There's a fantastic feeling that only a few shows can instill when they're finished. It's partially “that was really good,” but it goes beyond that. It's an afterglow that feels something like “I can't believe they got away with that, and I can't believe I got to watch it!” That's the feeling that makes me giggle with delight at, say, Game Of Thrones at its most brutal, because I get to be part of its rejection of narrative constraints—understanding the rules it's breaking feels like participation. Or, this most recent season of Justified at times felt like it was tossing expectations of realism aside and embracing its artificiality in order to let its actors/characters be as entertaining as possible, supported by fantastic direction and editing.
More than any other show I've watched, Misfits has managed to nail this feeling of daring consistently. Misfits is built for it: its structure is ramshackle, its stories are shaggy, and its characters will push as many boundaries and buttons as they can. With a mere 6-8 episodes per season, Misfits didn't have the time to make a commitment to long-term storytelling. That meant that it could fuck around and tell amazing stories with virtually no long-term effects, or it could have arguably the most important moment in its serialization occur in a Grand Theft Auto parody, or the plot of one of its seasons literally be about a dude trying to find his penis.
But the enemy of this refreshing daring is predictability, and as any show continues, it's bound to become predictable. In that sense, Misfits has been on borrowed time since its brilliantly manic second season. When it felt like it had to resolve the serialized plot of the second season in its third, it declined, in part because it chose a conventional way to do so. Changing the entire cast was a good way to partially halt that decline on character terms, but in terms of plot and tone, there was still an increasing level of recycled predictability, culminating in the weak initial several episodes of this final season. And while I think there were some dramatic improvements in the last few hours of Misfits, it was still lacking the joyous insanity that had so dazzled me across its first four seasons.
Happily, Misfits nailed it again in the most important episode of its season, the ostensible series finale. This was Misfits at its most gloriously ramshackle, hilarious not-giving-a-fuckery best. Resolutions to the two storylines dominating the season, the Jess-Rudy relationship and the superhero recruitment, are resolved, yes, but they're resolved in deliberately inconsequential fashion. Misfits has used time travel and alternate reality with extremely varied results several times in its run, but I think this one worked really well. Why? Because it allowed the show to experiment. Much like arguably Misfits' best-ever episode, the season two finaleish, the show uses time travel to explore potential consequences of the superpowered world without having major consequences for the characters. (Of course, as a series finale, this episode could have killed off the entire cast, but given how painful the season three finale was reaching for a big dramatic moment, I'm happy it didn't.)
Of course, a huge part of succeeding at being dazzling, for Misfits at least, is being funny, and this was one of the show's funniest-ever episodes. From start to finish, from virtually every character, the jokes kept landing. Abbey pondering her future career: “I like the idea of being a nurse...or a shepherd.” Jess, wondering what Finn's job is: “Why are you...dressed like a dick?” “I'm a trainee probation worker.” Rudy Two, confronting Sam about the Jumper crew's murder spree: “You're telling me the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles never killed some ignorant fucker for dropping litter or shitting in the street?” “No, they didn't. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael would never have done any of them things. They lived by a code!”
Then there's Alex's time to, ah, shine. Ever since Alex's penis power was revealed, I've been expecting/dreading the time when it had to be used at a...oh, dammit, at a climax. Much to my surprise, Misfits pulled it off perfectly. First, it made the target of Alex's power a mass murderer who was going to kill the crew, so it's really difficult to complain about the consent of a man who used his powers to remove any kind of agency from his victims. Second, it's built up in such a ridiculous, anti-climactic way that it doesn't seem real in the best possible way. Finn confidently dares Alex into it—Finn!!—and Alex, acquiesces, then just...does it. “It's amazing what you can goad people into.” Yes, it's a simple joke, but it's a simple joke about storytelling itself. It says “hey, we don't even care about realism or coherence. We just want the idea to work.”
This idea pervades the finale, I think, which is part of why I like it. It's cobbled-together with whatever spare parts are lying around, both conceptually, like with the amusingly awful flying special effect, and literally, as with Rudy's awesome fake wig and beard. And that's been how the show's worked from the start—constructing hilarious genius from low-cost parts by hiding the lack of budget when it works, and reveling it when it doesn't.
I was also pleased to see that Misfits turned its final episode's villain into the removal of consent, and, in many ways, turned into an explicitly Existentialist argument. Jess' tormentor, a man named Luke uses his power to teleport her forward through time, when they're together and they have a baby. And then he sets Jess “free” to deal with that, and the baby, because he knows he has the power. He's a straightforward stand-in for an abusive partner, and Jess has to deal with how to extricate herself from that situation where she has no power. So she does what, according to Sartre, people always have the choice to do, so they always have free will: she commits suicide. Of course, on Misfits, just as Simon getting stabbed triggered going back through time, so too does Jess' suicide.
Even with that, there's still a lot I could quibble about with that plot. Luke was offscreen for far too long to really be a villain, and Jess' plan—to kill him immediately after sex so she could have the baby—was, ah, baffling. But Misfits, at its best, isn't really a show about plot. It was about Jess retaking her agency and keeping a baby she'd fallen for, even if that made no sense at a literal level.
Thus Misfits departs much as it came into the world: irreverent, delightful, problematic, hilarious, tragic, shaggy, and all. This season indicates that maybe it was time for it to go, or at least to take a break, but it got a worthy finale. We'll miss you, Misfits.
- ...at least, we'll miss Misfits until the long-promised movie, which the ending conveniently makes very plausible in-world. I won't believe it until it begins shooting, but the prospect of Gilgun/Sheehan scenes, or Crome/Thomas, or Stokoe/Socha , or almost any other combo has be quite excited.
- “Today is the last day of your community service. It's all over! You had a chance to do something positive, to give something back, to help people, to really make a difference to their lives. You failed. Dismally. Do you wanna know what the real tragedy is? This moment, right here, right now. This is as good as it gets for you.”
- “A probation worker must wear many masks: best friend! Father figure. Tearful clown.” Greg the probation worker, I salute your longevity.
- “So many people. There's no room left under the flyover.” I loved this little joke about who the heroes really are.
- “I know they're not as beautiful as yours, but any nipple in a storm, eh mate?”
- “Well they chose the wrong day to do that, Finley. Cause I'm feeling very hormonal.” And Rudy. Bless you, Rudy.
- Alex had a rubber! Is that the best way to find out that yes, happily his power does work with condoms?
- “That's a g flat! Because she's flat, and her name begins with fucking g!”
- “This is what happens when you base your future around a jumper, for god's sake!” And thank goodness the sweaters proved largely irrelevant without being utterly false.