in ,

The City on Fire Season 1 Finale Doesn’t Ignite

Chase Sui Wonders as Samantha in her coma dream in City on Fire episode 7
Chase Sui Wonders in City on Fire now streaming on Apple TV+.

The following review contains spoilers for the City on Fire (2023) Season 1 finale, now streaming on AppleTV+.

City On Fire bombed their audience with a three-episode premiere on May 12, fit with a sloshy plot structure and predictable strings. Through sizzle to steam, the epic conclusion from the producers of Gossip Girl and The O.C., Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, picks up heat and leaves the kettle singing with plenty more to be explored.

Reviewing the first three episodes from five weeks ago, I clarified that City On Fire was a wasted opportunity for CW producers. For the most part, I stand by that. I don’t think showrunners Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz are cut out for this hot mess mystery. Their writing centres too many POVs; plenty of characters are introduced in detail that we didn’t need. If they’d cut down on meanderings, the mystery could have held ten times the suspense in just six episodes instead of eight.

John Cameron Mitchell as Amory by the pyro van in City on Fire finale
John Cameron Mitchell in City on Fire, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Just from the first three episodes, I could deduce Amory (John Cameron Mitchell) as the mastermind behind everything, although not a murderer, and the probable scenario that members of the pyromaniac vigilante group shot Samantha (Chase Sui Wonders) in the park. Everything you needed to know was buried in the first three episodes. Though that’s what good writers do, leaving crumbs of the real story so the audience can pick up on what they missed later, these elements weren’t buried quite deep enough. Dramatic irony can only go so far before the plot becomes too utterly predictable.

By the time in Episode 7, when Amory’s plan is collected and revealed to Detective Ali Parsa (Omid Abtahi) by William (Nico Tortorella), Regan (Jemima Kirke) and Mercer (Xavier Clyde), the audience is already in the know. The real moment we’re waiting for is the delivery of the bomb, the arrest of Amory and Nicky Chaos (Max Milner) and the final pieces of the puzzle to who shot Sam in the park. But after drawn-out scenes of dragging B characters up to speed, the momentum for Sewer Girl, AKA Lorraine (Alexandra Doke), confessing to lovesick puppy Charlie (Wyatt Oleff) is lost. I don’t see the point in the three pyro musketeers fleeing the city; their disintegration no longer feels relevant to the plot. Amory’s car crash survival isn’t shocking; it’s exhausting. And with how Charlie is revealed as the long-lost son of Regan and her rapist, the escape of our lead villains and the reconnection between William and his father, it feels as though Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz are gunning for a Season 2.

Max Milner as Nicky Chaos in the pyro van fleeing the city in City on Fire finale
Max Milner in City on Fire, now streaming on Apple TV+.

I’m stuck on what this series could have been. Ultimately, I loved the story; I’m more inclined to read the source material by Garth Risk Hallberg from 2015. I thought the casting was impeccable. The real pain for me was watching the performances and plot burn themselves out in poor blocking, angles and framing, rough editing, and indulgent writing.

Nico Tortorella and Jemima Kirke are impeccable up until their climax, where their character motivations crumble around a cluttered sequence of conclusions that bury the emotional work they carried through the brunt of the season. Wyatt Oleff stays tried and true to his roots as a shy yet heroic lead next to Chase Sui Wonders in a performance reminiscent of a manic pixie dream girl. Yet again, their connection, chemistry, and motif are lost with the momentum that leaves in the time-sucking epilogue scenes at the end of Episode 8.

Jemima Kirke as Regan on the phone in City on Fire finale
Jemima Kirke in “City on Fire,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

Although the story is cleverly brought from the 1970s to the early 2000s against the backdrop of 9/11 and the very real 2003 Northeast Blackout, the messy panic of these events isn’t strong enough surrounding the mainstage story. Despite the producers’ best efforts, including real footage, events, and the catastrophic consequences for some characters, the urgency and frantic feeling aren’t strong enough. Using In The Heights (2021) as a reference, recognising the film as a musical, not a straight-edge series, there is emotion, chaos and thrilling suspense throughout their depiction of the same blackout. A feeling that is notably missing in the finale of City On Fire. Why wasn’t everyone sweaty? Why didn’t they utilise the darkest night for the heaviest drama? Why take Nicky out of the Chaos when he could have wreaked more havoc escalating the stakes? I genuinely wanted to root for this show. I thought it had solid bones for an incredible adventure, but sadly the series missed the mark.

Written by Isobel Grieve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *