I was hard on The Big C over the course of its first season, because I saw so much unrealized potential. The series I wanted to see didn’t show up until Season 2, which—despite some late-in-the-game fumbles—was a massive improvement over the first. Cathy became a compelling, realistic, not wacky-for-the-sake-of-being-wacky character. Not to mention the fact that all of the supporting characters, who were unsympathetic drags for most of the first season, finally began to develop relatable traits. We might not always agree with their choices, but at least we can see where they’re coming from.
Monday night’s finale was a bittersweet ending to a season filled with ups and downs. And what else can you expect from The Big C? This is a dramedy in the truest sense: a series about cancer that finds the humor in dying without diminishing the feeling of loss. What’s interesting, and something that Cathy likely never imagined, is that she continues to soldier on. It’s her friends and family who keep dropping like flies.
Season 1 killed off Marlene in an abrupt way that was likely meant to shock us but really felt half-assed. This season, the loss was well earned. First there was Rebecca’s miscarriage, made all the more poignant by the fact that Rebecca was planning to name her daughter Cathy. It was a nice contrast to Cathy’s struggle: Some people die too young, but some would-be people don’t get to live at all. And then there was Lee, the best supporting character The Big C has incorporated to date. He showed Cathy that life's not just about living the way you want to live—it’s also about dying on your own terms.
It was clear something was going to go terribly wrong in the season finale, as Cathy went against doctor’s orders and decided to run a marathon. (I know very few people who could do this without extensive training, cancer or not.) But the last-minute reveal, the slow realization—it cut deep. It hit me suddenly, as soon as I saw it on Cathy’s face: She is going to outlive her husband.
I suppose Paul might be resuscitated. For Adam’s sake, I hope he is—God, doesn’t this kid have enough on his plate already? But there was a finality to Paul standing there with his fellow spirits, Marlene and Lee. Beginning the next season with his miraculous recovery would make the gut-punch of this season’s finale little more than a cheap trick. And as much as I’ll miss Oliver Platt on the series, I am curious to see what’s next for a newly widowed Cathy.
Where does The Big C go from here? Can Cathy handle her treatment without the support of her husband? How is she supposed to earn the money to pay for it? Will Adam slip back into rebellious teen mode in his grief? It almost seems like too much—I’m anxious just thinking about it. But maybe that’s the point. There is nothing easy about dealing with cancer, a diagnosis that affects not just the victim but also everyone around her.
None of this is fair, but it wasn’t fair that Rebecca and Sean lost their baby, or that Paul’s feelings of inadequacy at work drove him to an ill-advised coke habit. The “life’s not fair” sentiment may be trite, but it’s true as it ever was. And The Big C has done a great job of finding the humor in that. Things fall apart, and sometimes your only option is to laugh.