"Ends"/"Back"

“Ends” and “Back” (series 1, episode 7/series 2, episode 1)

In which everything wraps up nicely, then starts right back up again.

Maybe this is heresy among Spaced fans, but now that I’m past the series’ halfway point, I can say with some confidence that my favorite character on the show is Daisy. I’ve gotten the sense that most people prefer Tim or Mike or Brian or even Twist (does anyone prefer Marsha?), but Daisy’s where it’s at for me. Part of it, I’m sure, is that she’s just like every girl I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love for (and very like the girl I married). But a big part of it is that I think she’s got the most interesting journey in the show so far. To a real degree, the first series of Spaced is kind of a bait-and-switch, where we think we know what the show is about—twentysomethings hanging out in a house split up into flats—but the finale reveals that was all a distraction. What the show is really about is a group of people taking the steps necessary to move on with their lives, and that’s resonant no matter your age.

“Ends” is probably my favorite episode of the show so far, which is odd because “Back” is probably my least favorite, all mushy and filled with unnecessary exposition (maybe the show thought it would attract a larger audience). But the two episodes make a good case that Daisy is the show’s most important character. Tim’s journey of self-discovery seems to largely revolve around the guy realizing he doesn’t like Sarah much anymore and DOES like Daisy. For all of his quirks, Tim DOES seem to work on his comics art, as we see when Daisy gets a look at that truly horrifying sketchbook full of images of Tim killing Sarah in graphic fashion. But Daisy has to stop being distracted from her true goal and sit down to write. When she does, it’s not like great things happen—one of her articles is about something called bogling—but things START to happen.

Spaced is about a lot of things, but what sticks with me the most is the fact that it’s about the process of starting to live your life, of figuring out what it is you want to do and who you want to be with—both friends and lovers—and then going out and making that happen. The scene in “Ends” where Tim and Daisy yell every mean thing they can think of at each other is funny, yes, but it’s also inherently dramatic. These are two people who need to be given the push they need to head out of the comfy nest they’ve built themselves. And the only push they’re going to get is each from the other. Are they in love? Are they just best friends? The show tries to have it both ways, and it’s mostly working, though I do hope it comes down on one side or the other by the time it’s over. (I hope Tim and Daisy get together; Pegg and Stevenson have terrific chemistry.)

Some of you laughed a bit last week at my insistence that the show would end with Tim and Daisy together. I still don’t know if that’s the case, and I’ll freely admit this may be my American TV perceptions clouding my vision a bit (though if you don’t think the show at least TOYED with the notion, well, “Ends” should probably end that idea in your head). But I do want them to get together, at least. I wouldn’t say I’m ‘shipping the couple, but I do look at them and see a pairing where each balances out the other’s faults, where each is the only one willing to say the tough stuff that the other needs to hear. Add that in to the aforementioned chemistry, and you have a recipe for romantic bliss, it would seem to me, at least.

Indeed, one of the things I like about the show is that this doesn’t seem like one of those, “My true love just fell from the sky!” sorts of pairings. Spaced is weirdly pragmatic about a lot of things, and sex is one of those things. If Brian and Twist both fancy each other, why shouldn’t they get together? If Brian needs to sleep with Marsha to pay the rent, well, is there anything wrong with that? And Tim and Daisy aren’t really sold as the second coming of Ilsa and Rick from Casablanca so much as they are two very good friends who could maybe, sorta work as a couple, if they gave it a shot. Again, this could be my American vision clouding things (our fictions tend to sell us on the idea that friendships between men and women are doomed to failure, at least really close ones), but I also think those writing off the chemistry between the two are missing something rather obvious.

One of the other major themes of Spaced asserts itself toward the end of “Ends” and quite prominently. As Daisy and Tim sit in the pub, Tim having ditched Sarah for once and for all (presumably), even as she wanted him back, Tim suggests that life isn’t like a movie. The show has been so bound up in its various parodies that it’s refreshing to hear this, especially coming as it does in a scene that’s pretty much reference-free, just two people having a good time at the pub and dancing together, arm in arm. Tim’s lengthy monologue about how he had a moment when he just woke up while talking to Sarah, a moment he compares to the epiphany someone has when coming to after masturbating in a hilariously overwrought monologue, ends in this idea: Life is just a place you have to scrape by as best you can, and it’s better if you do that with friends, or at least with someone who wants to share your porn collection.

In many ways, “Ends” seems set up as a series, not season, finale. All of the characters reach a point of closure, and if Tim and Daisy don’t hook up, it seems like they might eventually. Mike finally ends up back in the Territorial Army. Twist and Brian are a couple. Even Marsha has a small moment of tenderness with her unseen daughter. I don’t know if this would have been satisfying as a finale, necessarily, but the show has done the hard work of closing off its season one storyline. The five episodes in between the first episode and the last episode were about these characters avoiding what they really wanted. Now, after thinking about it for a while, they’ve grasped on to what they hope will be their destiny and moved forward (well, maybe not Marsha). It’s an unexpectedly sweet ending; even as the show itself is often very bittersweet, I wasn’t anticipating anything quite this quiet and joyous. More season finales should end with the central characters dancing in a pub to some enjoyable blues music, is all I’m saying.

But if “Ends” is the episode where Spaced gets so, so much right about who these people are and what their point of view is, “Back” is an episode that almost loses itself. There’s no good way around this: The second half of the episode, apropos of nothing, just turns into a Matrix parody. You either go with it, or you don’t, and I didn’t go with it. For one thing, The Matrix now feels instantly dated in a way that, say, briefly referencing Murder, She Wrote in “Ends” just doesn’t. Sure, The Matrix continues to be a big part of pop culture, but it’s also hard to separate the initial film from the disappointment that greeted the two sequels. (It’s here that I admit that I think Matrix Reloaded is a pretty cool movie, with the best action sequence of the series.) Where the Phantom Menace anger still rings true, this parody becomes so elaborate and takes over the episode so thoroughly that it’s hard not to think about how the movies suffered a big hit in nerd cred after those sequels. In its best pop culture moments, Spaced feels like it’s on our side, the side of the pop-culture-obsessed. Here, it feels weirdly out of date.

All of this might be OK if the parody were at all funny, but it’s just not. It involves Daisy meeting a guy named Steven on her way back from her trip to Asia. Steven swaps his bag with hers, making her an unknowing accomplice to sneak something important into the country, and the authorities (played as the G-men from The Matrix) are on the hunt. (Steven, it should be noted here, appears to be played by John Simm, having a great time as the vaguely Keanu-esque character in this whole scenario.) Anyway, the authorities track the bag back to Tim and Daisy’s flat, Brian lets them into the house, and then the authorities track Tim and Daisy to the pub, where they’re hanging out with Mike (who is now living on the couch). There’s also some kung fu, something that may have seemed awesome back in 2001 but feels a little shallow coming off the much more impressive fight sequence in “Ends,” where Daisy and Tim’s angry shouting at each other is intercut with footage of a fighting game.

This is too bad because the first half of the episode isn’t bad. It’s not as funny as the best episodes of season one, but it’s also a show learning to express its voice confidently and show off all it’s learned in the 18 months between seasons. What I like here is the way that everybody’s so thrilled to see Daisy again, even Brian bodily jerking her inside his apartment to share a hug. She’s been gone to Asia a long time, and though that’s long been a dream of hers, her return to London is filled with ambivalence. She opens the episode in a parody of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, writing about the city she loves as Gershwin plays, before tossing out what she’s said as too cliché. But she later comes to see her life in London as kind of boring, kind of humdrum, at least until the Matrix agents show up.

The initial montage of Tim introducing all of the characters, intercut with Daisy’s monologue about the city, should have bothered me more than it did, what with the weird, stuttering frames and the way that it just spends time telling me stuff I already know as a fan of the show. But I enjoyed it all the same, mostly because it was fairly easy to imagine myself back in 2001, having been without this show for so long and getting ready to watch the first episode in ages. I’m less pleased with what follows, which feels aimless and plotless. It’s fun to see Daisy get greeted by everybody again, and it’s fun to see that, say, Mike has turned her bedroom into some sort of tropical war zone, but it also just kind of sits there. Granted, a season premiere is often about giving us time with the characters we’ve missed, to the detriment of all else, but this script could have been a lot tighter, perhaps even doing a better job of building to the Matrix elements.

I don’t want to make it seem like I hated “Back.” Honestly, if I hadn’t watched it immediately after “Ends,” I might have liked it more. “Ends” just crystallized everything I enjoyed about the show, while “Back” turned into a long game of spot-the-reference that felt very clumsy, as though Stevenson and Pegg weren’t as confident that they could rope in the audience without the movie parodies, not trusting in the goodwill we’ve built up for the characters. Still, it’s got some great laughs in places, what with Marsha trying to get Colin to drink and smoke or the show’s increased sense of how to get Marsha to say the most horrifying things and make them seem incredibly funny (I loved her joy at the duty-free bags, after her excitement over same in “Ends”). “Back” isn’t a bad episode of television or anything. It’s just a weak episode of Spaced, a case of the show being a little too giddy about being back and failing to transmit that out to the audience, unlike “Ends,” which nicely brought the series one storyline to a close.

Still, if this is a show about moving forward, about taking the first step on the rest of your life, then “Ends” and “Back” express that idea perfectly. And that leads me back to my favorite character. When we first met Daisy Steiner, she was a woman who seemed to lead a very small life, a very tiny existence that was mostly confined within a few blocks and calls to her boyfriend. But now, thanks to the benefit of meeting all of these nutballs, she’s begun the process of becoming the better Daisy, the woman who will make a go of it at writing and who will jet off to Asia because she’s always wanted to. Spaced, in some ways, is about people who are clinging to the bits and pieces of pop culture they’ve hung onto since they were kids or teenagers, pop culture that takes them back to a simpler, less complex time. In Daisy’s journey toward Tim and off to Asia, we see the first flowerings of people who head out on their own, without security blankets, ready to figure out who they’re going to become.

Grades:

“Ends”: A

“Back”: B-

Stray observations:

  • Sorry if this isn’t up to my usual standards tonight. I’m battling the flu and don’t know if I properly conveyed just how much I enjoyed both “Ends” and the way it suggests what the series’ master plan is. Hopefully, I’m feeling better next week.
  • “Ends” gag I love: Tim learns that Sarah’s ditched Duane and dances down the street, hugging men, bumping soccer balls with his head. When Twist accepts Brian’s invitation out for a drink, he attempts to do the same, but he’s all clumsy and awkward at it. I like the notion of Brian as a more subdued Tim, a guy who has trouble accessing emotion as easily.
  • Another nice payoff in “Ends” comes when we see more of that scene from Tim and Mike’s childhood, which also involves Lil’ Mike having a mustache at 8 or 9. Awesome.
  • “Back” gag I love (and actually the gag that may have made me laugh the most in the whole show): Mike, for some reason, has Jeanette Winterston’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit as bathroom reading. It’s highly recommended if you haven’t read it, but, uh, it’s an odd choice for Mike.
  • This week’s reference I just didn’t get: The fuck is bogling?
  • Man, Tim loved Agent Scully. I don’t blame him, but it’s another reference that slightly dates the show (though this one bothers me less because it’s so incidental, and Agent Scully is mad hot).
  • Do we find out just what it was Steven was sneaking into the country? My flu-addled brain missed it.
  • "The only woman I've ever cared about in my life who's not computer-generated or a fictional FBI agent..."
  • "Well, not so much see as... watch."
  • "I'll pop back later if you change your... shoes."
  • *Klaxon sounds* "What was that?" "It was our new doorbell!"
  • "Do you believe in life after love?" "That's a song."
  • "The Taj Mahal didn't sleep with his boss behind my back and break my heart." "Yeah, well, it might if you go to Asia."
  • "I'm not your dad, Mike. Here's your sandwiches. I'll pick you up at 5."
  • "... and was subsequently apprehended on Space Mountain."
  • "I can feel you there, like Jabba's little mate."
  • "I think that I'm big enough and ugly enough to make my own mistakes."
  • "Once again, the fruit of my loins has fucked off to Top Shop with my housekeeping."
  • "Butterfly. Butterfly with a bomb?"
  • "We had a couple bottles of duty-free grappa. Next thing I know, I'm riding him like a bitch from hell."
  • "And bogling. Is it the new tango?"
  • "We're constantly led to believe in resolution."
  • "She's Daisy's best friend, although I'm not entirely sure why."
  • "I've had a few things to work through." "With Sarah?" "No, with George Lucas."
  • "Welcome to the 21st century."
  • "Why go out for hamburger when you can have steak at home?"
  • "Are you Daisy Steiner?" "Pfft. No."
  • "Note to self. Shoot first. Quip later."
  • "It's miss, actually."
  • "Don't worry. I won't. I can't afford it."
  • "He's like a giant baby with a mustache."

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