Teen Mom is a franchise resistant to finales. Even setting aside the fact that the combination of tabloid culture and Twitter means that fans of the show are aware of the stars’ major life events months before they air on the show, the series’ linear docu-reality format means that filming on the four separate “stories” wraps when it wraps, regardless of narrative conclusion or lack thereof. The show tries to compensate for its endemic lack of closure with its signature ending montages, scored to blaring acoustic ballads, which are supposedly intended to evoke some sense of resolution, but usually just serve to highlight how uncertain the future is for its stars. Logically, this makes perfect sense: Life is messy and complicated—even more so when you’re a young mother with too much money, stardom, and exposure—and rarely fits into a prescribed television narrative. But it’s also highly unsatisfying from viewers’ perspectives, particularly if said viewers—and I’ll count myself among them—have grown invested in these characters’ lives, both on screen and in the tabloids.
Tonight’s Teen Mom 2 finale is particularly unsatisfying in terms of endings, in part because it’s not even clear if it is the ending. MTV hasn’t officially cancelled or renewed the series, though the fact that it burned off season four directly on the heels of season three indicates the network might be ready to close the sketchily animated book on the controversial series and bid a monotone voiceover goodbye to its increasingly troubled stars. (The lack of news on Teen Mom 3, which was announced a year ago but remains unscheduled, would seem to back this up.) If this is the case, it’s pretty understandable, considering the fact that three of the eight young women from the franchise’s two series are in various dire straits: Original series’ Amber Portwood is serving a five-year prison sentence for domestic violence and drug possession; Farrah Abraham, also of the original series, was recently arrested for a DUI and is about to appear in a pornographic film; and Jenelle Evans, whom we last see in tonight’s episode nodding off into a narcotic haze with her boyfriend, was just arrested for heroin possession and several counts of assault. All of this happened after cameras finished rolling—though the roots of Portwood’s and Evans’ cases stretch back to when they were on the show—which reinforces the fact any sense of finality induced by a Teen Mom finale is purely artificial.
But even by these standards, tonight’s episode felt especially flux-y. None of the other moms are as bad off as Jenelle—thank gawd, as Jenelle’s mahm Bahbrah would say—but there is a lot of uncertainty in their futures. Most heartbreaking is Leah, who tonight takes one of her twin daughters, Ali, to get a muscle biopsy to see if Ali’s difficulty walking is indicative of a mitochondrial condition. The show ends before they learn the results, and I’m too much of a human being to go searching through tabloids and Internet gossip to find out what they are. The footage of Leah, Ali, and baby-daddy/human drawl Corey in the hospital is among the most genuinely emotional and human this series has managed to squeeze out, and almost makes up for the fact that Leah spent the majority of this season going back and forth between Corey and her now-husband Jeremy, blatantly playing them against each other in a pretty cruel emotional game. But on the other hand: Ali’s baby glasses. So, it’s a wash.
Similarly emotional but less tragic is Kailyn, whose perception as the most level-headed of the Teen Moms is only sporadically earned. She clearly has anger issues—earlier this season, she physically lashed out at her now-husband Javi—and she spent last season and part of this season being pretty damn paranoid and conniving toward her baby-daddy Joe, whose turd-like tendencies only partially merited such behavior. But Kailyn is also the most clearly goal- and action-oriented of the four moms, and her clear goal this season has been to get her and her son, Isaac, into a stable living condition. This has meant attaching herself to Javi—who goes toe-to-toe with original series’ Kyle “Kahhhl” King for the title of Nicest Teen Mom Boyfriend—so that she and Isaac can use his Air Force benefits.
The fact that Kailyn inevitably brings up these benefits when discussing her relationship with Javi, followed shortly after by her intention to take Isaac away from Joe to follow Javi wherever he’s assigned, has made her seem awfully mercenary and callous this season. So it’s nice to see Kailyn and Javi playing happy family in tonight’s finale as they prepare to go to the courthouse to get married two days after they got engaged, and two days before Javi ships out for basic training. Their parking-lot goodbyes outside the Air Force intake center make up for a whole season’s worth of stilted conversations about health benefits and co-parenting counseling, largely because of Javi and Isaac, who have I mentioned are the freaking cutest (after Ali’s baby glasses, obviously). Of course, this is all prelude to five months of them all being apart, five months during which a lot can happen, but judging from Kailyn’s Twitter, all seems to be well with this little family at the moment, so let’s call this one a win.
Chelsea somehow manages to be simultaneously the most stable and the least sensible of the non-Jenelle moms, mainly because her papa-bear Randy is there to catch and carry her through every one of life’s obstacles, be it moving in and out of a series of really nice apartments—she’s got to be on lease number eight or nine in the last couple of years—or helping Chelsea break into the bedroom her 3-year-old daughter has locked her out of. Chelsea’s struggles on Teen Mom 2 tend to be refreshingly mundane, usually revolving around her maddeningly on-again-off-again relationship with her baby-daddy or her inability to complete seemingly simple tasks like take a GED practice test or get to her beauty-school class on time.
Because her stories tend to be so low-stakes and her hairstyles tend to be so ridiculous, it’s very easy to make fun of Chelsea for her general naiveté and brattiness, but she’s been on a bit of a roll lately. (Well, except when her French bulldog puppy got eaten by a neighbor dog, which was horrible.) Her story tonight is the only one that seems somewhat celebratory, with her finally getting back to beauty school after taking a month off and seeming to be in a generally good place regarding her relationship with Adam. Randy says she’s grown up more in the last year than in the previous 20, and I’m inclined to agree with him—mainly because disagreeing with Randy seems like a bad idea in general.
And then there’s the aforementioned scene with Jenelle, who ends her run on Teen Mom 2 (I hope) nodding off on either pain pills or heroin as her creeper boyfriend Kieffer drools on her neck. It’s among the most unsettling images this series has “treated” audiences to, and it’s compounded by the knowledge that things only got worse once filming ended. Before that, though, we see her and Kieffer—who is no longer in the picture, it would seem, having been replaced by Evans’ current husband/enabler/sparring partner Courtland Rogers—engaging in all sorts of druggie logic. Early in tonight’s episode, there’s a scene that would be hilarious if it weren’t so tragic, where the two complain to each other about Jenelle’s mom Barbara and her husband Mike, who tried to stage an intervention: “I don’t care if it was a heroin needle; he stole property from our house,” says Kieffer, listing Mike’s offenses against him. “He didn’t leave when we asked him to; that’s gotta be a law broken right there,” he continues, before stating his intention to press charges against the two. Jenelle, for her part, wants us to know that she’s really upset at the prospect of losing contact with her son Jace, something she cried about for 30 whole minutes that morning. (Wonder what stopped her crying…) Finally, the two conclude by discussing how hard it is to stay sober when things are so rough—or, as Kieffer puts it, “It’s hard to stay sober because I wanna get high.”
Kieffer is without a doubt the Big Bad of Teen Mom 2. While Jenelle has made plenty of bad decisions on her own, she was in a relatively good place when this season began, in a tumultuous but seemingly promising relationship with Marine Gary, and, more importantly, making inroads with Barbara, who was starting to let her spend time with her son Jace without supervision. (She also got a boob job.) But once Kieffer was released from prison, Jenelle spiraled fast. Faster than you can say “handcrafted exotic hardwood tobacco pipes,” the two of them were openly talking about scoring on camera and rushing around trying to find the drugs they misplaced in their apartment. (Guys, did you check under the tabletop saw you have sitting on your kitchen counter?) Thanks to these two, the fourth season of Teen Mom 2 has been three-quarters Teen Mom and one-quarter Intervention. Jenelle’s son Jace is (thankfully) only occasionally involved in her storyline, thanks to the efforts of Barb, whose braying voice and grating personality belies the fact that she is the true hero of this series. I can barely stand to watch Jenelle every week; I can’t imagine having to deal with her in my day-to-day life, much less claim biological responsibility for her.
As evidenced by her recent troubles, it’s hard to see things getting better for Jenelle any time soon, which is making it increasingly hard to watch her antics on the show—to say nothing of how being on the show is influencing her antics, which is a whole other can of worms best left unopened down here around word 1,650 of a Teen Mom 2 recap. Suffice to say, it seems like the best thing right now for Jenelle—and Jace, and Barbara, and probably every other person on the show—is to not be a reality-TV star for a while. And if that’s the only closure this episode provides, it’s more than enough.
- Jenelle to Kieffer, in the parking lot of the hospital where Barbara just had her committed for psychiatric evaluation (oh yeah, also, that happened): “Stupid shit, you know, the usual.” NO, JENELLE, THAT IS NOT “THE USUAL.” The sooner you realize that, the sooner people will stop trying to commit you.
- Okay, Javi crying over saying goodbye to Isaac is really cute, buuuttt… dude, you’re about to walk into an Air Force office. Try to contain your sniffles.
- It’s seriously distressing how fast the characters on this show cycle through dogs. Wasn’t Jenelle and Kieffer’s white fluffy puppy a grey pitbull-looking thing last week?
- Ali was the MVP of tonight’s episode in terms of not making me weep for humanity. Among her achievements: Putting on her backpack to go to the hospital, talking to her “sissy” on the phone, being all groggy after surgery.