Friday, July 18, 2014

GUEST: You Shouldn't Always Get What You Want (Californication)

Today's guest post is written by Dan Ingram.

Dearest Californication,

Before I start, I’d like to congratulate you on seven seasons of television. That is no small feat, especially considering how much stuff is literally on TV, but you did it. To the entire cast, crew and anyone else involved with the process, know that I understand the challenges you likely faced and overcame and I have a heartfelt appreciation for your tribulations. Seriously.

Having said that….I have to admit that I am really unhappy with the way the show ended. You could have done more, said more, with your premise. But you didn't.

And as far as premises go, you had a good thing going. Hank Moody (David Duchovny) is a a man-child who sleeps his way around the greater LA area and perpetually yearns for the woman he considers “the one”. This woman is his ex-wife Karen (Natascha McElhone), who has left him because of his many personal flaws, and is the reason Hank cites for his behavior as well as the purported cure to all his problems. Maybe Hank wasn’t the most sympathetic or likable guy at times (he objectified women on a regular, tangible basis), but I always felt like Hank’s heart was in the right place, even if his brain wouldn’t let him convey that properly.

So you get that I loved this show. I loved it, and I also did not watch the last three seasons. I watched the finale as a standalone episode, just to see how it ended because for me, the show was over after season four. I watched the first four seasons, accepted the ending of the fourth season as “my true ending” as a fan, and decided to move on with life.

I have to reiterate, I appreciate that you, the writers and actors of Californication, kept the show going for three more seasons. But from everything I've heard, both on the Internet and from friends that were still watching the show, I wasn’t missing much.

I really adored Hank Moody in concept from the very beginning. I know Debbi will hate that I’m saying that, but it’s true. This show came around while I was still in college and really going through my first foray into “hook-up culture”. There was a lot of wish fulfillment for me in my younger, less politically inclined days, and I thought at the end of the day the message of Californication was one of hope against all odds that you can find happiness no matter how messed up you may be.

That may have been the message for the first few seasons, but from what I can tell, that wasn't the message of the last ones.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I finally got around to watching the final episode of the series. Granted I didn’t know who a few characters were (namely Hank’s son with Faith), and there were a few situations that I found totally bizarre, like the sex contract (or whatever it was) between Marcy and that other guy who was not important enough to the plot to be memorable. Anyway, the finale was fine, I guess.

But at the end of the episode I was expecting…something. Something that I didn’t get. I love Hank (and maybe more importantly David Duchovny’s portrayal of Hank) and the ways he processes his pain. I love that he is so flawed but he tries so hard. And, yes, getting Hank together with Karen at the end was a great way to reconcile the lingering emotional issue that set Hank off in the first place. So I was expecting Hank to try to get back with Karen. I'm not sure if I was expecting him to succeed. But maybe that’s what bothered me so much.

You gave the guy a happy ending. You gave him what he wanted.

Hank Moody shouldn't be anyone's ideal of a person, but here we are. After seven years of what should have been growth and change, Hank Moody got what he wanted in the first place, in spite of all the absolutely terrible things he’d done. That's not okay.

I blame the writers. I love Hank Moody because despite all his flaws, I truly believed that this was a man who had his heart in the right place. Even though he had placed Karen on a pedestal, he still had a chance to take her off that shrine and tear it down. He had chances to tear that pedestal down, but he didn't.

I love Hank Moody but I feel sorry for him. He became a victim of circumstance, except circumstance in this situation is code for "writers that ran out of anything interesting to say". They kept on rehashing the same story. Hank's journey toward healing and patching up his broken heart was turned into a story where he pissed into a Jack Daniels bottle then drank it, because why the hell not? That's funny right?

That's how I fell out of love with the show. The guy I identified with, who I could see myself in, was stripped of all the characteristics that made him feel real. He became a joke.

I have previously written (at length) about Hank Moody and the misguided concept of “the one”.  I feel like this series constantly tried to undermine its own ideas by providing multiple female characters that would have been far better matches with Hank than Karen (later seasons excluded, mainly the crazy ex that burned his apartment and tried to kill Hank). The show gave us viable alternatives, but it shut all of them down because it was bound and determined that Hank Moody end up exactly where he started.

This finale needed to be the show finally saying something. Making a statement that justifies seven seasons of sex and titillation.  Saying something very big about relationships and how men and women reconcile and come together time and time again but maybe, just maybe they shouldn’t.

I didn't want Hank to end up with Karen. Not because I hate her, but because that's not what the show needed to be. That's not what Hank needed to be. Californication seemed like a show destined to see the lead character alone and happy, finally resolute in the fact that the woman he placed upon a pedestal deserved to stand on her own without his pandering and begging. Hank needed to figure out that he could and should be happy on his own, and Karen needed the narrative right to stand on her own two feet.

That's not what happened. Why? I really want to know. Was this a situation where the end of season four was really the end everyone creatively wanted and then “Oops, we got three more seasons! Just go for gross out humor and the most outrageous situations possible. It'll be fine." It felt so stale and stagnant that, like I said, I didn’t even watch the last three seasons.

I bring that up again because when I watched the final episode of the series, nothing had changed for Hank. I didn't need to watch the last three seasons to know where Hank was at emotionally because he hadn't moved. He was the exact same person I saw in the pilot, he just managed to keep it in his pants for an entire episode. Whoo. Character development.

This show set up from the first scene that, “you don’t always get what you want”. Then, in the last scene, it gave Hank exactly what he wanted. What were you trying to say Californication? What should I take away from seven seasons of your show? Because I got nothing.

If I were the only one that felt this way, I’d just figure I'm yet another bitter, disillusioned writer who is boohooing over not getting the ending he wanted. But I’m not.

Hank didn’t get what he needed at the end of this show, he got what he wanted. He got what he didn’t deserve. He didn’t grow or become a fully functioning human being. And what’s probably saddest about all of this is that Hank had every chance to fulfill that role.

The end of season two is hands down my favorite scene in the entire show (Hank’s ghost conversation with Lew). He had a chance to grow there. Season three put multiple women in front of Hank that would have made him at least expand his horizons and become more competent in some regard. He could have changed and developed. And like I've already said, the end of season four was Hank leaving on his own accord, resigning himself to the fate he’d been presented and apparently moving on with his life.

Season seven ends with Hank stagnant. His daughter is getting married against his will, he’s on a plane with Karen to an uncertain future, and he’s pretty much abandoning (again) the child he didn’t even know he had. What was the take away from that? What was the point? What were the last seven years even about if nothing ever changed?

I want to take a moment and speak directly to Mr. Tom Kapinos, creator and primary writer of the show.

Mr. Kapinos, I am a fan, and even though you probably hate me and will never want to work with me given the things that I’ve written in this letter, I remain a fan of Hank Moody. I own a copy of God Hates Us All, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and if a ghost written version of Fucking and Punching is ever released, you can rest assured that I will buy that as well.

But I left the final episode of your show wondering what it all meant. I know you’ve got something to say, but I didn’t know what it was. I think that the heart of your show rests in the fact that while we all try and try and try to get the things that we want, sometimes, instead, you get what you need. And I think that you were trying to say that getting what you need might suck, but it's better in the end. I just...I'm not sure if that's what you actually said.

Was Hank’s final love letter to Karen moving? Of course it was. Hank’s words and works were (obviously) yours and you had some absolutely amazing words to share with the world. I just wish that you would have looked back on what made the show great in the beginning and made it more real, at least emotionally (because the whole Marcy fuck doll thing was seriously crazy stuff, funny, but creepy and crazy).

I’ll miss that beautiful bald son of a bitch, Runkle. I’ll miss his coked out wife, Marcy. I’ll miss all the times I got to see Becca push and direct her father to try and be a better person. I’ll even miss Faith, though I barely knew her. But most of all I’ll miss Hank. I really will. I’ll miss your Hank, Mr. Kapinos. And I’ll miss Mr. Duchovny’s Hank. But the Hank you two made together, well that was one fun man-child to watch, even in the darkest of times.

Hank had a chance (lots of them, actually) to be something better, but he never did, and that’s fine, I guess. What I can’t reconcile is a Hank who stays the same for seven seasons, and in the end, he gets exactly what he’d been searching for all along. No change, no growth, no payoff. It's cheap.

“It’s always been about her,” is all well and good in theory as long as you realize what makes it "all about her." To me, Hank never did, and Karen never realized what made it all about her either. They ended up in the same vicious cycle that they started with, without any indication that this was better or worse for them. If you were going for a “real life” ending then maybe you nailed it right on the head. Life isn’t neat, it’s messy, and it doesn’t come with those nice little bows. Life is not in the business of handing out moral lessons and clear directives. It doesn't give us any answers.

But I wanted one for Hank.

Dan Ingram is a contributor to Crossover Appeal and a semi-irregular contributor to Kiss My Wonder Woman. He has his Master's in Screenwriting from New York Film Academy, and works in television development. He owns more romantic comedies than I do.