Could it be?! Another disappointing season finale on Oak Island?!
[WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD]
The season four finale of The Curse of Oak Island, which could possibly be the series finale, was a frustrating disappointment. The brothers Lagina netted little more than some scrap metal, a button and more circumstantial evidence. It’s the circumstantial evidence and the Lagina’s childlike enthusiasm for the search that brings us back each week and each season. Those elements were present throughout the fourth season, but something more dubious began to take shape this year that undermined the fun, escapist nature of the show.
Season four saw the Laginas dramatically up their game. They went from drilling holes and examining dirt to establishing a massive excavation operation. They trucked in equipment the likes of never seen before on the island. The season started off with a promise that the scales might finally be tipped in favor of the searcher. Rick & Marty (mostly Marty & his business partner Craig Tester I’m assuming) were making a massive investment to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all. They planned major operations across the island, the most tantalizing of which was the industrial grade dig at the Money Pit. The crew from Irving Equipment Limited were a welcome addition to the show and they rounded out a group of supporting searchers who carried the season when the regulars started to become white noise. (How many times can we hear Rick, Marty and the others repeat the same tired Oak Island cliches?) World famous diver John Chatterton was interesting and an island of objectivity throughout his appearances. Metal detecting expert and treasure hunter Gary Drayton was fantastic and could easily have his own show.
As the season progressed, the audience was introduced to a piece of heavy equipment known as a hammer grab that would be used to remove material, and hopefully treasure, from the dig sites at the Money Pit. This is where the season and the producers ran afoul of the audience. Searcher and viewer anticipation peaked as pieces of wood started to come up with each hammer grab. Could it be they found wood on Oak Island?! For the first time in the four seasons it appeared as if the Laginas might have finally located the elusive treasure vault. Tensions on the show rose as the two brothers argued among themselves about continuing the dig vs. risking a further breach to whatever they might have found. This was the climax of the season. Their hopes would soon be dashed when it was determined that the wood was left behind by previous searchers based on the modern cutting tools that were used to mill the wood. Therein lies the problem with season four.
As we’re told repeatedly throughout each episode, people have been searching for treasure in the Money Pit for more than 200 years. Any casual viewer has a general awareness of that fact and the Laginas know this as well. They’ve spent 10 years searching on the island and most of a lifetime learning and reading about the adventures of those who came before them. At no point leading up to the discovery of the wood did anyone even mention the fact that they might simply be unearthing the remains of a prior search. Once that fact was determined, the viewer was made to believe that this was somehow a surprise to the search team. I have to assume that this was widely discussed among the team however not a word of that discussion was aired. Unless they truly did not discuss it, which I find impossible to believe, the producers made a deliberate decision to exclude that dialogue for obvious reasons. I understand why they would chose to produce the show in that manner. It’s frustrating nonetheless and quite frankly unfair to the audience they’re seeking to cultivate and maintain.
The points between the first excavation of wood and the season finale were largely filled with meaningless color analysis and the regular parade of fringe theorists offering their thoughts on what might be on the island and who might have put it there. This brings us to the season finale where the brothers make one last dig in the name of their parents before winter and a dwindling budget send them back to Michigan. The two hour episode was billed as a blockbuster, filled with major discoveries and the promise of a genuine find. We were treated to professional analysis of artifacts previously found on the island, which lent more circumstantial support to the search. For some reason they also included a bizarre memorial for a deceased family member who descended from one of the island’s initial inhabitants. That was a heartfelt and touching moment for sure but it belonged in a DVD bonus feature and not in the middle of the blockbuster season finale.
When we reach the end of the episode. Gary Drayton helped the team find a button, possibly of British military origin and the crew from Irving began to unearth pieces of wood and metal from the final dig site. I wanted to be excited but instead I was angry. Once again, not a single word suggesting that they were probably uncovering the debris from a previous dig. This is what killed the show for me this season. Next week we’ll have a chance to see a post mortem on the events of the season, where I’m going to wager we’ll be told that the metal they found is either of inclusive origin or more likely from a prior excavation.
Regardless of what may or may not be present, Oak Island has a compelling story to tell and the Laginas make for fascinating protagonists through which to tell that story. The fourth season was over produced in a way that made it seem disingenuous. To be clear, I don’t hold that against the Laginas or any other members of the search team. I’m sure their hands are tied and they probably don’t see the finished product until it airs. There is enough circumstantial evidence on Oak Island (in my opinion) to keep viewers coming back each week. Similar shows of the genre that aim to find Bigfoot or evidence of paranormal activity have nary a bit of hard evidence to support the efforts of the searchers. They have to be overproduced in order to create a compelling story line. Oak Island doesn’t need that treatment and the producers should take note. As of this writing, there is no fifth season in development. If there is I’ll watch because I’m deeply invested at this point but I won’t watch with the same childlike wonder that I originally shared with the Laginas as a weekly viewer. I’ll watch with a degree of cynicism and skepticism that will make me wonder why I’m watching.