The words of Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” the unofficial theme to Hank Moody’s escapades over the last seven years, mean a little more now than they have at other points of Californication’s run. As the gentle coo of Sir Elton’s 1972 hit appropriately closes out the final episode of the series, it does so on a simmer, which for some is a surprising contrast since from the very first episode, Californication’s success was predicated on a plot-rattling boom and its often messy aftermath.
In the end, the fighting, both justified and petty, didn’t matter, nor did the chronic fuck-ups, the broken promises, and the words that were held back. All those memories neatly fade into the night. Californication’s final episode, “Grace,” was as much about letting go of the past and the recent past as it was about healing old wounds.
It was about self-awareness, from the perspective of the characters and the showrunners responsible for keeping Henry James “Hank” Moody in our homes for an impressively long run. It was about a show that stayed the course and left our screens with a fitting ending, one that stays true to the plight of a lonely rocket man out in Los Angeles.
“I miss the earth so much/I miss my wife/It’s lonely out in space”
The acoustic cover of “Rocket Man” that ends the pilot episode of Californication plays over Hank’s flashback of a life he terribly misses. After Hank realizes he’s lost the love of his life to another man and he happened to sleep with that man’s underage daughter, his solace is in memory only. There was a young Becca sitting on the floor coloring with the woman who was and still is his everything but he never asked to marry. Hank could miss his former life and make passive–aggressive attempts to win it back, but the reality was Hank was adrift in the city of angels. Hank wished to stay in New York but he moved to LA, a city he loves to loathe, for Karen, Becca, and to further his own career. Hank was alone in a physical and mental state he never wanted to be in, and the only word he could punch into his keyboard was “Fuck.”
Throughout the years, Hank, while genuinely missing New York and struggling to keep a job in LA, stayed on the left coast because of Becca. Through Becca, Hank kept a connection to Karen even when in some seasons it felt as though it was slipping away for good. When Hank had little to grip on to, he found Karen in other places. A line I’ve come back to a few times in reviewing the series for me solidified Hank’s emotional connection to Karen through his writing. “Everything that I write is either for her or about her,” Hank tells Atticus in season six. “I’m with her, even if I’m not.”
The trouble Hank found, though Karen was supposedly “with” him when it comes to his writing and odd writing gigs, was that the workplace breeds sexual tension. He became the master of letting it out and putting on the ‘I didn’t mean to’ face. Even in this final season, when Hank tries to behave, he’s going down on the lead actress and surrendering to Julia’s sexual demands in her trailer. Sex has both positively affected his work—while statutory rape should never be condoned the situation spawned one of his best literary works—and cost him opportunities. As Hank leaves our screens, his career is a wide-open road, but I guess that’s the life of a writer. Rick Rath, a character I wish could have been there to save season five, tells Hank to stick with TV, but write what he knows best. And we all know that is women.
With the idea about writing a show based on the women in his life, Californication showrunner Tom Kapinos makes the final, and maybe most fitting, Dawson’s Creek reference of the series. Kapinos, who wrote a handful of Dawson’s Creek episodes back in the day, has sprinkled in plenty of fun subtle Creek references over the years. Karen’s last name is Van Der Beek after all, Tom and Katie starred in A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Goldie supposedly wrote a few Creek episodes and Todd the director goes from shooting campy teen horror films alongside Dawson to helming a porno in Charlie’s house.
I might be one of the few crossover fans of both shows, but I digress…
“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids/In fact it’s cold as hell”
In the final two episodes, Hank finally confronts the reality that he’ll have to bridge his two families together. He spent the entire season curiously hiding Levon from Becca, but we now see that withholding that information was a plot device to wrap up the season’s storylines. Bringing in Levon, who started to grow on me as much as he grew on Hank, was a way of giving Hank a chance to repent for his sins of a past life.
In Becca’s long-awaited return, she point out the hypocrisy of Hank’s stance on her forthcoming marriage and all the pain he put her through growing up in a town that had more demons than angels. Really, Becca was back to show she was a survivor. Despite all she went through, despite all the unsavory memories Hank filled in her head, she never lost sight of the best gift her father gave her.
Becca, like Hank, never loses hope. Becca, like Hank, always saw her parents ending up together. Becca, like Hank, believed in redemption. Even if Hank doesn’t initially approve of what Becca has to say, it takes some time for him to realize that her words have greater meaning than anything he’s written on a page.
“I think it’s to going to be a long, long time/’till touchdown brings me round again to find/I’m not the man they think I am at home”
How do you close the final chapter for a character that has repeatedly pissed away any chance of a happy ending?
I’m sure it’s a question that Kapinos wrestled with for a long time. When Californication was thankfully renewed for a final season, I wanted the series to take the long, winding road home. Hank never lost sight of his final destination so it was only fitting that he end up with Karen in some improbable way.
For the majority of this season, Californication was reborn with its excellent supporting cast. The fact that I’ve typed this many words without mentioning Charlie and Marcy is a crime. Their road to happiness was as bumpy and fucked up and entertaining as we could have hoped for. The show could have gone on for another season with Levon, Julia and Rath and I would have been on board with it. Things were going so well, you almost forgot about Karen, especially with Becca nowhere to be found.
The season felt fresh because while some of the old Hank remained there, he had mostly moved on. His chemistry with Julia was palpable, his connection with Levon reached believability after a rough start, and most importantly he seemed happy.
Like most humans, Hank only understands what he has when it’s gone. Just as Hank once impulsively asked for Karen’s hand when he’s faced with the reality that he’s already lost her, he’s overcome with a rush of emotions when Karen gets in a car accident. It’s one thing for him to think she’s been there with him all along and another to ponder the prospect of her no longer being with him. Now Hank just needed the opportunity to lock it up.
While I said throughout that it would be a rushed union to wait until the end of the season to solidify Hank and Karen’s storyline, I’m content with this finale. A subdued effort from Hank, with his passionate message to Karen on the plane, was more fitting than the bombshell effort I was expecting. If Hank was never going to be the guy to ask for her hand, he wasn’t going to have a sudden change of heart in the last hour of the series. The imagery-ladden ending alludes to Hank, the rocket man, drifting off into the ordinary. He leaves his beloved car and the venomous city he loathes in pursuit of a happy ending back east.
The song about how being an astronaut, an occupation that was once a symbol of power and hope, isn’t as glamorous as it used to be plays as Hank and Karen take off. They lock hands and suddenly the story that Hank has written for himself doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that he’s there for Becca and that he’s still there with Karen, despite all the obstacles, that matters most. This time he finally got the ending right.
Best of the Rest:
Wow, it’s tough to see Californication come to an end. I’ve written about the show the last two years and spent the previous five making the joke that I wanted to be a writer because of Hank Moody. In all seriousness, it feels like the end of an era. Though it wasn’t my favorite show on television, Californication was there when I needed a laugh or a savvy Hank Moody line to make me sound like a wise ass. I started watching the show as a teenager because it promised consistent nudity and it felt like nothing else on television, buoyed by a protagonist that was thoroughly unafraid to speak his mind. I watch the final episode now as an adult, analyzing the context of Hank’s relationships and jotting down what not to do when I meet the woman that I’ll spend years trying to win over.
So, thanks for the wisdom and memories, motha fuckas!
And finally, the feels from cast member Christopher Titone, who played the revered Hugh:— Christopher Titone (@ChrisTitone) June 29, 2014