May 20, 2013 8:00pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Big C' Postmortem: Cathy Was 'Lucky and Unlucky at the Same Time'
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of Showtime's The Big C.]
It's over for Cathy Jamison.
After four seasons, Showtime's cancer dramedy The Big C ended its run Monday with its fourth and final episode in Hereafter. Cathy's (Emmy nominee Laura Linney) journey progressed from celebrating life once she was diagnosed with cancer, to anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance, when she made the life-altering decision to quit chemotherapy. This year, executive producers Darlene Hunt and Jenny Bicks used four hourlong episodes to tell what they said were four slices of Cathy's journey to tell -- bypassing chemo, preparing her family, the sad state of hospice care and finally saying goodbye.
And say goodbye they did during the series finale in which the now-matured Adam (a brilliant Gabriel Basso) surprised Cathy by going from struggling student to earning his high school diploma early -- the one thing she wanted to do before she died. Paul (Oliver Platt), meanwhile, finally became the husband Cathy had always wanted him to be and returned home with the realization of what kind of man she's helped him become to find that his wife had peacefully passed away.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with series creator Hunt and Bicks to discuss Cathy's journey into the Hereafter and what the series has meant to them.
The Hollywood Reporter: Was it always the plan for the end of the series to feature Cathy's death? Did you know when you pitched the series that this was the ending?
Darlene Hunt: I always knew that it would end with her death. My husband used to joke that if she didn't die, he'd quit watching, which obviously there is an inherent joke in there because that would be the end. I needed the character to die at the end because I wanted to play out this conversation of death and approaching the inevitability of life that we all experience. I wanted Cathy's story to be universal and not just specific to cancer survivors or people dealing with cancer, but to be even broader and incorporate all of us.
Jenny Bicks: The series was about taking her to that inevitable ending, but in a way that didn't always rely on that ending. In other words, as Darlene just said, "We didn't want it to be about death, we wanted it to be about life." We are all going to die. We all have life and then we have death. People seem to think that they are going to avoid dying, but surprise, it is the one thing that we all have in common and that's what this show tells us. We took her to the end, but in the meantime there is a lot of life before it.
THR: The final scene with Cathy in the pool with Marlene and her pooch, Thomas, reminded us of the pilot and Cathy's desire to build a pool after her diagnosis and it felt like the show had come full circle.
Hunt: Often times, we fear death and run from it and are scared of it. But I liked presenting it as the ultimate wish fulfillment. I often reference my Lutheran pastor father-in-law, as you saw in the finale when Cathy explored religion and what happens after we die. One thing my father-in-law has said is that he embraces the unknown; in his opinion and from his teachings of the Bible, he says that we don't know what happens after we die, but God has promised us that it's good. I love that. It's something to hold on to. Who knows what it is, but I'm a believer that it's going to great.
THR: Paul envisions Cathy's response to receiving the flowers and then you cut to the stark reality that she'd never get them having died before he came home.
Jenny Bicks: We actually filmed deeper into that moment and had him give her the flowers and have a conversation before he realized that she had passed. We realized that was probably the most emotional moment. There are so many emotional moments that happen right before he learns that she passed away that it almost felt like too much to have them have this magical conversation after she's passed. We wanted to keep it simple. You have the beauty of these flowers and the promise of what it meant for him. Here's this husband, who hasn't been a particularly great husband through a lot of the series, finally showing up and that's her moment to pass. A lot of people who have the choice to decide when they are going to pass, even if it's really subliminal, do it after all of their loved ones have left the house or the room. We wanted to play with that idea that she was alone when she passed and made that choice.
THR: We saw Cathy try to control when she would pass but she woke up the next day. Was that the universe telling her to wait because Adam has been busting his ass to graduate for her? Is the message here that everything happens for a reason?
Hunt: That phrase is always annoying a little bit because it's almost like giving up too much control. I think it was just that you know the end is going to come. It's a little bit like childbirth: people love to try to control how their birth is going to go when they're pregnant. Similarly with her inevitable death, part of her trying to control it was her fear of it and she really just needed to know that it would happen and she was going to have to get through her days and try to enjoy them until then. I think she did enjoy them and then kind of got a magical surprise as well.
Bicks: I think we would probably say the opposite of, "Everything happens for a reason." The point is, things can happen at any time to anybody. You could get sick at any point. You could die at any point. Live your life. Cathy was lucky enough to have seen her son graduate, but she also missed a ton of shit. I think she was lucky and unlucky at the same time.
THR: Cathy gets this beautiful ending when we see her walk off into the hereafter with Angel.
Jenny Bicks: We're not trying to necessarily say there is a heaven or a hell or any idea -- we don't have the kind of hubris to say what people should believe -- but we definitely wanted to give her a bit of a guide to the next place. We wanted the feeling of heading into that next place to be an adventure. Anytime you head off on an adventure -- whether it's Dorothy going to the Emerald City or anything else -- it's got that sparkly, lighter, cinematic look, so we wanted to play with that. But we're certainly not necessarily saying its heaven.
Hunt: We wanted to imply that it was positive. We could have just ended with her lying there peaceful, but we wanted to go past it just a little bit to say, "She's happy. It's OK. She's positive."Even if there is no heaven, even if there is absolutely nothing afterward, don't we all enjoy drifting off to sleep? You're unconscious then. You just get to rest. Even if that's all it is, we just wanted to imply that she's OK, that things are good with her.
THR: Laura Linney shared a particularly poignant experience she had with a fan with us; what stands out for you in the four-plus years you've been doing the show?
Bicks: We've all heard from numerous cancer survivors, sufferers, family of sufferers going through it about watching the show and how important it is to them to watch and see how we've portrayed the experience. It feels really good to hear from those people and to hear that they recognize themselves in Cathy or in Paul or Adam or anyone else. They are willing to let her go in all these different directions emotionally. Some people who haven't been through it or don't know someone who's been through it -- which by the way I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone at this point -- are much more "judgey" of some of Cathy's behaviors. The people who really understand it, get it and have been really supportive.
Hunt:I couldn't even tell you the number of times someone has said, "I lost my friend, mother, father … to cancer and watching this show was intense, but also brought back positive memories." Or, "My relative passed from cancer and we watched the show together and he or she really enjoyed it." It was my original goal, as it always is when I start writing a new project, to write characters that are relatable. Similar to what Jenny just said, the fact that they were able to relate or enjoy this person's journey because it felt familiar or somewhat real to them is really cool. It made me very proud.
What did you think of the way The Big C's conclusion? Hit the comments below with your thoughts and what the series has meant to you.