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The Expectations Game

By RD Heldenfels Published: March 18, 2006

When I finally sat down to see Wednesday's telecast of ''Veronica Mars,'' I was ready to be dazzled. It felt as if it had been forever since there had been a new episode, and I was long past ready for one.

The episode was all right, not great. I did like the scenes with Logan, since to the end it was not clear if he was a sincere suitor or a master manipulator. But other stories and relationships felt less sure-handed. And, since I was primed for good stuff, it was all the more disappointing when it wasn't there.

Is that disappointment the fault of the show, since most series have off weeks? Or am I to blame, for expecting a high level of accomplishment that wasn't there?

I'll blame the show. After all, there are programs that we come to with high expectations that do deliver. ''The Sopranos'' came back from its long hiatus with a very good episode, and tomorrow night's is even better. As I said in a column about the show, with the end of the series in sight, the makers of ''The Sopranos'' are acting as if every single episode counts, not just one here and there leading to a big finale.

But the quality of the early episodes has been so high, viewers are going to expect the show to maintain that -- and it may not be able to do so every week. I thought of that when watching the season finale of ''The Shield'' next week.

I'll have more to say about ''The Shield'' in a separate post. But this has been a terrific season, both through the addition of Forest Whitaker as a ''good'' guy who is as ruthless and unscrupulous as Mackey, and in the impact of Whitaker's presence on all the other characters. The intensity has been incredible; what might have been cat-and-mouse in lesser hands is more like cobra-and-mongoose here.

Still, because ''The Shield'' has been so compelling episode by episode, I was prepared for something epic in the season finale. Make no mistake, it's good. It has an air of tragic inevitability for anyone who has been watching closely this season. And there's a funny little surprise in the middle of the drama. Even so, it disappointed a little because it did not top everything leading up to it.

This wasn't a case of waiting for a show to return, as with ''Veronica Mars.'' It was instead a matter of getting so deeply involved in a series that I wanted an ending whose power would carry me over to the next (and possibly final) batch of episodes.

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