Unlike in American television, where a one-hour special doesn’t usually advance the plot much, British shows tend to use the special to tie up a bunch of loose ends that the nominal season finale left scattered around. Think where we’d be without the Downton Abbey Christmas special engagement-palooza, for example. And Pulling does resolve a few of the things that its final, heartbreaking episode, didn’t. But it also kept things like Karl and Donna’s relationship deliberately vague. There’s hope, there’s the potential of future messiness, there’s definitely something there, but as throughout the rest of the series, that something will remain undefined. It’s an honest, lovely way for an acerbic comedy series to end.
Pulling doesn’t benefit much from the extra half hour it has in the special. It’s a compact show, and stretching it over an hour meant that there were many more wide, filler jokes instead of the neatly crafted awkward zingers that it’s usually packed with. When we return to our beloved gang of dysfunctional women, six months have passed. In real time, it was more than a year between the last episode of the second season and this special aired. Pulling seemed like the product of a very specific time for all the actresses in it, and it’s clear that they’re moved on, to some extent, by the time they shot the special. Sharon Horgan had won a BAFTA and then gotten her show canceled. I’m sure going back into the murk of Pulling was a bit like Harrison Ford getting prepared to be Indiana Jones again.
Louise’s plot is, for example, one of the throwaway romantic problem stories that she had in the early part of the series rather than some of the meatier comic stuff she got in the later parts of the show. She’s returned from six months traveling in Thailand minus some fifty pounds and with a lunkhead boyfriend, Greg, in tow. At the airport she fawns over him in public and as soon as he’s out of earshot, tries to find a way to abandon him ASAP. Turns out he saved Louise from a mudslide, and now she feels obligated to live with him in his tiny studio apartment indefinitely. Donna counsels Louise to break up with him: “You don’t have to live with a man you don’t love unless you have children. Or a mortgage.” She says. But Louise remains trapped by the fawning attention of her new man. Her schemes to get rid of him are unsuccessful: He buys them a puppy, and rents a hot air balloon to propose to her. All of Louise’s dreams of a relationship are basically fulfilled, and, obviously, she hates it. Mid-balloon ride she rejects Greg rather harshly. He jumps out of the balloon and lands in a coma. Now that he can’t speak or respond, Louise has a change of heart. She loves being a coma girlfriend. And of course she would: It’s having a boyfriend who can’t annoy or disappoint her.
Karen, meanwhile, has a plot that goes very The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She’s dating a man whose idea of relationship dynamics comes straight out of the 1950s. He expects Karen to cook and clean after him, and to be satisfied with lackluster sex. And Karen, surprisingly, loves it. “Make your man happy and subjugate your every need to his. So simple!” she advises Donna. But of course, it can’t last. When Karen is out looking for the correct mustard for Martin’s meat pies, she runs into Billy. He tells Karen, slurs, really, that he has bowel cancer. He has a list of things he wants to do before he dies, including “swim with dolphs.” When Martin forbids Karen from seeing Billy, that’s when she snaps. She spoons the entire bottle of mustard over the pie and, as a final measure, rams the bottle in. Martin storms out. “You have really disappointed me today, Karen,” he says, feebly. Meanwhile, Karen finds Billy squatting in a garage and delivers him tickets to swim with the dolphins. He shows up completely blitzed on mushrooms, and manages to convince Karen to take some so that it will be like old times. Cut to Karen trying to explain to a skydiving instructor how the two of them, clearly intoxicated beyond the level that you should drive a shopping cart, let alone jump out of a plane, that all is well. Billy admits later that he doesn’t actually have cancer, so much as a funny mole. But he gets back in Karen’s good graces after an encounter with Martin. He shows up at Karen’s house and starts lecturing her on all the things she has on her fridge—diet drink, fatty mince. “Stop the pretense, at let’s go home,” he tells her. When Karen puts his face in the fatty mince that he detests so much, he punches her. The next time we see Martin he’s tied to a chair, gagged with tampons, socks superglued to his feet, covered in eggs and tomatoes that Karen pelted at him, and had several Babybel cheeses lodged up his ass.
But the centerpiece of the finale is, of course, Karl and Donna. Donna is dating a horrible tool—one who loves to have sex on money and brings an escort along to dinner—when she hears that Karl has returned from Italy. She goes over to his flat to talk about renewing their relationship, when Karl introduces her to Sabina, his new Italian fiancé. Donna is as nasty to her as she can get away with without looking totally psychopathic, but Sabina seems to brush it off. Donna finds Sabina kissing another man, and Sabina coolly dispatches her illusions. “Me and Karl are in an open relationship,” she says, “But it is not open to you.”
So Donna goes to Karl’s to apologize, mentions how Sabina explained the open relationship thing to her, only to find out that Sabina hadn’t clued Karl into it at all. He’s furious, and furious at Donna for ruining yet another wedding of his. But after helping Karen free Martin, he has a change of heart. He gives his wedding preparations to Billy and Karen, who stumble down the aisle together. And then he and Donna go to the airport, where the agreement is for him to go back to Italy and for them both to never be in contact. Only it doesn’t seem as though it’s going to happen that way. As the plane boards, Karl and Donna look at each other, hopefully, quietly igniting something they had lost at the beginning of the show.
- Karen’s retort to Martin should be inscribed on something: “If you’re going to shag a pie-eating Mummy’s boy, at least choose one who knows the difference between a sneeze and an orgasm.”
- Her phrasing doomed Donna’s proposal to Stefan, if it hadn’t already been doomed: “Let’s legitimize this relationship with the appropriate paperwork.”
- Billy asleep on Udon noodles was shockingly funny. I’m so glad he came back.