If you tuned in tonight hoping for some resolution on what actually happened to Alison (Ruth Wilson), some idea about how she really died or a decoder ring to help you understand last week’s episode then call yourself Cole (Joshua Jackson) and take all the seats because it isn’t happening.
Actually, I’ll take that back: we do get some resolution on the theory that Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno) did it. She definitely did not.
So, last week our hints came in the form of two Jason Isbell songs and, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t obsess over his catalog (what I’ve heard is great). I do, however, obsess over Death Cab for Cutie and I immediately knew that was a Death Cab song I was hearing in this episode, although it took a moment to figure out which one. The track that opens and closes the episode is titled “What Sarah Said,” and there’s zero chance it’s a coincidence that the showrunner is named Sarah Treem, although the lyrics are absolutely perfect.
We join Noah (Dominic West) and Anton (Christopher Meyer) at Princeton, auditing a class with Professor Ariel (Janel Money). There have been amazing cameos this season, and man I hope Janel comes back next season because she’s one of the criminally underused members of the West Wing cast.
In his personality, Anton takes on Noah’s more charming tricks while interacting with the class and then shocks the fuck out of everyone later by skewering Noah with his writing prompt. It’s well-deserved, but also an interesting look at how Anton feels he has to play a role to fit in — and is, himself, almost sociopathically good at playing to the expectations of others to get what he wants. That’s why you saw yourself in him, Noah. Two people, Ariel and Anton, both point out to Noah that it’s insane that he’s here and not tending to Alison’s funeral arrangements or mourning. That moment drives home how unexamined Noah’s motivations are in his point of view, how much he puts himself onto a golden pedestal. You know, in case you forgot or don’t read my recaps religiously. It also later stands in stark contrast to how strong his feelings still are for Helen (Maura Tierney) compared to Alison. It’s understandable since they spent so many more years together and have all these ties that bind in the form of their four children. But Alison is the more recent relationship. I’m not sure I buy that they severed their ties so neatly, especially after all the drama of season 3.
Cole is not handling this well. He goes to Alison’s funeral, looking like a kernel of corn in a hot pan with every decision in which he was not included until he loses it completely and runs off with her ashes. His protests are right, Alison wouldn’t have wanted her body put into the ocean after the way her son died. Athena (Deirdre O'Connell) set this funeral up to be just that, tailored to her needs, and it’s hard to imagine that Alison would have cared.
Ben is at Alison’s funeral. Would a killer attend the funeral of his victim? I know a serial killer might. Leave your comments on that below, I’d like to read them all. You already know I think he didn’t do it.
I really want to give Cole a big hug after he runs off, Forest Gump style, to sit in the graveyard. Noah feels differently and comes to talk some sense into him. It gives Cole the chance to finally ask why Noah and Alison had an affair, something I’ve been waiting four seasons for, although the answer is utterly unsatisfying and brief. He’s then visited by the ghost of Christmas past...oh, er, his mother, Cherry (Mare Winningham). After she fixes, once again, his revisionist history of what his idea of her relationship with his father was, he admits he was coming back for Alison. And she tells him something he didn’t know: that he’s a solid, practical person like her. Just imagine if Cole had known any of this, had seen the world for what it was when he and Alison were still together.
Armed with his new knowledge of how to adult, he goes home and makes things right with Luisa — he admits their relationship is over but offers to stay married so she can become Joanie’s (Reagan and Savannah Grella) guardian and get citizenship. Then, he takes Joanie on a road trip in which they literally drive off into the sunset. It feels to me like Cole’s story is wrapped up. I suppose the show could explore how his relationship with Luisa works or find him falling in love again in season 5, but it seems like we’re leaving Cole in a good place.
The finale brings us three points of view in a slightly longer than usual episode, so we finish with Helen — and what a spectacular finish it is. Vik (Omar Metwally) is still experiencing complications and his doctor, an ex-girlfriend, finally tells him he’s being an asshole (her word!) to not even give chemo a try. Someone needed to and this is great vindication for Helen, who has been pushing him nonstop to just try to not die.
As predicted, their terrible older daughter, Whitney (Julia Goldani Telles), shows up. She’s got her new boyfriend in tow and allegations about who is being a bitch are throwing around amid manic bouts of emotion — it’s all par for the course. Then, in nearly one breath and only a matter of moments, Sierra (Emily Browning) shows up, takes Helen back to the hospital when Vik takes a turn, and reveals to Helen that she is pregnant with Vik’s baby. Oh, and she wants to keep the baby and is probably in love with Helen. Helen takes all of this a lot better than I would, only throwing her purse at Sierra and storming off.
It leads to an actually nice conversation with Noah (maybe he and Helen are friends after all?), during which Helen admits (probably more to herself than anyone) that she is grappling in her relationship with Vik because it’s not the same kind of love as her relationship with Noah was. But, we know she’s idealizing it because of how Ariel described it when she and Noah were catching up. Is it pedantic to mark this up to: watching someone die will fuck you up? It would seem not, as the season ends with Helen on the roof of the hospital, looking out over Los Angeles until the credits roll, while Ben Gibbard softly sings, "But I'm thinking of what Sarah said / That love is watching someone die / So who’s gonna watch you die?”