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!)