Miranda and the Problem with "Will They, Won't They"

Miranda "Will they, won't they?" ruins shows.

I've talked about this issue before, but the final two-parter of the fabulous British comedy Miranda, and its huge focus on the resolution of its on-going "will they, won't they?" plotline, has got me really thinking about it again.

Because yes, "will they, won't they?" plotlines attract audiences and make us invested in the characters. But once a show decides to break the tension and declare that yes, they will, it really shouldn't backtrack. Take ten seasons and a movie to get the protagonists together, sure. But once they are together, don't throw in ridiculous drama after ridiculous drama to keep springing them apart, especially if the drama comes from the characters themselves.

The problem, I think, comes when writers go for the "they will" payoff too early, and then decide that the relationship itself can't provide enough interesting storylines. They want back the early addiction caused by uncertainty, and so as the seasons roll by, they create endless breakups and ongoing relationship drama that turn the "true love" into an unhealthy relationship and stop the ultimate "happy ending" from seeming so happy after all.

And so it was with Miranda. The Christmas special opens exactly where the last season ended, with both Miranda's boyfriend Mike and her it's-never-worked-out love Gary proposing to her. She decides to get married to Gary, and everything is wonderful... except for the fact that Gary has always been terrified of commitment before, has never been clear about his feelings, and still hasn't told her that he loves her despite setting a wedding date.

But when Miranda (quite fairly) challenges him on this and says that she needs more from him, he throws a fit and storms off, saying that they can't be together because she's so insecure.

This was the point where I wanted to hit Gary, by the way.

The second half of the finale focussed on Miranda getting over the breakup, figuring out who she is, and moving forward in her life with confidence... including confidence in the fact that she really wants to be with Gary. She goes to him, they make up, they get married immediately, he tells her he loves her, Gary Barlow sings, and everyone lives happily ever after. Yay!

Except not yay, because the endless "will they, won't they?" set up has made Gary look like a terrible match for Miranda. He makes her feel awful. He is emotionally demanding but refuses to support her own valid concerns. He only proposed because somebody else proposed first, won't tell her he loves her, and messes her around time after time. And yet this is supposed to be true love, the happily ever after ending. It's almost as if "will they, won't they?" drama isn't supposed to reflect what their relationship is actually like. It's all meaningless drama, and now the story has ended, it'll be smooth sailing forevermore.

To be honest, it's quite simply bad writing, playing into the romance tropes without actually thinking about the characters or what the implications of these plotlines might be. I went into the finale wanting Miranda and Gary to end up together. I ended the finale cheering for Miranda's self-assertion and growth, but frustrated that the show wrapped up with the big happy Miranda-and-Gary wedding. A show can explore its character's strength and growth and newfound confidence all it wants, but if it suggests that part of her problem is an unhealthy relationship, and then has the newly confident character decide to be in that relationship anyway without the guy making any changes, it's ultimately less than empowering. In fact, by having Gary accuse her of being too insecure and untrusting, and having her change her ways and grow in confidence but him do nothing before their big reunion, it puts the problems in their relationship entirely on Miranda's shoulders, and excuses Gary from any failings whatsoever.

It was the big happy ending that viewers might have hoped for after season one, but it wasn't the one that the rest of the series had earned. Perhaps it was too rushed for a simple two-part finale. Perhaps it retrod too much old ground to be compelling. But in the end, I blame the endless see-saw of will they, won't they, and the failure to explore the implications of this audience-captivating drama for the characters themselves.