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Suburgatory: “Apocalypse Meow”/“Stray Dogs”

Illustration for article titled Suburgatory: “Apocalypse Meow”/“Stray Dogs”
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The only thing missing from “Apocalypse Meow” is Lisa sailing into the sunset to a cover of “Hallelujah.” Well, that and my beloved Jill Werner. But everyone else comes to play. If there’s a theme explored it’s the main theme of the show, parenting. Sheila has lent some parenting books to George that aren’t big on appeasement, and he and Dallas are having trouble telling their warring children that they’re moving in together. Actually Dalia is excited to live with Tessa, so she can be an even better friend. But back to the parents, Steven takes the opposite approach with Dalia (“Give her the tiny hat”), given he’s pretty much just money to her nowadays. George tells him, “Being a father isn’t a title you hold like some fighter’s belt. It’s an active job.” Alex also re-enters the fray out of commitment to Tessa, moving to Chatswin in case her daughter needs her around.

Meanwhile the Shay children are moving on in various ways, and Sheila is coping by taking on a new family, her new husband, George, whose house she is determined to sell and her new children, a gaggle of booty-shaking tweens, the only virgins she could find to take to the Chatswin Father-Daughter Purity Ball. That’s right. Don’t tell George, but Lisa and Malik have been Doing It. As a spin on the issue that started this whole thing, it’s kind of rushed. As is Tessa’s first time (unless it isn’t her first time: Mr. Wolfe says there are no virgins currently enrolled at Chatswin High, and he’s pretty diligent). But this finale is more about taking action than facing consequences. The fact is Tessa and Ryan and Lisa and Malik are growing up and making decisions that conflict with their parents’ values. Besides, there’s actually a kind of sweet moment when Fred counterbalances Sheila’s hardcore chastity line with a reminiscence about how he lost his virginity to a woman he didn’t love at the time (but now very much does).

Dalia’s daddy issues are equally rushed, until that callback ending, that is. This isn’t a classically developed plot but something more dreamlike, weird signifiers popping up here and there to build this general picture of a young woman without much in the way of close parental guidance. Think of that weird happy family shot of Steven, Wan’Er, Dallas, and Dalia flashing these cartoon smiles at George, who’s on the ground after a few head-blows, asking him if he will pretty please take them to get rainbow rolls. Or Tessa just walking through the scene without stopping while she tells George that Dalia’s just using him to make Steven jealous. The audience may have suspected as much, but since Lisa went through Dalia’s desk, Suburgatory hasn’t had any time for this somewhat crucial development.

The whole finale operates like this. Suburgatory is staying in Chatswin, but it’s moving. It’s rearranging its building blocks, finding old motifs under the bed, getting new perspectives on running themes. There’s no real resolution. After all the conflict, look at the scenes of reconciliation. Tessa dances into her bathroom stall like a boss and finds Ryan waiting for her. Tessa’s defensive posture is so strong I almost want her to hate him. What Ryan says is twisting the knife but what Ryan does is making it feel better. After a few terse lines are exchanged, they kiss, and then they tastefully cut to a fireplace or something. The next morning she leaves without saying goodbye, and she voiceovers that the night before was the goodbye. So why does it feel so unfinished?

Then there’s the final scene. George finds Dalia camped out at his new, empty house. Tessa is gone. Dallas is gone. But Dalia is there with him and not with Steven. After the light psychodrama, the surreal hallway fist fight, and the general success of Dalia’s schemes, there’s no reason for pretense anymore. Dalia does value George as a parent figure (I just can’t say “daddy” figure, especially on this particular show). And he likes her for some reason, too. He says she can spend the night this once as long as she calls home, and that’s not a throwaway. Dalia isn’t just an ordinary latchkey kid but the Cadillac, the selfish, bitchy, next-level incarnation thereof. George lets her have this—after all, he could use some family, too—but only on the condition that she tells her mother where she is. And then she asks him to sing a song, and he pulls out the guitar and sings her the full version of the credits song, bookending the season with Tessa’s talent show performance. It’s a temporary resolution, but what’s going to happen in the morning?

Even Noah finding himself unable to return the pain Dr. Bob caused him is a false resolution. Dr. Bob walks out with freshly carved Jack-O-Lantern teeth. And Noah isn’t really over Carmen, anyway. The scene that keeps playing in my head is the breakup fight between George and Dallas, an Olympic quasi-retcon, a one-up to the Ryan-Tessa break-up, and most of all a chance for Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines to show what they’re made of, to find the sparks that have been periodically missing throughout the season. George doesn’t just accept that they’re breaking up because that’s what happens in this scene. He fights for her, and she fights for herself. Their lines surge with emotion at awkward times. It’s so uncontrolled, like the rest of this whirling finale. That it comes out of nowhere, or rather out of this clumsily foreboding discussion of the rustic-meets-sparkly chandelier, doesn’t come close to robbing it of its power because the underlying ideas are so sound. George and Dallas do seem superficially incompatible, but there are also 22 episodes full of evidence that Dallas is sabotaging herself. It almost makes the flighty woman shtick feel like an elegant piece of the show, but then Reggie the mouth-breathing nerd/half-human untouchable suggests Suburgatory still has some growing pains. The point is all this change is a thrill, and it’ll be even more exciting to see what Chatswin looks like in the morning.


Stray observations:

  • The KKK have been freed, although now I’m regretting my fervor. They relish being mean to Tessa even more than Dalia. Fun fact: Sometimes they raise their inflection at the end like they’re asking a question, but it’s not a question.
  • Is Ryan going to college already because of football or something? And a follow-up: Don’t leave, Ryan!
  • Lisa is all over the lesbian references. She even offers to make out with Tessa, but Tessa lets her down easy. “Gum.”
  • So the only couples still going strong at the end of season two are Fred and Sheila, Lisa and Malik, and Carmen and Dr. Bob?