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Monday, March 28, 2011

Californication delivers "And Justice For All"

     Showtime's Californication season four finale: It starts with a surreal courtroom scene. Hank (David Duchovny) is read the verdict after being charged with statutory rape, a plot arc that started way back in the pilot, more than four years ago.

     For a startling few moments, it appears that Hank is going to prison to be locked up and kept away from friends and family. Hank is not a bad man, and it seems gigantically unfair. After all, he had been tricked, believing the young girl seducing him was a college student, with no idea she is actually the daughter of Hank's ex-wife's fiance. However, that becomes open for debate once it is revealed that Hank has met her once before that night, albeit when he was plastered.

     Luckily for Hank, and for us, Hank had simply fainted before hearing a key word - probation. A hefty fine and large amount of community service is something Hank can handle as we go into season five.

     Prison, however, would have left him a changed man, one likely unrecognizable to longtime fans. It's not a place that would suit Hank. And so it is with a sigh of relief, and copious sex with his attorney, Abby (Carla Gugino), that Hank is let off the hook. Has he learned a lesson? I don't know. He does need to clean up a few things, but most of Hank's problems are circumstantial. He drinks too much, but only engages in consensual behavior after open dialogue, nothing shady or malicious. Things just keep happening to him.

     The large middle section of this episode takes place at a dinner party that is just pure fun, plain and simple. It's a launch party thrown by Stu (Stephen Tobolowky) to celebrate the start of production on the movie Fucking and Punching. Hank goes with Abby, while Karen (Natascha McElhone) brings Ben (Michael Ealy). Marcy (Pamela Aldon) is living with Stu, and Charlie's (Evan Handler) plus one is his psycho realtor, Peggy (Melissa Stephens). Sasha (Addison Timlin) and Eddie (Rob Lowe) are there, too, of course, as the stars of the movie. Such an eclectic mix of personalities, many with shared romantic history, is just asking for trouble. So, of course, there is plenty of that, mostly instigated by Eddie, who asks probing, intrusive questions.

     I am most excited that Charlie now knows Marcy's baby is his. While Hank and Karen cannot commit themselves fully back to each other until their story is over, and the series is leaving the air for good, Marcy and Charlie need to work things out sooner. Their separation has been hard on both of them. While they are from from perfect, they have a chemistry that is unique and special. At times, Marcy's pulling away has felt uneven and insincere. I keep waiting for Charlie to wake up and do whatever it is she is waiting for him to do. I don't think either one will be happy without the other. Surely Charlie will not, as he admitted to the gathered assembly.


     I love Abby, and hope we have not seen the last of her. As things stand, she has not closed herself off to Hank, but she does ask him to make a choice. While this could be a chance to start anew for the troubled writer, he will never be able to move on from Karen. He has had opportunities to build a future with any number of wonderful women; Abby is just the latest, and possibly the best. But Hank never even appears to consider serious monogamy with anyone but Karen. It's not that he's a cheater, but rather he is having fun and biding time until he can end up in the arms of his one true love. Why must Hank stumble through life so lost? Why can't he just settle for someone else? I would actually support that choice, at this point, and it would not preclude him eventually wandering back to Karen in the long-term.

     This episode is not only a fitting ending for a terrific season, one in which Hank faces his past far more than at any time before, but it could also have made a fitting ending for the series. Hank can finally put the whole incident with Mia (Madeline Zima) behind him, though he still has the therapy of making a movie about the experience. As the episode draws to a close, Hank is walking the sets, seeing the real life people he knows in place of the actors standing in for them. Making a decision, Hank takes to the road, presumably to find his love, Karen, and daughter, Becca (Madeleine Martin), who have left for a road trip with Karen's new boyfriend, Ben. They, too, are thinking of him.

     Should this have been the way Hank went out? Having lost the two girls he cares more about than anyone in the world, but having found professional success, he heads off into the world to find them? I, for one, am gratified that there is more story left to tell about the characters. Yet, it is a moment so perfect, it makes me a little sad to see it come so early. One can only hope that Hank's journey will end on as uplifting a note as this season did.

     One question I am left with: why did the writers choose to have Ben save Hank? At first, I thought it is so Hank will like Ben and back off. But by the end of the episode, he is yearning for Karen again. The scene has the feeling of more than mere coincidence. I guess we shall see.

     Since there will be a season five, what will it involve? I am really hoping that Fucking and Punching will still be filming, for one. While each season has its own mix of fun characters, I am not done with Eddie, Sasha, or especially Stu. They need to stick around a bit longer. I can see where Eddie, especially, may be problematic, as Rob Lowe is already a series regular on NBC's Parks and Recreation. Any way we can keep these people coming back, I'm good. I also really like the possibility of Hank dating the actress playing Karen in the movie. I think perhaps Hank should turn around and go home, unsuccessful in his search, and then Karen can return to find him dating essentially her double. That would be interesting indeed!

Article first published as TV Review: Californication - "And Justice For All" on Blogcritics.

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