What was Kevin Can F**k Himself? A meta-theatrical dissection of the narcissism of the sitcom husband? A strong metaphor about what it’s like to be a victim of emotional abuse by the kind of narcissistic nightmare guy that has his own orbit of worshipers who never believe it’s happening? A love story about falling for your neighbor? A love story about finding yourself outside the confines of a relationship?
Six months after Allison faked her death and left Worcester, she’s in Keene, New Hampshire, her hair a rich brunette, crawling through James Joyce’s Ulysses at a café. She’s alive, working at a consignment store, and living a generally quiet life save for the red Jeep that seems to be trailing her at every opportunity.
Six months later, in Sitcom World, the show is leaning into its modernist critique of the shlubby guy–hot wife sitcom. Some backstory from Kevin James’s career: his sitcom Kevin Can Wait got utterly absurdist, and killed his “first wife” (Erinn Hayes) after a season in order to bring back Leah Remini as a love interest, all so that the show could echo the previous, more successful sitcom (The King of Queens) that featured the two actors.
Knowledge of that backstory makes it extremely fun to see Hayes pop up as Kevin’s new girlfriend of four months, Molly. Kevin has, of course, moved on quickly in the wake of Allison’s disappearance. He’s got the beard of sadness, and he’s roped Pete into waiting on him hand and foot. But Pete has had it — he takes his suitcase and tells Kevin no more because he’s moving to Lorraine’s condo in Florida. Kevin remains unfazed.
Patty has been moving on with her life. She cuts hair, but when she’s alone, she’s looking at her folder of Allison-related clips with the conspicuous headline announcing “Worcester’s Wild Wife” has gone missing. She’s on the hunt. It’s more exciting than her relationship with Tammy. Those two have the chemistry of someone trying to push a square peg into a round hole. Tammy’s desperate to move out of Worcester. Patty doesn’t want to leave. Patty says plaintively, “This is the only place I’ve ever lived.”
Patty meets up with Sam at the diner. They look over her Allison notes and argue about whether she wants to be found. Sam is a no, claiming that people don’t change. Patty’s a yes, people do change — look at how Allison gave up her life to protect her neighbor. “The most fun I ever had was sitting on my couch next to her, trying to pull her teeth out,” she says. “She’s my favorite person.”
Back in Sitcom World, Kevin is barging into Neil’s, where the big lug is making out with Diane on the couch. Kevin laughs. Diane leaves in a huff as Neil spits out a variety of excuses as to why they weren’t making out in a clearly sexy way. Kevin continues to laugh at Neil. Kevin laughs and laughs. He doesn’t say anything! He just laughs at Neil. He exits, laughing. It’s mean and funny. It’s Kevin!
Later, when Kevin (with Molly) runs into Neil at the bar, he lays into him once again, accusing him of hooking up with a “grandma” who is, essentially, Kevin’s aunt. Neil fights back, but Kevin asks, “What ever happened to loyalty?” Apparently Neil betrayed Kevin by getting put in jail during one of their shenanigans, a self-centered way to look at a terrible situation that ended up with Neil stuck in jail. The men are at odds.
When Allison comes back to her New Hampshire apartment that night, she’s in for a surprise. Tammy knocks on her door. In fact, she was the mastermind behind the red Jeep (a local friend of hers), and she was looking for Allison to tell her what she knows about her criminal deeds. But the thing is Nick died, and the criminal case died with him. Allison breathes a sigh of relief.
After finding Allison, Tammy gets things done. She bursts into Patty’s salon, shockingly cheery for her buttoned-up personality, telling her she quit the police force and it’s time to move out of Worcester because this place is haunted. Patty puts her foot down. She can’t uproot her life to make Tammy happy. They’re at a crossroads. They broke up.
Patty’s packing up Tammy’s signature jacket as Neil barges in, asking her to speak to Diane. Neil knows he messed up, but he’s still taking the boorish coward’s way out, insisting that his sister can fix his relationship. Patty’s had enough. She tells Neil it’s time to leave the house. He needs to move out and take responsibility for himself. “I want to sit outside and smoke and not worry about what anybody needs,” Patty says. Neil is shocked and appalled and almost scoffs his way out the door.
Neil’s next move is to go to Diane’s. He’s banging down her door, goonish and convinced he can just declare his love and everything will be okay. Diane isn’t even home, and as she walks towards her front door, she’s skeptical. Neil’s looking for another codependent relationship, and he’s convinced he’s making a huge, romantic gesture, saying they can run away together. “I can be better — you make me better,” Neil says. Diane puts her sobriety first and tells him it’s not her job to make him better.
Keene is only about an hour away from Worcester. So, in some ways, it’s easy for Allison to pop up again, literally, surprising Sam in his back office at the diner. Sam’s thrilled and updates her on Kevin’s life, Molly in particular. Allison’s first move is to go to the bowling alley where Molly works.
Allison clearly said something to Molly because when she appears in Sitcom World, she’s wary of Kevin’s shenanigans. Kevin is lonely and getting lonelier, and in his desperation, he tells Molly they should move in together. Molly defers, making a quick exit to get some cigarettes. Finished in the kitchen, Kevin goes to the living room. “Bad day?” says Allison. Kevin turns around, his eyes about to pop out of his head, as Allison says what she should have said a long time ago: She wants a divorce. The studio audience makes shocked noises and then “you go, girl” noises as she insists on it. In a heartbeat, Sitcom World is suddenly Bleak World, and Kevin’s in it. He’s quieter and menacing with a spot-on accent. He does a master class in manipulation (and IMMEDIATELY). He attacks her verbally, saying she doesn’t want a divorce — she’ll be looking for money or attention soon enough. He says she never follows through on anything whether it’s moving, school, or Paris. She responds, This is happening.
“You’re not capable,” Kevin tells her. “Everything is up to me.” But Allison points out that Kevin’s world has been shrinking. Where are his friends? Kevin says, “This isn’t happening to me, not from my wife.” A victim. He punches the wall behind her. Allison begins to leave, steely and calm. Kevin goes on the offensive, threatening to “fucking destroy her” if she goes through with it. Allison has grown. She can handle it: “Do your worst,” she says.
Completely alone, Kevin chugs whiskey from the bottle. He grabs a trash can and throws Allison’s things in it. He lights her passport on fire, showing that he wants to tie her down — or that she’s completely free. The trash fire burns bright on their Pottery Barn table, and Kevin looks like a devil in the flames. He collapses on the couch.
To the tune of Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You,” people’s lives move forward. Tammy finishes packing her car and looks at Patty’s house sadly. Patty finds out Allison’s back when she visits Sam at the diner. She leaves in a rush because, at home, the McRoberts house is up in flames, spectacularly. Patty joins the audience. Neil finds her, his things packed in a hockey bag, and he walks on, past Kevin’s house. A shadow flicks past an upstairs window. The house keeps burning, the lives of Allison and Kevin going up in vivid flame.
When the house is a pile of rubble, Patty sits on the stairs, lost in contemplation. And Allison appears. “I missed you,” she says. The friends hug each other tightly and take their places next to each other. Patty smokes. She reckons that, for once, Kevin did what Allison wanted. But Allison didn’t want it like this. Allison says, “I want to stay.” She’s in shock. Patty offers, “Let’s die alone together,” a callback to last season’s scene in the tub. The women look at each other and hold hands. They stare ahead into a future that’s going to be different than what they expected. But they get to face the future together. What a gift.
• In a world of abuse, a high five for Diane’s self-knowledge, refusing to get entangled in Neil’s neediness.
• Do you think Patty and Allison are in romantic love? For what it’s worth, “Let’s die alone together” sounds to me a little bit like a Boston marriage. The show really leaves it up to the viewer.
• The worst people you’ve ever met often say stupid little koans like the one that popped out of Kevin’s mouth: “Rule of thumb: If you’re offended by what I said, I’m just joking.” After all, being offended by something is just being a no-fun hysteric, and it’s nice to see just a joke like this take on weight in this context.
• The actors on Kevin Can F**k Himself are across-the-board excellent, and Annie Murphy needs to star in more things. She’s a charmer! The ensemble is strong, but this week’s MVP is Eric Peterson. When Kevin switches from bug-eyed, loud-mouthed sitcom buffoon to Kevin in Bleak World? It’s terrifying, and it’s scary because it’s so scary.
• Kevin in Bleak World is so tense and full of drama that it’s like, Oh, well, isn’t this where this show could have started? If this scene happened at the beginning of the series with a much different Allison looking at her options, the show’s momentum would have felt different, maybe more urgent. The way that the show built up to this scene feels, in some ways, anticlimactic. Nevertheless, the finale was an emotional send-off for a fascinating show and a very sharp portrait of abuse.