My five-star rating of The Comeback’s season-ender (and, let’s face it, probably its series-ender) is, like the hour-long finale itself, a two-parter. Meaning I give the first 30 minutes a four and the second 30 minutes a six.
Let’s start with the first half-hour at Juna’s party. It was amusing, if a little rambling, no? There were several bits of business that — don’t get me wrong — were fun to watch and totally kept my interest: Val remembering that Juna always puts her down on the guest list under Mark’s name; Jane chewing out the door guy for not properly kowtowing to an Emmy nominee; the applause that spontaneously greeted Val’s entrance; Tyler jumping into the pool; the girl obsessed with snapping a pic of Chris; the “Old woman’s pussy!” guys. All of these little beats are things I’d now categorize as Comeback lite. During the show’s first season, a wall-to-wall lampooning of the reality genre and all of its attendant petty desires, such moments would’ve made up the meat of an episode. But now we’re living in Comeback 2.0, a deeper, more meaningful show, a show about what life’s about once you decide that life is about more than what you desire.
The scene between Juna and Val strove to be something more than Comeback lite, but I found it a little confusing. (And by the way, I don’t mind when some Comeback scenes leave me questioning their intent. Gives me something to ponder over the course of my week.) “You know, I wasn’t gonna go here,” Juna says, “but I feel like you’re not seeing things, Val, and I’m worried. And I’m not just talking about Mickey.” So what is she talking about? There’s little else Juna knows about Val at the moment; they haven’t seen one another since the season premiere, and Val’s yet to tell Juna that she and Mark are having problems. That leaves Seeing Red as a possibility, and Juna then goes on: “When I saw the show, it really hurt me. I just feel like we had this special relationship and I was there for you and you were there for me, and I turned on the TV and I’m like, ‘Ow.’ But it just, this makes it seem like I got ahead by taking my clothes off or sleeping my way into parts.”
Shouldn’t Juna be telling this to Paulie G? I think it’s understandable if Juna feels that Val should’ve stood up to Paulie more during production on Seeing Red. But the flip side — that Val is just an actor, and one lucky for a part, and so she’s going to “leave the writing to the writers,” as she might say — is also understandable. And to indicate that she’s disappointed in Val doesn’t seem like something Juna would do. I just feel like that’s a lot for Juna to put on Val given the constructs of Hollywood. A moment later, Juna complains, “The other thing that really kills me is that Seth is charming! He makes it look like we were the problem, like Seth is so winning. It’s like you and I are these awful women, just a body or an ego.” That complaint felt more realistic to me, in that it’s two girlfriends bitching about the rampant misogyny in their industry, but bitching largely because as two individual women, there’s not a lot else they can do about it.
Anyway, that scene left me a little “huh?” is all I’m saying. The story with Chris (I still find it funny that Kellan Lutz was in any way involved with this show, and I got a big kick out of seeing him again) was unexpected, but it dragged (get off her porch, already!). It was the same joke — the sex symbol has a crush on ol’ “Old Woman’s Pussy” — told a few different ways. But it did emphasize Val’s continued fidelity to Mark, just as it underscored that in Hollywood, having smoke blown up your ass is sexy as hell. (Chris: “The point is, you treated me like a star way back then.”) It was great to see that Val absorbed Chris’s reciprocal smoke-blowing as an ego boost without taking it any further. (“I’m gonna give you a kiss, because you are doing me a world of good.”)
And then! And then and then and then! And then for watching a less-than-exceptional (but still fun! don’t get me wrong!) first 30 minutes of the finale, we get The Comeback’s greatest-ever callback: the fridge-door montage! For reals, how much did you squeal when you saw this? The same rehearsing (of an Emmy acceptance speech, not a punch line on a crappy sitcom) the same gluttonous midnight snack (whipped cream out of the can instead of cake). I can’t recall ever being rewarded for my loyal viewership in such a hilarious and perfect way, so let’s just take a moment here to remember the lulz, because that joke was so worth the nine-year wait.
There was also the less obvious callback to the series premiere’s plumbing problems. I loved how, like most episodes this season, this second half of the finale balanced broad humor (um, a river of poop; seriously, did Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King have a gross-out-humor bucket list they tried to work through this season?) with nuanced, character-driven moments (Val sending Mickey off in her limo, sweetly asking the driver his name and instructing him to pick up Mickey’s order from Goldblatt’s). Val also balanced the requirements of doing the whole Entertainment Tonight showbiz thing (“A little nerves is always good.” “Done.”) with remaining true to Mickey as a friend; the look on the ET producer’s face (Jane’s, too) when Mickey got blood on his shirt was such a contrast to Val’s calmer countenance.
One of the things I’ve loved most about this season of The Comeback has been the unexpected return of season-one characters like Gigi and Tom. So of course I swooned when James Burrows finally got in a cameo. His TV-director character has always been like Debbie Downer meets Yoda, and his mini-monologue last night was on point: “This is one night — a great night — but only one night,” he tells Val outside the Emmys. “If you do win, hold on to that Emmy. And everything else.” What Juna was grasping at, the belief that you identify the Big Things That Matter in Life and you put them before your career (which, in the case of showbiz, can consist almost entirely of those aforementioned petty desires), James hits right on the head.
With that lesson in mind, Val gets her fairy-tale ending when she chooses Mickey in the ER over the Emmys. She gets her fairy-tale ending visually, running out of her grand affair through the rain in her big, poofy ballgown to find the man (men) she truly loves. Plus, she finally gets it gets it. She chooses Mickey over Emmy and she never looks back, even though Mickey’s collapse wasn’t all that bad in the end. (As I predicted, this show played with us on the whole will-Mickey-die-or-won’t-he thing to the very end.) We now finally see (sorry for the Oprah-ism here) authentic-self Val. Real Val, not “reality” Val, a distinction that’s likewise made visually: Val framed in composed, cinematic shots rather than shaky, frenetic camera work. (Did you freak out a bit when you realized you were finally watching Val in non-”reality” reality? I did!)
In the midst of the final scene’s lovely sentiments and touching exchanges between both Val and Mickey and Val and Mark, the line of dialogue I found most telling was Val’s reaction to her Emmy win — precisely because it didn’t contain the word win. “It did happen! It happened!” she cried. Showbizzy moments are fun when they happen, but they’re not going to win out (if you will) over the more important things in Val’s life from now on. They’re no longer the goal or the pinnacle. They’re one thing. A great thing — but only one thing.
I was kind of wishing for more comeuppances at the end, not just Paulie G’s, although, ha! His half-baked attempt to accept Val’s Emmy on her behalf was super clever and made for such a sharp final zinger. Loved Val’s nonjudgmental reaction, too, noting of award presenter Sean Hayes, “Good cover. He’s a pro.” (Well, it was either nonjudgmental or epic shade-throwing, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.) The dialogue was perfect right down to the very end, with Mark indicating his acceptance of Val — all of Val, petty showbiz desires and all — by asking if she wanted to go check out some Emmy parties, and Val assuredly accepting that part of herself by replying, “Uh, have we met?” I loved the Association’s “Cherish” and the last bit of fairy-tale imagery, with Val walking off hand in hand with her love.
Folks, I could go on. I could rhapsodize about The Comeback for paragraphs more, how much I cherish it (sorry, couldn’t help myself) and how much it’s served as a muddling-through tableau for me, a jumping-off point for examining my own priorities and obligations and happiness. Can you believe how much we got in a mere eight episodes? Can you believe we got another go at this wondrous show, and can you believe how much it changed and grew while always maintaining the things we loved about it the most? I can’t believe it all happened, but it did. It happened.
The Comeback’s Best Comebacks
Val: No, you didn’t sleep with anyone.
Juna: Well, only people I wanted to.
“Old Woman’s Pussy” guy: We love you.
Val: Aw, well, that’s the most important thing.
Mickey: What should we do?
Mickey: Should we say hello?
Val: Well, yeah. We can.
Chris (to Jane): Jean?!?
Chris: I’ll come in through your back door.
Val: You know what, I don’t do back door. I’m sure that’s a big letdown for you.
Jane: You should have Billy deep-six that crew.
Val: Jane, can your agenda be any louder?
Neighbor: What’s my name?
Val: You don’t know your name?
Billy: A wheelchair and a bolo tie is the opposite of what we want.