Life after the final season of After Life: heaven, or hell?
There’s a scene in the third and final season of Ricky Gervais’s After Life where the comedian and actor apparently wondered out loud if he had finally gone too far. For someone who has never held back on any front, nor been apologetic about it, the scene in question might surprise you.
Co-star Tony Way, who plays Lenny, revealed the details in an interview with Digital Spy, if you’re not afraid of spoilers. Having already watched the season, I clicked safely through and frankly, I was amazed. That was his watershed moment?
While the previous seasons are in the fuzzy past and the land of recaps, there were so many other bits in this one that made me go: “Wait, what? He actually said that?” Most of it is genuinely funny and/or ridiculous, but I did not enjoy morose Brian (David Earl), whose appearance matches his personality. Almost everything about his screen time made me feel grimy. But any kind of reaction – and particularly this one – is a win for the creator: I suspect Gervais would be delighted to hear this. There’s a message tucked away here, and it comes out in the last episode: everyone deserves a chance at something good, no matter how big a loser you are.
Tony (Gervais), whose wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman) passed away from cancer, was introduced in Season 1 as grieving and suicidal, hating the world and all its unfairness, embracing his misery and being an all-round a**hole to everyone, unpleasant and unlikeable. He’s lost the love of his life and somehow still managed to be a completely unsympathetic character. He said he thought not caring was a superpower, and certainly the armour of it can provide perceived protection. How awful it is to move through the world carrying this pain, and having to continue to function.
But as much as Gervais uses the shock factors of extensive strong (Herculean) language and outrageous situations (he’s the master of cringe), he’s also not an idiot, so Tony has to redeem himself in some way, a journey that culminates in Season 3 and make us all go “aaaaaw, he’s not so bad after all, shame”.
His graveside friendship with widow Anne (Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey) serves to show his softer, thoughtful side. He’s kind to his postman Pat (Joe Wilkinson), and close friends with sex worker Roxy, the “tart with a heart”. He visits his father in the old age home, and forms a bond with nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen). The message is clear: Tony is kind and decent under the bluster, his vitriol reserved for those who deserve it.
Season 2 continued in a similar vein, although Tony was no longer hell-bent on offing himself. In Season 3, in which conclusions and resolutions must take place, Tony – after a while, admittedly – understands the flaw in his superpower and that it’s better to be a nice guy after all.
In Season 3, Tony is still drinking a lot of red wine and watching videos of Lisa and life before, while cuddling his dog. It gets to the point where you wonder if there were ever any bad moments with Lisa; no relationship is perfect and this seems a bit unbalanced, even if you understand Tony is only ever going to dwell on the good times and that’s okay, too. Right, even. No need to be as churlish as he is.
Tony and Lenny continue to go out to interview weird locals about their strange stories, and the universe expands a bit with the relationship between Brian and James (Ethan Lawrence, who is Lenny’s girlfriend’s son), and Kath’s (Diane Morgan) search for love. It’s a brilliant little story arc, and cleverly comedic, which culminates in Tony’s goal for her. If we all thought Tony and Emma would get together, which would happen in a perfect world (even on TV), Gervais had other plans. After Life, as life itself, has never been predictable.
Alongside the laughs and uncomfortable squirms comes the denouement that ties up all the loose ends as we see Tony disappearing over the horizon into a gentler, more hopeful future.
“At the end of the series finale, my wife and I were a bundle of tears,” said Terry Terrones at Paste. “Being reflective is a natural consequence when watching this series. For us, it made us think of the people in our lives who are struggling and the people we’ve lost this past year. There are always a lot of texts and phone calls after an After Life binge. The show serves as a reminder to cherish those around you because everyone’s time is finite.”
For more perspective on life and death, watch Six Feet Under on Showmax.