The Big C's Season 3 Finale Sets Sail for Open Water

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Jun 18, 2012

The Big C S03E10: “Fly Away”

After spending most of the third season being insufferable, tonight Cathy proved that she does occasionally think before she acts. Ensnared in a fisherman’s net, Cathy found herself stranded on a small, battered fishing boat with an appropriately named man called Angel. Despite the obvious language barrier, Cathy and Angel managed to bare their souls to one another on the trip back to San Juan. It was a conversation that I’d been waiting all season long for Cathy to have and it certainly cast the problems I’ve had with Cathy as of late in a different light.

It turns out that Cathy has always been miserable. She realized early on that she and Paul weren’t really right for one another. The birth of Adam was a balm, but the relief was short-lived and Cathy went through much of her life feeling like an observer. Citing a statistic that children whose parents divorce before they turn 12 are overwhelmingly more likely to see their own marriages end in divorce, Cathy’s mantra became “just get Adam to 12.”

The revelation that Cathy has suffered lifelong feelings of isolation and depression makes her actions more understandable. Her eccentricities throughout the entire series no longer seem so random. In a way, Cathy’s story altered the basic fabric of The Big C’s mythology—this is no longer necessarily a story about a woman who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and went a little crazy, but a story about a woman who has struggled with allowing herself to be truly happy her entire life and only when faced with certain death, found the courage to at least TRY to change her lot.

The problem, however, is the same problem that has plagued Cathy’s rationale from the beginning, though certainly more so this season than in those previous. Her actions often hurt those around her and up until recently, it appears that Cathy’s biggest complaint with her husband and son was that they were disappointing parts of her disappointing life, which isn’t really fair to either of them.

It’s like this: My mother and I have a terrible relationship. As in, police intervention occasionally required, terrible. As in, I should totally pitch a script to Lifetime, terrible. My mother had an awful childhood that could be a Lifetime movie on its own, so I understand a lot of the rationale behind how she thinks and acts. But even though knowing what I know about her past may help me understand, it doesn’t make what she does okay. It doesn’t excuse her hurting those around her.

So, I’m glad we understand Cathy now. I’m certainly more sympathetic to her, but I’m not ready to just shower her with my blessing to do whatever she wants to do. There’s a difference between understanding a person’s actions and approving of them.

Though the fact that the rest of her family did basically nothing to redeem themselves before the end of this season certainly makes me consider it.

While Cathy and Angel made their way back to San Juan, Sean almost stole a boat to set out on a rescue mission/guilt trip over leaving Cathy behind while he chased some tail. Paul hit on a fellow tourist named Brandy and took Cathy’s widow fantasy out for a spin. At least he’s not lusting after that cardboard cutout of Joy anymore.

Ababu and Adam got drunk and checked out the Easter procession. Ababu ended up on a bench talking to the procession’s Jesus, who advised her to wear her identity in her heart, where it truly matters, rather than on her person. I was torn on JC’s advice. I understood the sentiment, but Ababu’s African heritage was something that she felt very strongly about embracing and, most importantly, not hiding. Taking the name Ababu was a nod to her heritage and a gesture of respect, but it was also an act of empowerment. She claimed her heritage on a very personal and public level and it wasn’t impacting her life in a negative way. In the end, Ababu decided to call herself Andrea again, and while it’s entirely her right to decide what she wants to be called, I didn’t really care for the implication that using the name, that presenting herself as very deeply and outwardly African, was somehow detrimental to her well-being. Andrea has consistently been the least screwed-up character in the Jameson household this season. I feel like we fixed a problem that wasn’t actually a problem at all.

Back on the fishing boat, we learned that last week’s phone call from Dr. Sherman was indeed bad news. Cathy’s tumors are growing again and she seemed to deflate at the news. While we haven’t received confirmation that Cathy has gone back to living on a fixed timeline, it's apparent that she certainly believes she has. Angel dropped her off in San Juan as he promised, but the world that Cathy returned to seemed somewhat uglier, full of angry couples and miserable people taking their misery out on others. Convinced that she had been handed a death sentence once again and perhaps thinking clearly for the first time in a long time in the aftermath of her bluntly honest discussion with Angel, Cathy walked away from it all. She dove into the water and swam back to Angel’s boat, determined to embrace his small but happy life in Esperanza.

The jury is still out on whether or not The Big C will be renewed for a fourth season and I’m on the fence with regard to my own opinion on whether or not it needs one. While there will certainly be a sense of incompleteness should “Fly Away” ultimately become the final episode of the series, there is still something deeply satisfying about Cathy walking away from everything, about being genuinely happy in a way we haven’t seen her in a long time. I’ve never been keen on the idea of watching the inevitable endgame of Cathy’s terminal status, but to simply ignore it or gloss over it would be unsatisfying too.

This is an acceptable conclusion, in the event that it truly is the end of Cathy’s story. But if it isn’t? If The Big C eventually earns a renewal from the TV gods? I’d be okay with that, too.


What about you? Are you crossing your fingers for a renewal? What would you like to see if the show makes it to Season 4?

  • Comments (12)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • EricGudmunsen Jul 13, 2012

    I'm sure that Cathy is already dead and that San Juan was a failed attempt to revive her. I certainly hope (Esperanza) that this was the last episode as it was starting to be more endured than enjoyed. All the clues and allegories in this episode (Angel, Good Friday, broken down boat etc) are totally crass if there is another season and they were just "coincidences".

  • MikeScott25 Jun 24, 2012

    This season was a huge step down in quality. Such a shame. But I'll admit to enjoying the finale. The more I think about it the more I love it. It was kind of beautiful and made Cathy's actions more understandable. It helps us understand more where she's coming from. I want to see it come back for a final season and please let it return in top form. I want it to go out on a high note. Will definitely be disappointed if it isn't renewed, though if it isn't I could certainly live with this ending. Cathy hasn't been very happy, and now she's finally free.

  • DottieMabry Jun 24, 2012

    I see "Fly Away" as highly symbolic. Was Cathy, in fact dead and having an "afterlife" kind of experience? Angel (no missing the symbolism there) was her saving grace. A companion for a while, who helped Cathy reflect and come to the realization of her own fate. The boat "Esperanza" (Spanish for "hope") was safe harbor. After Angel releases Cathy back to solid ground, her utter dismay at the state of life in general sends her diving back to the safety of Angel's graces. Their lovely ride off into the sunset gave me reason to believe it was the symbolic end of the series, and Cathy's final bow too. I, too, hope to see more episodes, but if the series ends at this point, it's not a bad way to end it.

  • FawnBeeley Jun 19, 2012

    The one thing in this theory that doesn't jive is her love for her son. Just a few weeks ago at her "Joy" seminar retreat was that her happiest moments were of her son leading her to believe she wanted another baby. I think her diving off and swimming to the boat was more out of fear. Fear of her imminent death amongst the chaos of unpleasant society. It only shows her as more selfish and irresponsible much as she's always been throughout the show. She's really best at making messes and this is her biggest one yet.

  • ChristieVonD Jun 19, 2012

    I actually came looking for a place someone was discussing this after watching last nights episode because I was wondering if I was the only one feeling disappointed and ... well closer to disgusted with the downhill slide that was this past season.



    I originally thought this show was some of the best writing on television, but the addition of "Joy" and Cathy's continued silfish behavior now has me at the point of not caring. Yes I would tune in to a 4th season, but I don't really think it would matter if it did not get renewed.

  • JeaYoonLee Jun 19, 2012

    I don't have anything to say to defend this season except for this last bit but that is the exact reason for wanting another season to resolve and end it well for the series. I mean, you gotta do right by this series and the fans! It used to be great. Also, I was disappointed by Sean and his behaviors this season not to mention all the other characters.

  • rayrod50 Jun 18, 2012

    Seems to me that Cathy was still in "not thinking" mode when she swam out to Angel's boat. What is she going to do, sail off into the sunset and let all of her loved ones think that she drowned while scuba diving? That's the height of irresponsibility and inconsideration, and her family doesn't deserve that.

  • LarissaPeixot Jun 18, 2012

    you never noticed that she was unhappy even before the cancer? she didn't get cancer and became a little crazy. she got cancer and realised that she had wasted her life doing shit she didn't want to do to please other and she was going to die a long, painful death at the end. that's why she did went a little crazy post-cancer. she wanted to do whatever she wanted now that she had a death sentence.



    this is the moment that her husband and kid should be doing stuff for her, whether they want to or not. but, they decided to stay needy assholes who suck her dry. if i found out my mom was sick (knock on wood) i'd be doing everything i possibly could to make her happier, instead of piling on. no matter what she does.



    if they do have a next season, i hope it's her on some island without those fuckers. and dying a peaceful death.

  • sixfeetunder22 Jun 18, 2012

    I'll feel like I wasted my time watching 3 seasons of this show if we don't get at least one more season with ACTUAL closure on how her life ends (figuratively and literally).

  • KevinG87 Jun 18, 2012

    so, I really liked season 1 and season 2 wasn't as good but it was ok.. but this season suuuucked! I didn't like a single thing, and Paul and Adam have consistently gotten worse and worse. and ugh what kind of finale was this? so uneventful. wtf was up with that ridiculous ending? at this point I'm kind of hoping it doesn't get renewed because each season has been 5 times worse than the previous one.

  • See More Comments (3)