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

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?

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