After a rocky middle section, Awkward.‘s third season finale pulls off a dazzling finish as Jenna (Ashley Rickards) – and the show – come full circle.
Let’s bitch it out…If ‘Who I Want To Be’ feels a bit like a series finale, that’s because the finale is the swan song for Awkward. series creator Lauren Iungerich. She’s the woman who created and guided the show for the last three years. For reasons that haven’t been explained, she won’t be returning when the show returns for a fourth season sometime next year. This final episode marks the end of Iungerich’s tenure and judging from how it all plays out, it’s clear that she’s using ‘Who I Want To Be’ to wrap up all of her characters’ arcs before she moves on.
After spending the majority of the last ten episodes as a raging uber-bitch, the finale finalizes Jenna’s redemption and brings back the Jenna of old that we know and love. This, naturally, heavily involves Matty (Beau Mirchoff), Bailey (McKaley Miller) and the prom. In tried and true Awkward. form, the series celebrates the stereotypical tropes of this key high school moment, but adds its own spin on the conventions. So that means the heavy questions about who will take who to prom, whether it’s acceptable to go to prom solo and, naturally, what happens after prom in the hotel rooms (apparently pay-per-view movies and heavy petting!) are present, but also tweaked.
While Tamara (Jillian Rose-Reed), Ming (Jessica Lu), and Jake (Brett Davern) all appear, the finale is clearly Jenna’s story. Packaged with Mr. Hart’s (Anthony Michael Hall) final assignment, the prom becomes a journey of self discovery for Jenna as she reflects on the kind of person she wants to be. The result is a little cheesy, but completely in keeping with Jenna’s arc over the past season. If the dark patch of S3 accomplished anything, it proved that Jenna had to destroy all of her relationships in order to discover how much she appreciates and needs them. Particularly poignant is the return of the letter from S1 that started everything. The reappearance of the letter is a pleasant surprise and it enables the most nakedly raw emotional scene of the finale as Jenna and Lacey (Nikki Deloach) realize how their relationship has improved in the last few years. It’s a fantastic scene for Deloach, who is so often required to play a flighty, youth obsessed character., She so rarely gets to show off her dramatic chops that when Lacey breaks down, it almost takes you by surprise. The heart to hearts between mother and daughter have always provided a solid emotional foundation on the series, and this scene reinforces how integral both Rickards and Deloach are to the show’s success as a comedy and a drama.
Everything builds to the grand finale as Jenna goes stag to the prom. The way in which the Bailey/Matty situation is resolved is surprisingly mature, and there’s just enough wiggle room that Jenna/Matty can be revisited down the road if the new showrunners decide to revisit that relationship. I, however, hope that they embrace the final moments of ‘Who I Want To Be’ and keep Jenna single for a little bit. For the duration of this series Jenna has been a fearless and flawed high school girl, but she’s never been by herself. As much as I love Jenna, I’ve always wanted her to be stronger and more independent, and less reliant on validation from the boys in her life.
The final scene, as Jenna enthusiastically throws herself onto the dance floor to dance by herself, actually prompted me to write “F*CKING FINALLY!” in my notes. This is a moment that Iungerich has been building to for a long time and it feels both well-earned and long overdue. What we’re witnessing is Jenna’s true moment of self-discovery: she’s finally learned to be comfortable with who she is. It is a gloriously wonderful way to end the season and Iungerich couldn’t have crafted a more perfect moment to exit stage right. Bravo.
- Although they’ve both taken more of a backseat role in the second half of this season, Jake and Tamara’s battle of wills also feels like a well-earned pay-off. The majority of their scenes have centered around Tamara’s domination of their relationship, so the leopard print tux is a great opportunity to let Jake show her up – while still complimenting her crazy spirit. It’s also another great visual (thankfully he didn’t opt for a baby blue tux, which would have been unforgivable).
- Ming and Fred Wu (Kelly Sry) have the least interesting story, if only because the cherry pop is the least interesting prom cliché in the book. Out of the main clique, Ming has always felt like the odd character out – often given the short shift when it comes to interesting storylines. I said last week that I was interested to see how Awkward. handles her relationship with Fred without the Asian Mafia to prop up the drama and if this is an indication of where it will go, it’s pretty blah. I know Ming has often suffered from spastic emotional reactions, but the suggestion that she would threaten her entire relationship by undercutting Fred to her strict parents instead of just talking to him is dumb
- Austin (Shane Harper) and Sadie (Molly Tarlov) are adorable together, even if their relationship has developed primarily off-screen. I must say that tonally Sadie feels really off, though. Instead of walking the bitchy/hilarious line when she interacts with Jenna, she just kinda comes off as c*nty. It seems to me that this is still a character that Awkward. hasn’t entirely figured out how to use properly. Sadie remains an antagonist/outsider to our core cast, but when she’s not interacting with them we’re meant to root for/empathize with her and it’s never quite worked. The balance between bitchy and emotionally insecure still needs some ironing out.
- How funny is it that only a half dozen students remain in Mr. Hart’s class at the end of the year? Admittedly if I was made to stand in the hall for two months, I don’t think I’d stay enrolled.
- Love, love, LOVE Jenna’s diss of Collin (Nolan Funk) when she admits she can’t hate someone she doesn’t care about. Not only is it a great take-down of the worse character the show has ever produced, he doesn’t even really respond – he just wanders off, hopefully never to be seen or heard from again!
- Finally, who knows what will happen with new showrunners at the helm, but I hope that Bailey is kept on. In just a few episodes she’s established herself as a breath of fresh air – a true friend to Jenna and an agent of sanity in the whirlwind of all of the other madness of the show.
- Sadie (after confessing to Greer Grammer’s Lissa that she’s in love with Austin): “And if you tell anyone I’m having this soft side moment, I will CUT you”
- Lacey (reading the letter): “This feels like a lifetime ago.”
- Austin (outlining Sadie’s various stress symptoms): “Tense face.”
- Jenna (dancing with Matty): “I didn’t love myself enough to let you love me” Looks like that essay for Mr. Hart paid off
Your turn: how did you feel about the finale? Do you agree that Jenna’s solo dance is the perfect moment to end the season on? Do you want Bailey to stick around? Did Nikki Deloach’s ability to switch from comedy to drama surprise you? Do you want more from the Ming/Fred & Sadie/Austin relationships? And where should S4 take these characters? Toss out your ideas below.
Awkward. has finished airing its third season. MTV has ordered a fourth season four, but no return date has been set.