SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals developments on last night’s Meerkat Manor–although, if you watch Meerkat Manor, you probably already have a fairly good guess what those developments were.
Last night, lovers of the Animal Planet hit nature show / reality soap opera Meerkat Manor said goodbye to the show’s star, Flower, the matriarch of the Whiskers meerkat clan. Flower’s death–from a cobra bite sustained protecting her group from an invasion–was, intentionally, a poorly kept secret, as the network dropped hints and telegraphed the death in not-so-subtle promos. (Viewers in other countries, where the episode already aired, also reported the death online earlier.) The LA Times has a good writeup on fan reactions.
I’ve watched maybe half a dozen episodes of Manor over its run, so I won’t pretend to be a diehard, grief-stricken fan, but watching the episode (Animal Planet tipped off TV writers to the upcoming death), I have to admit getting verklempt. Meerkats are naturally expressive, they’re social, and they stand up on two legs, which makes them easy to anthropomorphize. One of Flower’s last acts on the show was sparing the life of a Whiskers cub who had wandered among a rival group. Meerkat Manor didn’t describe it as an act of human morality or mercy, exactly, but it didn’t discourage you from looking at it that way, either. (The Animal Planet Flower tribute page calls her an “intelligent leader, valiant warrior and generous mother.”)
But as much as Meerkat Manor humanizes its meerkats and imposes dramatic order on its footage (editing story arcs, naming the animals, assigning them character traits like “the rogue”), it didn’t softpedal Flower’s end. (For those of you new to the show, major “characters” have died or disappeared before, as well as numerous pups.) There was the expected mournful soundtrack–“The desert has lost its favorite rose,” said narrator Sean Astin, as if Flower were Princess Diana–but the show also unstintingly showed Flower after the snakebite, her head swollen and disfigured from the venom. That’s nature.
Ironically, Animal Planet had launched this season with an ad campaign that compared the show with The Sopranos, and Flower with Tony. Mother Nature, though, doesn’t send off protagonists with a Journey song and a black screen. Ambiguous, artistic endings are a human invention. Cobras give you closure.