‘The Kennedys’ Series Finale
The Kennedys drew to a close tonight, and in these final two hours, the show covered Jackie Kennedy losing her third child, the US’s early involvement in Vietnam, Jack’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe, his assassination, Bobby Kennedy’s bid for the White House, and his assassination. Each of these topics could sustain an entire episode, if not a miniseries, on its own and it was too much for these last episodes to bear. Each part in and of itself was poignant, but the events didn’t get the development they deserved; with such limited amount of time the show again resorted to oversimplification of the characters and events.
The first half of the two hour finale was the most problematic. Opening on November 22, 1963, the show set the stage in Texas then quickly began jumping back and forth in time depicting various moments in Jack’s presidency. I found this to be disorienting and unnecessary. I’m all for non-linear structure, but many of the flashbacks could have easily been worked into earlier episodes and then brought into play later on which would have had a greater dramatic impact.
Many of the flashbacks are focused around Marilyn Monroe. Interestingly, Jack and Marilyn are never shown together. Rather, it’s Bobby who primarily interacts with the starlet. She is depicted as a volatile sex kitten (which she was at times) but without time to delve deeper into her story, she comes across as a one-dimensional crazy woman rather than the troubled, complicated young woman she was.
Moving back to 1963, the show shadows Lee Harvey Oswald’s movements on that fated morning in Dallas, Texas. Faithful to the version of history that has come to light, he brings his “curtain rods” to work and sets up at a window on the 6th floor of the book depository. Hearing that the weather has cleared up in Dallas, Jack orders the top on the presidential limo to be put down. Jack and Jackie share a moment before disembarking Air Force One that suggests their marriage may have healed had that day gone differently. But the rest is history. The depiction of the assassination was brief, and consisted mostly of historical footage, which I appreciated.
The second hour of the finale focused mostly on Bobby – his grief in the wake of his brother’s death and his bid for the presidency in 1968. Bobby visits his parents just after Jack’s death, and while his father wallows in his grief, his mother urges her son to re-embrace his Catholic faith. Bobby has trouble forgiving himself for his brother’s death and decides to carry on politically, for Jack’s sake. He also feels responsible for Jackie’s well-being so the two have stayed close over the years. Just prior to Bobby’s assassination in California, Jackie calls to tell him about her engagement to Aristotle Onassis. Bobby doesn’t approve, but he wants her to be happy so he doesn’t try to stop the marriage. After winning the California primary, and with his wife Ethel at his side, Bobby gives a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He takes a shortcut out through the kitchen where he is shot to death.
This last episode involved fewer time jumps, and those that were included advanced the story forward for the most part, rather than darting back and forth in time needlessly. Fewer events were crammed into the hour, which allowed the characters and storylines greater depth. Barry Pepper remains my favorite actor in the series. I enjoyed his Bobby Kennedy, even if he was sometimes reduced to the moral conscience of the show.
The series ends on Jack’s inauguration night in 1961 with all the Kennedys at their peak and in their element, dressed to the nines and drinking champagne. They toast God, and Country, and Joseph P. Kennedy, the dynastic founder of America’s most controversial and (in)famous family. The Kennedys is only the latest in a long line of attempts to depict and encapsulate this family, and it won’t be the last. With each interpretation, the legacy and mystery of the Kennedys will only continue to grow, for better and for worse. As Joseph Kennedy said in one of the last lines of this series, “If I knew this family’s secret, I would bottle it.”
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