Roush Review: ‘The End’ Wants to Be a Life-Affirming Comedy About Death
Misery loves company in The End, and while you probably wouldn’t choose to befriend the unpleasant characters in this Australian import, it eventually becomes clear over 10 episodes—airing in back-to-back weekly chapters—why Showtime acquired this offbeat and very well acted dramedy.
It’s the Weeds of euthanasia.
Suicide is not painless in this series, which opens with six-months-widowed Edie (the marvelous Harriet Walter, seen most recently in Succession and Killing Eve) attempting to take her own life in the most hapless fashion, leaving behind a charred home and an arm in a cast. Adding insult to injury, she is flown across the world against her will from the UK to Australia by her distant daughter Kate (a tightly wound Frances O’Connor), who books her into an upscale retirement village that Edie regards as a fate worse than you-know-what.
“I want to be dead because I can’t stand to be alive, knowing that I wasted all of it,” Edie moans to Kate, who in a rather too-broad irony is a doctor specializing in end-of-life palliative care. For Kate, who devotes herself to the practice of helping patients die with a modicum of dignity, her embittered mother’s morbid leanings are an unpleasant complication in an already messy life that includes a husband doing time in a country-club prison for financial crimes, a trans son (Morgan Davies) who resents her, and a curious daughter (Ingrid Torelli) who never gets enough attention. (The children are named Oberon—born Titania—and Persephone, which is an indication of The End’s tendency toward preciousness.)
Edie, a sour-spirited breast cancer survivor with the mastectomy scars to show for it—which she does, dramatically—is obviously no picnic to be around. Neither is snappish Kate, who’s rattled to the core when she intervenes with a young patient yearning to die, confiscating the illegal Nembutal her loving husband (an affecting Luke Arnold) has procured for her. When this situation ends badly, Kate’s equilibrium is shattered, her career threatened.
It takes a while for The End to build some narrative momentum, but we’re pulled along by the strength of Walter’s brave and bold performance as Edie grudgingly accepts her fate, discovering empathy for the suffering of her elderly neighbors and finding an unexpected friend in the boisterous and endlessly tolerant Pamela (scene-stealing Noni Hazlehurst). Her prickly relationship with her daughter and grandchildren also evolves, and her bond with the emotionally volatile Oberon is especially compelling, as are his (their?) confused misadventures in non-binary adolescence.
But it’s not until the back half of the season, when Kate and Edie’s debate over life and death becomes more tangible, with suspenseful consequences, that The End’s potential as a series reveals itself. What was mostly a downer shifts gears into an enjoyably twisty melodra-medy, and despite a cornily climactic scene of cleansing naked in the sea, these purveyors of mortality have their hands dirty enough at the end that we’re left curious about what the future—and possibly even a second season—might hold for them.
The End, Series Premiere, Sunday, July 18, 8/7c, Showtime