Every week, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for March 10 through 16 is “Episode 6,” the series finale of Amazon Video’s Catastrophe.
Meeting the love of your life is a kind of curse.
It’s wonderful to have the security of knowing this person will always be there for you. But it’s also a way of stopping time: This person will always be there for you. As we live longer and longer and longer, “always” stretches beyond what it used to mean for our ancestors.
And then what happens if they screw up, if they hurt you, if you hurt them? In the beginning, you make promises to each other and hope for the best, but you can never know. There’s a lyric from the song “No Children” by the Mountain Goats — about a doomed relationship that nevertheless persists — that strikes me as relevant when thinking about this: “I am drowning. There is no sign of land. You are coming down with me, hand in unlovable hand.”
I’m willing to bet Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, the co-creators, co-writers, and co-stars of Amazon Video’s wonderful little British comedy Catastrophe, had that song in mind as they wrapped production on the series’ fourth and final season. And not just because it ends with the two of them having a swim.
Catastrophe’s series finale is a sweet yet caustic look at how couples can and can’t support each other in times of sorrow
The shoe that drops at the start of “Episode 6” is one that Catastrophe fans had to have known was coming. Upon landing in America for a family vacation, American Rob and Irish Sharon — whose unlikely, week-long hook-up in the series’ first episode resulted in a baby, a marriage, and a TV show — discover that his mother, Mia, has died while they were in the air. Their vacation, then, will see its first half taken over by funeral prep.
The reason Catastrophe fans will almost certainly have known that Mia’s death was coming is that she was played by the late, great Carrie Fisher. (Indeed, the very last thing she filmed before her death in late 2016 was the third season of Catastrophe.) But season four places this event not early on but in its sixth and final episode, filling its first five episodes with the sorts of small incidents and moments of wry domestic comedy that have long propelled the series to its heights.
And even though it’s in its final episode, Catastrophe chooses to unspool the story of Mia’s death without rushing. We see several scenes set at her funeral, and the show even finds time for Rob and his sister (a perfectly cast Michaela Watkins) to deal with the complicated relationship they have with Rob’s father, Ryan.
When Rob confronts Ryan about his abuse of Mia, Ryan brags that, hey, he didn’t hit Mia as much as his own father hit his mother. And he hears Rob doesn’t hit Sharon at all. Maybe Rob and Sharon’s oldest child, a boy, will be even better than Rob. Maybe that’s the march of human progress — each generation just slightly better than the last, able to diagnose the sins of its predecessors for what they were, instead of accepting them as “just how things were done.”
But Rob and Ryan’s conversation also underlines another of the episode’s burbling undercurrents: Both Rob and Sharon can be (and have been) pretty awful to each other. And with so much weighing on him — on top of an unexpected job offer that would take him back to Boston instead of London, where the couple lives — Rob finally blows up at Sharon. He tries so hard to make her happy, and she never is. He wants to move back to Boston. He doesn’t care if she comes along.
Rob and Sharon have survived worse than this fight. But after four seasons of frustration and regret, it’s easy to see how it could be the end. Rob and Sharon met by chance. In most versions of this timeline, they never even met. In some of them, they may have met and had a fun little fling. But in this one, they met, had a kid, then fell in love (and had another kid). And no matter what they do now, they’re stuck with each other.
What takes the series finale from good to transcendent, then, is its final four minutes. With Mia’s funeral behind them, Rob, Sharon, and their kids finally embark on their vacation, stopping at a beach. Sharon assures him he makes her happy. Rob apologizes. She says she’s pregnant. He says he saw the test in the trash. She goes out for a swim, and he’s not sure he wants to come, but maybe he can sit and watch...
...and then he notices a sign saying the area is filled with dangerous currents and no one should swim there. He doesn’t hesitate and strips off his clothes, swimming out to her. They kiss. The Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs (continued)” rises on the soundtrack. In Catastrophe’s final shot, we see them turn toward the shore and start swimming for it.
We don’t see whether they get there.
Catastrophe’s final scene recontextualizes everything that’s come before it in a graceful, understated way
The Mountain Goats’ “No Children” follows the lyrics I excerpted above with the turn, “I hope you die. I hope we both die.” At the darkest point in my own marriage, my wife claimed this lyric as one she clung to, as evidence that others had been where we were and made it out. Any marriage — maybe any relationship — is knowing that someone is drowning and deciding if you’re going to risk it yourself.
While I enjoy Catastrophe, I’m not sure the show has ever done something that hit me as hard as its final scene. Indeed, before I saw it, I didn’t quite understand why everyone I know who watched the final season before I did was so gaga for the finale. The way it blended Mia’s funeral with a slightly too-forced conflict between Rob and Sharon never felt like a capper to the series in the way I perhaps wanted it to.
But the final scene recontextualizes all of the above. A marriage is two people, each going through life alone, and then a third person who is somehow both of them, who finds some way to go through life together. Sharon can’t really be present for Rob when his mother dies, because his grief is so private and personal. And thus, he lashes out. But there have been many times throughout Catastrophe when he couldn’t be there for her in the way she needed, for one reason or another.
What makes them a great couple, then, isn’t that they know how to weather storms, but that they understand the storms can be weathered at all. Rob and Sharon are two people willing to drown with the other if need be. Sooner or later, they might succeed, but for now, the shore is still in sight, just out of reach, but right there on the horizon.
Catastrophe’s entire run is available on Amazon Video.