This review contains spoilers for the 911: Lone Star Season 4 finale
Let’s start off on a positive note: TK and Carlos are married! Ronen Rubinstein and Rafael Silva have told us all season that all roads lead to the wedding. But the road was hell in last night’s two-part Season 4 finale. Despite the joy and celebration of queer love closing this season out, there were times throughout the finale that tested my limits on 911: Lone Star’s propensity to use death as a vehicle for a character’s growth and exploration.
Death as a means of exploration
In Season 2, Charles died by aneurysm, leading to a Tommy and Charles “Begins” episode in “One Day.” Gwyn died suddenly in the middle of Season 3, giving us another “Begins” episode for TK, exploring his addiction and his relationship with his mother in “In the Unlikely Event of an Emergency.” This time it was Gabriel, just days before TK and Carlos’ wedding. What hurts even worse was that his death came soon after a messy fight between Carlos and Gabriel that led to a reconciliation ending with Carlos asking his dad to be his best man in “Best of Men” and “In Sickness and in Health.”
All of these episodes are great when it comes to the acting and the exploration of the characters. However, killing off parental figures in three consecutive seasons is starting to feel lazy. There are many ways to explore the depths of these characters; they contain multitudes, and their interpersonal relationships are important not just in death, but in life too. In 911: Lone Star, more screen time means tragedy is on the way. Why can’t we get to know these characters and how they each relate to each other without the specter of death hanging over everything?
Carlos and things left unsaid
For Carlos, Season 4 was a game changer. It began with a reveal that he’s already married, kicking off a four-episode Carlos-centric arc. During these four episodes, we learned more about Carlos than we had in three seasons. He also got to be the one in danger for once when he decided to go after a serial killer by himself. Carlos’ abduction provided wonderful, angsty drama, but by the time the arc was over, that’s all it was.
The fight between TK and Carlos regarding Carlos’ secret and TK’s overreach in reaching out to Iris got swept up in the life and death stakes of Carlos’ hostage situation. Once Carlos was saved, that was it. The secrets and miscommunication didn’t matter anymore because one of them almost died. The same thing happened at the beginning of Season 3, when TK and Carlos’ breakup happened off-screen, and life and death stakes brought them back together with no actual reconciliation about what led to their breakup.
The groundwork should matter. It’s a pathway the audience needs in order to feel the emotional fallout of the high stakes drama that’s in store. Without the groundwork, why are we going to care? So much of Tarlos happens off screen. Carlos’ parents are barely in episodes. Gabriel had no significant scenes with Carlos all season until “Best of Men.”
Yet this finale focused on them. Throughout the season, Carlos’s issues with his father were only casually mentioned. But they don’t have an actual conversation with each other on screen until the episode when Gabriel dies. It’s one thing to create dramatic irony around having Carlos ask his dad to be his best man and kill him off in the same episode but for this to be an important character’s major storyline all season is a special kind of cruel. We were just getting to know him finally after two whole seasons.
A dark path ahead
During “In Sickness and in Health,” Carlos travels a dark path. It’s almost too dark. We’ve seen him become obsessed with cases before, but drawing a gun on an informant and brandishing the weapon around was a step too far. At least in the context of what this finale ended up being. This storyline of Carlos avenging his father and uncovering corruption in multiple law enforcement agencies is too big of a plot line for a single episode, let alone in the finale when so many things need to be wrapped up. The dichotomy between the scene in the informant’s garage and the wedding is glaring. Owen talks Carlos down in between, and Carlos proposes to TK as a way to bridge those scenes, but the high emotion and level of grief present throughout Carlos’ storyline doesn’t match the joy and wonder of the wedding.
In real life, grief and joy exist together. They are not mutually exclusive. In a single day, we can move through so many different emotions and find ourselves laughing even when we’re going through tremendous grief. But in a story that’s only 45 minutes long, there’s got to be room to acknowledge both. Carlos tells his mom that today’s the happiest day of his life with barely an acknowledgement of his father. We move on too fast from Carlos’ grief spiral that led to him pointing a gun at an innocent man. To not let these moments breathe, seemingly moving on from them, disrespects the emotions at play here.
The audience isn’t getting enough time to process what happened before we’ve moved on to the wedding, and to bring Carlos to such a dark place and pull him out of it in the space of 10 minutes is jarring. What should have been a wedding full of joy, love, and celebration turned into the audience playing catch up on the events that just transpired, traumatized by the whiplash nature that got us from death, corruption, and grief to love, queerness, joy, and celebration. Allowing them more space to reconcile each other could have led to a balance of these complicated emotions, emphasizing their importance more.
Not giving these character arcs room to breathe is a problem. Carlos being married was never explored again except through one-line jokes. Iris never made a reapperance until the wedding. Carlos and her never even exchanged words. Considering Carlos first asked Gabriel to be his best man, surely a followup conversation between Carlos and Iris was warranted? It could have connected Carlos’ past with Iris and why they felt the need to get married with Carlos’ new understanding of his father. Instead, Iris is just a body, an abandoned storyline from earlier in the season.
What it ultimately comes down to is this: death is not the only way to write meaningful character arcs. When a character only becomes important through their eventual death, then you’ve messed up somewhere.
There’s a way for Carlos’ story to move forward without glossing over everything that happened in the finale. There’s corruption in the Texas Rangers, APD, and other agencies. The man who killed Gabriel is still out there. Carlos will be looking for him. There was a lot of talk about police corruption in these episodes, but a strange cognitive dissonance existed when Carlos was in his uniform talking about all the horrible things the Texas Rangers have done. Will there be room to explore Carlos’ role as a police officer and what it means to work within a racist system? There’s potential to turn this into something great. Silva’s got the chops to handle anything they throw at him. Let’s make it worth it.
Time for a wedding
Despite these frustrations, 911: Lone Star still made me cry. Rafael Silva brought his all to these episodes, and it was so great to see him shine. And at the end of the day, a queer love story culminated with a wedding on network television. The wedding itself was heartfelt and moving, TK and Carlos’ vows carrying the beautiful history of these two characters throughout the seasons. Rubinstein and Silva’s respect and care for TK and Carlos shines in every scene. Though I don’t think Tarlos—and us— needed to earn this wedding all that much, god damnit did we deserve it by the end of this season.
And oh, how I loved so many things about these episodes. The gathering of families in the loft. Carlos’ sisters (give me more!). Owen’s speech, acknowledging what led to his and TK’s move to Austin. I appreciate it so much that Owen told TK that he saved himself. The B-roll of the party, with Carlos and TK chatting and taking photos with Robert’s daughters. The wedding, all of it. The vows, the jokes in the middle of their vows, Paul officiating, “stay out of the ICU for at least a year,” the tears, Iris and TK dancing, Carlos and Andrea, the general atmosphere and look of the wedding. Tommy singing. The montage. The honeymoon.
It’s been a frustrating season. Marjan, Paul, Mateo, and Nancy did not get substantial screen time at all. That needs to be fixed. We’re heading into Season 5 and I still barely know Nancy at all. Owen’s been great these past few episodes and I believe that’s because he’s taken a step back into more of a supporting role, which works really well for him. For a first responder show, this season has had so many detective-type storylines, always involving members of the 126 in a detective capacity. That doesn’t work. Let’s get back to the saves, the natural disasters, the crew hanging out and working together, bickering and in sync with each other, having each other’s backs. Tarlos communicating. Loving each other, through thick and thin, sickness and in health. And let death take a break for a season. It’s TV—there’s stories to explore.
Feature image courtesy of FOX
Seasons 1-4 of 911: Lone Star can be viewed on Hulu.
'911: Lone Star" Season 4 Finale - 8/10