Commentary

Episode Thirteen - the Brawl for it All

The Aussie Review

Well, here it is. After 12 weeks of racing around the world, it all comes down to the finale. Despite my real problem with much of what occurred in the past few legs, I admit that the producers do a great job with the TAR1 finale, wheeling out every trick in the book to make it seem a grand occasion, a titanic struggle and a tense finish. There are still quite a few negative points in this, but the sense of energy and style that so attracted us to the show in the first place returns just when we thought it was gone.
The whole thing is carefully structured by the editors so that the tension and suspense continue to build all through the remaining Alaska sequences.
In many ways, the fact that this episode is the end of the race gives the final leg far more urgency and impact than the dull happenings last week. The whole thing is carefully structured by the editors so that the tension and suspense continue to build all through the remaining Alaska sequences. This is something of a minor miracle, because the final Detour and Roadblock generate about the same level of interest as the other poor ones from the previous leg! The dog sled race certainly has the potential to be great, and the editors do all they can, but in the end it just doesn't quite come off (though we do get Frank screaming "Put on the BRAKES!!!", so it's not all bad). And the Roadblock is just embarrassing, coming off as nothing more than totally routine - though again, Brennan's non-retrieval of the clue remains amusing!

On the other hand, there's some real needle in the interactions between the two competing teams that wasn't there before, and that gives the whole thing a lift. With the prize so close, paranoia and suspicion set in as Rob and Brennan feel sure that Frank and Margarita would use dirty tricks to win (which I think we all agree they wouldn't), whilst Frank goes into a non-stop trash talking session about how he "never really dug" the lawyers anyway and becomes incredibly confident of total victory in their home city. This is balanced to some extent by Margarita's theory that they deserve to win more because $1 million would mean so much more to them, and for much of the show you get the feeling that we are being encouraged to root for one team over the other.

Then there's Team Guido. Maybe it's the snow, but they actually look much younger and more vital here than they have in a considerable time. Never mind that they're essentially reduced to complete bystanders here, and suffer the indignity of finding out about the result from a piece of paper in the middle of nowhere. It might be a moment beloved by many fans, but to me Bill and Joe's little Alaskan coda has always seemed a cruel and undignified finish for them, and to have everybody else waving from the mat without them being present strikes a wrong note.
Where the finale really shines is the last 20 minutes in New York City.
Where the finale really shines is the last 20 minutes in New York City. For one thing, I'm glad that the race ends where it began - though I'm always sad that they couldn't go back to the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, making it a real Phineas Fogg journey around the world! The taxi race at the end is superbly done, and it just goes to show how much you can overthink things when you're in your comfort zone. I've always believed that Frank and Margarita's big mistake was screwing around with the cab drivers at Newark Airport rather than their specific route, and it was this that cost them the valuable minutes. I'm actually quite happy with the idea of taking the subway to the finish line, too, because at least doesn't turn the whole thing into a competition to see who can get the best cab.

But in the end Rob and Brennan triumph. It's a good thing the producers see fit to put that inspirational music in, because the general feeling is one of emptiness - you never really rooted against Esquire, but you're not that enthused about them winning either. They also take an eternity to run about a quarter of a mile. The addition of the eliminated teams was a very nice touch that works very well, too. But the real emotion at the end is watching poor Margarita jump for joy when she becomes convinced that they've won at the train station, and then her face when she (apparently) realises that they have lost. The musical cue here is the one that always gets me, as she keeps on running anyway. In the end, there's no hard feelings and a lot of kind words about the race, which is about as positive a closing sequence as you could hope for.

Considering the problems with the end of the series during the first season, for the finale to turn out as well as it does is a tribute to everyone who works on the show. They weren't given terribly great material to work with, but they wring every last drop of tension, suspense, joy, and sorrow out of it, giving The Amazing Race a fine finish with the real emotional core it had been lacking for a while until this point. It's a good way to end it - but not a genuinely great one.

The Australian's Rating: 8/10
by The Australian