The Kennedys final episode: tense run-up to the tragic events
If nothing else, last night’s final episode in History Television’s The Kennedys, teaches us that while Joe Kennedy (Tom Wilkinson) had the money, and JFK (Greg Kinnear) had the charisma, it was Bobby Kennedy (Barry Pepper) who was the real brains of the family.
From the opening footage of Walter Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy, it’s obvious that it’s going to be Bobby’s night. And why not? After six long television hours in his brother’s shadow, it’s finally time for Bobby to move on up and head out on his own.
First, however, there’s some unfinished family business. In a flashback to 1962, Bobby is dispatched to Los Angeles to give the gate to Marilyn Monroe (a poorly-cast and unconvincing Charlotte Sullivan), brother Jack’s girl-on-the-side. After balking initially (“I live in the real world where wives get mad at their husbands for meeting with Marilyn Monroe!”), Bobby relents and plays his part as the dutiful brother and family fixer.
While rumors of an affair between Bobby and Marilyn have been around since the early ”˜60s, The Kennedys has none of it. Bobby is once again portrayed as a choirboy—no alcohol for me”¦just soda, thanks—and he spurns Monroe’s advances.
At that moment, it’s obvious that this has become a Bobby Kennedy hagiography.
But that’s fine. As long as you turn your mind off and float along, it’s still an interesting ride, as Bobby the man is an idealistic, tortured, and fascinating figure, cut from the same cloth as a Greek tragedy.
Later, after JFK is shot while riding in a Dallas motorcade (in a startlingly ineffective and poorly-edited montage, a real throwaway), it’s pretty obvious where this is all headed, even if you’re not familiar with the history. Bobby’s young daughter tearfully asks, “Does this mean you're going to be president now?” Hell yeah it does, better fasten your seatbelt, unnamed Kennedy daughter.
Conspicuous in his absence during all of this is Teddy. In other words, where exactly is younger brother Edward M. Kennedy in this series, anyway? Condensing extraneous events and characters is understandable, but leaving out Teddy? Really? The man was a senator (the fourth-longest serving, ever) and a presidential candidate himself, not to mention a huge part of the Kennedy mythology. Erasing him from the story isn’t just a misstep, it’s baffling.
As in previous episodes, Barry Pepper does all the heavy lifting. And, even if his prosthetic nose and false teeth are occasionally distracting, his Bobby Kennedy is a pleasure to watch, with an understated and sensitive portrayal of a man with the world on his shoulders. Pepper is the true highlight, and breakout star, of the series
A nice surprise is Kitchener, Ontario native Kristin Booth, who plays Bobby’s wife Ethel Kennedy. Portrayed the past three episodes as little more than a sassy tomboy, a Stockard-Channing-as-Rizzo-from-Grease-type, Ethel now steps up to the head of the class alongside Bobby, as the couple prepares to accept their mantle of leadership.
Booth has a number of good scenes in this episode, most notably the one where she confronts Bobby about his burgeoning emotional connection with Jackie (Katie Holmes) following Jack’s death. Nothing physical happens between Bobby and Jackie in this telling of course, but, not for nothing, this is another relationship which has fed rumors for years.
In the final analysis, The Kennedys is interesting viewing if you don’t mind taking your history with a grain of salt and a good helping of truthiness. The final hour, which outlines Bobby’s election to the senate and his run for the presidency, is exciting and well-paced, a tense run-up to the tragic events following the jubilation of Bobby’s California Primary win.
And the care and attention paid to those final, horrible moments in the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel make one thing clear: Although it’s called The Kennedys, this series is, and always was, Bobby’s show.