The following contains spoilers for the series finale of Kevin Can F**k Himself, S2E8, “Allison’s House” (written and directed by Valerie Armstrong)
The series finale of Kevin Can F**k Himself honestly left me feeling oddly sad. Not in the sense of crying with a box of tissues, mind you; this wasn’t the kind of conclusion that brought with it tearful catharsis. Rather, as I sat in the wake of “Allison’s House” I felt…kind of empty.
I can’t say for sure whether or not this was Valerie Armstrong’s intention. I would guess that it wasn’t. If there’s a message at the end of Kevin Can F**k Himself, it would seem to pretty clearly be that you have to face your problems. You can’t run away from them, and no one else can solve them for you.
We see this with Allison, of course, who is clearly unhappy in her life as Gertrude even as it seems to not be all that bad. And it is brought home in the culmination of Neil’s story, as he looks to Diane for salvation and she refuses to offer it. Tammy brings things to a head with Patty even though it causes them to break up, and even though Tammy could see that coming. And Patty stands up to Neil, refusing to continue to let her life circulate around what he needs.
It’s significant that things do not work out well for everyone, or anyone really, in concrete material terms. “Allison’s House” asserts that this isn’t the important thing. What’s important is Allison confronting Kevin head-on and demanding a divorce, and it’s not the consequences that make it the right thing to do. It’s her claiming of her own autonomy as a person.
I don’t mourn Kevin’s death, and it’s fitting in a way that once he’s lost all of those around him, he self-destructs, burning his own house down.
But I’m not sure I buy it. Perhaps it’s because the series has done such a compelling job of presenting Kevin as teflon. And indeed it’s no surprise that by the beginning of S2E8 he already has a new girlfriend. That she ditches him after an offscreen conversation with Allison is less plausible.
The significant moment is of course when the sitcom breaks, exposing Kevin as the abusive and dismissive man he is. The effect is quite striking, coming as it does in the midst of Allison persisting in her demand for divorce. At this moment he can no longer divert her desire into the comedic frame—he is forced to take her seriously. And so just as he is exposed at his most brutal, his power is lost.
If nothing else, this scene makes S2E8 worth it, and I might even argue that it constitutes the proper ending of the show, with what follows serving as a kind of coda, or addendum. But that would be to risk ignoring the other main thematic throughline of the series finale.
There is something about solidarity between women at play in this episode, even if I can’t help but feel it’s a little undercooked. Tammy tracks Gertrude-Allison down but declines to turn her in because she doesn’t think she’s the enemy, which I’m not sure is exactly in character. Or maybe it is, and the problem is that Tammy has never landed terribly well for me as a character. Either she doesn’t feel like a real person or it’s a failure of empathy on my part, but regardless it doesn’t exactly feel plausible to me that she’d go through all of the trouble to track Allison down, only to be satisfied with an implied answer to the question that’s been keeping her up at night. But, OK, Allison is not the enemy and she sees the enemy in Kevin and what he represents. Is this solidarity?
The series ends with Allison and Patty sitting outside of the burnt-out shell of Allison’s house (or Kevin’s house, if you prefer). “Let’s die alone together.” It’s almost a mantra of a subdued liberation, or a kind of thesis statement for Kevin Can F**k Himself to conclude on—the freedom of simply being able to be, without the sitcom or the drama. It’s the freedom of mundane self-determination that Patty told Neil she wanted earlier in the hour.
And here it is. With the husk of their lives behind them, Allison and Patty assert the value of their friendship outside of any greater frame, and without any ambition. It’s poignant.
So I struggle to say why this all left me feeling hollow. It’s certainly not that I want to deny any of the implicit lessons in “Allison’s House.” It’s more that I’m not sure they feel earned. The narrative moves in the direction of asserting the importance of autonomy even if the consequences will be dire, but then dials back to suggest that things won’t be so bad. And somehow, to me, this makes the conclusion feel less empowering.
Perhaps this is not solidarity, if solidarity implies common cause. Perhaps it’s a being-together without cause or purpose, and there may be comfort in that, even if it strikes me as less than satisfying.
Kevin Can F*ck Himself
From the beginning, Kevin Can F**k Himself has brilliantly deployed its form in service of its themes, and while I’ve always been tempted to take those themes all the way to a societal level, as though the stakes of this story were of a grand historical nature, perhaps that’s led me to somewhat miss what’s right there for everyone to see: its function as a critique of television itself, and the sitcom in particular.
It’s not for nothing that Kevin’s new girlfriend in S2E8, Molly, is played by Erinn Hayes, the very actress who played the sitcom wife who was killed offscreen in Kevin Can Wait. The guiding idea of Kevin Can F**k Himself was clearly always in questioning the tendency for TV series to treat women more like props than persons, and Donna’s fate in Kevin Can Wait exemplifies this.
Of course, in Kevin Can F**k Himself, Molly is the one replacing the (supposedly) dead wife, and we could read this as a subtle middle finger to the creators of Kevin Can Wait. More importantly, though, she realizes that Kevin is a cancer and gets away from him, even if her autonomy is mostly left offscreen.
But maybe that’s important, too, as surely part of the point is that women are never merely characters in the stories of men; they always have rich inner lives outside of that frame. It’s the frame that’s stifling and oppressive, and it’s this frame that Kevin represents.
And Kevin can f*ck himself.