Hank Moody is having a nightmare as the episode opens. By the end of it, and of the series’ third season, his life has turned into one. It’s night, and Hank is bobbing on a pool in an inflatable chair as a naked woman slides under the water beneath him. Past lovers and his family surround him in the darkness, asking: “What do you think you are going to find in New York?” “Happiness,” he says. “Why do you drink so much?” Jackie surfaces and simply says: “I miss fucking you” and he says he misses it, too. Wine bottle in hand, he’s a sloshed, sad King Poseidon to the mermaids.
Dream sequences rarely work, and are rarely subtle, but there’s at least a real sense of menace to this one. Hank is right on the edge of happiness now, days from moving back to New York with his family, and you sense he, or someone else, is really going to screw it up. Reenter Mia. Two years ago, Hank had slept with her, only to later find out that she was 16 and Karen’s ersatz stepdaughter, the Soon-Yi to her Mia Farrow. Mia’s been blackmailing him ever since, with him letting her market his book about their affair as her own. (One of the weaker, more far-fetched conceits of the series.) With her arrival, you can start to hear the bomb ticking in the background.
Before the explosion, however, the writers give us hope. Hank has a sunny breakfast with Karen and Becca, and we learn, as does she, that she was conceived in a famous Manhattan bathroom (either Barney Greengrass or CBGB’s). Charlie and Marcy have a happy morning in bed, too. Becca and Hank have a sweet “good-bye-to-Calilfornia” walk, and she tells him that he hasn’t been such a bad father after all — and that she’s lost her virginity, happily. “Wait till we’re back in New York to tell your mother,” he says presciently. If only he’d taken his own advice, because all the happy stuff turns out to be a canard: Charlie wakes up to find red arrows posted on his divorce papers showing him where to sign, and Hank ends up going to see Mia.
It seems she’s having trouble with her second book (big surprise) and has confessed to her manager-slash-boyfriend that Hank wrote the first. The sleazy manager sees an Oprah-worthy opportunity: “The publishing world knows you as this brilliant train wreck,” he tells Hank. “Let everyone in on it!” Mia can come clean, Hank gets authorship of his book back, and it’s not statutory rape, it’s a publicity stunt. Hank passes, but when the manager calls him a lousy patriarch (thin provocation?), he snaps. He slams him in the mouth, again and again. The man calls the police.
Hank runs home, bloody, trailing bad karma like bread crumbs ... But we get silence as he tells Karen what’s happened; we see her reaction as Elton John’s “Rocket Man” plays over her cries and screams (“I’m not the man they think I am at home, I’m just a rocket man, burning up his fuse out here alone.”) This doesn’t quite work: Mia’s been missing from the show and the family, he didn’t know her age, and Karen’s reaction, though played with heartbreaking rawness by Natascha McElhone, feels too big. It was more like Karen was waiting for something bad to happen, as it always does — and it did. If not Mia, would Hank have found some other way to blow up his Big Apple happily-ever-after?
The cops show up and Hank takes a swing at one. They take him away. The last scene is of him sinking into the pool, diving into darkness. Truly sad, but this taut episode — with no sex, no jokes, and, now, no family — brings the show far beyond where it’s ever been before. Next season, a scroll across the screen announces, Hank hits rock bottom.
In the L.A. Times, Josh Gajewski applauds the "inspired" finale but worries the show may fall into the “Entourage trap” of “being a show that really doesn't go anywhere.”