If this weren’t our Below Deck season-eight finale, I’d be spending all of this week waiting for the next episode. As expected, this episode built up a few plotlines that would’ve ended this season with a bang: the rift between Rachel and Francesca over Elizabeth’s firing, Rob’s continued assholery toward Izzy, James’s life post-Elizabeth, the new stew who would’ve replaced Elizabeth, and, of course, everyone’s COVID anxieties. But like everything else in this world, the season ending we deserved got cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
So we start out with a finale episode that doesn’t know it’s a finale episode, beginning with Francesca firing Elizabeth. We know — and we’ve known since last episode — that this isn’t going to end up being such a big deal, because there won’t be any charters left to work! But it is a big deal to Francesca, who thinks she’s home free after finally getting Elizabeth off her team, and to Elizabeth, who is sobbing and pleading with Captain Lee and Francesca to stay. Has anyone on this show reacted worse to getting fired? She’s cranked the waterworks to ten and is trying to cause one last scene with Francesca, and none of it is helping her leave on a high note. I think it’s a little misleading that Francesca tells Elizabeth that she’s firing her for sleeping in the guest cabin when that happened nearly a week ago by this point, but I also don’t think that gives Elizabeth the right to be so surprised. As Francesca and our editors have reminded us, that was far from her first infraction, and it’s not exactly like she stepped up her game afterward.
Elizabeth’s firing does get a slew of reactions from the crew. Rachel is mad, first because she was friends with Elizabeth (even after trashing her just-a-friend-whom-she-sometimes-sleeps-with), but also because she thinks interior’s service issues are just as connected to Francesca. I know Francesca was Elizabeth’s supervisor, but it does feel a bit odd that Rachel wasn’t at least told ahead of time that Elizabeth would be fired and that she might have to go into the next charter down on service. James is a bit relieved to see Elizabeth go, because it basically gets him out of defining or properly ending their relationship. “Yeah, I’m gonna miss her, but I never caught feelings for her,” he admits in a confessional, a bombshell that I hope gets much more attention at the upcoming reunion. And Ashling, who guested with Elizabeth for a wildly uncomfortable Watch What Happens Live last week, repeats her line that yachting wasn’t for Elizabeth. And, you know, she’s right! Hopefully Elizabeth got through to her energy healer on the drive to the airport.
You can’t get much more eventful than that, so it’s pretty quiet until dinner. Nothing seems to have changed at this Caribbean restaurant, and it’s a little weird to watch the crew freaking out about the COVID news before eating, drinking, and being merry at this restaurant. (To be fair, I do not blame them! They’ve been detached from the news, and few of us really knew what to do at the beginning of the pandemic anyway.) All is going well until a waiter brings out Elizabeth’s birthday cake, because no one has told the restaurant that their birthday guest got fired and is sitting in an airport right now.
After a bit of awkwardness, everyone figures, “Fuck it, cake!” Well, everyone except Rachel, who is downright offended watching the crew dig into this cake. She leaves for a smoke, and Francesca eventually confronts her to see if everything’s okay. “That was the most distasteful thing that I’ve ever seen in my life,” she says. And we are talking about a cake! What was everyone supposed to do, send it back? Eat it solemnly in honor of Elizabeth? So Rachel leaves separately from the rest of the crew and debriefs with her boyfriend, Vincenzo, over a hefty glass of wine when she’s back on the boat.
In the morning, Rachel goes to the bridge to talk to Captain Lee about her issues with Francesca, cake aside. “I can stand on my head shitting straight up for six days if I have to,” he tells her, which is Captain Lee for “Suck it up.” It’s a bit of a tough situation since Lee is clearly more on Francesca’s side than Rachel’s. He had actually seen Elizabeth’s mistakes, whereas he’s only hearing about Francesca’s from Rachel’s anti-Francesca viewpoint.
So Rachel decides to suck it up and invites Francesca to the galley to talk about service, which quickly becomes talking about Elizabeth’s firing and the cake. Is this what Elizabeth meant when she said karma would come for Francesca? A bit surprisingly, it’s Rachel who tells Francesca they can drop it and just work together for the final two charters. As she tells us, getting angry won’t work with Francesca. I’d be super-intrigued to see how their truce actually works out in practice in the coming days, but if I can’t say it enough this recap … we won’t get to.
The night of March 14, less than a day out from My Seanna’s eighth charter of the season, Captain Lee calls an odd meeting in the sky lounge. We’ve seen him agonizing by his phone all day, but the crew is in the dark — though they’re aware that something isn’t right. Lee gets right to it and tells everyone the last two charters have canceled due to COVID worries, meaning the season is, well, over. Just like that! Everyone is leaving tomorrow, he tells the crew, who are varying degrees of confused and worried. He is, too — this is Captain Lee Rosbach we’re talking about, a man used to being the steady hand in control of a situation.
Francesca is worried about her family’s health problems, Rachel is worried about not seeing her boyfriend in Europe, and Eddie is worried about toilet paper. So this crew does what any charter yacht crew would do and drinks about it! The sudden finale has robbed us of any of the usual end-of-season reflections and revelations, but it’s still fun to watch the crew celebrating a bit before they go out into the pandemic.
It’s a bit of a weird feeling to watch this crew leave in the morning. Not only am I still invested in some of their unresolved drama, but I’ve become a bit invested in the plights awaiting them in the pandemic world. How are Francesca, Ashling, Izzy, and Rob going to handle their mandatory self-isolations back in Australia? What’s going to happen to Rachel and Vincenzo? (A spoiler from WWHL: They break up.) How many days of quarantine will it take before James’s mom kicks him out?
For now, we just get the typical exits — starting with Rob, who’s excited to surf and write about geology. Izzy wants to talk to him about everything on his way out, which James told him in advance, so he has prepared an apology just as half-hearted as Justin Timberlake’s to Britney Spears. As he goes on about how Izzy deserved lead deckhand and he’s sorry if he made her feel bad, Izzy is taking none of it and eventually just walks away.
Ashling, who was shocked to watch Izzy and Rob’s last fight play out, is next to leave and promises she’s not saying good-bye forever. She’s blossomed into a great presence on this show after her late start, so I do hope she comes back! Rachel is next to leave and excited to finally get to leave the boat for real. Even if she wasn’t the replacement Kate Chastain I hoped she could’ve been, she’s still a woman made to be on reality TV, and damn funny, too. I hope her issues with the crew haven’t scared her off from coming back.
James makes a quick exit on not-so-great terms with his roommate, Izzy, after he blabbed to Rob, and I couldn’t care less whether I see him on a yacht again. Izzy follows after due praise from both Eddie and Captain Lee for her work as lead deckhand. Remember when she was a stewardess? Along with Rachel, Izzy is whom I’d be most excited to see return; she’s fun and a good worker, and I’d love to see her go a full season as lead deckhand (or even boatswain!).
Francesca presents Captain Lee with a shammy signed by the whole crew on her way out, because of course Francesca thinks like that. Her personality may have only been half as big as Kate’s, and she may have spent half her energy this season trying to get rid of Elizabeth, but she still wasn’t a bad chief stew, so she has earned Captain Lee’s praise too.
Finally, it’s just Lee and Eddie, sticking around to fill the role formerly held by Kate as Captain Lee’s chief confidant. Eddie may not have been our replacement Kate either this season, but he didn’t have to be; he worked hard, had some fun moments, and leaves on a much better note than he did after cheating with Rocky in season three. Lee is clearly proud, so much that he gives Eddie a much-earned set of first-officer stripes — years after he gave Eddie his boatswain stripes at the end of season one. Lee adds that Eddie is an example of how he wishes his son had turned out, if you weren’t already crying.
And that’s our season! If you can’t tell from these last few paragraphs, I’ve spent a large chunk of this season wondering if Below Deck was successfully filling Kate Chastain’s shoes. I don’t know if this crew did, but I also don’t know if this crew needed to. They still hit most of the beats we expect from a good season of Below Deck: abundant drama on deck, inside, and off work; needy guests; a sometimes compelling boatmance; and a few firings. Plus a looming pandemic on top of it all! Sure, it got boring at times, but no more than whatever else we had going on in quarantine. What more could a boy ask for? Aside, of course, from a fulfilling ending.
• This finale leans on flashbacks a lot but definitely passes over some key moments. Where is that Delores clip??
• Does it get more British than James’s mum telling him that the pandemic has gotten serious because rugby is canceled?
• Izzy has a better appraisal of this ending than I could ever come up with: “The season ending like this is kind of how I imagined sex would be with James: abrupt and unsatisfying.”