Screenplay by Chris Murray.
Finales have always been something that’s fascinated me. They’re the end to a story, and I’ll often tune into finales even having not seen previous episodes just to experience an ending to something that’s been important to a lot of people. Plus, the ending often defines the journey, and it’s a great test of a storyteller’s ability to make me understand what that journey’s been and what it’s meant just by telling a great ending. If that can happen, it’s all been worth it. If not, all previous episodes have essentially been building to an anti-climax and it can make it seem something of a waste of time. Indeed, endings are extremely important.
And… success! Waterloo Road‘s finale was entertaining and meaningful to the regular Joe like me with no understanding of the show prior. In this final episode, Waterloo Road School’s at risk of being merged with another school, and a committee’s being held to determine its fate via vote. Which is the effective way of ending a show about a school: put the school itself at stake. It’s all very well having characters with storylines of conflict, but if the final fight isn’t for the school, it’s meaningless, because the school is the summation of those stories. And here, the students and staff take centre stage to charge at the translucent fourth wall and preserve the story of themselves. The fight is fought with passion, with each character getting a chance to come through. As with most ensemble dramas, there are a lot of them, so I can’t pin down anyone specifically, but they were likeable characters without being likeable people. They were realistic, ordinary. They all had their own sense of self and didn’t just feel like mindless clones, but also weren’t different enough for it to feel forced. It’s not easy to balance those factors.
The only thing that was sensationalised was the drama happening beneath it all. After so long of characters having conflicts (probably/hopefully), the school itself finally became the centre of focus as the narrative binding substance. But for some reason what happens to it in the end is only secondary to a subplot involving a sabotage, and secrets being revealed, that never feel as if they were relevant to how the end result came to pass. That happening through a passionate speech from the students about what the school’s meant to them that couldn’t be any more on-the-nose than if there were a spotlight over one of the students as they sing about it all. Just… a bit too twee.
But it’s not as bad as it could have been. This was the last chance for the writers to do that kind of thing, so they were at least spending their last episode doing the things they hadn’t been able to do at this point.
Ultimately, the ending proved to be affecting. Stock shots of empty classrooms over soundbites from the previous episodes were emotional enough without being too Disney channel. As someone who’s graduated secondary school, it definitely brought back the most vivid memories, good and bad. And yet, these characters weren’t graduating. They were carrying-on. There are two ways this could have ended: the school’s closed-down, bringing a sad but definitive end to affairs, or it could have remained open after an event defining what it is. The decision was made to keep it open. Life’s like that, I guess. It carries on and tends to be one thing in retrospect. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an alternate ending where it’s closed-down. The original school was demolished so the show relocated to Scotland. And although that should have already been an end point, this episode’s execution makes arguing that against it difficult.
No, these characters and their school will continue. Forever young. Forever students, without ending. They’ll remain in the magical world of childhood.
Waterloo Road: Season 10, Episode 20 — affecting ending to a saga 6/10.