And, with this post, we come to the end of World Without End, and with it, my review of the final episode. And, LOTS of major spoilers here...
As I was watching the episode, I couldn't help thinking of a hypothetical story meeting, with all the team gathered to plot the end of the miniseries, tie up all the loose plot threads, and a conversation going something like this...
"So, we have a lot to tie up. I mean, we need to get Kingsbridge a borough charter, finish off Petranilla, Godwyn, and Ralph in a satisfying way, and give the story a closure that plays into the themes we've established."
"Well, sir, we have a lot to work with here. I mean, there's this entire storyline in the novel about raising a new spire and making the cathedral the tallest in England, and we can tie that into Pillars of the Earth and thematically make it an expression of reaching into a brave new world."
"Yeah, you're right, but I don't think we're going to go that way. Let's just end it with a big battle instead."
"And the chartered borough thing...let's just have Thomas end up being King Edward II, and have him write the charter."
"But sir, won't that raise a whole bunch of questions as to why nobody recognized him throughout the entire miniseries? I mean, he was the King of England - surely he was on the coinage or something."
"Oh, never mind that. And Godwyn...let's just have Caris kill him in self defence."
"Sorry, what? Won't that basically leave Caris as a murderess who just killed a bishop?"
"Oh, that won't matter, because it will happen during the battle - the battle where King Edward III is trying to raze Kingsbridge and kill his father."
"WHAT?! Sir, won't that basically paint the characters into a plot hole that they can never climb out of? I mean, the entire village will be in revolt of a King who history says will sit on the throne for about 50 years."
"Oh, never mind that - we'll just have King Edward II ask Edward III to treat Kingsbridge well at the very end."
"Sir - have you had a stroke?"
And...I wish I could say that I was kidding with all of that. I really do. Unfortunately, I'm not. After three solid episodes in a row, each one rating a good 8 or higher out of 10, the finale of World Without End manages to rate around a 3. It is actually worse than the premiere.
Now, when adapting a long novel with numerous subtle plot threads, it is sometimes not possible to do a straightforward adaptation. Pillars of the Earth suffered from the same problem - the finale of the miniseries was considerably different than that of the book. But, it was well done, and it tied everything up in a suitable way. World Without End, on the other hand, appears to have decided to go out with a bang...and just about every single Medieval cliche it could find.
So, we get the big peasant vs. army battle. The fact that the battle makes no narrative sense, particularly since you've got a small Medieval town facing off against a veteran army and holding its own, doesn't matter. There are cliches to get through. So, Petranilla has to alienate her son (she does), and lacking access to anybody else to poison while having a murder quota to meet, poisons herself. Ralph has to have a brother against brother fight against Merthin, and Merthin has to hold his own long enough for somebody else to kill his evil brother (he does), and Caris has to kill...
You know what? I feel stupider just writing this. The worst part of it is that the series had finally caught its stride. It was doing well - it was actually exploring the themes suggested by a title like "World Without End."
Unfortunately, while the novel had several points that could have been used to bring these themes out and tie them up in a satisfying way - such as Merthin building a new spire for the Kingsbridge Cathedral, and Caris getting her hospital, they all get abandoned for the sake of giving everybody a big battle to fight. What is left of all these themes is an epilogue in text, and any characters who do not get killed during the battle are just left hanging. There is no closure - there is no scene of Merthin and Caris at the very end standing at the top of the spire as Merthin shows her a statue with her face and tells her that she is the closest Kingsbridge has ever gotten to seeing an angel. There is no sense that what the people of Kingsbridge have done will transcend their time and last throughout history, as there was in Pillars of the Earth. The miniseries just has its big epic battle...and then ends.
So, while the last three episodes were really good, and approached - if not met - the quality of Pillars of the Earth, the last episode was just dreadful. 3/10 - watching it was like watching a car crash.