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’30 Rock’ Season Finale Review: “What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?”

30 Rock
NBC

The finale of ‘30 Rock‘ ties up several loose ends to bring about a satisfying conclusion, but does it maybe make things a little too tidy? In “What Will Happen to the Gang?” everyone gets a happy ending… sort of.

Liz and boyfriend Criss are still trying to figure out their future together, but something inside Liz won’t let her accept that happiness. Criss figures that unmarried women in their 40s are either “uggos, crazies, and bailers.” Since Liz is obviously neither ugly nor crazy (at least not the latter in a horrifying sense), she must be a bailer — someone who flees out of fear.

This assessment would sound more reductive if it weren’t for Liz’s relationship history. Just about every man Liz has dated has been a total nightmare, instilling her with the expectation for a similarly disastrous conclusion with Criss. Sure, he sells hot dogs out of a van that he’s hilariously named “Van Der Beek” (even though he’s seen everything starring James Van Der Beek except for ‘Dawson’s Creek), and he’s not as fiscally responsible as someone his age should be, but the man has passions and motivation and, most importantly, he’s dedicated to Liz and genuinely loves her.

While most of the episode feels wildly normal as it builds to resolve Liz’s issues and Jack’s struggling marriage, it does veer into signature wacky humor territory during a fantastic montage where Liz envisions raising a small plant as if it were her child, featuring all the milestones that come with raising a kid: teaching it how to ride a bike, seeing it graduate school, being the understanding parent when it comes out as gay — you know, the usual (at least for Liz) stuff.

But when Criss confronts her with the idea that she’s just terrified, it all clicks into place. She loves him. He loves her. And so Liz resolves to try and make the one thing happen that she’s wanted for so long: a baby. Liz’s relationship fears seem almost too obvious for her character not to recognize, but she’s never quite been able to apply the same no-nonsense approach that she uses with everyone else on herself as easily.

Meanwhile, Jack and Avery have decided to renew their wedding vows, giving some anxiety to Diana, Avery’s mother. And although last week Avery’s clever manipulation of Jack proved to be little more than a way for her to get him to confess to all his wrong-doings while she’d been away, this week that plot gets retconned a little for the sake of resolution. Most likely, they weren’t able to keep Elizabeth Banks for one more season, so they needed a quickie out.

Jack discovers that Avery and Scott Scottsman, her co-anchor in North Korea, were indeed having an affair, at least in the emotional sense. The two had figured out a special tapping code that they could use to communicate with each other during the only time they were allowed together — on TV. During the vow renewal, Diana gets wasted on champagne and falls asleep with her hand in her shirt and Scott’s ex-girlfriend shows up, rendering them unable to object to the proceedings. Even Kim Jong-il (Margaret Cho — always a delight), the greatest waiter the world has ever seen, can’t bring himself to object, making the conflict-loving Jack and Avery agitated… but why?

Up until this season, the pairing was almost perfect. Jack and Avery shared similar ideals and stubborn, but rational mindsets. Needing an out for Elizabeth Banks is understandable, but this plot feels half-cooked. The two of them realize that they only got married because Avery was pregnant, and they amicably agree to a divorce in front of their friends and family. Perhaps in next year’s final season we’ll get the return of Julianne Moore?

There are three B-plots this week: Tracy is struggling to find purpose and inspiration because his roles are skewing a little racist, Kenneth lets Hazel move in with him but discovers that she sabotaged his re-entry to the page program, and Jenna is hell-bent on getting rid of Hazel.

Tracy’s plot gets some big laughs, mostly thanks to a meeting with Cornel West in which he keeps referring to the esteemed professor as Questlove. Jenna gets to play the straight man for once as she’s pit against the arguably more insane Hazel, someone so crazy that of course only Jenna can see it. Unfortunately we don’t get a final appearance from Paul (Will Forte) this season, but with one season left and an impending marriage to Jenna, he’s sure to return. Kenneth and Hazel share a couple of funny scenes this week, punctuated by the two of them making out near the end of the episode, and it couldn’t get much more awkward.

Sadly, we don’t get any moments in the finale with Frank, Toofer, Lutz, or Pete, though we do get a teeny tiny, silent glimpse at Cerie at the tail end of a scene. ’30 Rock’ is usually more inclusive, but this back half of the season has mostly dispatched with the supporting writer characters in favor of more — dare I say it — conventional plot lines.

The finale is an episode that feels big, with major resolution for Jack and Liz — and seemingly no one else — but it feels half-hearted and easy, as if they’re following a well-tread map to take the quickest route to the end.

Quotable:

“Hey, I don’t bail. I’m still watching ‘Smash.’”

“Planty, no!”

“It was named Mr. Waterboat.”

“I played Avery Jessup in Kidnapped by Danger, now available on Sega Genesis.”

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