Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

Two and a Half Men ended like it’s acted for 12 seasons—uncompromising in what it was. The hour, entitled “Of Course He’s Dead,” didn’t just address the show’s detractors or the history of Charlie Sheen both on and off the show, it made them the focal point around the final episode’s plot.

It all comes together in such unapologetic fashion—with such a meta flair that even Dan Harmon wouldn’t attempt it—that whether you liked the finale or not, the show doesn’t care. It, and Chuck Lorre, went out on the exact notes it wanted to end. And that note, as far as Lorre was concerned, was a #winning one.

“Dead” tips its hat at where the episode will go from the opening moments. The “previously on” section specifically flashes back to Charlie’s funeral and the debut of Walden (Ashton Kutcher) at the start of season 9 before the show starts with Rose (Melanie Lynskey), cooking a dinner in her home. She brings a tray of food down into her basement—which she refers to later as a dungeon—dropping the food down a giant Silence of the Lambs style well along with Charlie’s signature outfit, a bowling shirt and a pair of khaki shorts.

And so the hourlong mystery of whether Charlie Sheen would reappear began, continuing as Alan (Jon Cryer) receives mail informing him his brother Charlie has $2.5 million in music residuals waiting to be claimed. Alan wants to claim the money for himself, but needs Charlie’s death certificate to do so. On his search to find it, however, he realizes there may not be one… because Charlie may still be alive.

Charlie Sheen, in the flesh at least, never actually does appear, but that doesn’t prevent the show from spending an hour teasing the possibility with a near-constant barrage of self-referential humor. Characters look directly into the camera multiple times, entire scenes play out as recaps of the series and digs against some of its logic, and any line ever drawn between Sheen and his on-screen counterpart is erased.

Few shows would be willing to consider addressing the criticisms against it, let alone do it in the manner “Dead” does. It reaches a fever pitch when Rose visits to describe how Charlie escaped her dungeon well and has been alive this entire time. She recounts her marriage to him in Paris and how it all fell apart when she found Charlie having a fourway with a maid, a mime, and a bisexual goat. She was going to kill him, but that damn goat intervenes—his are the ashes Alan received, not Charlie’s—and she’s been feeding, bathing, and screwing him for four years in her dungeon.

Oh, and all of this is told via an animated interlude since Sheen didn’t return.

Going off the tip Rose gave that Charlie’s coming to kill Alan and Walden, they go to the police for help. And the lieutenant on duty, Wagner, is no one less than ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER. Wagner then spends an entire scene pointing to every major plot development in the show’s history, criticizing how ridiculous their story sounds. Wagner goes through each point before promising to help them. Though he warns them they might want to wrap this whole thing up because it’s been going on way too long. You can see where this is going.

One integral cast member, the half man, Jake does return. Angus T. Jones appears briefly, mocking the idea that he would ever really join the army, instead describing how he married a Japanese woman and just turned $250,000 in residuals that the still-alive Charlie sent him into $2.5 million in Las Vegas.

As the episode winds down, Alan and Walden begin to consider their lives may soon actually end. So they call their multiple ex-wives and say their goodbyes… only to be saved by Wagner, who calls to promise they found Charlie. The two feel saved, but as the camera pans over in the police station, it’s revealed that he actually arrested Christian Slater playing Christian Slater, who was drugged and placed in the room.

That leaves Charlie still at large, but Walden, Alan, and Berta (Conchata Ferrell) rest at ease on their balcony, thinking they’re free of any impending murder. As they sit reminiscing, they spot a helicopter in the air, carrying a grand piano that looks quite like the one Charlie used to have. They look concerned for a moment, but laugh it off.

And it appears they’re not the target, as the camera cuts to their front door, where a man dressed like Charlie, wearing Charlie’s clothing, stands at the door until the piano falls from the sky and crushes him. Just in case that wasn’t enough, the camera pulls back to reveal the front door as a set, with Chuck Lorre sitting in a director’s chair near by. He turns to the camera, says “Winning,” and is then crushed by another piano.

I could not make this scenario up if I tried. Two and a Half Men ends on such a winking note that Lorre’s eye must be straining, even if it’s not the ending he originally intended, as the show’s final vanity card explains:

The episode is as much about what happened on the show over the last 12 seasons as it is about what happened to the show. Charlie Sheen’s persona and the major cast changes that have left only one of the original two and a half men still on the show became integral to how the CBS sitcom has been discussed, analyzed, and either loved or hated.

So Lorre embraces that identity, revisiting the characters’ history, as well as the revolving door of women Charlie slept with—many of whom also appeared at his funeral—while simultaneously integrating just about everything any critic or skeptic about the show might have said.

Is the show indulgent? Well then the finale is a chocolate addict indulging in the entirety of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Is it crass? Then every other joke in this episode will be about sex, often about every character on the show sleeping with everyone else. Is it aware of how long in the tooth it might be? Then Walden is going to look directly into the camera and say “I can’t wait for this to be over” in the first 15 minutes.

“Of Course He’s Dead” is shocking in how purely ridiculous it is, but it isn’t necessarily surprising. Two and a Half Men never beat around the bush with its humor, with its awareness of what the audience thought of its actors. The finale celebrates that with being one of the most meta episodes of television ever devised.

Does that make it a good episode of television? In some ways it does—some of the unrelenting boldness inherent in the self-referential nature has to be applauded—and in some ways it never rises above what both its critics and fans would expect. In celebrating Two and a Half Men and its history, “Of Course He’s Dead” is certainly one of the most fascinating finales to air. And like it or not, Two and a Half Men won’t apologize for ending that way.

Episode Recaps

Two and a Half Men | Monday, 8-8:30 p.m., CBS The warlock has left the building. With the spectacular, bridge-burning, jumping-down-?the-inflatable-?emergency-slide exit of Charlie Sheen from Two and a Half Men…
Two and a Half Men
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