In my interview with Tom Hollander and James Wood, Wood described this episode of Rev. as being about the characters’ ambitions, which they’ll never realize. Colin will never hold down even a pizza-delivery job. Nigel will never be a vicar. Alex and Adam will never have a child. The archdeacon will never be a bishop. What’s even more remarkable to me was that Wood and Hollander originally considered making this the end of the whole series, until the BBC commissioned the Christmas special that will air next week. It would have been a beautifully bleak end to the show, one in keeping with one half of the series’ overall tone but also somewhat missing its warmth. Still, it’s such a great endpoint—this idea that all the characters will have is each other, so they’d best get used to that—that it pulls together a season that’s felt a little scattered up until this point.
There are things in this episode that feel as if they proceed from the episodes leading up to them, but they don’t, really. Take, for instance, the weekend Alex takes to consider if she really wants to be married to Adam, much less have a child with him. It’s a gut-wrenching storyline, particularly once both we and Adam realize how serious she is about this. We know she’ll likely come back to him, and we know things will work out. He probably knows this, too. But in the moment, it’s terrifying to think of what it would be like for both him and the show to be without Alex. Would she really cheat on him with this Howard fellow? Probably not, but there’s always that possibility. The series has so skillfully and quietly built up the marriage that the thought of it ending—even while it remains improbable—is hard to imagine.
At the same time, it almost seems as if this storyline might work slightly better if it felt as though the season had built to it even a bit. Now, granted, the unexpectedness of it is what makes it work. Alex is tired of being Adam’s second priority, compared to the church, and it only sneaks up on us once we think about how she has some legitimate grievances. To some degree, that’s all well and good, particularly in the wake of last week’s episode, in which Adam brought a homeless former crack addict into their home. At the same time, the focus of this season has been less on the church than it was in season one. The bulk of the episodes have been about Adam’s personal problems, rather than church business, and his marriage with Alex (and their struggles to conceive a child) have been the one storyline uniting those episodes. It’d be one thing if that was the case, while the episodes were much more about Adam’s attempts to build up his church. Then, Alex’s frustrations might have felt slightly more germane. As it is, they seem to come just a bit out of nowhere.
That said, I don’t want to harp on the minor problems of the season as a whole when the finale is so brilliant and beautiful. If the season meandered about, trying to find the strong through line of season one, it definitely closed well, with both of the final episodes offering the kinds of moments that the show does so well, as well as providing the particular structure that the series’ best episodes pull off, almost without seeming to try. The early episodes sometimes leaned too heavily on stories about Adam becoming jealous of people he’d just met, but the end of the season pulled back again, to show the larger purpose of Adam’s work and his role within the community. The finale did this about as well as the series ever has.
The nice thing about this episode is that it gives the entire cast something to do. Both Nigel and the Archdeacon (or should it be Robert?) have their hopes for professional advancement, while Alex and Adam have their marital problems. Colin’s storyline is a bit lighter, as he almost immediately bombs out as a pizza deliveryman, and even Adoha gets something fun to do, as Alex’s absence allows her to cook and clean for Adam, in the way she’s evidently wanted to do for some time. (Adoha’s gotten far too little to do this season, but this storyline almost makes up for it.) That all of these storylines dovetail as nicely as they do at the end of the episode is the cherry on top of an impressively twisty structure.
Out of all of these stories, I think I like the one for the Archdeacon best. All of this time, he’s been keeping the fact that he’s gay a somewhat open secret, but it comes out when Nigel and Adam run into him while he’s out mattress shopping with his “friend” Richard. The episode has already played against type with the Archdeacon by showing us what he’s like as he’s actively trying to land the bishop position, but now letting us into his personal life feels even more bizarre. Notably, this has nothing to do with his homosexuality; it has everything to do with the fact that the Archdeacon seems to have nothing in his life that’s not work, so finding out he’s been keeping this quiet all this time (because a gay bishop in the Church of England would have to remain celibate) is striking. I like the scene where he asks Adam to keep this quiet and Adam readily agrees even better. Despite their personal differences, this is the sort of thing Adam would never exploit (as Nigel later does). And yet the board still discovers that the Archdeacon is gay, and he chooses Richard over ever being a bishop, just as we know Adam would have chosen Alex over his calling (though he ultimately doesn’t have to).
The episode is filled with these moments, places where the characters choose between their heavenly ambitions and their earthly concerns. Notably, the one person who puts their larger ambitions ahead of just being a kind person to someone else in their sphere doesn’t get what they want, and it’s not immediately clear why. Nigel won’t get to be a vicar—at least not yet. He blames Adam for what’s happened, believing that Adam didn’t give him a good enough recommendation for the board to consider moving him forward in his career. And maybe that’s the case. Maybe Adam really did keep Nigel back because he knows Nigel would make a better vicar (as Nigel alleges). But we know the way the universe of Rev. works, and we know that there’s a certain kind of grace at play here. Nigel signed his career’s death certificate when he threatened to expose the Archdeacon, just as Colin did when he did a shit job at being a pizza deliveryman, just as the Archdeacon did when he kept his personal life a secret. Yet where the Archdeacon finally chooses honesty and where Alex and Adam choose being childless over being apart, Nigel chooses his own anger. And so it goes, the five of them sitting in the church, listening to a sad little song about how they’ll always have each other, staring into the distance and contemplating the mystery.
- It’s nice to see Joan again, even if she’s pretty much just there to give Adam the song that pops up again in the climax.
- Speaking of that song, the episode’s use of music—particularly the choral pieces—is well done. I’m also impressed that Hulu ponied up to keep the AC/DC song in the broadcast, when it surely must have been cost-prohibitive, even with only a few seconds in there.
- Adam’s phone call to Alex, during which he talks mostly about Nigel and accepts puddings from Adoha, may be one of the saddest things ever committed to film.