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Catastrophe breaks our hearts as it closes out its third season

Illustration for article titled Catastrophe breaks our hearts as it closes out its third season
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Catastrophe has never broken my heart like this episode did. In each of the three seasons, both Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan have showcased their dramatic skill in their own ways. Sharon had to decide that being a mother meant loving a child that wasn’t perfect, Rob breaks down about the problems Frankie had at birth. But the final episode of the third season was able to blend Catastrophe’s tonal shifts perfectly. It was funny and sweet, but also dark and real. Sharon and Rob had a rough go of it this season, but they still don’t get a pat happy ending because life keeps going even after the credits should roll. Add that to one of Carrie Fisher’s final screen appearances and it’s difficult not to get emotional while watching this episode.

Sharon’s father Des has died and they return to Ireland for the funeral. Here is where Fisher shines, bringing humor in the most inappropriate of times. She excels so well at being simultaneously cantankerous and affable. The look she gives Fergal after her sweater request is perfect Fisher. It’s such faux sympathy, mixed with a slight twinge of condescension. “Oh honey, you think this is hard?” that looks says, “Now drive me to the fucking sweater store.” Her stellar performance continues as she talks to her son about his alcoholism. Mia’s style of parenting is not one of typical maternal love, clear from her first appearance through her last. Rob enters her room and Mia immediately asks if he’s had a nightmare, almost as if it’s a joke, but also because she’s his mom and she does, in fact, love him. He opens up to her. Then she berates him. Rob does not deserve soft love, he deserves it rough because she has felt the effects of someone else’s brutal alcoholism. She knows what this means for his family firsthand. It means a jaw that clicks every time she eats steak. Watching Carrie Fisher revel in being so unapologetically unlikable was one of the true joys of watching Catastrophe and her loss will be felt during the next season.

It’s odd, I felt a certain sadness when Carrie Fisher passed away, but this was magnified by watching her being so utterly and wholly hilarious onscreen during this episode. I found myself tearing up while watching it. That’s not to say that my Carrie Fisher grieving process mirrored that of Sharon’s. But it did prove these weird ways that we grieve. Watching Carrie Fisher be a bitch who comments on the ass quality of a grieving widow made me miss her in a way that rewatching Star Wars hadn’t. Sharon finds it so weird that she can’t cry for her father, until a letter from Fergal opens up a floodgates of emotion that she wasn’t expecting. Her reaction, this guilt at not feeling sad, made me think of Buffy’s “The Body” in the way it depicted grief as this soul-sucking exhaustion that takes away any ability to feel those big, heaving, sobbing emotions that we associate with death. Sharon’s eventual catharsis wasn’t as powerful to me as when she’s talking to Rob about not feeling sad enough. This was not the outcome that she wanted for her relationship with her father. “I wasn’t done with him,” she tells Rob. But this is what Catastrophe is so good at: taking what we expect out of its genre and making sure that we don’t get what the genre demands. Sharon’s big outpouring of emotion doesn’t come in some awards-bait scene, but while she sits on a toilet drunk, in search of toilet paper, after listening to Fran bitch about singledom. But this feels more vulnerable and raw.

The way Catastrophe has dealt with Rob’s alcoholism has been one of the most unique and important parts of the third season. Rob consistently tells Chris not to worry about him, he’s not some troll living under a bridge. Alcoholism, in Rob’s case, is not debilitating, but that’s what makes it all the more dangerous it. He’s functional to a point but that only means that he doesn’t think he’s capable of punching his wife in the face (“You being drunk and her being as annoying as she is, you’re gonna hit her,” Mia says), but that only distracts him from his other impairments. He may not be wino living under a bridge but he’s still putting his family at risk. Delaney has never felt so pained than when he looks up at his wife and tells her that he needs help. It’s a raw moment that leaves the series at a cliffhanger as it ends its third season.

This season of Catastrophe felt different than the previous two did, in part because of Rob’s looming alcoholism. Like how Brexit became a part of the series in its own way, Rob’s drinking problem loomed on the edges, not always a part of his daily life but had its own disastrous consequences. It was a step in a new direction for the show, one that I was uneasy with it as it first began but the final episode allowed all of the ambitions of the new season to come to fruition. Yes, it was a change for series, but it worked. Because while Catastrophe deals in finding comedy in the real, sometimes the real isn’t all that funny.