Had One Mississippi been a movie, it would have been five stars all the way. Like-minded movies about coming-of-age homecomings tend to suffer undercooked second acts, especially when they have more heart than plot, but with a strong beginning and a very strong end, they are easily redeemed. Because a movie is one big picture, the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, TV shows exist in chunks — even streaming shows dropped all at once — which means some episodes are easier to get through than others. “New Contact” does a solid job uniting the scattershot pieces of One Mississippi, shedding light on what’s been best about the show. Namely, John Rothman, but we’ll get to him later.
On her radio show, Tig tells the story of hanging out with her friend John Ribisi, who failed to tell Tig that he was grounded and kicked her out of his house. In her hasty escape, she jumped off his roof and got injured, but she saved John from his mom’s wrath. Kate calls the story disturbing, and Tig tells her that she thinks of it whenever she has to do something hard in life. It won’t be as hard as jumping off John Ribisi’s roof. Tig is ready to go back to Los Angeles and feels nervous about leaving Mississippi. Kate won’t say good-bye to her — just “see you later” — and they share a very fraught hug.
Bill and Remy drive Tig to the airport. Bill makes a stop at the cemetery on their way so Tig can say good-bye to her mother. Staring at her mother’s grave, Tig imagines Caroline sitting beside her. They couldn’t tell each other their secrets in life, so Imaginary Caroline suggests they have a pajama party right there and reveal everything they kept hidden. Imaginary Caroline tells Tig about Dalton’s father. Tig tells Imaginary Caroline about her molestation, and the rest of the graveyard wakes up to tell Tig and Caroline about their rapes. In a sequence both fanciful and deeply upsetting, giggling pajama-clad ghosts of mistreated women swarm Tig and Caroline to join their morbid sleepover. Bill tells the party to quiet down and finds himself caught in the middle of a pillow-fight pile-on, the stern dad who’s been saddled with overseeing a bunch of rambunctious preteens.
This sequence is the zenith of One Mississippi, the moment when Tig comes closest to everything she’s wanted: an honest relationship with her family, the sense that she is truly understood, an opportunity to reveal everything she’s always felt too fragile to say. It’s also the most bitterly funny sequence in the series, precisely nailing the particular type of unblinking gallows humor that shot Tig Notaro to comedy fame.
Back in the real world, it is time to go. The sleepover has to end. Wordlessly, Bill drives Tig and Remy to the airport. Remy watches the church as they drive by — the church sign promises “God’s light heals all pain”— and he, too, says nothing. At the airport, Remy asks Tig if she thinks they had a rough childhood, to which Tig replies, “Correct.” He then asks if she’ll ever be back, and Tig says she suspects she will.
Back at the house, Dominic shows up with an adorable kitten purchased by Mick for Bill. Apparently, Mick thinks that it may have been Girly’s fault that Bonkers got out, and he feels bad about it. Dominic tells Bill about an old Filipino superstition that cats bring bad energy to the bereaved. Girly may have felt that she was helping Bill by letting Bonkers out. Bill smiles as he looks at the sweet little kitten.
Tig is picked up at the airport by her friend Kyle, with whom she’ll be staying for a while. Tig still needs to get her mom’s car back from Brooke, so she stops by for a predictably uncomfortable exchange. Brooke hands Tig box after box of her old stuff, and Tig apologizes for how she handled everything. Brooke reminds Tig about her oncologist appointment before revealing that she already has a new girlfriend.
At her old radio station, Tig’s occasional hosting substitute Anja asks her how a jam-band song makes her feel. Tig responds, “Like I’m alone on the planet.” She texts Kate but can’t bring herself to admit that she’s been thinking about her. Tig’s radio station manager wants Anja to join as a co-host, and when Tig refuses, he cancels her show. Tig has a bit of a crisis: She realizes that she could die at any moment, but she hasn’t made much of an impact on the world. Given that she was one of her mother’s only contributions to the world, that means her mother didn’t make much of an impact on the world, either.
In a flashback, Caroline reads a letter that Tig wrote to her, explaining what her grandfather did. When Young Tig cries that he ruined her life, Caroline tells her otherwise: “What he did was terrible and I hate him for it, but you can do anything you want in your life. No one has the power to take that away from you. You are strong. And you’re gonna have a great life.”
At her oncology appointment, the doctor tells Tig that her cancer is back. “You have cancer of the larynx, of the esophagus,” he says. “You have cancer of the ear.” Tig mishears that she has “cancer of the year,” which prompts a marching band to enter the room. It’s all just a fantasy sequence: In fact, the doctor tells Tig that she is cancer free. Tig instinctively dials her mom, and Bill picks up. He’s excited that she is doing well, and he apologizes about blaming her for Bonkers’s disappearance. “A father should be supportive of his daughter,” he says. “And you are. A daughter to me.” When they hang up, Tig saves her family’s home number as “Bill.”
Tig then texts Kate to ask if the spot at her station is still open. Cut to Tig, driving her mother’s old car, on her way back to where she started. She has decided to give up life in Los Angeles for life in Bay Saint Lucille, a place that may not be perfect, but tries very hard to be. When she arrives home, Tig imagines a fantasy of Bill hugging her and telling her that he loves her. In real life, he reminds her to close the door so his new kitten, Spike, doesn’t get out. “And remember,” he says, “Switch off the lights.”
Tig Notaro may be the creator and star, but One Mississippi belongs to John Rothman. I’ve had conflicted feelings about the believability of each character — and Rothman’s Bill is no exception — but within the difficult confines of this show, his performance is exceptional. His stoicism, which starts as a morbid joke, becomes the façade of a complex and deeply sad character who cares so much about so many things, but was never given the proper tools to handle any of them.
“New Contact” is the perfect way to end One Mississippi — and I hope this is where it ends. Although I’m ecstatic that Tig Notaro has a TV show, a part of me does wonder if she was too close to the material, too invested in making it feel like real life. The show did what it needed to do well, even as it faltered in form, and it should be fondly remembered. I look forward to seeing what’s next for everyone involved, but I just don’t need to see more of One Mississippi itself.