A bittersweet goodbye to Ugly Betty

After four seasons, the series finale of Ugly Betty filled a 42-minute episode to the brim with happy endings and tear-jerker moments…only to leave the happiest ending of them all, that of Betty and Daniel, as a sweet tease. And aside from a sense of the powers-that-be just not wanting to commit to an outright Betty/Daniel ending, I can’t figure out why. Because from a narrative standpoint, it’s like they ran full tilt, and then skidded to an abrupt halt before the finish line and shrugged nonchalantly at the tape instead of crossing it.

Daniel had a revelatory moment at Hilda and Bobby’s wedding. This week, he was so crushed by news of Betty’s new job that he seemed on the verge of tears the entire episode (Eric Mabius was pitch perfect at portraying Daniel’s heartbreak) and he even burned up her contract. Then, after Claire’s insight and Betty’s departure, he handed the reins of Mode to Wilhemina and flew to London in a grand, romantic gesture…except not. He updated Betty on his life,  and offered to take her out to dinner. We saw all of that emotion and self-realization result in a generally platonic (albeit incredibly adorable) scene. Sure, they sparkled at each other, and it was cute, but it was deliberately crafted so viewers didn’t have to interpret it as romantic. That’s what didn’t work for me: the build vs. the resolution. Imagine if, after the high tension build of Titanic, Jack and Rose sat on a piece of debris and had a weenie roast. Or Juliet said, “You know what? I didn’t like Romeo much anyway,” and moved to Florence instead of killing herself. I’m not saying Betty and Daniel are an epic Shakespearean couple, but the show’s over; would some kind of verbal acknowledgment of feelings have been so bad? Some inkling of reciprocity on Betty’s side? Maybe even a kiss? I don’t mean four minutes of tonsil hockey — even a little, chaste peck on the cheek would’ve been nice. 

Given the constraints of a 20-episode order instead of 22 and a one hour finale instead of a two-hour, Ugly Betty wrapped up beautifully. There were several weep-worthy moments, from Justin encouraging Marc to dance with Troy, to Justin and Betty’s scene on the stoop, to Ignacio finally giving Betty his blessing to go to London. And I love that Amanda found her father and Willi and Claire came to an uneasy truce. But we needed more time, and a little more investment. It felt rushed and weird at the end, for the show to spend money on a London montage, to go to the effort of flying Daniel out there…for a scene that barely lasted two minutes and ended with Betty going off to work and leaving Daniel standing there, staring at her with utter adoration.

Of course, thematically, that’s what we were all doing: watching this young woman finally come into her own, after four years of growth and self-discovery. Betty wasn’t a perfect character. She was judgmental, often just as bitchy as her Mode colleagues and she earned a lot of her success just by virtue of good timing and luck. But she had heart, and drive and passion and she proved that, ultimately, success is not about appearances, it’s something you achieve from within. Daniel refused to live without her and gave up everything to be with her…and it’s truly a sad day knowing that we viewers won’t ever be with her again. (Except on DVD!)

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7 thoughts on “A bittersweet goodbye to Ugly Betty

  1. i didn’t know ugly betty was ending until an hour ago… and of course i watched the last episode right away online. I’ve seen the original Ugly Betty >Betty La Fea< and with all everything that Daniel and Betty went through, I was VERY disappointed with the last 3 minutes of the show…. After everything Betty has done for Daniel, the writers could have AT LEAST given Daniel the chance to tell Betty how he feels or even a KISS… yes, the ''look'' they had for each other was cute… but still.. the viewers deserved a little bit more…. I do, however, think it was awesome how Betty told Daniel she is needing an assistant… which of course was jokingly predicted by Daniel himself… I just can't recall in which episode….. ugh… I do hope they push for an Ugly Betty movie which is being rumoured…. I will miss Ugly Betty. Each and every single cast was SPOT ON… Well done Vanessa Williams on truly capturing Willhemina Slater….

    • An Ugly Betty movie would be GREAT, especially in terms of developing Betty and Daniel’s future a little more thoroughly. I hope that’s a project that does go into development.

      And I agree, Vanessa Williams was amazing, as was the entire cast!

  2. I wasn’t a big Ugly Betty fan but I liked it enough to be curious about how it ended. I caught the the last half hour. I was a little confused by the Betty and Daniel ending. I guess they wanted to have it both ways and leave things open to interpretation. It didn’t quite work for me. But the rest of what I saw was pretty good. Not bad as far as series finales go.

  3. I agree that overall the show wrapped up nicely. I knew the series was ending, but didn’t realize until last week that this week’s episode was the last. I was surprised I was left feeling satisfied about the way they left things with Justin, Marc, and Amanda (my favorite characters). Knowing how little time was left, I didn’t expect they could pull that off, so I do give them credit. I found the deus ex machina of Wili’s coma and sudden paradigm shift a bit ridiculous, but 1) I suppose they did lay some groundwork a few episodes ago with her hospital stay and 2) the show is often ridiculous, especially with regard to her character, so I guess it was acceptable.

    I was hoping for a Detty ending, but did not really expect much. I agree that Eric Mabius deserves major kudos for playing Daniel’s heartbreak and conflict so compellingly. But I have to wonder if I would have been able to buy some sudden romantic reciprocity from Betty. Her reaction to Claire’s insinuations was not modesty with a twinge of curiosity/awe, but utter disbelief. I started getting v.v. excited when Daniel went to Wili and let her know he was leaving. But without the writing to support a change on Betty’s part between the office party and the final scene, Detty kissing at the end would not have made a lot of sense to me.

    There are a couple scenarios that I could have seen a full-blown Detty ending potentially working.

    -The London montage of her busy new life establishes that she has been there for a considerable period of time, and then she walks into her flat after a long day to find Daniel there waiting for her (suggesting they had caught up with one another after she moved and had gotten together, though we were not privileged to any of it). It would have been a cheat, but I would have been glad to see them go all-out for the Detty ending.

    -We see the montage of her working in London, but looking somewhat empty/dissatisfied. When Daniel shows up, she tells him that she realized what’s been missing, and it’s him. But that would have forced them to walk a very fine line; to show her feeling unfulfilled while living her dream may have suggested that she couldn’t feel whole without her best friend and the man of her dreams (okay)…or just that she couldn’t feel whole without a man (not okay).

    Even though the ending itself was rather ambiguous, I found myself feeling relatively positive. As the curtain fell, I loved the sense that Daniel was on a mission. His intentions were clear, even if he was playing it low-key. And Betty had to know that he was there because of her, she knew his intentions, and she agreed to go out with him. I just had this sense that it may take him a while, but he would eventually win her over. I think most of my disappointment/sadness was because I couldn’t help wishing we could have seen more of *that* show.

    Gosh, that was much longer than I intended. Between this and the end of Kish, it has been a rough week for me, couple-wise.

  4. Mala, I was very torn about the UB ending as well. But after thinking about it for a while, it seemed like a smart way to go.

    I know Silvio Horta was reluctant to mirror the Bettys of other countries, in part because those Bettys underwent a substantial physical change and were only validated when they landed the man.

    Part of me really wanted to see that happen, and see the grand, end-of-the-movie Betty and Daniel kiss and happily ever after. But ultimately I was happy that the end was about possibilities.

    I hope there’s a movie too, though ABC’s track record on knowing how to handle UB is not encouraging.

    • I don’t know if a little distance has afforded me the same sense of “okayness” with the ending, probably because I think Horta’s ambivalence sapped it of what could’ve been a more emotionally significant moment than we got. But I do hope we get a movie where, perhaps, some of that could addressed.

  5. I have to say I completely agree with what you say, I hadn’t really thought about it in that way before, would it really have hurt to have them at least acknowledge some kind of feelings for each other? As you say, the show was ending.

    Maybe they were leaving the door open for a possible movie. They wanted to leave something left unsaid just in case. They hadn’t burnt every bridge behind them. That and the fact that Horta never ever wanted them to be together.

    All of which simply as you say, sapped it of any emotional significance and possibly harmed it’s ratings. C’est la vie.

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