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‘Housewives’ finale looks to the past

After an exceptional first season, “Desperate Housewives” had a much-anticipated return last fall that was teased with a . A deluge of apples, metaphors for sin and temptation, fell as the heavily made-up housewives and their men offered imagery to preview their second-season lives. With the bouncy, infectious song “Juicy” by Better than Ezra as its soundtrack, the preview suggested the new season would be wickedly fun.

Lots of apples fell over 23 episodes, but tragically, most just stayed on the ground and rotted. Surprisingly, the last episode turned away from the dullness of its predecessors, mostly by looking backward.

Through most of its disappointing sophomore season, however, a whole lot of nothing happened. The series took various twists and turns but always seemed to end up right back where it started.

Bree was suddenly an alcoholic and then suddenly was not, and she both started and ended the season in a relationship with a psycho killer employed as a medical professional. Gaby got pregnant and then lost the baby, adopted a baby and then lost the adopted baby. Lynette’s husband Tom lost his job, got a new job, and then lost his job again. Susan was a stupid nitwit idiot and, well, she’s still a stupid nitwit idiot.

“Desperate Housewives” treaded water in part because its first season was powered by the mysterious death of the narrator, Mary Alice, which connected nearly all of the characters. This season was powered by nothing.

The one real mystery introduced involved new neighbor Betty Applewhite, but like her challenged son Caleb, she mostly stayed locked up in her house, interacting only a few times with Bree.  Casting Alfre Woodard as a desperate housewife was inspired, but she was completely and disappointingly wasted by lazy writing.

Woodard’s guest-starring role was finally put out of its misery when she and Caleb left Wisteria Lane in a moving truck, and her other son Matthew left in a body bag. Her time in the well-manicured community ended abruptly when she discovered that she was covering up a murder to protect the wrong son. Betty had locked her mentally challenged son Caleb in her basement thinking that he was responsible for killing his brother Matthew’s girlfriend in Chicago. But it was Matthew, a flashback showed, who was really responsible for killing her. Despite all this, Betty left with the same blank look on her face that she had when she arrived.

Finally, a purpose for Mary AlicePerhaps the character who’s had the most visibly traumatic year is Bree, whose continued desire for perfection has continued to restrain her, so much so that it led her to actually be physically restrained at a mental institution. Her inability to function as the mother she wants to be is one of the series’ most intriguing stories, and it reached its peak a few episodes ago when she left her son Andrew on the side of the road, unable to deal with his hateful rebellion and anger with her any more.

Besides that, there was Gaby's quest to make Carlos happy by having a baby, and Tom and Lynette’s struggles at work, most of which was forgettable. Oh sure, there has been snappy dialogue and a few fun scenes, like during the season finale when Gabrielle told a doctor who was about to examine her surrogate mother, “If you see a hymen, just give me a thumbs-up.”

A drama, however, particularly a serialized one, needs to hang its elements together rather than just throw jokes and moments against a wall. Even soap operas need threads that unravel in intriguing ways, not material that crumbles to dust once it’s picked up.

Brenda Strong’s character Mary Alice continued to narrate despite the fact that her storyline was exhausted last season and all but ignored this season. But her narration finally had a purpose as the season concluded.

In flashbacks, Mary Alice Young described her introduction to each of her future friends: Susan Mayer, Bree Van De Kamp, Lynette Scavo, and Gabrielle Solis. These moments were indicative of what was to come: Gaby and Carlos were half-naked, Tom and Lynette were fighting, and Bree was doing her best to maintain her image despite her son’s behavior.

These scenes were also reminders of how fun “Desperate Housewives” was when it let its main characters be friends and actually talk to one another instead of sulking around in self-created misery. As soon as the finale flashed back to the present, however, the momentum was gone.

As Brenda Strong ended the season with Mary Alice’s usual lecture from the grave, she was apparently channeling not her character but the show’s writers, who seemed to be talking directly to dismayed viewers. “The trick is to keep moving forward, to let go of the fear and the regret that slow us down and keep us from enjoying a journey that will be over too soon,” she said.

In other words, let go of the disappointment over this tragic second season and enjoy the journey to come. But Mary Alice continued, adding, “Yes, there will be unexpected bends in the road, shocking surprises we didn’t see coming, but that’s really the point, don’t you think?”

Actually, no: Those shocking surprises are what gets in the way.

Mike Delfino was either severely injured or killed when he was run over by Bree’s new love interest, who also happens to be Susan’s dentist and a former evil prison doctor. It’s relationship déjà vu for Bree, never mind storyline plagiarism from last season, and even more heartbreak for Susan.

Next season is going to begin six months into the future, hopefully leaving the lameness of the past eight months behind.

There are a few things to look forward to, like the return of woefully absent Edie, Zach’s newfound fortune, and the addition of Tom Scavo’s 11-year-old daughter and her hateful mother. His long-past affair and its results are moving in nearby, mostly to taunt .

Still, based upon the strength of the flashbacks, a smarter move would be to flash backwards and start next season six years in the past, when the housewives’ lives, not psycho killer plot devices, made them truly desperate.

is a writer and teacher who publishes , a daily summary of reality TV news.

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