“Final Girl” is a storytelling trope used mostly in horror films, especially those of the slasher-flick variety.
Knowing that, the meaning should be self-evident. The “Final Girl” is the last woman left alive at the end of the film, after all of the others have been slashed and/or dashed out of existence by the monster, the insane killer, the evil doll, the 100 foot troll, or what-have-you. If the screenwriter got it right, the “Final Girl” was the one you were rooting for all along anyway, with all of those other non-final-girls’ destruction just highlighting how exceptionally special the “Final Girl” actually was.
Misogynistic as these films might be (and a little racist too… ever notice which characters usually end up being “first girls?”), that won’t apply here as we have no clue if our own “Final Girl” identifies as male, female, or other, and probably never will, unless NJ’s Emily Heiser bands it, it survives to become a breeding adult, and then someone actually sees it copulating. That’s how difficult it is to sex an American Oystercatcher.
But unless we get some new, miraculous information coming out of Plover Park soon, it appears that Episode 1, Season 3 of Todd Pover’s Plover Park was in fact something of a horror show, with the slasher being an awful nor’easter and our actual heroine, our “Final Girl,” being one of banded Oystercatcher pair J22 and J23’s beautiful babies. Just look at her. She really is magnificent and worthy of the honor.
Those of you who have followed along with the sad histories of beach nesting birds at Barnegat Light State Park here on Readings From The Northside know what a big twist this is. It’s a dramatic script-flip and surprising switcheroo.
It’s almost always been the Oystercatchers who utterly perish while the Piping Plover manage to just-barely squeak out one or two Final Girls which give our stories here some meaning and spare us from a depressingly hopeless void where the monster always wins; one we’d be better off just looking away from.
Yet that’s what happened. Somehow 19 eggs and 12 hatched chicks, the majority of which were Piping Plover, served only as the sad and terrifying background to a story which turned out to be about this sole, remaining American Oystercatcher. Our “Final Girl.” (Editor’s Note: Emily Heiser has to band this baby. Also, if you’re counting, you’ll notice I’m including eggs I hadn’t even gotten around to mentioning here from pairs who hadn’t even gotten their trading cards made yet. That’s how quickly our fortunes can turn on the coast.)
Yet as I said, this is just Episode 1 of Season 3. We are only just getting started here. There is clearly a much larger story being told in the Park this summer. As I dictate this post to my phone, I am watching the most beautiful rainbow arching over Plover Park and it is giving me profound chills.
In the stillness after this evening’s storm I hear the sounds of productive birds everywhere, rebuilding their homes and restarting their families. I hear new birds arriving. I am seeing the dynamic coast as it is and as it was meant to be; horror shows and all.
Something big is afoot in the Park tonight. Something really big.
So shed your tears for Giantsbane, Myrtle, Octavius Rex, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tatiana, Stacy, and all of their helpless babies, and cheer for J22 and J23 who finally succeeded in hatching a nest and have seen at least one of their chicks through a monstrously horrific ordeal which laid waste to everything else. They’re all moving forward, so we should follow them. They’ve been living here a lot longer than we have.
And besides, I’m realizing now that I had it all wrong this season. My imagination simply wasn’t big enough to visualize what was actually possible, even as it was happening right in front of me. What’s happening in the Park is a much bigger story than one about being good neighbors, or especially a simple slasher-flick. What’s happening out there is actually an epic tale of restorative power. A story for the ages.
We’re talking The Holy Grail.