The end of “The Diplomat”: What happened and what it means in season 2
The final twist certainly proves that this Keri Russell show could be even bigger. What is the next step?
(Editor’s note: Included in the following spoilers for “The Diplomat” including the ending.)
There are moments when TV’s runtime can be a useful spoiler. When things seem a little too quiet and there are only so many minutes left until the end and the credits roll, there is a certain sense of wonder and anticipation. Will this tension be resolved, or will the lack of resolution carry over into the next episode? Watch a show long enough — even if it’s only for a single season, like the new Netflix drama “The Diplomat” — and you start to pick up the rhythm to the point where that anticipation comes even when does not check timecodes. .
The final episode of “The Diplomat,” with only so much time left, feels destined to be a powder keg. Shows don’t have to end their seasons with theater. Silent endings can leave a pit in your stomach knowing you’ve been robbed of an easy catharsis. And still. With 10 minutes left in a season that started with a bang, it’s hard to expect Debora Cahn and the entire “Diplomat” team to end it with a whimper.
The end of season 1 explodes the shaken status quo, leaving lives, marriages and the general international order in the balance. As Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) struggles to figure out the logistics of releasing the main suspect in the attack that opened the season, her husband Hal (Rufus Sewell) heads to a suspicious dinner meeting with a British MP. As Kate’s colleague Stuart Hayford (Ato Essandoh) and Hal approach the MP, a car bomb explodes, leaving their fate ambiguous. Officers arrive to break the news to Kate as she discovers that the attack that kicked off the season was orchestrated by Prime Minister Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) himself.
Through Kate as the main teacher, “The Diplomat” provides a guide to preparing for the impossible. As Kate and Hal try to outdo their allies and each other, the show is designed to make you do the unexpected. Underarm sniffles? Check. Fight the battles a stone’s throw from the government office? Double check. Complicated debate about yogurt stains? Surprisingly useful!
So this season’s violent cliffhanger isn’t just a cheap ploy to renew Season 2, or a tacit admission that the first eight episodes were just a meandering prologue. It’s a smart move from a show that isn’t just about institutional knowledge, but has plenty to spare.
This starts with him pointing the finger at Trowbridge. Pinning everything on a treasonous PM is a huge swing that a lot of other shows feel like “break the glass in case of an emergency” into a flagging storyline. Still, “The Diplomat” laid the groundwork for a drama centered around this scandal that doesn’t feel cheap or exaggerated. (Remember when Trowbridge talked about the car he had to borrow? The signs were there!) “The Diplomat” deals with the reality of post-Brexit Britain. He recognizes the dangers of a rah-ra approach to foreign policy. And now it gives us an even better excuse to put Kinnear and Michael McKean (as the equally prickly President Rayburn) in the same room and make them into scrappy political animals. This is a very attractive prospect.
Take out that explosion/revelation combo and this finale still provides a solid enough foundation to keep things going. These episodes can still be loaded with jargon and remain clean and accessible. Visually, it’s a step above government conspiracy thriller power. Conversations framed by artwork two stories high, Hal snapping into frame when he’s invited to give a campaign launch speech at Chatham House, even the hand-framing of Kate’s final ‘what do we do now’ face before cutting to black: it’s all an effective reminder that this show isn’t just about it offers mere watchability, but also some potential.
The season finale flirts with bowing too subtly to the “There’s nothing you can’t talk about” theme as it applies to all kinds of special relationships, geopolitical, marital, or otherwise. And clearly stating who is to blame for the impending Lenkov murder/cover-up feels like something Dennison (Gyasi David) and Kate could have put together without us having to say it out loud. But it reinforces the idea that the selling point here isn’t just the aftermath of a car wreck or the revelation of a huge international scandal. There’s a smaller-scale marriage-in-the-balance storyline that continues even when Hal isn’t alive to see the effects.
And setting up the VP bylaw during the inaugural season puts the show in a pretty strong position to go down one of two equally viable paths if both Wylers are somehow still around for a potential Season 2. (This blast beam, of course, leaves some leeway to say that Hal is actually dead, but we’re going to go with the usual rule that characters live until proven otherwise. Plus, Sewell is too good here to let it go entirely yourself.)
“The Diplomat” really deals with the idea that the world of politics loves few things more than the mantle of heroes. Surviving an attack (or being the spouse of one in one) can help one of the show’s central couples move up the political ranks. However, Kate as the private face of a public operation is where “The Diplomat” really hits its stride. If the whispers of higher office go away in the coming episodes, Kate’s involvement in behind-the-scenes fix-it mode is just as compelling as being a heartbeat away from the presidency. Cahn is a “The West Wing” and “Homeland” vet. If “The Diplomat” is going to cut to one side or the other, rather than a mix of the two, this finale is enough to suggest that either option is a creative success.
You couldn’t even project a cliffhanger ready to mobilize legions of fans to #SaveTheDiplomat if Netflix waited to announce the show’s future. Still, part of what makes this show a breath of fresh air in the crowded field of “covert government affairs shows” is that the absence of a season 2 would still oddly work within the show’s theme. Diplomacy is difficult, tedious, and often unfulfilling, and sometimes all it takes is one chance event to detonate years—sometimes even decades—of painstaking work. Devoting about 6 hours of impressive screen time to a story where the only ending is people dying and the Bad Guy winning and the jerk, malevolent politicians getting even more entrenched in power? In a way, that would be an appropriate conclusion. But if “The Diplomat” gets the kind of traction its pedigree should, it’s not a show Netflix can sleep on for long.
“The Diplomat” is now available on Netflix.
Register: Stay up to date with the latest movie and TV news! Subscribe to our email newsletter here.