Friday, February 23, 2018

The End is Here at Last: on the ending of ABS-CBN's Wildflower

Lily and Emilia chillin' (from Aiko Milendez's Instagram @aikomilendez)
Last February 9, 2018 was the last episode of ABS-CBN's Wildflower starring Maja Salvador, Joseph Marco, Aiko Melendez, and Tirso Cruz III, and other talented actors. The show has lasted for a year since February 2017. If you're one of my friends on Facebook, you already know that I'm a fan of this teleserye. I even wrote a blog dedicated to the show when it was still running: "5 (More) Reasons to watch ABS-CBN's Wildflower".

It can get overdramatic at times, but I like the dialogue, unexpected comebacks, and how it's so daring. It had great twists and turns and I loved the writing. There are a few things I dislike about it such as the romance (just not my taste) and too many guns. Seriously, this was one of the most violent teleseryes with all the weapons in each episode.

I actually didn't watch Wildflower since episode 1. My brother just showed me funny clips of Emilia, Lily, and Natalie. The first episode I remember watching was the shoot-out between Julio Ardiente and the masked gangster leader Jaguar. I remember thinking, "This looks ridiculous but entertaining." After that, we were hooked and watched it regularly.

On the last week of Wildflower, I was joining the frenzy on Twitter and I was so delighted that my tweet for the second to the last episode #WildflowerGiyeraNaTo was selected as one of the "Wildest Tweet of the Day"! I literally screamed in kilig like a deranged fangirl.


This post will be part reaction/analysis of the various fates of the characters and the message of the story. This is only my personal, subjective interpretation and you are free to disagree. If you have not watched Wildflower, then you wouldn't understand what I'm talking about here.

Wildflower is a story about revenge, a favorite topic in Filipino films and TV shows. We don't seem to get tired of the revenge plot. We see ourselves in Ivy Aguas/Lily Cruz. We don't seem to get tired of the protagonist who still lives even after countless failures and endless oppression. I just realized that there is a positive side to this: we Filipinos are known for resilience. Typhoons, disasters, and calamities have come but the Filipino resilience is known and admired. I think that's what we like about teleserye bidas.

A woman who has been mistreated and oppressed is thought dead by her enemies. She goes back with a new identity to exact revenge. This is an old premise straight from the old Mexican teledrama starring Thalia, Marimar. And it has been used and repeated all over again.

But it's also a tired trope. I mean, the kontrabida is always the idiot who still wants to "torture" the main character, but the bida always escapes and lives. If they only killed the bida right away then they wouldn't have a problem. But then, if the bida dies then there is no story anymore. The number one rule of teleseryes: the bida will never die. Teleseryes operate with their own logic and special rules.

Wildflower is unique as it not only deals with revenge but other issues as well: "nepotism, extrajudicial murders, abuse of power, fascist dicatorships, power, terrorism, mafia syndicates, human rights abuses, graft, corruption, totalitarian terror and even mental disorders such as paranoid schizophrenia." (from the Wikipedia entry on Wildflower)

The Villains
What's refreshing about Wildflower is the villains. It's rare to see villains you also sympathize with in Philippine TV. Case in point, there are two afternoon shows in GMA7 (maybe more) that feature that desperate kontrabida whose only motivation is to get the protagonist's love interest and destroy the protagonist no matter what.

Examples: Lucille from Ang Haplos and Georgia from Ika-Anim na Utos. As a viewer, I feel like these characters lack depth, and they are unrealistic portrayals of women. If they existed in real life, they would be classified as violent psychopaths with their extreme terroristic tendencies. They are only there for the viewers to hate and they are watched more for the ridiculousness and shock value of their actions. But can you actually imagine a real person who acts like Georgia in Ika-Anim na Utos? By the way, that show is ending and I'm glad that it is.

However, what makes Wildflower different is the villains have negative qualities but their good side is shown too and the reasons behind their actions are clear and understandable to the ordinary viewer. It's a different take on the usual black and white stories on Philippine TV where there's a clear good side and bad side. We are shown the vulnerability of the villains, but we are also shown the bad side of the protagonists.

Arnaldo may be possessive and insane, but he genuinely loved Ivy once. Emilia may be the worst, but you see that it was Julio who molded her into what she has become. You also can't help but be affected by Julio's grief for Arnaldo's death, because even if Julio deserves all the punishment he still has love for his grandson - even if I think that love is more of Julio wanting to preserve the Ardientes, including their power and tyranny, into the future. I think that Julio wept more because he saw Arnaldo as the extension of himself.

Even Ivy/Lily, the supposed protagonist, is not an angel here. As Ivy, she is a seductive femme fatale, seducing Arnaldo and manipulating him to fall in love with her as her first step in entering the Ardiente family and plot her revenge from within. Ivy is an act, while the real Lily is compassionate, vulnerable, and loyal to her true love, Diego.

It was also new to me to have a political dynasty as the main villains. They showed what is actually happening in our country and the politician's style of doing things. I think one of the factors that made it so popular is because we have all heard stories of corrupt politicians and we have all been affected by it in some way. We Filipinos are aware how hard life is in the Philippines, we all know that there are huge problems in government and corruption that if solved, would make life better for millions of us.

Julio Ardiente is inspired by real-life dictators and political dynasties. One can easily see the inspiration from the Marcoses, Ampatuans, and political dynasties that have ruled many provinces for a long time. He poses as the caring "Tatay" of his province and the people lick his feet, but in reality he has no qualms of killing his own people if they hinder him. While the Constitution is prohibiting dynasties, and the dynasties themselves are denying it, they do still exist and we all know it.

From Ivy Aguas to Lily Cruz: Death and Rebirth
Lily is a flower that is white and pure, and when Lily has a new identity she was renamed Ivy - a poisonous and dangerous flower. You can also consider the meaning of her surnames. "Aguas" is 'water' in Spanish and the name Ivy Aguas may imply 'a poison that spreads like water' to destroy the Ardientes, or maybe the name can be related to water as the lily grows in water. Cruz is Spanish for 'cross', which is the popular Christian symbol of Jesus Christ, his suffering, death, and rebirth. Near the end of Wildflower where Lily is nearly tortured and sacrificed, this name sounded true to her fate.

I love the title Wildflower, and Prianka Aguas who adopts Lily says that a wildflower can thrive anywhere, in the harshest conditions. This is the virtue of our protagonist, her resilience and survival even with all the things she has gone through.

In the story, she was placed in numerous dangerous situations by the Ardientes but she doesn't get defeated. Emilia has one final plan to end Ivy Aguas once and for all - kill her. They tried to do this by nailing her shut in a coffin and burying her alive. Since she is the bida, of course we already know that she won't die.

By some miracle, she escapes and makes another grand comeback where she said the iconic line: "Black is out. Gold, is in! And just like gold, I am indestructible!" I swear the writers of Wildflower are so brilliant in coming up with shocking and memorable lines like this.

I also love their use of classic colors. Black, gold, and red was the main themes of the different arcs of the story. The black wedding, the golden comeback from the dead, and red was very appropriate to the bloody conclusion of the story where death and torture was rampant.

The death of Ivy Aguas is the sacrifice for the rebirth of Lily Cruz. Lily declares that Ivy is dead and finally admits that Emilia's suspicions are true - that she is indeed Lily Cruz. But this is only the start of another act. With Lily's 'rebirth' another antagonist comes into the picture: Red Dragon, the alias of Helena Montoya, Emilia's mother.

I'm sure that the names 'Jaguar' and 'Dragon' are inspired by the aliases of the real-life drug lords in the Visayas (both now dead due to Operation Tokhang). But when I first heard the name Red Dragon, what came to mind was one serial killer antagonist in Hannibal (both novels and TV adaptation). That could be an inspiration, but Wildflower's Red Dragon is another beast entirely. They built up anticipation and suspense about who will be the actress who'll play her. The Ardientes are a family of manipulative psychopaths, and Zsa Zsa Padilla played the part well and wasn't out of place. I love that they went Chinese-inspired since Red Dragon is part of the Triad (Chinese Mafia and crime syndicates) in the story.


As what I said about villains, Red Dragon also has a tragic backstory and it all boils down to Julio Ardiente. While many people saw her abrupt appearance in the story as useless, for me it was important for Emilia's arc. Emilia has continually been rejected by her father, cheated on by her husband, unvalued by her son. Now Helena appears, and there's one person who loves and accepts Emilia for who she is as a daughter. Finally, Emilia thinks that if Helena accepts her, Julio can also learn to truly accept her. Emilia tries her best to impress Helena and aims to be the heir to the title of Red Dragon. However, Julio is still not impressed and also plots the demise of Helena (unknown to Emilia until it was revealed by Lily to her in the ending).

Arnaldo Ardiente: The Heir
RK Bagatsing deserves an award for portraying Arnaldo Ardiente. What actor can pull off playing a respectable mayor, a mentally unstable man, and a religious hermit? Arnaldo Ardiente is Julio's golden boy. Since Emilia is a woman and Julio wants a man to be his 'heir', Arnaldo was groomed to be the next Ardiente leader.

However, I feel that Ivy was very kontrabida in how she dealt with Arnaldo. In my opinion, Arnaldo has killed because of his love for Ivy - and he really isn't to blame for the Ardiente's crimes. As my brother said, he's an "effect" of the Ardiente upbringing and not the "cause" of it.

There was a point that Arnaldo became mentally ill (partly caused by Ivy's manipulations), but Julio refused to treat him, even demanding the doctors to heal him quickly. In my mind, this reminded me of some parents who are ashamed and try to hide their children's mental illness or problems because they have an outside image to uphold. I still think that this is also a good message: we shouldn't ignore or suppress a person's problem, but help him instead of hide the problem. In the end I think that Arnaldo cannot live up to Julio's expectations, and he decided to commit suicide.

Interesting to note that Arnaldo had amnesia after his trauma during the failed wedding with Ivy. When this happened, he became a 'hermit in the forest' and even distanced himself from the Ardientes when he knew of their crimes. Eventually, he got his memory and personality back but pretended to still have amnesia to get to Lily's side. But I think that during his amnesiac period he did feel angry at the Ardiente's crimes, and maybe subconsciously he can't reconcile this knowledge with the fact that he is to be the next Julio Ardiente. Perhaps it is Julio's upbringing that made him decide to take his own life, with nowhere else to go and no one to turn to.

To the very end, I think that Arnaldo really loved Ivy/Lily. It was terrible that he sabotaged the wedding night of Lily and Diego, and even touched her in an intimate way in the mud and rain.  Arnaldo's death is the beginning of the demise of the Ardientes. In the end, it's only Emilia and Julio left.

Emilia Ardiente: Redemption and Forgiveness
I wonder a lot about Emilia's name. It could be based on Emilio Aguinaldo. "Emilia" a unique name that implies power. By the way, since we are talking about name meanings, "Ardiente" is a Spanish word for burning, fiery, or passionate. What an accurate word to describe the Ardiente family!

We are introduced to Emilia as the daughter of Julio Ardiente. She's also in political positions but in private, nothing she does is ever enough for Julio. Outside, they look like a strong political family. Inside their home, Emilia is still being physically, emotionally, and verbally abused by her father.

Actually, Lily's whole dilemma is because of Emilia and her husband Raul. Raul is a serial womanizer and made inappropriate advances to Lily's married mother, Camia. Emilia, in her jealousy, planned to kill the Cruz family. Emilia is the cause of Lily's suffering, the one she really wants to defeat.

Near the end, the veil has been torn and Emilia saw Julio as who he really is. What Lily did was an act of compassion: forcing Emilia to let go of all her illusions and see through the lies - that is, her whole life controlled by her father. Emilia finally realized hat no matter what she does, she will never be accepted or enough in her father's eyes. Lily made it very clear to her, and she's still in denial. We see that Lily understands Emilia, and even with the awful things she's done, Lily still chose to forgive her because her actions were driven by the need for approval by her father.

But forgiveness doesn't imply that Lily will forget justice. In the end, Emilia doesn't die but is imprisoned for her crimes. She is stripped of her makeup and flashy clothes, only wearing the standard orange prison shirt and she's in a wheelchair due to paralysis during the final shootout with her father. Even in prison, Lily visits her and gives her a cake for her birthday.

Remember that dinner scandal they had when they threw cake on each other and it was all a big mess? That scene was so extreme that Aiko Milendez got hit in her eye with Maja Salvador's nails,  she had to be taken to the hospital. I think this final scene between them is a reference to that earlier scene.


The final forgiveness scene between Lily and Emilia was beautiful - I even cried. The final moral lesson that Wildflower imparts is to seek justice in the right way. If we do the method of the oppressors, soon we will become oppressors ourselves. Emilia herself is overwhelmed that Lily would forgive her after all that she did, but even in prison we see that there's a happy ending for Emilia. She's alive, she can change, and start again for the better. Emilia, even in prison, is now truly free from the prison she had spent her whole life in: the shadow of Julio Ardiente.

Julio Ardiente: The Big Bad
"Tingnan mong mabuti ang mukha mo sa salamin. Baka ako na ang makikita mo."
(Look at yourself closely in the mirror. It is me that you'll see)

I think the ultimate kontrabida in Wildflower is not Emilia, but Julio. Often, the primary antagonist and protagonist in a story are mirror images of each other. In the end, Julio is the Erik Killmonger to Lily's T'challa (sorry, Black Panther reference). Julio is the Darth Vader to Lily's Luke Skywalker. The quote above is actually spoken by Julio to Lily - and they are similar, in a way. They are both ruthless in pursuing their goals - Lily in taking down the Ardientes and stopping their ruthlessness, and Julio in destroying everything that gets in the way of his power.

Julio knows Lily as if he is her. He knows that Lily is can almost do everything except killing another human. Julio uses this to lower Lily's morale in their final confrontation by the beach.

Julio has a trait that really irks me and most women viewers. To him, all women are inferior to men. To him, only a man is fit to be the next head of the Ardiente clan. No matter what Emilia does to prove herself, Julio will still see her as an inferior being and not accept her because she is a woman. Even near the end when the Triad announced Emilia as the next heir of Red Dragon (but I think that was a part of Lily's plan), Julio takes it away from her and bribes the goons to work for him.

Lily doesn't pull the trigger on him. In an unexpected turn, Emilia sides with Lily and shoots her own father.

Ironic, that in the end Julio proves to be just as 'indestructible' as Lily. He's still alive due to a bulletproof vest, but he is taken to his death by Red Dragon's true heir, Venus, who was excellently played by Karylle (Zsa Zsa's daughter in real life). Even if it seems extra I love her sudden appearance - it is implied that Julio will die a slow and painful death in her hands. Ironic that Julio will die at the hands of the women he looks down on so much. I actually thought there was going to be a scene where Julio will be tortured in hell by Satan but his fate was close to that anyway.

Lily Cruz: The Savior
The Ardientes already did everything they can to take Lily Cruz, and they are already tired of her and just want to get it over with once and for all. So they exacted the worst punishment they can think of to Lily Cruz: public execution.


I may sound a little extreme, but this scene is reminiscent of The Passion of the Christ. The only things missing are the crown of thorns and a cross. Hung on Lily's neck are mockeries - it might as well be Jesus with "King of the Jews." In my eyes, this scenes in the Death March episode is full of religious symbolism. It was gory and very painful to watch, that the people that Lily has sacrificed so much for is hitting and spitting on her and acting like they would enjoy watching her die.

This has been the style of the ruling group to keep their power - during the Spanish rule, criminals' corpses would be displayed in plazas to strike fear and prevent criticism and uprisings. This is the Ardiente's public warning to the people that this will be the fate of anyone who tries to question and eliminate them.

The words hung on Lily is similar to the cheap placards that are placed in the bodies of real-life vigilante killings that has been rampant during the beginning of the current administration in our government. But this very public humiliation was the key to publicizing the Ardiente's crimes to the whole country. Lily's other allies discover the mass grave where the Ardiente's throw the bodies of the people they kill and these were the huge scandals that brought them down. Come to think of it, the Ardiente's actions brought the final downfall of their family.

Lily's suffering was necessary to make the people realize and open their eyes to the real nature of their true enemy, the Ardientes.

Parallels with Philippine Politics
I can't say for sure whether it was intentional or not, but the last arc of Wildflower near the ending reminded me of EDSA and People Power. Like Ninoy Aquino, Governor Diego Torillo was shot and eventually died as a martyr, which inspired the people to revolt. Like Cory Aquino, Mrs. Lily Cruz-Torillo also ran for office and eventually ran for the President of the country.

When the people swarmed in the Ardiente's home, some women sneaked into Emilia's room and stole her designer clothes, bags, and jewelry. This is very similar to what actually happened when people were protesting the Marcos dictatorship. When the Marcoses fled the Presidential palace, people immediately went for Imelda's expensive valuables.

I really wonder: is Wildflower a criticism of totalitarian dictatorship? Or specifically, the current administration? It can be read as that, certainly. If I were a television writer and speaking the truth during a time when press freedom is threatened, I'd also think that writing this kind of story is also an effective way to subtly spread what I want to say.

In the end, Lily Cruz has succeeded, not only in bringing down the Ardientes but in improving the state of her place but eventually, the whole country. While it is a nice sentiment and a good ending, reality hits you hard. Wildflower is still fiction. Our country is still in shambles and struggling. The fantasy that one woman will rise from the ashes and be our Messiah is a good idea for a story, but very unlikely to happen in reality. Sadly, Filipinos are very forgetful and even now, dictatorship is a glorified idea in some circles.

Lily wasn't shown pregnant (as some people were expecting), and she doesn't get a new love interest after her husband died. She dedicated her life and work to her homeland. I love the final scene that is similar to when she was a child and they were a happy family, arriving for the first time in Poblacion Ardiente. Now, she is wearing all white (not black, gold, green, or red). She reminisces about all the things she sacrificed and suffered for as drives alone to her peaceful hometown.

Other Thoughts
"Ako si Lily Cruz!" Emilia is shookt.
My favorite episode is actually not the last episode, but the second-to-the-last, #WildflowerGiyeraNaTo. The last episode is a typical telenovela ending: we see the future of the characters, who gets married to who, and their conclusions are neatly tied up. The peak of the drama was Emilia's realization of the truth and how Lily and her team infiltrated the beach mansion Julio was hiding in.

I love the story between Ana (Yen Santos) and Jepoy (Vin Abrenica). They are childhood playmates of Diego and Lily, and at first, it was Jepoy's plan to have Ana pretend to be the real Lily Cruz to protect and prevent people from knowing the real identity of Ivy Aguas. There's a time where Natalie tries to seduce Jepoy, but I'm glad that Ana and Jepoy ended up together. Their relationship was built up and developed, and I would be disappointed if he and Natalie ended up together.

Natalie is just another comic relief, she's Arnaldo's girlfriend before Ivy seduced him away. I think this is Roxanne Barcelo's most daring and exciting role yet because she never played the conyo kontrabida before. But I just find her character useless and funny, and in the end she and Lily become BFFs.

Actually, the character I like best is the minor character named Arthur Vergara (played by Arnold Reyes). He played a key role in revealing Arnaldo's crimes during the "Black Wedding" episode. The Ardientes tried killing him once by burying him alive with concrete in a drum, but he survives and helps Lily. He's there until the last episode. I just like that even if he plays a minor and simple role, he's also superb. His character is mentally ill at first, but gradually healed as the story progressed. He doesn't have a love interest, he's just someone who was hurt before but now tries to do the right thing.

Some Personal Criticisms
I think that Wildflower was great in using old tropes and formulas and using them in a new way. However, usually, local television networks create new TV shows with reliable concepts and formulas that are sure to sell well with the mainstream Filipino audience. If people like bitchiness and sampalan in teleseryes, then you will notice that it will be the trend. I've noticed that TV shows repeat the same concepts and characters because it's popular with the masses.

For example, stories about adultery and 'the other woman' has been popular for a long time. I think that's the disadvantage of teleseryes as a storytelling medium, there's little innovation, change, and experiments. That's why it's refereshing to see Wildflower and stories that break the usual mold - for example, the exploration of LGBTQA+ relationships in GMA productions such as My Husband's Lover (featuring gay characters portrayed by Dennis Trillo and Tom Rodriguez) and The Rich Man's Daughter (Rian Ramos and Glaiza de Castro as a lesbian couple).

I'm afraid that this trend might lead to more overdramatic storylines and shock value kontrabidas and scenes. It's not that they are bad, but sometimes stories suffer because there is more focus on explosive confrontations than the characters or plot. I want to see a TV show with a lot more subtlety, or something that makes the audience think deeply.

I wish this will be the start of more diverse and experimental, daring storytelling on TV. Overall, I think that the Wildflower team and excellent actors made this show unforgettable and iconic. It will be remembered for a long time, and I even miss waiting at quarter to 6 in the evening for this show! As a Filipino viewer, I am proud of this show.

I also love that every time a character dies, he or she gets slashed off this picture, ala America's Next Top Model eliminations.

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