“Dissolution” and “Leaves” (series 2, episodes 6 and 7)
In which everybody gets mad at each other and not everybody leaves.
Indulge me for a moment.
I went to school with the same core group of 15 people from kindergarten through my senior year of high school. I grew up in an incredibly small town, one of those little blips on the radar you pass through when you leave the Interstate and decide to start traveling freeform. With just around 800 people in the town and no clear incentive to leave (or move in), it was rare for us to lose classmates or even to gain them. Sure, we had a few changes along the way, but I pretty much knew everybody in my class about as well as you can know someone you’re not related to by the time I graduated. I knew their likes and dislikes. I knew their trials and celebrations. I knew who they were on some fundamental level, because we’d all been through that crucible of growing up together. They were, in a very, very real sense, my “best friends,” people I knew I could count on if the shit started to fly.
I didn’t realize the world doesn’t work like that. I didn’t realize that what existed for me in that tiny South Dakota town doesn’t exist everywhere else. When I have kids and they make their way through the Southern California school system, they’ll be lucky to hang on to a small cluster of friends for even two or three years, rather than 13. Most of those people I grew up with are still back in South Dakota, living their lives and doing their things. (Weirdly, one of the two who left the state in addition to me now lives but 45 miles from me. But I digress.) I know the names of their spouses and parents, the names of their children in many cases. I can remember many of their childhood homes as well as I can recall my own. I can remember who they wanted to be, compared with who they actually became. Will my kids have anything like that? Probably not. Did you?
My point is this: The natural state of the human condition is leaving. We’re so rarely entering new places and so often leaving them. Since I moved away from my hometown, I’ve built clusters of friends in every new place I’ve lived, a journey that’s ping-ponged me across the United States and back again. I’ve built greater clusters of friends on the Internet, at places like this, where I can converse with like-minded individuals or on sites like Facebook, where I can catch up with everybody I’ve ever had to leave behind for one reason or another. But it’s never the same. It’s never as tight. It’s never as right as it was. If the natural state of our lives is leaving a place, then the most important decision we can make is when we choose to stay, when we choose to plant our flag and say, “This is home.”
Spaced doesn’t emphatically end with the shots of Tim racing through the streets to declare his love for Daisy I’d envisioned in the first few weeks of this project. But he—and Brian and Mike and Marsha and Colin and Daisy—makes just as profound a gesture anyway. When faced with the choice of going off to the airport to see Sophie off to her new job in Seattle and going to the train station to try to convince Daisy to stay, he goes after the girl who’s always been there, rather than the one he just woke up in bed with that morning. Tim and Daisy aren’t “together,” but they’re involved in something almost as profound, a relationship based almost entirely on choice. He’s chosen her, and she’s chosen him. Even if it never leads to love or romance, it might be the most important thing either of them ever does.
Look at the last three images Spaced chooses to leave us with. First, Tim and Daisy sack out in front of the television, arms subtly intertwined, holding Colin. She rests her head on his shoulder. He rests his head on hers. (Reportedly, Simon Pegg wanted to make a third series about Tim and Daisy finally hooking up, but this shot sells so much of this storyline that a third series would have been unnecessary—though it would have been great fun.) Then the camera pulls back from them, away through the open front door, which closes via an unseen hand. (This is a shot the show is fond of, as if suggesting that there are private places for even these characters.) And then we see the outside of the house, the “for sale” sign that motivated much of the episode’s actions being removed. Things will continue—mostly—as they were. Sophie’s off in Seattle, and Twist is off in Manchester, but these people have come to matter so much to each other that they’ve planted their flags here at number 23. This is home. This is where—as they say—the heart is.
I’m a sucker for series finales. I like the sense of finality they suggest, the idea that everything we’re seeing here is the LAST time we’ll ever see any of this, that the door is silently closing on our peek into this little world of fiction. I particularly like finales that suggest that these lives will go on without us, finales that don’t end with everybody scattering to the winds or entire towns blowing up. Spaced decidedly has a finale like that. The house isn’t sold. Tim and Daisy continue to live in their little flat. Marsha and Mike are still in the same place. Brian continues with his work, celebrating the girl he loved for a bit before she went off elsewhere. (Really, Twist has been such a minimal presence this series that her disappearance to Manchester doesn’t carry the sort of weight it normally might.) This is not the end of these people’s lives together, but it IS an end for us, one last chance to say goodbye and then go on our merry ways.
Except, as it turns out, it’s not. Not really. The series two finale was intended as AN ending, but not THE ending. By all accounts, everybody involved in the show assumed they’d make some other series or at least a special or two, but immediately after the show finished its series two run, the various careers of its principles began to take off, to the point where it was always impossible to get back together and do another series of episodes. (In the generally enjoyable feature-length documentary that makes up the bulk of the special features disc in the U.S. release, Pegg insists that he and Jessica Stevenson had thought out the lives of the characters up to 50 years in the future, so it’s not as though the writers lacked for material.) Even getting a one-hour Christmas special or something out of the way proved too difficult. So while this is the ending we’ve got (at least for now), it’s not as though anyone involved planned for it to be the end of Spaced, full-stop.
But at the same time, there are LOTS of series finale-esque touches in both “Leaves” and “Dissolution.” For starters, while both episodes are funny, they’re far more dominated by a slightly dramatic tone, a tone that suggests that the events we’re witnessing have a casual finality to them. This tone hurts “Dissolution” in particular, as an episode that really strains to make all of the plot mechanics fit. The stuff surrounding Daisy’s birthday is very good (as well as her reluctance about turning 26, which struck me as dead on), and I liked that Marsha finally found out Tim and Daisy weren’t a couple in the most dramatic way possible. But the Twist and Brian break-up didn’t have much of the emotion that the show seemed to want it to have because that relationship has been so under the radar. Similarly, the Sophie and Tim relationship, which is a driving force of much of the drama in the episode, doesn’t really work as said driving force because it’s arrived on the scene so abruptly. We met Sophie two episodes ago, she couldn’t go on a date last episode, and now she and Tim are long-time snog buddies.
Granted, SOME compression had to go into these storylines with only seven episodes to tell them in. And I’m more or less OK with the show using shorthand in most instances. But the moment when Marsha finds out about Tim and Daisy has far more power and impact that any of the other major plot developments because it’s had time to grow and fester. It’s here that we confront one of the limitations of the British model: Sometimes, when you don’t have time to get the characters to the right place organically, you just have to jerk them into the right place as quickly as you possibly can. (It’s a problem that bedevils many British series, particularly those that run only six or seven episodes.) It’s easy enough to overlook here because the fallout is so great, but the first half of “Dissolution” DOES feel like a lot of wind-up that’s ultimately kind of pointless, plus it concludes in a giant cake fight that’s not as funny as it wants to be.
But none of that really matters in the face of “Leaves,” which is the sort of series finale all shows deserve. You’ve got the motif of people almost leaving, of the group almost splitting up. You’ve got big, “only in the series finale” moments like Mike, Tim, and Daisy breaking into Marsha’s room to find out where she’s gotten off to. You’ve got the montage at the end that lets us know everybody will be OK. And you’ve got the show paying off long-time running jokes, by doing things like having Mike endanger his position by stealing another tank, this time to impress Marsha enough to get her to keep from selling the house. (I was unspoiled on this and pleasantly surprised to see it happen.) “Leaves” is just a terrifically executed little piece of television, one that pays off all of the character relationships built to this point and makes it feel momentous that they choose to stake out their territory here, with each other.
When I first took on this project, I had various assumptions about Spaced. I knew that the pop culture references would be dead on. I knew the humor would be more or less up my alley. And I knew that the characters would be written with a certain degree of wit. What I didn’t expect, ultimately, is that I would come to care about them so much. It would be so easy to make all of these people empty joke machines—indeed, the show strays uncomfortably close to this in a few episodes—that I was expecting to have some easy laughs and then more or less set the DVDs aside, perhaps for a revisit later. But as I entered “Leaves,” I was astounded by just how much I cared for these fictional people, how much I wanted them to find happiness, ideally with each other. When Mike has his spectacular idea, it feels like a giant moment of catharsis, something that pays off the final two episodes with a gesture so swooningly silly that it almost turns high comedy into a romantic gesture. Here’s a tank. Won’t you love us?
But what I keep coming back to is this idea that everything ends, but if you really want something, if you really dig in your heels, you can extend it. Much of what happens in “Leaves” is rather preposterous. Would Daisy really give up a sure-thing job just to spend a little more time with these people? Would Tim really choose Daisy over Sophie in those last few moments? Would Colin really be tempted by the kindly neighbor lady who wants to clean his favorite bear and rename him? Probably not, and you can still feel the writers pulling everybody’s puppet strings all over the place. But it feels less obvious here than it does in “Dissolution,” perhaps because on some level, we all want these characters to find a way to keep hanging out together. The great thing about TV families is that they never end, even the ones that are made out of friends, not relatives (as they so often are in the 21st century). There’s no reason for them to. They can go on forever.
So we get to leave the gang from Spaced in a relatively happy, well-adjusted place. Tim and Daisy sit on the floor with their dog, perhaps on the cusp of a new relationship. Brian sees some sort of acclaim for his painting of Twist. Marsha and Mike aren’t an item or anything, but they have become an unlikely pair of friends, and he’s training her to assemble a gun blindfolded. Twist is off and away, dancing in a gay club up in Manchester. Even Sophie—a relatively unimportant character, all things considered—gets something like a happy ending.
But these aren’t really endings, as I pointed out above. They’re more like commas, bits and pieces that will add up to something later. The best thing about “Leaves” is that it allows all of us to have that brief moment where we imagine that these people are doing what we never could, picking their moment and picking their friends and just sticking with it. You can never bring all of the people you’ve met and cherished along with you, or at least you can’t if you plan to move on from the life you had in your childhood. But if you can find a group that surrounds you and makes you feel at home, Spaced would argue that it’s best to sacrifice a few things to be able to keep that, at least for a little while. Not everybody has to leave, especially in a sitcom universe. Sometimes, it’s just nice to lay down in front of the television with your dog and zone out for a while with the ones you love.
- The fight in “Dissolution” might have rubbed me the wrong way precisely because it felt like such a pale copy of the fight Tim and Daisy have in the first series finale, the one intercut with all of the footage of the video game fighters.
- On the other hand, the editing in “Dissolution” is just terrifically well done. That scene where Marsha confronts Tim about how she imagines that he’s cheating on Daisy with Sophie while HE thinks she’s talking about the special cake he’s had made for Daisy is just terrific in its rhythms and cutting. Edgar Wright has always had an almost musical flow to his cuts, and he establishes a great sense of pacing in these two episodes, which makes the happy ending feel that much more earned.
- Here’s something odd: I somehow caught that the “Leaves” credits sequence was a lift of the Royle Family credits sequence, simply because I’d been looking that program up on YouTube at some point in the last week. I don’t even remember why I was doing so (probably because Royle also starred Stevenson).
- I didn’t ever really grasp the significance of the photos Brian was hanging up at the beginning of “Dissolution,” other than the fact that they gave the show the chance to make an Omen homage.
- I had hoped to dive more into the special features in the DVD set this week, but a lack of time prevented me from doing so. I did enjoy what I saw of the documentary, though. (Sadly, I skimmed it, looking for information. I promise to go back and watch the whole thing again sometime.)
- Speaking of that documentary, do we take the final scene, featuring Tim and Daisy and their baby, to be canon? I assume it is, since it stars Pegg and Stevenson and all, but it still seems incredibly tacked on. On the other hand, it made me feel much more comfortable with my reading of the final scene in “Leaves,” so it must be canon.
- I’d love to see the Spaced gang revisit these characters every 10 years or so, even if they only do so in specials. It’s been 10 years since the show ended. How about a Christmas special, folks? (I think it would be great to check in on these people as they age.)
- And Ricky Gervais’ guest spot in “Dissolution” (in the wonderful scene that introduces us to the fact that the “professional couple” requirement in the classified ad wasn’t something Marsha put there—another very series finale thing to do) allows me to transition to the thought that it’s been great fun writing up this series, and you guys have been great company to talk about the show with. I hope you’ll forgive me the indulgence this week (series finales often make me wistful), and I hope you’ll follow me to the return of The Sopranos’ write-ups next week, then rejoin myself and Mr. Gervais in June, when I’ll begin tackling the complete run of the original British Office, a series I hold in the very highest of esteem. It’s been fun, and thanks for putting up with all of my confusions.
- "You'd be dead in four years if this was Logan's Run."
- "Don't say that. That's a word that hates women." "What, twat?" "No, jumpsuit."
- "What a bitch."
- "But you'll spoil the surprise." "You bastard."
- "Why!? This is new!"
- "She's like Cordelia out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and lately Angel, the spinoff, which is set in LA." "I don't know what you're talking about."
- "Where are we?" "In the cupboard." "Why?" "I've no idea."
- "Maybe not in such a whiny voice."
- "You got a tape player?" "No." "Thank fuck."
- "I am the only one here that's capable of serious communication."
- "Does that mean my rabbit's dead?" "It's been 18 years, Mike. Where'd you think he'd gone?" "Next door!"
- "Mike's rabbit's gone."
- "We can still have sex on the Internet." "That's what I was doing before!"
- "Get your boombox, and let's rock."
- "Skip to the end."
- "Do you need me to do another banner?"