Tuesday, August 1, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Tycoon' - Tragedy Hits Everyone on the Night of the Oscars in 'Oscar, Oscar, Oscar'

Amazon's The Last Tycoon - Episode 1.09 "Oscar, Oscar, Oscar"

Pat makes a drastic decision to save the studio which causes a catastrophic rift in his relationship with Monroe. Monroe and Kathleen grapple with the emotional fallout of her dark deception. Rose forges a new path in life. Celia takes a lesson from her father. Max's indiscretion comes back to haunt him. Hackett has a surprising proposition for Hannah.

The Last Tycoon reveals itself to be an epic tragedy in its finale. The season has had plenty of tragic moments up to this point. But they also felt like tragedies that wouldn't last or come to define the characters across long periods of time. At the end of the day, these characters still ultimately needed each other. But there's a sense of freedom that comes from it being the season finale. They no longer need to abide by those same rules. The creative team can change things up simply because the story is coming to a close and there's no guarantee that there will be a second season. So now is the time to truly make a statement about the journey all of these people have been on. They started the season with clear goals. Monroe and Pat wanted to produce an Oscar-winning film. Celia wanted to be taken seriously as a producer. Max wanted a job. Rose wanted a purpose to fulfill her empty life. Kathleen wanted happiness. Across this season, they've all obtained these goals. Some were easier than others. Some take until this episode to actually come true. And yet, none of the characters really end the season in a happy place. They are all conflicted because of the personal feuds between them. Pat does some things that do irreparable harm to the people around him. It's because of that that the entire awards ceremony feels bittersweet. It's hard to celebrate when it's a victory shared with a man who can so easily betray the people who work for him. That comes on the heels of Kathleen's own deception. So, it all builds up to a tragic ending. An ending that could work as a final note for this story. Or one that could just be a cliffhanger for another season of television.

It's a particularly brutal moment when Pat takes Monroe aside at his engagement party to tell him that he is pulling the plug on An Enemy Amongst Us. He's doing so in order to save jobs at the studio. He believes it's a sound financial decision. The studio simply doesn't have the financing to support production on two films at the moment. Sally Sweet is Pat's baby. So of course, it gets saved in the end because Pat is the one making the decision. It feels like a huge betrayal to Monroe and Celia though. Monroe has always come across as a calculating businessman. He can justify any decision because he is able to separate the professional from the personal. He has told several people across the season not to look at his actions as personal animosity to them. He's simply made those choices based on what's good for the company. And now that Pat is using that same logic, it no longer works. He doesn't mean it as such either. Yes, he can hide behind that excuse because it makes sense to the Board of Directors. But he's also happy to pull the plug on Monroe and Celia's project because he's a petty man who needs to feel in control of his own studio. This decision puts him on the top once more. It proves that he's the man with all the power. He's the movie man making a wave in Hollywood. It's not Monroe determining the future of Brady-American. It's Pat Brady himself.

Pat also has the confidence to make such a move because he has leverage against Monroe and Kathleen. The pictures that Tom took of the crime scene were for Pat. He's loyal to Pat just like it was easy to speculate at the end of the previous episode. He has these pictures and can now force Monroe into submission. He can threaten Monroe into staying at the studio forever. Gone is the fear that Monroe will one day leave him for Louis B. Mayer. If he is ever tempted, Pat can simply threaten him with the release of these photos. They are a damning piece of evidence. Monroe already has so much guilt about what happened that night. It's enough for him to go to the church confessional again - though the priest doesn't seem too helpful this time. He preaches forgiveness while also noting how tragic the overall story is. That's what Monroe's life has become. He was always loyal to Pat. There was no reason for Pat to ever worry about Monroe leaving him. He was committed to this studio. He proved that time and time again this season. But Pat still feared it. Those fears got the better of him and ultimately destroyed this personal relationship. Pat believes it's the right thing to do for the good of the company. But it basically destroys their entire working relationship. The push-pull dynamic is gone. Now, it is full of hate.

Of course, Monroe and Celia still prove that they can adjust to the changing situation and still get one over on Pat. The events of this episode also take place at the Oscars ceremony. Brady-American is up for a number of awards. Various other characters from throughout the season are in attendance as well. Mayer is there supporting his films while Margo Taft is actually nominated. This setting is further proof of the show operating in parallel to true history while also fabricating details in order to create the most entertaining story. So, Margo Taft wins for Best Actress while Angels on the Avenue emerges triumphant for Best Picture. Both are moments to be celebrated. And yet, the awards aren't all that important. This season has featured a lot of talk about the Oscars. But in the end, it's all about being taken seriously as producers and getting films made. That's what Monroe and Celia actually do at the awards. They take the opportunity to sell the script for An Enemy Among Us to Mayer. It's a package deal that comes with Fritz Lang as director and Celia as a producer. Meanwhile, Mayer already has Margo and Bess lined up to star in it. It sounds like a good deal. Plus, it serves as a swift and decisive action against Pat who hates losing to Mayer.

But again, it's all just moving the pieces around the board to build up the animosity between the characters. The professional backstabbings are fun and intricate. They pay off a season's worth of plot. But the character reactions are just as important as well. Pat's action forced everyone to leave him. Monroe is still working for him because of the pictures. But both Rose and Celia no longer want anything to do with him. Rose asks Pat to move out while Celia moves in with Max and moves over to Mayer's offices. It's bittersweet because the complicated feelings of love and hate were there throughout the season. But now, the act of actually leaving is empowering to both women as they have the potential to chase after what they want. It's just a path that seems daunting despite their hopes and aspirations. They at least have the support from friends during this trying time. For Monroe, he doesn't have anyone. He can't tell Celia the truth about what happened and the evidence Pat holds against him. Plus, he no longer trusts Kathleen after seeing her for who she truly is. Kathleen is stuck at Brady-American as well. She's forced to star in Sally Sweet despite having no dance training. And yet, the two of them aren't conspiring together to find a way to defeat Pat. They are just putting on appearances for the rest of the world before they can break up in one year's time. It's all for show. There is no longer any intimacy between them. So, Monroe ends the season all alone and angry despite having his Oscar. It's bittersweet and tragic. And then, he collapses on the floor of his office seemingly from a heart attack. That's been a major issue for him all season long. And now, it has finally struck. He achieved his goal before it happened. But the isolation of the moment is truly damaging and tragic. It's a fitting conclusion for the season. It's also a perfect ending should Amazon not order any more of the series. It leaves things in a dark and ugly place which is always where the show was at its strongest.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Oscar, Oscar, Oscar" was directed by Billy Ray with teleplay by Christopher Keyser and story by Billy Ray & Christopher Keyser.
  • This really is a harsh episode for Pat. He's a bully to everyone in his life. He's controlling as a way to exert his power. But it's also poignant to see him have that moment with Margo as they accept the bittersweet moment of both having Oscars but not being happy with their lives. It's a huge achievement. But there is no one for them to share it with. They are kindred spirits but they don't ultimately sleep together.
  • Celia and Max promise each other that no matter what happens on the job that it won't change them. Of course, that seems unlikely to happen because Max has already become an accessory to murder. He's aware of what Monroe and Kathleen did and has to remain quiet. He doesn't seem too distraught over it though. So he could potentially be able to keep that secret.
  • Kitty doesn't suddenly return but Rose comes to the decision to turn part of her house into a safe space for struggling artists. That's her new passion project. It's a story that could be even more tangential should Amazon want more episodes. But it's also exciting to see her so carefree about the Oscars. Instead, she's choosing to focus on her own life.
  • Hackett asks Hannah to marry him. It's a proposal that comes completely out of the blue because An Enemy Among Us gets shut down. He needs her in his life because he's happy with her. She turns him down because she's already married. Her husband was taken by the Nazis to a work camp and she has no idea if he's still alive. That's a brutal moment of backstory. It means things have a bittersweet ending for them too.
  • I don't think the show has a reasonable chance to mount a successful awards campaign. Matt Bomer, Kelsey Grammer, Rosemarie DeWitt, Dominique McElligott, Jennifer Beals and Lily Collins were often great with only good material. However, I could also see the show being able to gain some support amongst Golden Globe voters.
  • I'm also unsure on what the renewal chances for the show are. There isn't really an urgency for Amazon to order more. The potential is still there for more story to be told in this world. But the way "Oscar, Oscar, Oscar" finishes things would make for a perfectly acceptable ending as well. It really could go either way.

As noted in previous reviews from this show, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.