Casual director Fred Savage talks season finale, The Great Unknown
Every week the cast and crew of Hulu’s dark comedy Casual are taking EW behind the scenes: For each episode, one member is recapping, sharing thoughts on what went down, and walking us through the ins-and-outs of the show. This week, director Fred Savage (yes, that one) takes us through the season 2 finale, “The Great Unknown.”
Before shooting my first episodes of Casual (“Dave” and “Mars” from season 1), I asked to sit in the editor’s bay and watch some early cuts of the show’s first four episodes. I settled into the couch, and maybe 4 minutes into the pilot episode, I shot straight up in my seat, excited and terrified as I realized: This was something special. From Zander’s dialogue to Jason’s filmmaking, to the revelatory performances by Michaela, Tommy, and Tara, this was a show unlike anything I had seen before… and I was shooting the season finale. The panic set in. Although the show had only existed for me on a small screen in a post-production trailer, I knew immediately that this was something that had to be honored. If I dared to add my voice to the Casual mythology, I had to bring my A game. In the end, I surrendered myself to the immeasurable talents of the cast and crew that Zander, Jason, Helen, and Liz had assembled, and — like in the best of creative experiences — they brought me up to their level.
Now it’s season 2. The world not only knows about the show, but they have embraced it. The series single-handedly made Hulu a destination and quickly joined the ranks of the best that television had to offer. It is that good. Being asked to shoot the season 2 finale was no less daunting and thrilling than it was the first time around, but I now knew that if I just followed the lead of the script, I would be okay. Of course a Zander script about “The End” is really about beginnings. Or at least, that’s how I approached the episode.
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The end of season 2 finds Valerie, Alex, and Laura stagnant; refusing— or perhaps unable — to address the obstacles that stand in the way of their moving forward in their own lives. But, as anyone who has ever avoided anything knows, that strategy only succeeds for so long; sooner or later, you have to face your fear, your anxiety, your pain. To me, that’s what Charles (played by Fred Melamed) — parked in a gurney in the middle of their living room — represents: he is the problem that can no longer be ignored.
For Alex, Charles is the problem. Alex’s inability to acknowledge the damage that his childhood caused in his life has always held him back. Whether it’s his lack of any deep or lasting relationship — romantic or otherwise — his impulse to tamp down any honest emotion with rakish humor and wit, or his proclivity for pushing away anything that could make him feel something, Alex has inured himself to any feelings of warmth and love. Growing up in Charles and Dawn’s home, that was the only way to survive. But survival isn’t living, and this approach to life has stunted Alex. If he is going to try to move forward with his life in any meaningful way, he needs to confront his parents and examine the effects of his upbringing. While he tried briefly at Thanksgiving last season, Alex still balks at confronting his father and continues to hide — whether behind a bowl of cereal or a Toni Kukoc biography. Finally, after scoffing at Charles’ attempt to reframe their relationship as idyllic with a tone-deaf gift of a photo album, Alex finds himself sitting across from his father, finally telling him, “I am lonely and sad because of what you taught me.” After years of bitten tongues and buried emotions, Alex gets it all out in one sentence.
Val’s stasis is baked into the very DNA of the show: As long as she is living with her brother, she can’t move forward with her life. While moving in with Alex might have been a first step toward her new reality as a single mother, Val hasn’t taken a second one. She has settled in and convinced herself that Alex’s salvation is her true calling; that if she just busies herself with the Project of Her Brother, she can deflect the painful task of rebuilding herself. No sexual encounter or cup of pea soup will untether her from the safety net of Alex’s house. She has to be the one to unravel herself from the codependency she explains away as a “complicated symbiosis.” She tells Leon, “The life I built wasn’t my own,” as she describes her marriage to Drew, but she could have easily been describing her relationship with Alex. Throughout the episode, Val comes to realize — just as she did with Drew — that she needs to move on from Alex and build her own home… her own life. Only then can she begin to see what lies ahead.
For me, the great beyond in this episode isn’t the end where the lights go out, but rather, the future… that thing just over the rise whose call we never dare to hear. For Charles, it is literally death. For Alex, it’s the help that Jennifer can offer him. For Val, it’s a place of her own. For Laura, it’s love.
In the final episode of Casual’s season 2, the great beyond isn’t death. It’s the promise of a new life.