For the life of me, I cannot remember why I ever started watching “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” I think it had something to do with me willfully diversifying my music listening, and/or diversifying my television viewing, but suffice it to say, I watched it and mostly enjoyed it. The performances are generally good, and — especially in the second season, when they got into the actual formation of the group to actually create their debut album — a lot of it was really fun.
Season Three turned out to be their final season, which was kind of surprising since Season Two ended in a kind of “And they lived happily ever after” way. It ended with them having recorded, released and mega-sold “Enter the Wu-Tang.” And then… a new season came out, one dealing with their work in having to follow up that success.
For me, the best moments of Season Three came in how they presented the creation of certain solo albums. “Only Built for Cuban Linx,” “Liquid Swords” and “Return to the 36 Chambers” were fun for the fact that the show relinquished its grip on telling some kind of unified, continuity-driven, reality-based “story,” and dramatized these works; they embodied the ideas and origins behind the albums rather than, y’know, just showing a bunch of people in the studio.
Worth noting: the ODB solo album was the best one.
All this is to say that I was looking forward to the final episode — of the season and series. While they hadn’t exactly built together some kind of over-arching story, they had a general target: the follow-up album. The Rza had been a background character for many of the lead-up episodes, with talk of finding a new sound popping up now and then.
That’s just what happened in the finale. And it’s kind of all that happened.
For example, RZA is looking for a new sound for their next record. He’s messing around with instruments and orchestras until he finds it. Nobody is down with it… until Method Man is, and then the album is done!
The album goes to number one in the world. So they get invited to do a stadium tour with Rage Against the Machine.
Which they do.
And there’s some struggles there, like with ODB not showing up and people always being late. But then they finally do show up for a last show, ODB rambles about something for a couple inconsequential minutes, then the group joins him, and that’s that.
THEN they cut to months/years later (?) and they’re having Thanksgiving dinner with essentially the entire cast. Mama Rza makes the group pose for a picture and we jump to a montage of real-life footage showing the group carrying on well after the expiration of the 5-year contracts.
I get the feeling that they reached the final episode and realized they had a bunch of stuff to cover beyond “Wu-Tang Forever,” which is largely considered to be good, an interesting progression, but by no means as monumental as the preceding album*. So building a finale around that wasn’t the same as ending with, say, “Abbey Road.” Instead of working out some drama in the making of that album, they opted to essentially list off a bunch of stuff that happened. It all just occurs, with no “Therefores” or “But thens.”
And maybe they didn’t want to invent new drama for the last episode or something, which I can get, but the way that they drove up to and over drama with great potential (nobody wanting to recording the album with the new orchestral sounds, people wanting to do new things, people wanting to retire, etc.). To be fair, they touched on these elements, but then they all but vanished. Or if they didn’t vanish (like Raekwon kept up the complaining about the new sounds for a while), then they didn’t drive the story.
Put it this way: the discussion around whether it should be a double album happens in a board meeting where the executive asks Rza “Can you make it a double album?” and he says, “Yes.”
So… farewell, “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” You gave me some cool moments despite your attempts to fumble the finale.
*There’s a line in this final episode where the label mentions how people are so pumped for “Wu-Tang Forever” that they have millions of dollars ready to spend on art… and if you’ve seen the cover for the album, you will laugh with me at that line. Where did that money go?
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