Here’s the problem with writing a series, any kind of series: every time you end a book or a season, you create a turning point, a culmination of that story. If you keep creating turning points, eventually the reader subconsciously starts to think, “Are we there yet?” And if you create an turning point that answers all questions and leaves all the characters in a place of strength and stability, you’re done. Anything you write after that will be epilogue, the stuff that happens after the story is over. Some series manage to avoid that trap by stopping after that satisfying ending (Life on Mars was brilliant at this); some keep going and slowly run out of steam (The Mentalist ended when Jane killed the Bradley Whitford Red John; everything after that felt like milking a premise to earn money). Leverage managed to makes its epilogue season–Season Five–entertaining still, but much of that was because they evolved the team into something else. Season Four was the last act of the Leverage team in the sense that this is the season that brought them to stability, security, and happiness as a team.
“The Radio Job” starts with Nate leaving the team to break into the Patents Office Building, which works about as well as you’d expect. The team finds him before he gets in the door. What’s he going in for? To get his father out.
The team is less than thrilled since Jimmy Ford is kind of a bastard, but Nate needs them, so they pull off the theft and an escape from the cops and Homeland Security, only to have Jimmy take the MacGuffin and go off to meet the bad guys in an abandoned warehouse, where he’s killed in an explosion, part of the payback from Victor Dubenich, the very first Big Bad from the pilot.
One of the most effective ways to create a feeling of closure is to bookend your beginning and ending. Repeat locations, repeat situations, repeat phrases of dialogue, repeat anything that will create a call-back in the reader or viewer’s mind, the sense that this conclusion was inevitable, the seeds planted from the beginning. The ending of “The Radio Job” and the entirety of the “The Last Dam Job” are brilliant at creating this sense of closure, which is wonderful for the episode (not so great for a series that has another season to run). It’s in “The Last Dam Job” that Leverage really attains the height of its five seasons. The team is up against not only a man who knows their individual strengths since he’s the one who put four of them together in the first place, it’s fighting a man who’s been nursing a grudge for over three years, watching their every move, studying them so that he knows exactly what they’ll do next. He has them boxed in because he knows them so well, so the team brings in their doppelgängers, friends and enemies Victor doesn’t know at all, and by double-teaming him defeats him brilliantly and utterly.
That by itself would make “The Last Dam Job” a wonderful finale, but even more powerful is the way it nails the arc of the community. From five people who were loners, only agreeing to a one-time job, to a team that is so tight that when Nate faces down his father’s killers intending to execute them, the other four are with him, watching him, not interfering but by their very presence letting him know that he’s more than that because he’s part of them. When Nate puts down the gun and walks, he’s not walking away from the bad guys, he’s walking toward the family he belongs with and can’t let down. The team in this scene is like a great frame: their presence takes a simple adventure scene and transforms it into character crisis and epiphany. And when Nate, the team member most distant from the others, chooses to join them, the community arc is complete, too. Nothing can destroy that team now.
It’s a brilliant finale, but it set up some real problems for Season Five. I think the way the Leverage writers addressed those problems was the smartest path to take, but any path was going to be tricky because the community arc is over. Now what are you going to do?
Well, you can complete individual characters arcs, set up the greatest job of the team’s career, and then have them recognize where their futures lie and part company, still a family, just not a team. For those of us who loved the team, it’s a problematical season, but for those of us who loved the tricky plots and the fascinating characters, it’s still must-see TV. Next week, Parker’s arc is completed when she’s once again working alone in “The Broken Wing Job.” The week after that, the beginnings of the end as the team splits into the younger three taking on terrorism (“The Rundown Job”), and Sophie and Nate solving a mystery as a virtually-married couple ala Nick and Nora Charles (“The Frame-Up Job”). And then finally, the real series finale, “The Long Goodbye Job,” which I have serious issues with, and summing up the series, which I do not have serious issues with because it’s in my Top Five TV Series of All Time.