Erica Ash, Tichina Arnold, Jessie T. Usher, Mike Epps

It can feel silly, in this age of No One Is Safe television, to be shocked by the death of a major character on a show. And yet it’s impossible not to be shocked by the final moments of “Starts And Stops,” in which the ever delightful Uncle Julius meets his untimely demise in a car crash. Survivor’s Remorse is a light, bubbly, slice-of-life comedy, and its takes on serious issues intimate partner abuse in “A Time To Punch” and police misconduct in “The Date” were gleefully arch. Even with the understanding that Mike Epps is toplining ABC’s forthcoming Uncle Buck, a gig that probably precludes double-duty, killing off Uncle Julius is an unexpected solution to the scheduling issue. It’s tonally unlike anything Survivor’s Remorse has ever done.

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When a blue-sky comedy kills off a major character, the move can add an unexpected yet welcome emotional resonance, or it can feel manipulative and backfire completely. Because “Starts And Stops” is so different from the type of storytelling Survivor’s Remorse normally does, and because Uncle Julius is such an unfortunate loss, there will probably be some fans of the show who draw a line in the sand. After all, seeing beloved characters meet their deaths is why people watch dramas, not comedies, and Julius’ death robs Remorse of the escapist, wish fulfillment quality that makes it so irresistible. But while Mike O’Malley, who wrote the finale, could have chosen to sideline Julius somehow, doing so wouldn’t have worked for the character. Of all the Calloways, Julius is the one who most reveled in the glamorous life Cam provides. Julius isn’t moving out, or checking into rehab, or embarking on an extended walkabout. Julius enjoyed such a cushy lifestyle, only death could keep him from it.

But Julius’ death doesn’t only work on a character level, it works on a thematic level as well. Since the show began, Cam has been saddled with guilt over how prosperous he’s become despite having worked really hard to get where he is. He loved the idea of leaving Dorchester behind him, but hated the idea of leaving behind the people he grew up with who will never know the kind of relatively carefree lifestyle he now enjoys. He’s managed to somewhat quell those emotions, but not entirely.

When Cam buys Allison a tricked-out luxury SUV to replace her wheezing jalopy, of course he’s doing it to woo the woman he’s fallen in love with, but the gesture is informed by his sense of duty. Cam feels it’s his responsibility to eliminate all pain and worry from the lives of his loved ones, and it frustrates him when he’s not able to do that. He can’t wrap his brain around the fact that Allison doesn’t want to accept such an extravagant gift, but he also finds her refusal endearing. There’s no silver lining to the death of Uncle Julius, which makes the show’s troublesome title more literal than ever. Cam’s massive salary has enabled him to get his the Calloways out of Dorchester and out of debt, but nothing he can do will ever completely insulate them from life’s little horrors.

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Losing Julius is a bummer, but at least “Starts And Stops” makes for a fond farewell. Julius gets to do what he does best and spout profane wisdom as Cam tries to define his feelings for Allison. “If you’re a man over the age of 12, and you’re asking another man over the age of 12 if he’s been in love, then you’re in love,” he says. That line, along with his parting words, demonstrates exactly why Julius’ departure is such a loss for the show. No character on Remorse is a purer vessel for O’Malley’s witticisms than Julius, so it’ll be interesting to see how the show changes rhythmically in season three.

“Starts And Stops” goes slightly awry when it checks in with Reggie, who’s still babysitting the undisciplined Jupitor. Jupitor has been on thin ice for some time now thanks to his immature, party boy antics, which have only gotten worse. This week, he gets arrested for stealing a bag of marshmallows, the consequence of marijuana munchies that left him jonesing for s’mores. But Jupitor refuses to get his act together, so he follows up the arrest with a raid on a women’s locker room that puts his scholarship in jeopardy. Reggie’s patience finally runs out and he turns Jupitor back over to Deshauwn, a gesture Deshauwn would have refused were he a bit smarter.

The story is diverting enough, and it ends with a happy beginning for Reggie, who gets a call from Tom Werner about getting into the hockey business. I only wish the Jupitor story had yielded more fruit. After years of putting Cam’s needs front and center, Reggie split his focus for the first time. Though he technically had Cam’s blessing to take on Jupitor as a management client, it was clear that Cam always felt somewhat conflicted about Reggie drifting off into other ventures. That simmering conflict never came to a boil, and even after Reggie cleanly admits his error, Cam reassures him that their bond is as strong as ever, and the Jupitor miscue will fade from view soon enough. The relationship between Cam and Reggie is at the core of the show, and two full seasons in, it still hasn’t been tested in any significant way.

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Then again, every relationship in Survivor’s Remorse will be tested now that they’ve lost one of their own. “Starts And Stops” is truly a game changer.

Stray observations:

  • It was easy to telegraph Julius’ death, but that didn’t make it any easier.
  • I was happy to see Deshauwn return, however briefly. A little Allen Maldonado is better than none.
  • Julius’ “I wish I believed in God” was surprisingly poignant.

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