Casual is at its best when Alex, Valerie, and Laura put aside their differences and band together. Fortunately, they have no choice in “The Great Unknown.” Before Valerie’s father showed up on a gurney to (thankfully) put an end to her surprise party, she was ready to leave Alex for good, and possibly return to Drew. It’s a surprise to everyone — especially Alex — and although Valerie has proven that she can be adventurous, ultimately she desires stability. Going to Drew is a way she can reclaim her old life. The real question, though: Does she still want it?
While Alex has grappled with his own problems in sessions with Jennifer, they move to the forefront once his father, Charles (Fred Melamed) arrives. We know that Alex is remarkably skilled at avoiding confrontation and keeping his resentment buried deep down inside, but he has nowhere left to go. With such little time left before Charles passes, this is Alex’s chance to speak his mind, and better understand his relationship with Valerie.
Laura should be relieved that Spencer is going to make it, but she seems even more disturbed than when he was actually dying. Though she’s morose and jaded, she’s usually well-intentioned. She sees herself as a realist, undoubtedly following in the footsteps of her mother and uncle. Still, the dominant part of her personality — the part most unlike Valerie — values the dramatic over the rational. She willingly sacrifices happiness for thrill, no matter the cost.
In this season finale, however, Casual’s trio must face the most pressing problem at hand: an imminent death. “The Great Unknown” opens with Charles lying motionless on the gurney, a moment that was preordained by Alex’s dream way back in the pilot. Now we understand that it will become a reality. Alex and Valerie watch their father from a distance, and they speak in hushed tones. In that moment, it feels as if they’re children again. When Laura eventually appears, Valerie and Alex look to her, desperate for help. But she’s not the adult in this situation, and refuses to give in. This isn’t her problem to fix.
When Charles finally wakes up, they discover that he plans to euthanize himself that evening. Valerie is rightfully concerned that her mother finds it all “unpalatable,” and Alex worries about his father’s ghost haunting him, and if he’ll need to disclose the death when he sells the house. (Unemployment is expensive, after all.) Unable to simply sit back and watch their father die, they set a plan into motion and try to find their mother, or at least another place for his last moments.
Meanwhile, Laura still feels unsure about her relationship with Spencer, and is happy to indulge her grandfather as a distraction. She may have abandoned Aubrey without any real repercussions, but it isn’t as simple with Spencer. Even if she doesn’t want to be with him, she’s got a tattoo as a reminder of their bond.
When Valerie remembers that her car is still at Chili’s, Leon comes to the rescue. They go to retrieve it, and it’s the most time they’ve spent together since they first met. Valerie is able to speak candidly with Leon, as they both spend enough time with Alex to know that they can’t really stay away from him. He reminds her that whether she goes back to Drew or not, she does not owe anyone an apology: “We do what we can to be happy.” What would we do without Leon?
At the pharmacy, Laura is furious that she can’t pick up her grandfather’s pills. She doesn’t do well when she’s not in control, and this time, she lashes out at the pharmacist. When Spencer arrives to help, she’s cold and hurtful. She tells him that she doesn’t care about him now that he isn’t dying, and he wisely abandons her. Maybe their relationship doesn’t excite her anymore, or maybe she doesn’t know how to be happy. Perhaps both. She pushes Spencer away regardless, and knows that on a certain level, she has gone too far. She knows there is something deeply wrong with her.
Back at the house, Alex is given a photo album and a chance to speak his mind. Although Alex is often a source of comic relief, he uses this opportunity to be earnest, and demands an explanation for why he was raised to “love indiscriminately.” But Charles knew what he was doing: He wanted Alex and Valerie to have each other.
As the season ends, it becomes clear that Casual might actually, finally, give its characters some closure. Of course, this only becomes possible once Alex, Valerie, and Laura get a hold of a lethal dose of sleeping pills. Together, they create a cloudy glass of water, or “diet patricide.” When Valerie hands her father his drink, he doesn’t hesitate, but it still takes several hours to kick in. While they wait, Valerie and Alex decide to be honest with each other, and they both know it’s time for her to move out. She’s still coming to terms with the end of her relationship with Drew, and now, thanks to Alex, she’s able to make it on her own. That’s a big step.
After Charles passes, it seems that he’s leaving behind a family that’s learned to make healthier choices. Alex is going to therapy regularly, Laura apologizes to Spencer in her own way, and Valerie and Laura decide to move out (with Leon’s help). After such a tragic season, we finally have a hopeful beginning. Now let’s hope it lasts.