‘Tell Me You Love Me’ Climaxes in Explosive Season Finale

No, it’s cool, everybody’s happy here…Photo: Courtesy of HBO

This was it: the season finale, the grand conclusion, in which all our questions would be answered — maybe! If you aren’t up to date on your episodes, please stop reading here, because there are major. spoilers. ahead.

Seriously. Go away.

All right, then! First, a confession: This is our second time watching the series, having seen it already on preview DVDs. And about halfway through this second go-round (minus any will-they-or-won’t-they suspense), we were having trouble remembering why we liked it so much the first time.

Now, after this finale, we’re thinking: Oh, yeah. That’s why.

If you were not emotionally affected by this conclusion, you are either (a) dead, or (b) a robot from the future, awaiting the secret signal to start the overthrow of humanity. There were so many kick-to-the-stomach moments, it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s start at the very end.

Katie and Dave, getting it on!

After their long raw dissolution, which resulted in Katie saying at therapy, “It’s like we’re the only couple that’s still together, and I’m having trouble coming up with reasons why,” and then later, the couple spitting at each other, “I wish we’d never gone” and “Leave me, Dave!” and “Fuck you!,” they finally, passionately, believably go at it. Which is not to be glib about what was one of the bravest pieces of acting you will ever see. The scene was so naked — in every sense — that it was almost hard to watch. And it was the happiest moment in the episode!

Meanwhile, no matter what you think of Ice Queen Carolyn, we can’t remember the last time a line on TV hit quite so hard as when her OB/GYN, during a troubling ultrasound, said, “Why don’t you give your husband a call?” Palek had finally packed a bag and retreated to his pal’s house, where he seemed to hover between eternal adolescence (a coffee table covered in brewskis) and a future of parenting (the two kids rapt in front of cartoons on the TV). Carolyn had essentially put a curse on Palek, telling him at therapy, “You will never see this baby … It will hate you.” Yet, after so much spite and chilly silences and obligatory sex, when the two of them lay together at the end, you might actually have felt hope.

May wasn’t spared either; she gets the rattling news that John, her onetime paramour, is dead. “He was alone! He died alone!” she wails to her husband. The next scene, in which she distractedly counsels Jamie, is a masterpiece of acting by Jane Alexander. Gone are the koans of previous sessions; this time May says sharply of Jamie’s professed love for Hugo, “If that were true, I don’t think you’d be sitting here selling me quite so hard.”

As for Jamie and Hugo, well, what to think, really? It’s hard to know, with these two reuniting, whether the show’s creators want us to cheer or cringe. On the hand, they seem to represent the promise and resilience of young love. On the other hand, they’re so unrelentingly annoying. It can’t bode well that the cheapie chapel they get married in has the word “Divorcios” in neon letters in the window. Or that Hugo doesn’t have the $250 for the wedding and has to bum cash off Jamie.

But all throughout the series, this story line was by far the least affecting, and it’s hard to tell if that was intentional or simply a creative failure. One clue, though, is that when May finally reveals the Jedi-like nugget of wisdom alluded to in an earlier episode — about having “the courage to be happy,” which is also in the dedication of her book — the first couple we see are Jamie and Hugo, giggling in the chapel. So are they courageous? Or deluded?

We’ll have to wait for Season Two to find out (it’s already been ordered by HBO). It’s not clear whether the new season will feature three new couples, or these same three, or some combination. What is clear is that we’ll be watching eagerly. This show doesn’t always work, and the glacial pace can be, er, challenging. But it’s proved to be well worth the investment: interesting, provocative, and brave. And despite all the salacious promos and publicity about the graphic sex, the show wasn’t really about sex after all. As Palek said to Carolyn, “I love you too, but that has nothing to do with this.” And she said, “That has everything to do with this.” —Adam Sternbergh

‘Tell Me You Love Me’ Climaxes in Explosive Season Finale