When I rewatched FI this week, on my still-pretty-new 21st-century 40" TV, with all my years of post-finale FK familiarity and reflection, I cringed through much of the episode.
It's fun to have the visuals at such size and to clearly distinguish all the things and people in the background of every scene (while acknowledging the budget constraints of '90s syndicated television, and the fact that it wasn't expected to be viewed at this magnification by most of the audience).
However, it's painful to watch Natalie either not remember — or, worse, not care — what happened in "If Looks Could Kill," which should have informed, if not prevented, her injecting Joey with Nick's blood. Violent side-effects, indeed! Natalie should hunt down Sofia and demand her data, not experiment without informed consent... and while the primary goal is solving the case, there's a secondary goal, which is not the core series premise of curing Nick but, I suspect, the drooping third-season concern of merely enabling a physical relationship with him, if not of joining him in vampirism. So desperate, so sad, as third-season winds down and down and down to its tragic close. And then there's Natalie not locking her car, despite what happened in "Spin Doctor" and "1966" and other episodes. Danger-prone Natalie, or incipiently suicidal Natalie? Again, the grim march of late third season.
Over on Nick's side, first things first, had he given up combing his hair, or was that a fashion trend that I don't remember? (In one of my earliest fanfictions, I had Janette muse that the first thing Nick does when he's contending with his guilt is stop tending to his appearance. Third-season influence, for sure.) And then there's the flashback "pit of condemned bimbos," which is even more disturbing (and yet even more pathetic) at the magnified screen size. Good grief, is that ever disgusting and demonic ... and yet absurd, not only straining at the edges of even the looser vampire feeding canon established in second-season's "Crazy Love" (should at least be just one victim at a time, per CL) and interacting in highly-controversial and often unfortunate ways with other canon about whether Nick and other FK vampires can or cannot "sip" successfully (e.g. IWR, ILCK, BB1, DoN, LK), but with the self-regarding, self-justifying dialogue of an inexperienced teenager. Granted that this flashback remembers Nick at the depth of his darkest vampire behavior, long before his conscience recovers, he sounds as dorky as he does evil! I'm embarrassed as well as chilled. It's an odd combination. And then there's the tension between his reaction to Joey here (based on his misfired relationship with Andre) and Nick's behavior in both the past and present of "Father Figure;" why does this incident with Andre leap to Nick's mind now, with Joey, and not also during the Blitz or with Lisa... is it Henry's presence, or did it then as well? Nick comes off much better in "Father Figure;" the slide down the seasons is dispiriting.
We never learn Andre's fate.
"Teen night at the Raven" is also never explained. For this one episode only, the majority of the Raven's patrons look just barely old enough to legally drink alcohol. Of course I posit that all the young people, including Joey, were at least 19, which Googling tells me is the legal drinking age in Ontario, but it nevertheless remains worthy of remark that for this one night only, the Raven's demographics skewed unusually young. From "amateur night at the Raven" (HoD) to this since Lacroix took over the Raven from Janette... Divia's "innkeeper," indeed. Lacroix has not the head for this business that Janette does, no matter how many "plantations" (CRCH) he owned, and no matter how reasonable a night for vampires brought across in their teens may be.
And then there's the tag scene, in which Natalie asks Nick to let her off the hook, and he does. Easily, cleanly, no angst, no lessons learned... the "Last Knight" tragedy breathing down their necks. It hurts.
That's how I personally felt about the episode while I rewatched it here in April 2014.
A day or so later, it happened to cross my mind that this wasn't at all how I'd felt about FI when I first saw it in 1996.
As you may remember, FI aired as the last of third-season's post-Christmas winter run of episodes before a prolonged in-season break; late spring then brought the "final four" episodes: JD, Fran, AtA and LK. (As I recall, I wrote my very first fanfic during that interregnum!) Where I lived at the time, a sporting event pre-empted FI; I phoned the TV station asking when they'd run it. They had no intention of running it, ever, so a kind fellow FKSpoilr member sent me a dubbed VHS copy to watch before "the final four" began.
The first time that I watched FI on that VHS tape, I saw it on a 10" square screen; I was still misinterpreting "The Human Factor" as culminating in Janette's death (long story; let's not discuss it now); and, significantly, I had not yet seen most of first season. (That would come for me in the summer after LK. Remember, this was long before on-demand or streaming. You discovered a show whenever you happened to discover it and you watched it forward from there.) Most importantly, "the final four" had not yet aired. I knew that FK was canceled. I didn't have any idea how we would go out. I wasn't imagining LK.
So when I watched FI that first time, I found Natalie's experiment edgy but clever (I didn't yet know about ILCK). Also that first time, I found Nick's "dungeon" disturbing but comprehensible (I didn't yet know about most of first season ~grin~). I found "teen night at the Raven" even less believable than I do now (Google and Wikipedia didn't yet exist to tell me that Canadian drinking ages are younger than US ones).
The biggest difference, though, came with the tag scene. Back in the day, I found the reconciliation between Nick and Natalie hopeful, the forgiveness and forgetting sufficient, a brighter tomorrow assuredly around the corner. I remember someone on FKSpoilr — could have been chelseagirl, but I think it was E. — encouraging me to stop debating interpretations of "The Human Factor" and go write fanfic about "what if" the episode had ended the way I believed. I had just then seen FI for the first time, and I replied then that it looked to me like canon was carrying on from my understanding of HF. It fit, I thought then. At that time, I thought I saw hope in FI's tag, harmonizing with the hard but correct sacrifice that I thought I saw in HF... and it wasn't going to end in LK.
It was the nature of '90s television dramas in general, and syndicated series in particular, that continuity of any sort was rare and precious. TPTB didn't want to have to air episodes in order as reruns; they didn't really want anyone to remember events from one episode to the next. Two-parters and cliffhangers (exemplified by TNG's summer of Locutus) were still fairly new and innovative; when HL did them, we all admired it. Third-season FK, when viewed as a series unto itself, completely separate from seasons one and two, was pretty darn good. It's only when viewed from the heights of first season, and all the potential lost, that it insists on pummeling my heart.
I'm so lucky that I saw so much of the series "backwards." I find third-season hard now, but I found it easy then. And I got to fall head over heels for first-season FK just when others were walking away from FK entirely, never to return.
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