As Russell Watson sings in the worst Star Trek theme song ever, “it’s been a long road, getting from there to here.” At the beginning of the season, the good ship Avenue 5 was enjoying a calm, peaceful voyage through the stars—now, it’s wildly off course, supplies are in flux, and 11 people are dead, including the seven who, last week, “stupid[ed] themselves to death.”
Of course, the season finale of Armando Iannucci’s erratic space comedy resolves very little, ultimately ending on a massive cliffhanger that was definitely counting on the show getting renewed for a second season. But to “Eight Arms But No Hands’s” credit, it’s a tight and fast-paced half-hour of television, focused around two big plot points that highlight the quality of the ensemble (if not the quality of the show itself).
The first big obstacle faced by this motley crew is the disappearance of Matt, who’s traumatized after those Matt-enabled mass suicides of last week’s episode, and has thus changed the airlock codes and hidden himself away within the ship. Matt changed the codes because he doesn’t want anyone else to die — unfortunately, though, opening the airlocks is essential to the team’s plan to jettison crap out of the back of the ship to shorten their journey home.
Split up into teams to search for Matt, some fun dynamics emerge, including Spike and Doug bro-ing out and debating nicknames (“Cobra” is potentially one of the coolest nicknames ever). However, once Ryan and Judd stumble across Matt, that problem quickly gets resolved—Matt reveals that he changed the code to “0005,” which he figured anyone thinking rationally (and thus not suicidally) would guess.
One relatively easy problem solved leads to the next big issue, which is the arrival of Rav’s shuttle, which can only return to Earth with two passengers—something she didn’t really think about before hopping on board in the first place. It takes her a bit of time to track down the leadership (such as it is) on board, in the meantime getting to interact with some of the passengers, who are preparing to jettison their belongings (though some sacrifices are bigger than others... also, what kind of person brings nine guitars with him on a cruise?).
Rav’s purpose in coming to Avenue 5 was to bring Judd back to take the fall for the PR nightmare that her life has become, but once the core cast finds out that there’s one available ticket back to Earth, it becomes a farcical game of musical chairs, as multiple characters try to scramble on board.
Most notably, Jordan reveals himself to be a real jerk, trying multiple times to get off the ship to pursue his potential dramatic acting career. It’s an honest disappointment, given how he had cozied up earlier with Billie, who as maybe the best person on board Avenue 5 deserves an understanding love interest, or at the very least not a guy who critiques her laugh.
The ultimate resolution is that Iris ends up trapped on board the shuttle as it begins its return to Earth—which is ridiculous, as her very specific brand of abrasiveness made her one of the show’s most enjoyable characters. (There is certainly a long list of people I’d rather see leave the ship before her, though of course leaving the ship doesn’t necessarily mean that Suzy Nakamura will leave the show.)
Meanwhile, the jettisoning of stuff goes as planned... but badly planned by Karen, who thought that it made sense to use the port-side airlocks because there were more of them, completely misunderstanding the basic physics behind why the passengers and crew needed to jettison stuff in the first place. Thus, instead of their journey being shortened, the ship is wildly off course.
And here’s where we get into the real issue with Avenue 5 as a show. At multiple points in this episode—heck, multiple points in this season—characters made bad decisions for no other reason other than stupidity. It stands in direct contrast to Veep, where incompetency was definitely a factor, but more often than not the conflicts came from characters being malicious or unpleasant, not dumb.
Meanwhile, Rav choosing to leave Earth without considering the occupancy of the shuttle, the fact that Ryan casually takes a seat on the shuttle back to Earth with a bag full of Joe but needs several minutes to remember that no, he can’t go, because he’s still the only one who can save the ship, not to mention almost literally everything that Judd has done all season... These aren’t just bad choices, but frustrating ones—because on balance, it is so much more fun to watch a TV show where the majority of the characters are as smart, if not smarter, than the average viewer.
Now, Avenue 5 the ship is a projected eight years away from returning home and there are no obvious solutions for getting there. Theoretically, this lays the groundwork for an even darker second season, but in the time before then, it’s probably time to consider not just how many of these characters we hope actually survive.
- The MVP of the episode, perhaps even the season, is certainly Hugh Laurie, if only for the incredible octaves he’s capable of hitting while shrieking “MATT!”
- Neil Casey, as engineer Cyrus, is always a little creepy on screen, but he might be at Peak Creepy when holding a clear plastic bag full of body parts. (Consider this a bit of free dating advice, Neil—avoid doing that in the future.)
- It’s weird to say that “Matt’s thoughts are amazing,” but Matt’s thoughts are honestly kinda amazing. “Every year, we pass the pre-anniversary of our death, but we don’t even know it, so we don’t get presents.” “Poor octopus. Eight arms, but no hands. F—k you, God.”
- Did I miss this week’s incredibly random celebrity reference? Or was there none? That’s fine, I suppose—the Greta Gerwig true crime podcast mystery from last week’s episode more than makes up for it.
- Jordan may have revealed his worst qualities this week, but he did also deliver his best zinger: “I don’t know if you can cheer up a grieving person with a joke. At least, that’s what they said at my son’s funeral.”
- Annnnnd that’s a wrap on this season! Thanks so much to The A.V. Club for letting me take this on, Kate Kulzick, who began these recaps and Lisa Weidenfeld for filling in for me last week. And also, thank you at home so much for reading. Things here in the real world are definitely scary right now, but please remember that they could be worse: You could be stuck on a spaceship with Josh Gad.