The primary reason I quit watching Downton Abbey after the second season, and also watch very few television series in general, is that I dislike stories which do not end. In other words, I dislike when there is always some conflict which needs to be resolved, and there can never be a definitive conclusion or resting point. It seems to me that most television dramas can never allow all the character arcs and conflicts to cadence; instead, a new twist must always elide with any conclusive moment and serve as a cliffhanger so the audience will continue watching. Personally, a well told story that comes to a natural end would make me more intrigued to continue watching a new installment.
The finale of the first season of The Churchmen ends with a shocking cliffhanger that will need to be resolved in season 2. I would also wager a guess that some of the resolved conflicts will be revisited and undone in the beginning of the second season. (A look at IMDB’s list of the total episodes for each actor indicates to me that my guess is correct.)
Even though The Churchmen has fallen back upon some trite storytelling techniques for television drama, I do want to commend the writers for a first season which wrestles with themes of forgiveness, mercy, and repentance in ways that highlight the brokenness of all the characters and everyone’s need for God’s mercy, both for those we liked and for those we dislike.
As Ken wrote in his recap of episode seven:
The series does tend to lean a little heavily on the contrast between individual faith (good) and institutional structures (bad, bad, bad).
I think the decision to suggest the hierarchy of the Church is more concerned with appearances than with saving souls is a frustrating and unfairly one-dimensional portrayal, but the acknowledgement of the power of faith and forgiveness to change individual lives is sincere and moving. Enough so, that I choose to see this glass’ portrayal of the Catholic faith as half full.
The opening scene of episode eight is an effective reminder of that forgiveness and mercy which we all need. Raph has gone to see the judge in an attempt to drop the charges against his father’s illegal management of the country. As he tries to blame his now deceased brother, the first thought is: how low is he going to sink in his effort to save his family’s reputation? However, after his exchange with the judge, there is an immediate cut to a shot of Raph sobbing from the stress and tragedy he is experiencing, which manages to evoke sympathy for him, despite his selfish actions.
The other seminarians return to their lives at the seminary, some in a more roundabout way than others. Yann has recovered from his crisis of faith from the past several episodes, after being uncharacteristically nasty in the previous episode and then coming to his senses, sort of like the prodigal son. The homosexual tensions between Emmanuel and Guillaume continues to haunt both of them, and it continues to be the least interesting plot development.
With one exception, the aforementioned cliffhanger, the character arcs for all the seminarians come to uneasy resting points, so that should any one of the actors choose not to return for the second season, writing his character out would seem natural. At the same time, the door is left open to further develop each seminarian.
The vendetta between Fromenger and Monsignor Roman comes to a surprising conclusion, giving an unexpected character a new leadership role. That character’s first act of authority results in the seminary being raided by the police, and as he walks amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the aftermath, the show seems to be commenting on his tenure with a fair bit of snark, which is deserved despite the sympathy the writers have tried to create for that character in other scenes.
Finally, Fromenger’s last scene of the season gives him a natural and moving opportunity to give a speech to the entire seminary, paraphrasing Psalm 139: “[God] didn’t let me down. It was I who lacked faith in Him…He won’t leave you no matter what you do. Only you can abandon Him if you abandon yourselves. And even then, He will still know how to find you.” For a show preoccupied with mercy and forgiveness, that was a fitting and well conceived speech to climax the first season.
Episode 1 (1More Film Blog)
Episode 2 (Catholic Cinephile)
Episode 3 (1More Film Blog)
Episode 4 (Catholic Cinephile)
Episode 5 (1More Film Blog)
Episode 6 (Catholic Cinephile)
Episode 7 (1More Film Blog)