All artists incorporate their own lives into their work in some fashion, but Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz was next level. Just think of the hubris of making a movie musical about your own heart attack. At this point in Fosse/Verdon, we’ve accepted that Bob is coming from a very dark place, and it’s this unique vision that left his mark on both stage and screen.
One of the best things about Fosse/Verdon is that despite her second billing, it acknowledges how integral Gwen was to Bob’s success—how in a different age and time, that billing easily could have been switched. The conversation between Bob and Paddy that kicks off the episode is key: Gwen was Bob’s ideal match, his equal as a collaborator. And if this was a perfect movie musical, Bob would have realized this, and how badly he had fucked up, and begged Gwen for forgiveness, letting the two live out the rest of their lives together.
But life is not a movie with an automatic happy ending. Which makes it so heart-wrenching that Bob and Gwen ended with about as happy an ending as they could have asked for. When Bob had his fatal heart attack, fortunately he was with Gwen, and while we don’t know for sure that their entire life together flashed before his eyes, we have no reason to think that it wouldn’t.
It’s also rather perfect that the series begins and ends with Sweet Charity, one of the pair’s most successful collaborations. When just one of them tries it—Bob at the beginning of the series, Gwen at the end—it doesn’t work. They need each other to bring Charity’s story to life. Gwen stepping into the Charity role, for the last time we ever see on stage together, was my favorite moment this episode. Primarily because of Michelle Williams’ performance, which I feel like I shout to the heavens about every week and I’m not sure who’s hearing me. It’s not just that she’s inhabiting Gwen Verdon. It’s that she’s inhabiting Gwen Verdon at different stages of her life. The frailty of that final shot of Gwen on stage is light years away from the vibrant Gwen we get a glimpse of in those Damn Yankees rehearsals. When she hands Bob back the cane, she is acknowledging their lifetime on stage with that simple gesture. I started crying at that moment and basically didn’t stop until the end of the episode, to be honest.
There’s a danger when mixing too much fact and fiction. It ruins what Nicole thought was a nice night with her dad, only to find out it was also material for his movie. Poor Ann has to audition strenuously for the part she played in real life. Bob can’t help but be jealous of the attention his star Roy Scheider receives (genius stunt casting of executive producer Lin-Manuel Miranda), so he takes a run at it himself, only to realize that those cheers he received were fake. It’s just a movie, after all.
Who knows how happy Bob and Gwen actually were (Bob continues to hook up with a series of young women, while Gwen eats a sad, solitary dinner), but it seems clear from the scenes in this finale that they were happiest when they were together. Just like how the L.A. Charity production had a good cast, the same songs and steps, but still needed their magic, that special spark they had when they were together. The lovely late bar scene, for example, as they fill each other in on their lives, the people they have in common, with Gwen still sending Bob a few zingers like no one else can. It’s again to the credit of Williams and Sam Rockwell that they so effectively play the long-married couple, with chemistry still intact and so obviously connected even after all of those years.
As Bob opines on his never-finished Ladies’ Man project or whatever it was, if you had the perfect person, why would you jeopardize all that for a stranger? By showing Bob’s childhood, Fosse/Verdon tries to make the case as to why Bob was so determined to screw his marriage up. But as these final scenes with Gwen show, they were still so close. After all they had been through, they were still each other’s primary person (which is why Ron left).
To have someone know you like that, and still love you like that—it’s really what most of us long for, and if we’re lucky enough to find it, we hang onto it. Maybe Bob and Gwen had a happy ending after all.
Finale grade: A-
Series grade: A-
- This week’s featured member of the Fosse/Verdon inner circle: That’s Debbie Allen, circa Fame, performing Charity in front of Bob and Gwen. (When the cast did “Big Spender,” all I could think of was how nervous they must have been to perform in front of the actual Charity legends themselves.) Debbie Allen was Tony-nominated for her turns in West Side Story and Sweet Charity; you can still find her on TV today in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and SWAT. She has also choreographed five Academy Award shows.
- Am actually going to be nervous for Michelle Williams during awards season. I was worried about her going against the Big Little Lies cast, until a commenter pointed out that that show is no longer considered a mini-series. I dearly hope she wins everything. What a phenomenal performance.
- Again, I feel like Nicole Fosse’s participation in the show as co-executive producer led to the Nicole-centric parts of the story, but was glad to see that the drug and alcohol references were addressed and that her mother died peacefully at her home.
- Thanks so much for reading! I loved all the Fosse/Verdon info and opinions you guys provided in the comments. You can find me over at those BLL episodes, starting on Sunday!
- I want Gwen to get the last word, so here she is doing “If They Could See Me Now,” that solo number from Charity. Sorry it’s blurry: