When Shawn sat down in front of the camera, Real World-confessional style, your first reaction might've been to roll your eyes and expect some kind of game. Perhaps you wondered if it might be another cinéma vérité gimmick or some non-diegetic storytelling to fit everything the show wanted to say into an overstuffed series finale. After all, visions of the compact, rushed, and disappointing endings that befell shows like Pushing Daisies still make your heart ache, and Psych never did anything to deserve that kind of treatment. Why? Why would you do this to us, show?
But once you'd finished watching "The Break-Up," you likely realized that its opening scene was something different. Shawn staring into the camera was actually refreshing, specifically because it wasn't a storytelling gimmick. Psych has always been a series that's given itself over to the event episode, the musical, the aping of any given cinematic genre, the pop-culture-will-eat-itself parodies, to the point that you may've expected it to go big and bold in order to find its exit. But "The Break-Up" started off with Shawn talking into a camera, in the most the dressed-down way possible. Even the Psych office behind him was barebones. And that's how he not only began the break-up with Gus, but with all of us, too.
It was no accident that he looked right at us. Only a handful of TV shows revel in fan engagement the way Psych has. Psych-Os are a dedicated bunch, and even if the show's overall viewership has flagged in recent seasons, their commitment has not; the show's appreciation for that commitment has always been palpable, from its panels at various cons to its college tours to its social media presence (the Twitter account for the writers' room, Dulé Hill's Tumblr, etc). While the things Shawn says to Gus are show-specific (I don't think anyone watching Psych feels like they'd be better off if Shawn hadn't walked into Gus's office eight years ago), the idea of being abandoned isn't, and we could feel their remorse for having to leave as well as their anticipation for a bright future.
Going into Season 8, series creator Steve Franks knew the writing was on the wall. The ten-episode run felt less like just another season in the current cable landscape and more like Chuck and its mini consolation season that NBC ordered so the rabid fans wouldn't throw poo into its eyes for cutting them off so hastily. Psych got back to basics in Season 8, to the heart of what the show was about when it first started: Shawn and his arrested development. The pilot was full of people telling Shawn he had to grow up, that he was an irresponsible flake. After a number of false starts and baby steps for Shawn to move forward throughout the series, this season took a hard look at how far he's come—and then started to foster an environment that was conducive to Shawn him taking greater strides (or untenable for his continuing adolescence).
Season 8 made sure, firstly, that Santa Barbara no longer needed the cofounders of Psych. Shawn and Gus's social network was systematically dismantled. Lassie, though more of a tertiary support, saw his family and career abate his infrequent neediness. Henry moved, both from Shawn's childhood home and just basically forward with a life that'd basically stagnated. The SBPD even brought in Brannigan (Mira Sorvino), who was everything Shawn was but with an added enthusiasm for police work and no supernatural pretense. Jules was the last piece and, with her removed to San Francisco, all that was left for Shawn and Gus to do was to look at their inside feelings.
And I still contend that, antithetical as "A Nightmare on State Street" was to the overall look and feel of the show, it was still a decent representation of the headspace of someone as tightly wound as Gus while dealing with a complete breakdown of his sense of security—including the loss of the best friend who'd completely derailed his life. So suck it.
"The Break-Up," however, was a return to form not just for the season, but for the series. The episode itself was about everything that made us fall in love with Shawn in the first place. Instead of showcasing the more cartoonish version we've grown accustomed to, the episode presented a character who'd actually progressed beyond the guy who used to pick up waitresses and dial the SBPD tip line whilst macking. The pop culture references were limited, and the case was sound (unlike last week's, which was, admittedly, weak sauce). "The Break-Up" definitely focused on what was important.
But then it was also an episode turned on its head, because Brannigan was always one step ahead of Team Psych. That wasn't necessarily new territory for Psych (think back to the fake psychic in "Psy vs. Psy," or Nestor Carbonell's profiler in his Season 5 arc) but it marked the first time that someone offered any kind of permanent threat to their way of life. Bianca and Declan were transient, but Brannigan was a head detective. The writing was on the wall, and despite a fun caper featuring none other than the oft-mentioned Billy Zane (who was just as suave as Shawn had always off-handedly said he was), there wasn't much left to say other than goodbye.
After laughing along with them (Gus shrieking out of the pit with the body in it!), getting some closure on inside jokes (the car Shawn stole that his dad arrested him for was the drivers ed car from their high school!), and enjoying one last job, it was time for a commercial break and then we transitioned very quickly to the sum-uppy parts. Woody is the same, and we can assume that Henry has found a new phase of his career in bringing criminology back to the classroom, so we don't have to worry about them. Shawn sent videos to them (on DVD? Just send a Dropbox link, man!) but we barely saw anything special in them. The two important ones were to Lassiter and Gus.
Lassie's was heartwarming only because the answer that he probably always wanted when Shawn was around—for Shawn to admit he's a fake—was handed to him. But instead of getting that answer, Lassie ejected the disc and smashed it. Tears. Then McNab got to be junior detective. More tears. Then Lassie called his wife to coo at his new child. Weird but acceptable.
Clearly the most emotional clip, the one for which the episode was named, was the one for Gus. While all the others might've been passed off as personal videos for people to whom Shawn wouldn't've had time to say goodbye, the one for Gus existed only because Shawn can't "engage" and is bad at the "real stuff"—all things we know about Shawn, the basic thesis of his being. Most of Shawn's interactions would've been less complicated and troublesome if he was capable of honestly expressing himself face-to-face. But instead he's a more charismatic version of Abed from Community, a savant of pop culture who hides behind that veneer of media and quips so he doesn't have to do the grown-up things he's sworn never to do.
Even though he was speaking to Gus specifically about changing Gus's trajectory in life, about being the bad thing that brought Gus to ruin, he was breaking up with us, too. Just as Gus is Shawn's best friend, the fans are Psych's best friend. The quick turnaround that made "The Break-Up" a series finale instead of a season finale seemed just as sudden as Shawn's decision to leave Santa Barbara. So he said farewell to us. Except we don't really have the option of following Shawn and Gus to San Francisco to watch them compete with Monk for a consultant gig. Although I suppose we can watch back episodes of that Bad News Bears show Maggie Lawson was on and pretend.
It was probably a good thing that Psych didn't attempt a big, splashy finale. The dressed-down version was the perfect way to end this series, to bookend what Psych was always about: relationships between characters and a boy growing up. I'll slow clap you on the way out. Because I'm proud of you. Thanks for everything.
– The elusive Dobson was Val Kilmer. Eight years of Lassiter saying hello to Dobson, calling for Dobson, referring to Dobson, and it's Iceman. Brilliant.
– Gus's new job was shoehorned in, but it gave us a really funny, very Gus epilogue, so I'll allow it.
– Lassie showing his paternal instincts (both with Shawn's "who's my big boy" hug and the call to his daughter) was... unsettling.
– The proposal to Juliet was apt, very pretty ("I will marry the crap out of you, Shawn Spencer"), verbose, and so, so sweet (almost saccharine). But who goes around stealing rings from people who are proposing? And it was a team (the thief got into the backseat of the car) on top of that? What was their next job going to be, finding babies with candy?
– Floriana Lima really didn't have much to say, did she? Well, other than macing Gus in the face. From looking her up, I see that she's from Ohio. And I was also born in Ohio. #icebreaker
– What the heck was Tony Shalhoub doing that he couldn't drop by for a cameo?
– The kid in the criminology class was everything that is wrong with America.
– Billy Zane can do anything he wants to and still be the coolest guy in the room. I didn't even recognize that it was Zane until the high school scene. And you don't see him trying to be all sophisticated by changing his name to William. Right, BILLY Zabka?
– I'm honestly going to miss this show. So many good times. So many amazing memories and one-liners I'll probably use on my grandchildren, and it'll be like people trying to use lines from The Honeymooners today but I won't care. And there was that one time Andy Berman talked to me on Twitter. It was so long ago that Twitter doesn't even have a record of it anymore, but I assure you it happened. I will follow you into the dark, Berman.
Whaddaya think, Psych-Os? Was "The Break-Up" a satisfying series finale?
AIRED ON 3/26/2014
Season 8 : Episode 10