By Chelsea Hensley
The show’s missteps thus far have proven there are some real lapses in storytelling ability going on. The most egregious is that, in a show based on one of literature’s most famous — if not the most famous — couples, Still Star-Crossed won’t allow itself to actually be true to Romeo & Juliet’s theme of star-crossed lovers. Obviously, even without the show being picked up for a second season, the creative team (and ABC) were enough aware that it would only get seven episodes in its first season.
So why did it pack so much in? And why did it attempt to tell so much story in so little time? Why not lean into the love triangle between Rosaline, Escalus and Benvolio? Why not even lean into only Rosaline and Benvolio? Looking back, I can barely pick out memorable moments between them or anything that made me believe love was on the horizon for them. The previous episode was the best attempt it had made thus far, but why couldn’t it have tried harder from the outset? The show was on ice for so long after its announcement that only willful ignorance would allow ABC to miss the mark so completely, and even if there was some argument to be made about the show being good enough, (if not marketed well), “Hell’s Empty” proves otherwise.
Despite being the penultimate episode of the “season” (not sure why ABC hasn’t dubbed it the series finale), our star-crossed lovers are barely present in “Hell is Empty.” (On the contrary, I was in hell watching most of this dull episode.) Someone will have to explain how one comes up with a show about star-crossed lovers that’s barely romantic. We glimpse Rosaline briefly as she tries to tell Paris that Benvolio didn’t abduct her, and then we’re forced back in time to see what transpired in Verona after Rosaline and Benvolio left.
Everyone thinks Benvolio abducted Rosaline so Escalus is up in arms, but excepting Livia, he’s the only one who seems to be all that bothered with her “kidnapping.” Everyone else goes back to the usual business of scheming, plotting and being generally annoying. Lords Montague and Capulet go at each other’s throats over that damn cathedral (I now despise the word). Montague’s sister is also there doing…something. Lady Capulet conspires with a dude we don’t know and have no reason to care about, who takes the fall for hers and Paris’s crimes (I think? It was sorta unclear and I didn’t care enough to try and figure it out) and let everyone know a “new prince” is coming. Meanwhile, Livia and Paris get engaged, and Paris takes off to “rescue” Rosaline. Not even Escalus, who’s now thoroughly one-note in his self-righteousness, can save this hour from its plodding.
It can’t be said with any certainty, but I think this might have been a better show if it had been done…differently. Very differently. What thought led the show to spend most of an episode away from its core pairing and subject us to dull side characters instead? Was it to make up for lost time and character development? If so, it didn’t work, and characters (particularly Lady Capulet) remain as cartoonish as ever. Though Paris shows some signs of true affection for Livia, it’s still not effective as a means of making him anymore developed as a villain. Anthony Head is cool and all, but Lord Capulet is a waste of valuable screentime, and everyone in the cast seems to have abandoned their acting prowess in favor of just getting this over with (Zuleikha Robinson doesn’t even try at subtlety anymore).
With only another forty or so minutes left in the show, it’s not enough to contextualize all the storylines this show tried to juggle. Whatever supernatural whatever is happening in Juliet’s tomb may have been intriguing before, but there’s no way any justice can be done to it as the show finishes its run.
By episode’s end, we’re reunited with Rosaline (who’s really bad at pretending not to know what Paris is all about). Escalus arrives at Paris’s camp to meet her, catching Benvolio as he tries to rescue her, and Paris threatens Rosaline into confirming the story of her abduction. This should be a harrowing moment (even if we can guess how things will resolve), as Rosaline is forced to betray Benvolio to save his life, dealing a (temporary, of course) blow to their alliance and budding relationship.
But nope. It just is what it is.
- I know Shonda and Betsy were not the showrunners here, but I am very curious about who decided what about this show and how much of a hand Shonda and Betsy had in it. Shondaland isn’t infallible by any means (season five of Grey’s was…whewi), but I have so many questions about the choices made here which feel amateurish for such a practiced production company.
- Why, if Paris is known as a prince in his little camp, would he be expected to chase after horses? You know what? Nevermind.
- I resent — and I mean resent — how Livia’s concern for Rosaline went out the window as soon as she and Paris got engaged. Like…can we try?
Chelsea A. Hensley is a writer and blogger who recently received a BA in English from the University of Missouri. Besides television, she also loves chocolate chip cookies, puppies, and Dragon Age. In between episodes of her favorite shows, Chelsea’s hard at work on a young adult novel. You can read more of her writing on The Chelsea Review and follow her on Twitter @ChelseaBigBang.