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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the series finale of CBS’ Two and a Half Men, titled “Of Course He’s Dead.”]
For months leading up to Thursday’s hourlong series finale of Two and a Half Men, speculation on whether its embattled former star Charlie Sheen would return to the comedy that relaunched his television career, stood by him through allegations of domestic abuse and eventually publicly fired him dominated the water cooler.
Eventually, even CBS got in on the action when the network announced the series finale’s title would be “Of Course He’s Dead,” along with a release hinting that Sheen’s Charlie Harper could indeed be alive and well (and not dead, as surmised in the season-nine premiere, the first episode after the actor was publicly fired). It was a complete turnaround from a year ago, when CBS confirmed at the 2014 Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that there were no plans for Sheen’s return. Or from the fall, when producers Warner Bros. Television denied a report that the studio was in negotiations with the actor.
On Thursday, viewers finally got the answer they were looking for — but not right away. Here’s how it all went down.
“Of Course He’s Dead” opens with a flashback to Charlie’s funeral, in which one of the women questions why they can’t see the body, and Rose (Melanie Lynskey) recalls how Charlie’s bod was smashed into a zillion pieces by a train in France. The episode then kicks to present day, where Rose is cheerily preparing tuna and vodka on a tray, which she then lowers down a pit in her basement, where Charlie is presumed to be — bowling shirts and all.
Back at the house, Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer) go through the mail, where they uncover a letter from Charlie’s music publisher claiming he’s racked up exactly $2.5 million worth of royalties. It’s the first of many inside references to come. “I can’t wait for this to be over,” Walden deadpans to the camera.
Before Alan can go ahead and stake his claim, the company insists on a death certificate, which, thanks to a visit with Evelyn (Holland Taylor) and an Internet search that uncovers nothing more than a crazy “rant about a former employer,” the guys realize doesn’t exist. At this point we flash back to Rose, who has realized the person down the pit has made a rope from the laundry and escaped out the window.
Meanwhile, Alan is still trying to get his hands on the money, which he now finds out has been claimed and deposited in an account in the Cayman Islands. That’s when everything starts clicking into place: Alan receives a threatening text (along with a FedEx box full of whisky, cigars and the old chasing knife), Evelyn receives a hate email and Jenny (Amber Tamblyn) lands $100,000 with an apology note from someone who is sorry they were never there. Confirming the news, the Chuck Lorre comedy then flashes to four girlfriends from Charlie’s past — each of whom receives her own small sum of money and an apology. The guys then return home, where Rose confirms the news: Charlie is alive.
“I knew it. Alan, if you move out and Charlie moves in with Walden, I believe we can keep this going for another five years,” Berta (Conchata Ferrell) says a one of the multiple jokes to Men‘s longevity.
Through the use of animation, a goat and Porky Pig, viewers learn that Rose was set to kick Charlie into an oncoming train after he cheated on her in France, but when he was miraculously saved she shipped him back home, bought a house in Sherwood Oaks and threw him in the aforementioned pit for four years.
Knowing Charlie’s rage after “missing his morning coffee,” it doesn’t take long for Rose and Evelyn to flee in fear of what Charlie will do to them after spending four years in captivity. Following an equally threatening text to Walden involving multiple Sheen-isms, including “army of assassins,” “bayonets of truth” and “tiger blood,” Walden and Alan head to the police station, where Lt. Wagner (guest star Arnold Schwarzenegger) sums up the major plot points of the series in a few succinct minutes.
“When you say it like that it sounds ridiculous. You can’t write this stuff, huh?” Walden shrugs in yet another nod to the show’s critical reception. “If I leave, the whole thing falls apart,” Alan shoots back in yet another nod. “Has he tried anger management?” Wagner asks in a nod to Sheen’s now-canceled FX comedy follow-up before suggesting the guys wrap everything up, since it’s been “going on way too long.”
Back at the house, things grow darker when Walden and Alan discover life-size cutouts of them with nooses around their necks in the living room. And just when viewers think Sheen will appear, Jake (embattled co-star Angus T. Jones) makes a cameo appearance to drop some updates: He’s just turned a $250,000 check from his uncle into $2.5 million and he’s married to a Japanese woman with kids.
As the final few minutes go by and the likelihood of Sheen making an actual appearance outside of claymation form growing less likely by the second, Alan calls the main women from his life on the series (Marin Hinkle‘s Judith, April Bowlby‘s Kandi and Courtney Thorne-Smith‘s Lyndsey), while Walden says goodbye to his (Judy Greer‘s Bridget, in bed with John Stamos , and Sophie Winkleman‘s Zoey). Then Wagner calls to quash everyone’s fears by claiming they’ve got their guy. Except they don’t — it’s Christian Slater dressed as Sheen.
As Berta, Alan and Walden celebrate in lounge chairs on the deck, whisky and cigars in hand, a helicopter overhead carries in a grand piano, just like the one Charlie used to play.
Then audiences are shot back to the beach house front door, where “Charlie,” or an actor who is supposed to look like him (his face is never revealed) rings the doorbell, only to have the piano fall on his head. As the camera pans back, showrunner and series co-creator Lorre — who took the brunt of Sheen’s public meltdown — appears in his director’ s chair on set, where he seems to get the last word: “winning.” Only then another piano drops on his head, a subtle indication that there could be no winners in the Lorre-Sheen-Men saga.
In the subsequent vanity card, Lorre finishes it off:
“I know a lot of you might be disappointed that you didn’t get to see Charlie Sheen in tonight’ s finale. For the record, he was offered a role. Our idea was to have him walk up to the front door in the last scene, ring the doorbell, then turn, look directly into the camera and go off on a maniacal rant about the dangers of drug abuse. He would then explain that these dangers only applied to average people. That he was far from average. He was a ninja warrior from Mars. He was invincible.
And then we would drop a piano on him.
We thought it was funny.
Instead, he wanted us to write a heart warming scene that would set up his return to primetime TV in a new sitcom called The Harpers starring him and Jon Cryer.
We thought that was funny too.”
Onscreen, Men‘s final season largely ignored the Sheen rumblings, focusing instead on an homage to its early years by wedding Walden and Alan in a bid to adopt another six-year-old “half man,” Louis (Edan Alexander). Of course, the dating shenanigans continued with plenty of women (new and returning, in the case of Thorne-Smith’ s Lyndsey), stopping by for the men to hit on and date.
Since Kutcher replaced Sheen in 2011 the overall tone changed drastically to incorporate the actor’s energy and younger appeal. As a result, there were more quests for long-term relationships, less boozing (save Tamblyn’s run as Jenny Harper) and no more memorable Sheen snark at the infamous piano. Alan continued his bumbling lechery and bumming, Jake outgrew his stoner story arcs and most jokes either questioned Alan’s sexuality or his constant leeching.
Behind the scenes, Cryer submitted as lead actor in a comedy for the first time at the 2012 Emmys, where he won — an acknowledgement that also was written into the series finale. (During Sheen’s Men tenure he was nominated four times but never brought home the hardware.) A year later Jones exited following his own public rant against the series.
As for Lorre, the prolific producer will now keep busy with only three shows on CBS’ schedule: Mom, Mike & Molly and TV’s No. 1 comedy, The Big Bang Theory.
What did you think of the Two and a Half Men series finale? Sound off in the comments below.
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