When is a series finale not a finale?
When Lisa McGee concocts a bonus episode of ‘Derry Girls’.
Up until a few weeks ago, many of us had been expecting May 17 to be the night when we finally said goodbye to McGee’s hugely successful Channel 4 sitcom.
But then she revealed there would be an additional climactic episode set against the backdrop of the Good Friday Agreement.
That hour long episode will air tonight.
But that meant last night’s third series finale was an odd affair.
What was billed as a series finale never really felt like a series finale.
Episode Six of the final series was built around Halloween.
Given the epic Halloween celebrations that take place in Derry each year, it seemed only right and proper that McGee would build an episode around it
However the episode began with the dulcet tones of Radio Foyle’s Sean Coyle posing his listeners a question: “What did the ancient Celts call Halloween?”
It didn’t take long, however, for the camera to slide into the Quinn family kitchen where Ma Mary and her husband Gerry were going through the mail.
There was a letter for Erin marked ‘private and confidential’ which Sarah suggested they should steam open.
Gerry was appalled, reminding her that reading other people’s mail was a criminal offence.
“Your face should be a criminal offence,” Grandpa Joe gruffly retorted, without missing a beat.
Another envelope was prised open containing an invitation to a party announcing the engagement of Sarah to Jamie Beamish’s gormless photo shop assistant Ciaran.
Mary and Gerry were in a state of shock because Sarah had said nothing about an engagement.
When confronted about it, Sarah didn’t at first seem to grasp the enormity of the situation, saying she would have to give the party a miss because she had tickets to see Bjorn Again.
Asked by Gerry how the engagement came about, it soon dawned on Sarah that it had all been a terrible misunderstanding.
Two weeks earlier, Ciaran had picked her up from dancersize and when she asked him to buy her a Calypso because she had a dry mouth on her “like Gandhi’s flip flop”, he whipped out a ring and asked if she would do him the honour of accepting it.
Sarah could suddenly see how her taking the ring might have led Ciaran to believe she’d agreed to marry him, which she admitted was a bit of a nightmare.
“I’m not really into him, to be honest,” she confessed before asking if she shattered his engagement dream, would she have to give the ring back?
While the adults fretted over Sarah’s romantic woes, Erin and Orla came downstairs to secure an advance on their birthday money, using a tape recorder to remind Mary that she had promised to stump up the cash in exceptional circumstances.
The announcement that Fatboy Slim was due to play St Columb’s Hall during the city’s Halloween celebrations was an exceptional circumstance.
It was such a big deal, even Donna Traynor announced the gig on the news and, as every ‘Derry Girls’ fan knows, Donna Traynor is always the bearer of significant news.
There was even a clip on TV of the Bromley born Fatboy Slim declaring: “I’ve played everywhere – New York, London, Paris, Munich. It has all been leading up to this. Derry is the dream!”
Clutching their £20 notes, Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and James excitedly made their way to a local record store to buy their tickets to the gig – declaring Fatboy Slim a genius and a “modern day Beethoven.”
They were also buzzing about Halloween, with the gang agreeing to dress as ‘Romeo and Juliet’ angels for this year’s celebrations.
As they got nearer the counter, Erin and Michelle noted the girl serving there, Laurie was a lesbian and encouraged Clare to ask her out.
Clare was so worked up she announced her sexuality to the entire store.
When they secured the last five tickets to the gig, a row broke out with Emmett J Scanlan’s thug called Mad Stab who accused them of jumping the queue.
After exchanging angry words with Erin and Michelle, he decided to settle the dispute by fighting James for the tickets who was naturally reluctant to take on a grown man.
As she imagined her cousin taking a bit of a beating, Michelle confessed: “I’m not mad about the sexism but the fact that he wants to thump James is a wee bit exciting.”
When it came to the bit though, the brawl didn’t materialise and to the dismay of Mad Stab, Erin, Michelle, Orla and Clare, James simply ripped up the tickets and ran.
Nursing their sorrows in a local cafe, James revealed to Clare, Orla and Erin that Michelle was so upset about the destruction of the Fatboy Slim tickets she had decided not to join them and wasn’t even sleeping or eating.
Apologising, he explained he had been high on adrenaline when he ripped up the tickets.
However Erin was unimpressed.
They ran into Sister Michael who was advertising nuns costumes for Halloween to raise funds for a foreign holiday.
She also appeared to cast doubt on the existence of God, which caused Erin to do a double take.
And then lo, like an angel, Michelle appeared on TV and somehow managed to pull off the miracle of securing Fatboy Slim VIP tickets.
The gang were ecstatic but would they still manage to pull defeat from the jaws of victory?
Once again, McGee, director Michael Lennox and the cast delivered a pacy episode with some good one liners.
But what was most striking was the massive mood swing at the end of the episode which undoubtedly jolted fans of the show.
Not for the first time in the third series, the episode felt like a bit of a curate’s egg.
Parts of it were laugh out funny. Parts of it were touching.
However it just didn’t quite feel the sum of its parts and some gags landed better than others.
The star turns in the episode were Ian McElhinney as Joe, Nicola Coughlan as Clare and Jamie Lee O’Donnell as Michelle.
But it very much felt like McGee was laying the ground for tonight’s climax.
After a third series that has had its moments but hasn’t quite scaled the heights of the previous two, a lot is riding on tonight’s final episode.
We have come a long, long way together with McGee’s characters through the hard times and the good.
Let’s hope we can celebrate those characters and praise them like we should.
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in communications and public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog They’ll Love It In Pomona which covers the latest cinema and television releases.