Hank Moody's convoluted story reached the end of its road last night.
Hank Moody is the white uncle I've always wanted. My actual uncles have never let me down, but I connected with something in David Duchovny’s portrayal of the boozing, lady-killing curmudgeon. Despite his countless fuck-ups, Moody flexed a certain likability for seven wild seasons.
When it was announced that this season would be Californication’s last, I was only briefly disappointed. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning series, I know it overstayed its welcome. Last night’s finale brought Moody’s story to a rushed conclusion as he raced to tie up loose ends and, once again, profess his infinite affection for the on-again, off-again love of his life, Karen (Natasha McElhone), prior to their daughter Becca’s (Madeleine Martin) wedding. It was an expected end for a show that needed to in order to somewhat preserve its legacy. I also needed it to end for personal reasons.
I was late to Californication’s party, binge-watching the first season the day before the second began. I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered: a show about a brilliant misanthrope unable to get out of his own way and fix his problems. Just into my 20s, I connected with his rebellious, "fuck you" attitude, as well as his proclivity for charming women out of their clothes. As a writer, he had a way with words that was the key to women’s hearts (and more), but Karen trumped all of them. What made Moody a three-dimensional character was the love he had for the two main ladies in his life, Karen and Becca. He was a romantic trying to script his own happy ending. With that, Moody became an inspiration for a portion of my early 20s stupidity, when what you did was forgivable as long as your intentions were pure.
The beginning of the end came during the third season finale, when the shit hit the fan and Hank was finally forced to tell Karen that he unknowingly slept with her ex-fiance Bill’s (Damian Young) teenage daughter, Mia (Madeline Zima). The season ended with Hank in handcuffs, figuratively and literally at rock bottom, soundtracked by a remix of Elton John’s "Rocket Man." The secret Hank had been hiding since the pilot episode had been exposed, and the show began to lose steam afterwards. By the end of the fourth season, once Hank’s statutory rape case had been cleared up, the charm wore off.
Around the same time, I found myself questioning some of my own actions.
Let’s be clear: I’m nothing like Hank Moody. He's not a bad guy, but he lives like a bull in a china shop, recklessly smashing into the delicate pieces of his existence. Moreover, Moody found himself in numerous predicaments because of his own doing. Californication could’ve easily been called Before I Self-Destruct, because these crazy scenarios were his fault. He either did the wrong thing or said it; sometimes both. Hank may have meant well, but the pathway to Hell is a trap door of good intentions.
I can recall referring to myself as a "young Hank Moody" once, and quickly being checked by a female friend. "Don’t call yourself Hank Moody," she told me. "He’s self-loathing and miserable. You never want to be that." She was absolutely right—in addition to being self-destructive, he hates himself and enjoys wallowing in disaster. Karen actually checked him in season seven’s penultimate episode: "No, you don’t get to feel sorry for yourself" she scolded as she felt him slipping into his feelings of contempt. His shtick had gotten old, and I don’t want anyone to look at me—a much younger man—the way she looked at him.
Moody was also immature for a middle-aged man with an adult daughter, another flaw Karen called him out on at the beginning of last night's finale. "You’re way too fucking old to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right thing," she told him as he sulked about Becca’s upcoming wedding, an event he had no control over. Hank lived his entire life playing by his rules, and while that no doubt made him attractive to Karen when they were younger, a man in his 20s wears that attitude far better than one in his 40s with responsibilities. Moody walked his way, and while it made him a successful writer and the ultimate Casanova, everyone has to grow up at some point. At various moments during my 20s, I’ve assessed my life and mistakes fueled by too much Hennessy and Gucci Mane, realizing that I can’t keep taking another sip and worrying about the things looming over my head another day, as Hank Moody did. This is maturity; the realization that you have to change, and I realized it through his missteps.
During the finale, Hank finally grew up, fixing messes as opposed to creating them. That involved offering much-needed guidance to Levon (Oliver Cooper), the son he didn’t know he had until the beginning of the season, setting him up with Tara (Emma Fassler), one of his former students. It also meant releasing Levon’s mother, Julia (Heather Graham), to Rick Rath (Michael Imperioli), a mature version of himself. It was the classy thing to do. Finally, he had to give it one more shot with Karen, leaving his Porsche in the middle of the road and hustling aboard a plane to do so. With an audience, he read a letter aloud to her that, like his best work, came straight from the heart. It was his dramatic "End of the Road," and he wouldn't want it any other way:
I’ve been thinking about us—that’s us with a capital "you." The story of us, how the fuck do I sum it up? Has it been perfect? Hardly. Any story with me at the center of it will never be anything less than a big, smiling mess. But here’s what I know for sure: Our time in the sun has been a thing of absolute fucking beauty. The nightmares, the hangovers, the fucking and the punching, the gorgeous shimmering insanity of this city of ours, where, for years, I woke up, fucked up, said I was sorry, passed out and did it all over again. As a writer, I’m a sucker for happy endings. The guy gets the girl, she saves him from himself, fade to fucking black. As a guy who loves a girl, I realize there’s no such thing. There’s no sunset. There’s just now, and there’s just the two of us, which can be scary fuckin’ ugly sometimes. But if you close your eyes and listen to the whisper of your heart; if you simply keep trying and never, ever give up no matter how many times you get it wrong. Until the beginning and end blur into something called "until we meet again..."
He never finished the letter, but he didn’t have to. The look she gave him while he read—the same look of adoration that other women on the plane gave him—let you know he had her. One young, attractive woman offered him the seat next to her, but he wanted that seat next to Karen. The woman to her right was considerably less than amused by Hank’s romantic foray, but she gave up her seat anyway. Karen, forever flighty, tried to resist, remarking, "That hasn’t necessarily won me over." But when he reached for her hand, she didn’t fight him off—she looked at him the way the person who will love you eternally does. "Rocket Man" played just as it did at the end of the pilot, just as it did when their world came crashing down at the end of season three. I knew it was going to end like this before I even watched the episode.
Truth be told, the conclusion of the tenth episode would’ve been a more daring finish. Another one of Hank’s haphazard attempts to woo Karen had turned into a wild, crowded, disastrous night at the Runkles' house, but the last scene featured only Hank and Karen outside of her home. There, she explained that a future together probably wasn’t realistic. "You thrive on chaos," she told him. "You need to be in the middle of some mess of your own creation, right? That’s what makes you attractive, and also impossible to live with." Elsie’s haunting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "Silver Springs" only intensified the pain, but Californication would’ve made a bold statement if we knew for certain that Hank and Karen didn’t end up together.
In an interview with GQ, Duchovny said he wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending, either. "I’m happy with it, but it’s not my ending. Because I didn’t write it," he said. "I was always one to say, either Hank dies, which I thought was good because, for me, the chickens have to come home to roost at some point." After Karen ditched Bill at their wedding and ran off with Hank and Becca, you knew the story would be complete when Hank got Karen. This dragged on for seven seasons, which, unfortunately, made Californication lose some of its initial magic. The thing about the finale is that Hank and Karen ending up together and living happily ever after isn't a done deal. The last thing the audience sees him say to her is this: "Until the fuckin’ wheels come off, baby." It’s as much a reference to their frustrating roller-coaster of a relationship as it is their undying love. Together or not, there’s no end to their cycle. That’s fine; it’s their history, but because we know that, we no longer need to see it.
The reason I needed to wave goodbye to Californication is because I've learned everything I needed to from Hank Moody, my de facto white uncle. I’m not him, but I have a Karen. I don’t want to spend the next 20 years of my life chasing after her, "It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over" style, just like I don't want to live like I’m 24 long after I’m not. I became an adult throughout this show’s run, and the most important I lesson I took away from it is that I didn’t want to be like Moody. The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was the first song played on the show, and the idea that you eventually get what you need rings true like prophecy seven years later. Hank Moody grew up and so have I, so now we can part ways.
Julian Kimble will always remember the good old days of Californication. He tweets here.