Jimmystewart_itsawonderfullife_240Since I’m always quick to tear One Tree Hill to shreds when the show is bad, I should come out and admit that last week’s episode was pretty fun. The Ravens won the state title. Lucas and Peyton locked lips. Rick Fox hit Hayley with a car. In some confusing fashion Rick Fox either died in a car crash or was killed by five or six strong Nathan punches. Dan was arrested for killing Rick Fox. And Lucas had that long-delayed cardiac arrest that getting tasered several episodes back couldn’t induce.

Thus, Wednesday (Dec. 6) night’s One Tree Hill forced fans to wonder, for the second time already this season, if at least two major cast members were going to live or die.

Guess what, kids?

Everybody lives. Lucas lives. Haley lives. Little Baby Naley lives. The only person who doesn’t get to live? Rick Fox. What’s up with that?

For lazy writers, the Christmas season offers a readily available and adaptable template for letting characters reexamine their lives — by ripping off A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, you can play pretend, force your characters to either relive moments from their youth or the way the world would have been if they’d never existed at all. This is particularly fruitful for the generation of writers raised on Choose Your Own Adventure books.

With the episode titled "Songs to Love and Die By," Mark Schwahn heads down the It’s a Wonderful Life path, something I totally might not have guessed if the episode didn’t keep cutting back to clips from the Jimmy Stewart classic over and over again.

Craigsheffer_onetreehill_240_001Playing the Clarence to Lucas’s George Bailey is the dearly departed Keith, who mentions several times that he’s dead and that he’s just a ghost, which is sure to be frustrating for all of the teenage girls posting "Why Keith Is Still Alive" conspiracy threads on various message boards (yes, I realize I’m just begging for people to remind me that Keith’s appearance was really just a dream, so he could *totally* still be alive).

Me, I was frustrated by the fact that the episode couldn’t commit to any one thing and ended up being extremely unproductive.

At first it looks like Keith is going to lead Lucas on a tour of the way Tree Hill would be if he weren’t such a darned nice person, but there are so many things happening that we only get uninteresting snapshots of Lucas’ impact if he’d still been a self-righteously saintly guy, but just made one or two different choices. Because the writers refused to play out the dream scenario to any extreme, we didn’t really see anything of value play out.

It turns out that if Lucas hadn’t gone back into the school during the shooting last season, Peyton would have died (from being shot in the leg?!?!?) and Brooke would have become an angry, pierced Goth girl. In addition to Brooke’s transformation not corresponding to anything indicated in the character previously, it also seems to have taken place almost overnight, since wasn’t the shooting like two months ago in One Tree Hill time? We also found out that if Lucas hadn’t gone to New York to talk to Hayley, she would have stayed on tour and become successful and Nathan would have been marginally disappointed.

Seriously, if you’re positing alternate realities and the best you can do is suggest that if Lucas decides to let his heart condition kill him, one day in the future Peyton will stand over his grave in bad old-age make-up (or with an elderly body double) and be disappointed, you aren’t being very creative. And how could Lucas possibly think his life hasn’t had value if Peyton tells him three times per episode that he’s always saving her? Sigh.

Also confusing was the fact that Keith’s ghostly visitations weren’t just limited to Lucas. At some point he ditches Lucas and goes to torment Dan (and to shoot ketchup … er, fake blood… out of his shirt), before returning to Lucas for more unrevealing insights.

Although One Tree Hill won’t return until January, the episode eschewed typical mid-season cliffhangers. Everybody but Rick Fox is alive and relatively well (Haley will probably recover from all of her broken bones and internal bleeding within an episode or two). The only question is what Keith showed Lucas about the day of the school shooting. Was it just that Dan killed him or was it something more interesting?

So what would Tree Hill *really* be like if Lucas weren’t so darned nice? And what did Keith show Lucas? And why did Brooke become an angry goth?

Posted by:Daniel Fienberg