn't really work. The audience needs to have a firm grasp on these characters for these big twists to land. Megan and Kyle are strong characters. But they become more artificial and fake in this final episode. Again, that's the point. It just takes a little too long to actually get there. The moments in between don't really showcase how this new status quo is going to change things. Everyone believes that Megan has accepted who she truly is. She killed her stepbrother out of vengeance not self defense. And now, she's a better person who can present a better narrative to the world around her. She does put up that facade. She does it for everyone in her life. The show fools the audience into believing this. It's just frustrating because there should be punishment for these actions. It's coming but not anytime soon. It sets clear stakes for the future. In doing so, it doesn't make the present the most entertaining or compelling version of itself. So the season probably peaked in its penultimate episode while the finale was just table setting for Season 2. That's perfectly fine. It's just very manipulative during the viewing experience.

That final moment between Megan and Shaun works really well though. It reveals that Megan didn't lose that badass fighting spirit during the program. In fact, she has new purpose moving forward because she wants to burn the Institute to the ground. Terence expects her to be grateful for revealing to herself who she truly is. He doesn't care what he had to do to get her to come to that moment of realization. That's what makes him so despicable. He's abusing this girl and doesn't even care. In that way, it's fitting that Megan confides in another woman her plans for the future. It's just odd that she tells Shaun and not Kyle. That's especially true since this season has shown Shaun's growing interest in the Institute while Kyle's wanes. Kyle was rightfully pissed at Terence and could want to take down the Institute as well. But Megan doesn't know any of that. So that reveals that the central couple isn't as strong as the show wants the audience to believe. Instead, it's opting to value friendship more. Megan confides in a person she trusts and who she knew before any of this started. It makes sense. It just doesn't have as strong an emotional impact as it could. Shaun has to decide if she's willing to go along with this. But Shaun is still largely a one-note character. Megan's committed and that's enough for the intrigue to be high heading into the next season. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The New Narrative" was written by Jonathan Abrahams and directed by Jonas Pate.
  • The almost all white production design of this new place of the Institute really makes it appear as an institution for the mentally ill. Megan is trapped in this world and the entire white attire makes her stand out when she tries to escape. 
  • The phrases spelled out in bold, broad ways across this building just seem way too generic. The philosophy of the Institute has never been all that well defined. It's mostly just been important to see how far Terence us willing to take things.
  • Terence and DeAnn deal with Megan being blackmail as well. At first, it seems like DeAnn intimidates him into being silent. Then, it's revealed he was killed. The question is: who ordered his death?
  • When did Leslie have her baby? That was never a main focus but it is noticeable when she shows up here. Plus, she's a character the show didn't do enough with this season. Autumn Reeser is great. Use her more!
  • Looking back at this season, there are moments that just feel completely random now. Like Megan and her new actress friend going to a porn set! Or Megan's director developing an obsessive crush on her! What was the point?
  • Yes, the show has already been renewed for a second season. It's been a solid success for E! as it expands its scripted portfolio. The creative side idea of things is still figuring itself out. But the end of the season had some strong ideas and moments.