Last week, I spoke with Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, the co-creators and stars of the wonderful romantic comedy Catastrophe, whose fourth and final season was released by Amazon on Friday. We covered a lot of ground in that interview, but they asked that our discussion of the ending be held until viewers had the chance to see it. Now that you have, here’s what the pair had to say. (Series finale spoilers follow.)
Catastrophe concludes not in England, where Sharon and Rob have improbably built a life together, but back in New England, where they plan to spend a family vacation with Rob’s sister Syd (Michaela Watkins) and his mother Mia (Carrie Fisher, who died after the third season was filmed). After picking them up from the airport, Syd breaks down crying and admits that Mia died earlier that day. Much of the finale involves funeral arrangements and the unwelcome return of Rob and Syd’s alcoholic, jaundiced father Ryan (Mitchell Mullen). The raw emotions of the event exacerbate the tensions that have been building in the Norris marriage all season (really, for most of the series). Rob threatens to take a job with an old friend in America and keep the kids, whether Sharon stays or goes. Meanwhile Sharon, in a quirk of bad timing that evokes how the series began, discovers she’s pregnant again.
It all feels very fraught and very real, and with the end of the show bearing down, the idea of the Norrises splitting up seems dangerously plausible. Instead, our final scene finds the two sitting on a beach while their kids nap in the car, apologizing, reconciling and suggesting that they’d both be willing to go through this mess all over again if they met for the first time today. Sharon spontaneously decides to strip down and go for a dip, urging Rob to join. He declines — until he sees a sign warning of dangerous currents, prompting him to run in after her. But if the water’s a bit rough, it’s not fatal, and after they kiss, our last image of the series is a God’s-eye view of the pair swimming back to their sleeping children as Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” plays.
Much is left uncertain. We don’t know whether Rob will take the new job or return to England. We don’t know for sure that these two knuckleheads will make it work over the long haul. (Or, for that matter, that they even make it back to shore — some viewers have interpreted the final scene as far more foreboding, with the couple perhaps failing to make progress against the undertow.) But the rip tide serves as an apt metaphor for their marriage, and for the idea of anyone signing up to spend their life with one partner. There will be dangerous obstacles along the way, some potentially fatal to the relationship. But you dive in and hope for the best, and sometimes you have to work very hard to survive it all. It’s Catastrophe in a nutshell, and it’s absolutely lovely.
Why did you decide to end the show this way?
Rob Delaney: Well, after the ending what happens is, the rowboat that Clive Owen climbs into at the end of Children of Men comes by, we both get in it, and then the rest of the series takes place in an extended Children of Men universe.
No, we’re very grateful that people watch the show. We wanted to involve them as much as we possibly could in the ending. And the ending, yeah, asks some pretty serious questions. We wanted to leave it up to the viewer, really.
Sharon Horgan: Also how the hell else were we supposed to end it? I mean, if I think about it now, I’m just like, “Thank God we had that visual in our mind,” because I honestly get fears, post-traumatic sort of fear, of a different ending. Of how we would have finished it up. You know, with just a declaration of love? I’m like, “What?”
RD: Yeah — “The real catastrophe is that we won’t get to…”
SH: It scares me to think that we might not have done it the way we did. We didn’t have a checklist of things we wanted to do. We knew that we had to finish up all the storylines of all the other characters in whatever way we chose, dependent on what the characters deserved or earned.
And we knew that we wanted to make a last series that didn’t feel like a last series. We wanted each episode to still feel like the same kind of fun Catastrophe, but with little moments along the way where, if you look closely, you can see the walls closing in a little bit.
And then we wanted to have an ending that people would remember and think about.
So much of the show is about Rob giving up his life in America and building a new one in the UK, and then the show ends in America.
RD: Yeah, isn’t that wild?
Was that by design?
SH: We knew we definitely wanted to do it there.
RD: Mechanically, we had to address the fact that the actress who played my mother died in between seasons. Carrie Fisher’s passing necessitated addressing that, and it just really dovetailed. That gave us a location for where it had to happen. And blessedly, it was the place where my character came from. So yeah, the tables do get turned rather symmetrically at the end.