“If the line is pink, you’re pregnant,” Karen says, sitting on the toilet and pleading with a home pregnancy test. The last regular series episode of Pulling is one that’s emotionally devastating all around, and there’s no more fitting demonstration than the cold opening. “If the line is pink… if the line is pink… but it is pink,” Karen puzzles. “If, right, the, OK, line, yes, is, got that, pink…Ohhhh fuck!”
Pulling’s premise, as I’ve mentioned here before and by many of you in the comments, is that the things people think they want won’t always make them happy. In this, the last episode, there’s a flip side of that: The things that Donna, Karen, and Louise think they don’t want may actually be exactly what they need.
Karen is not someone who’s been waiting and praying for a baby. When Donna comes in to find Louise comforting her, the first question is, “Karen, you’re still fertile?” It might be more of an age joke than anything, but it’s still astonishing that the hardest drinking party girl of the bunch hasn’t somehow managed to pickle her ovaries. Karen isn’t planning on keeping it, or telling Billy, the father, anything about the upcoming abortion. But Louise intercedes, and Billy shows up, tottering drunk, at the school Karen works, vowing to quit drinking and help her raise a family.
Naturally, Karen snarls at this idea. But true to his word, Billy shows up at her door the next day, the front entrance covered in stuffed animals and teddy bears, to prove his commitment. Karen tramps through the roses and slams the door, but Donna informs her “he’s been suggesting names through the letterbox.”
The sincerity assault doesn’t stop there. Billy sneaks into the break room to give Karen a banana and salad, stealing her cup of noodles while her fork is still inches from the brim. He has an orthopedic mattress installed. And Karen’s resistance begins to break down, bit by bit. What if she and Billy could actually be good for each other? She pauses in front of the full-length mirror, considering. Finally, she brings Billy in from his vigil, sleeping outside in a parked car. “All right! All right, then.”
Billy wakes the following morning, whips up a beautiful breakfast, and then goes out for bagels. On the way home he falls off the wagon with a resounding crash, tottering home after one or two cocktails “and just a little bottle of Bacardi.” Karen’s face is all ice and iron. “Leave the keys in the letterbox when you leave,” she says. And that’s the end of the dream of Karen’s motherhood.
When she goes to the doctor, it turns out that she wasn’t pregnant at all. She does, however have syphilis. At first she’s joyful: “I have genital warts!” she announces to the waiting room full of children. But later, cozying up to a pint alone in the pub, her face goes from pleased to empty. There isn’t a show I can think of that did this emptiness better, except perhaps the episode of How I Met Your Mother where Robin learns she’s infertile. Karen never wanted to be a mother, but now she feels empty.
Louise, meanwhile, finally finds a guy who isn’t a flasher or Karen’s leftovers, a decent-looking customer who’s taken an interest in her. But when he asks Louise out, she panics. Her date isn’t like the banter at the café. How do you move out of playful rapport into actual date territory? “It’s like penguins. In the water they’re beautiful and graceful and sexy,” Louise ponders. “But take them out and they’re just pricks.” After an awkward dinner, Louise almost abandons the guy, she’s so nervous. But she runs to kiss him, and it seems like a happy ending for Louise, for once.
Donna is faring less well. She’s on a casual sex binge after the embarrassment of Karl the previous week, but it’s more out of a conviction that she can and she should than that she wants to. One of her flings asks her if she has AIDS after she calls him to café in the middle of the day. Another, she has to swill a bottle of red wine before shagging. “Far be it from me to discourage casual sex,” Karen tells her, “But you do know that it’s a sport, not a punishment?”
At a pub with one particularly awful specimen—he both picks his nose and refers to her chest as “boobies” in their first encounter—Donna runs into Karl, trying to calm his nerves about Italy with a pint. Instead of pulling her usual antics about getting him to stay, Donna encourages him. She punches the creep she was with, after he asks for his “juicy fruit,” and wakes up next to Karl, looking happy. But he’s still leaving, and she shuts herself in the bathroom to sob as he waits for a cab. When she finally gets up the nerve to tell him that she felts something, it’s too late: He’s gone.
- I’m reviewing the special next week as my final Pulling installment because of a personal conviction about those being pretty integral to the plot of most British series. (See: Downton Abbey)
- Thanks for following along, y’all. It’s been such a treat to get to revisit Pulling.