A couple of weeks ago, a quote from a 2018 interview with Joel and Ethan Coen resurfaced that we mostly ignored around here. It was old, but it was an attempt to divide the entertainment community into Pro-Film and Pro-Television camps, which is just divisiveness for the sake of being divisive.
The thing about TV series that I don’t understand and I think is hard for both of us to get our minds around is, you know, feature films have a beginning, a middle and an end,” Joel said. “But open-ended stories have a beginning and a middle — and then they’re beaten to death until they’re exhausted and die. They don’t actually have an end. And thinking about that in the context of a story is rather alien to the way we imagine these things.
In this era of “prestige television” and anthology series, it also isn’t a fair statement. There are plenty of television shows where the production teams know how to tell a story and find an ending. Or at least keep that middle part interesting enough for us to be engaged until they find an ending for it. Unfortunately, the team behind The Head is not one of those teams.
I picked up season two for review because season one got lost in the mental shuffle of shows I had wanted to watch. I binged the six episodes of season one. It should not have taken as long as it did. Kaleena’s review is spot on; it was a chore. After slogging through all of the episodes, I thought they tied things up handily and was curious about what direction they were going to take with the second season. Sometimes Joel Coen’s divisiveness makes a good point. Season two of The Head is the most unnecessary season of television I’ve ever watched, 25 seasons of The Simpsons notwithstanding. It gives us nothing new or interesting to think about. It doesn’t further the existing story. It’s a rehash of season one but on a boat. It is the interminable middle of the story that Joel warned us about.
None of the characters, from either season, are likable enough to make us interested in what happened to them after season one. It isn’t a new story; it takes the old story and changes the mystery’s locked room from a desolate Antarctic science station to a container ship floating in the middle of the ocean. A continuation for continuation’s sake. It felt very much like an executive decision based on the popularity of the first season in Spain and not a decision made based on art or storytelling.
In contrast, I recently finished the first season of Three Pines on Amazon. I reviewed the first two episodes when they became available and generally enjoyed the series. The stories themselves are worthwhile. The overall arc touches on social justice issues that impact the native and indigenous people of Canada, and it created a space for some beautiful pieces of protest art to be displayed at Bea Mayer’s (played by Tanto Cardinal) art gallery.
The storytelling is also well done. While the primary plot carries out over all ten episodes of the season, every two episodes are a different, mini-murder mystery that the team of detectives has to solve while they’re also unofficially focused on the disappearance of Blue Two-Rivers. The mysteries all touch each other and weave together in places so it never feels like one storyline was pursued to the detriment of the other. They also managed to work in relevant character backstories without dragging the plot into a mire of exposition. It is concise and emotionally compelling television.
I know it’s easier to create something like that when you have a book series to work from. But before the team behind The Head moves on to their next project or another season of the show, they should take a lesson from Three Pines and figure out how to more clearly define the beginning, middle, and end of the plot.