Due South lasted four seasons thanks to the support of a loyal but small audience that sustained it long past the point when the mass-audience-addicted American networks were prepared to continue it: a familiar attitude but not a familar outcome and especially not in the 1990s. But that audience could only take it so far and, given some of the episodes in the fourth season, maybe it took it too far. Either way, there was no fifth season so the series had a finale on its hands.
‘Call of the Wild’ was originally broadcast on Canadian TV as a two hour episode. For the boxset, and I imagine the BBC over here, it was divided into two parts. In the process, two short scenes were edited out, one of which I disagree with omitting. It was a story of many short scenes, built around a spinal story that was serious enough in its conception but which was never compelling enough to take over the episode. The name of the game was send-off: not so much the wrapping up of loose ends but the satisfactory disposal of all the ongoing elements, ambitions, hopes, wishes and relationships. In short, leave nothing untouched, leave nothing to wonder about afterwards.
Did it work? I wanted it to work. I wanted to enjoy this, I wanted to be happy watching it, I wanted an ending that suited what I’ve been watching every Thursday this past fourteen months or so. I didn’t want to be disappointed. And, mostly, I wasn’t. A lot of things were sewn up in different fashions: the final episode finished by stealing the American Graffitti ending of showing you each character’s future but let’s not go into that in any detail because the futures chosen were almost universally silly. Everything got covered in one way or another. Some of it was good, some of it was very good and in one instance I’d go so far as to say tears-to-the-eyes incredibly good, and that’s why I’ve chosen the picture above. Others were, well, let’s be honest, not good. Indifferent, rather than bad, so the show gets a pass on that score.
I don’t intend to go into any great detail about the finale. There were lots of details, enough that any kind of representative summary would take nearly as long to read as to watch and watching would be better. But things started in symbolic and elegiac fashion with Fraser homesick, and led to a case involving a weapons dealer, out to sell munitions – nerve gas and a Russian submarine – to the Militia group run by Cyrus Bolt, cousin to Randall Bolt of ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ and ‘Red, White or Blue’ in season 2, played once again by Kenneth Welsh.
The dealer was Holloway Muldoon, a ruthless and highly-competent bastard, who was supposedly dead this thirty years, having fallen into a crevasse whilst being pursued by Fraser’s Dad, Bob. There was a secret about Muldoon, one that Bob Fraser had withheld from his son all his life, one that was not hard to predict but which nevertheless was central to everything: Muldoon was the killer of Caroline Fraser, Bob’s wife, Bennie’s mother.
So whilst the chase was serious, it was more importantly personal. Muldoon was one of those people, not as slimey as the mob bosses we had this season, not arrogant in their way, not so much an offence against life, but who nevertheless you could easily conclude did not deserve to live. Not that there was ever any real doubt that Bennie would do what his father had intended, tried but failed to do. Instead, he brought Muldoon in. In the process, he kept his father’s ghost, who has been lingering for four seasons because of this one case in which he had failed to get his man, from killing Muldoon. And so Bob Fraser passed into grace, holding the hand of the ghost of Caroline Fraser (a brief return visit by Martha Burns, wife of Paul Gross).
That was so much of the story that needed to be related. Along the way, Fraser made his biggest mistake, taken off guard, by recognising ‘The Bookman’, Armando Langoustini or, as you and I know him, Ray Vecchio, the real Ray, David Marciano, a year in deep cover and luxury lown in an instant. Ray’s back, the old partnership is back on track, but the new partnership, OtherRay reverting to being Stanley Kowalski, was the one that stayed the course.
The action in the second part took us to Canada, to complete the circle, out in the deep wild, the snow, the winds, the mountains, the considerable emptiness. Here was where the episode came closest to blowing it, like the second half of the two-parter that concluded season 3. The writers couldn’t quite handle two hours, there was a lot of filler, a lot of silliness. This belonged to the Canadians; Bennie, Meg Thatcher, Buck Frobisher, Constable Turnbull, Bob Fraser. This time it was the Yank who was the fish out of water. The American half of the cast were accommodated by awkward cuts to them waiting nervously in Chicago whilst RealRay, who’s been shot in the line of duty and can retire on full pension, gets it on with ADA Stella Kowalski, aka the ex-OtherRay’s wife.
Like I said, there were things that were good, things that were indifferent, but all of it was consciously not heavy-handedly making the point that it was all over, that everything was changing, that just like the end of Deep Space Nine or the breaking of the Fellowship, these people would not ever all be in the same place again.
So let’s leave it at that, parting is such sweet sorrow, eh? The final disposition of Bennie and Stanley was not the most convincing aspect of it, and I thought that back in 1999 when I first watched it, but it was sweetened and semi-mythologised by the use, foreshadowed earlier in the episode, of the song ‘North West Passage’, about Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to find the North West Passage. I know of one song about that loss, ‘Lord Franklin’, most notably in a version recorded by the Bothy Band for a John Peel Session but I am unfamiliar with this song, written and sung by Stan Rogers and continued through the credits and fittingly. I don’t propose to stay unfamiliar with it.
And there it is. As endings go, it was good enough. I don’t give ratings but this deserved 8 out of 10, though it wouldn’t have been that high if not for Bob Fraser’s parting. Time to look at something else, something not quite as long, indeed very short in comparison and actuality. Join me for the next four weeks somewhere beginning with a G…