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After Life season finale will still leave one unanswered simple question

After Life season finale will still leave one unanswered simple question: What did Tony do to deserve so much love, and generosity even though his grief chafes at his wounded soul and makes him deride everyone around him?

As everyone’s favourite foul-mouthed widower Ricky Gervais’s Tony returns to Netflix with the season finale of After Life, things get philosophical, even as it is enwrapped in the show’s trademark bawdy humour. The “fat, grizzled and middle-aged” Tony, in his own words, is still grieving though he seems to have settled into a friendship without perceivable sexual tension with care-home nurse Emma, played by Ashley Jensen and at the Tambury Gazette, where he works, everyone seems to be getting on with their lives. Things are generally sunny, though there are talks of a pandemic in the background.

But as he endures the prolonged grief of losing his wife Lisa, Kerry Godliman, life throws new curveballs at Tony – he needs to scatter his father’s ashes, and as he must decide how to spend the little fortune left from Lisa’s life insurance. It has been clear since the first season that Tony doesn’t want to seek closure because he’s still madly in love with Lisa, but this season provides him with ample opportunity to explore his grief while offering a few lessons on realizing how he is already surrounded with love.

There’s no dearth of laughs and new characters via Tony’s interviews – a self-published psychic turned writer who combines the medical drama and erotic fiction with a chapter in her book titled Open Wide; a swinger couple who calls their swinging club, the Vegas club because, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” and a man banned from the town’s all-you-can-eat-buffet place after spending six hours every day for weeks at the restaurant, polishing off 20-30 slices of pizza in one sitting (only the toppings, he claims).

Unfortunately, the brilliant Roisin Conaty, who played sex worker Roxy and the quietly acerbic Mandip Dhillon who played intern Sandy are missing from this season. There is a new intern though, Coleen with some memorable deadpan dialogues and delivery. Diane Morgan’s (Death to 2020 series) Kath is memorable in this season as she navigates her loneliness with one too many bad dates at dinners until she discovers love in an entirely different setting.

As the first few episodes roll in and as Tony continues with his unsparing humour, one wonders if he’s using his spitefulness to hide under the cover of grief. Before long, he helpfully fills you in: “Maybe I’m not grieving, maybe I’m just an arsehole. I just like punishing people.” Dame Penelope Wilton’s Anne, the lonely widow at the wooden bench at the cemetery, occasionally joined by Tony provides him succor. “…you’re human and nothing really makes sense,” says she, only to be one-upped by him, “look at you, Kierkegaard.”

Particularly the exchanges between postman Pat (Joe Wilkinson) and Brian (David Earl) aided by Tony are especially lessons in how to not push the bawdiness envelope.

Despite all this, Tony has a breakthrough, as he tells Lisa in one of his monologues at the cemetery: “I’m still going through the stages of grief. Denial is a tricky one, I was never in denial that you were gone. I was in denial that I was suffering from mental illness….it was only recently that I realized I was ill. I guess that was the glimmer of hope to getting better.” The said mental illness bit though remains woefully unexplored.

In this whole enterprise, the eternally cheery Lisa ends up somewhat one-dimensional, for no fault of her own, but owing to her character portrayal that showcases an only cherry-picked side of her personality using videotaped episodes.

The season finale will move you – in parts – and may even leave you reaching for tissues, yet it will still leave one unanswered simple question: what did Tony do to deserve so much love, attention, and generosity even though his grief chafes at his wounded soul and makes him deride everyone around him? While he tramples all over people’s emotions, belittling them with his characteristic bratty humour, it’s hard to locate any redemptive qualities about Tony himself. If one were to distill it down, it’s perhaps his meager acts of love wrapped in brutal self-deprecation.

As if he realizes it, in the end, Tony does come to a bittersweet conclusion. “I thought not caring was a superpower. I was wrong. Kindness, making other people feel good, that’s the real superpower,” he tells his brother-in-law Matt with profoundly epiphanous clarity. Perhaps that’s the closure Tony needed all along – to be kind to others and himself. One is left to believe that his newfound wisdom would serve Tony well, as he walks into the sunset – more like into an autumn-hued park – with his adorable German Shepherd Brandy.

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