What. A. Finale. Catastrophe’s climax was always going to come closer to explosive than orgasmic, but it hurt like only 2019 could. Deeply: because even after four seasons of watching those frighteningly appealing monsters Sharon and Rob love-hate each other till death (or, perhaps worse, survival) did them part, we still cared. Shockingly: because it turned out we weren’t made entirely of Brexit-era cynicism and brutal laughs about Rob shagging in a neck brace, and we still wanted them to make it. Endlessly: because I haven’t stopped rewatching it since.
Every time I return to that scene on a Boston beach, which is among the finest five minutes in sitcom history, it plays out differently, rising or falling with my own sea-levels of hope and despair. Sometimes they make it back to shore. Sometimes they don’t. It’s the exercise in human faith we need in a catastrophically faithless year.
It feels right to start at the end because Catastrophe was always capsizing our expectations of what a sitcom, and indeed a relationship, could be. Season four had darkness and light in spades, opening with Rob in court for drink driving, then careering from one bruising calamity to the next. There was half-hearted dabbling with Quakers, accusations of sexual harassment that turned out to be a leaky classroom ceiling, and there was grief.
In the end, it came back to Sharon and Rob, broken but still going, sitting on some rocks at the end of a bad holiday. A trip that began with the death of Rob’s mother (played by Carrie Fisher, who really did die after season three wrapped), and ended with Rob, grief-stricken and vicious as hell, screaming at Sharon: “I fucking dare you to kill me! You wouldn’t last a minute trying to raise these kids on your own. You’re mean and you’re selfish and nobody likes you!”
Ouch. This is why my partner and I, having managed 15 years and two children together, had to stop watching Catastrophe in each other’s company. There are some places couples can not go. Although in the merciless universe that is Catastrophe, there was some justice in Rob finally losing it at Sharon, who spent three seasons poking the sad, alcoholic, sellout American ad-man bear. It restored the equilibrium of cruelty in their relationship. It also meant I could be on Team Sharon again. (I know, I know, it’s not about sides.)
Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge. How hilarious and raw it has been watching these two endure one of television’s most savage, tender and real relationships in the same four years this country has gone down the tubes. Back on that beach, where they will for ever remain, Sharon and Rob kiss and make up. Sharon says the unsayable: that Rob makes her happy every day. Well, most days. Rob admits: “If I met you right now, I’d still want to get you pregnant, marry you and mess it all up from there.” Then Sharon goes for a swim. Rob notices the “No Swimming” sign warning of rip tides, and we notice the giant signpost hanging over the entirety of Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s masterpiece. The one that was there all along: Catastrophe. Rob looks at the car, filled with their sleeping children, the life they have made together and the one neither can survive alone. After an exquisite second’s hesitation, he undoes the button of his shirt. Chooses Sharon.
In the final frame of this majestic, unflinching series, soundtracked by slaps of water and the rising strains of Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, the camera pans out and we hover over two bobbing heads in an expanse of blue, heading back to shore. Whether or not they make it depends entirely on us.