A renowned novelist (well, an actor pretending to be a renowned novelist in Showtime’s The Affair) once said “if you’ve laid all your cards out in the proper order, the ending should flow. It should feel inevitable. At some point, fate takes over a story and even the author himself loses control.” If last week’s doom-tinged episode of Peep Show was the harbinger of a dark fate, this week saw the apocalypse itself unfold in all its lovely destructive glory. The End Times finally came to Peep Show and inevitably enough, with all the cards finally on the table we learnt that in the sad, self-absorbed lives of Mark and Jez, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The episode opened by mining one of Peep Show’s most reliable sources of laughs throughout the years; flying defiantly in the face of all reason, both Mark and Jez continued to harbour their own piteous self-delusions. Mark’s desperate attempts to resuscitate his relationship with April via fax was matched only by Jez’s series of increasingly outlandish age-equations; in classic Usbourne fashion, Jez’s reasoning bore little resemblance to a cognisant argument, sounding instead more like some mid-life crisis-themed episode of Numberwang.
And so began the downward spiral. Mark’s sacking by Croydon’s biggest-balls-to-the-wall bank manager served time on a relationship that Johnson himself had once described as being a power-broking match made in heaven (“I’m going to be Charles and you’ll be my Camilla”). Whilst it was great to see Neil Fitzmaurice’s Jeff appear for a final trademark sneer, it was even more satisfying to finally see Johnson enjoy more than a glorified cameo, as (not for the first time) he unceremoniously severed ties with the hapless Mark whilst delivering a couple of real zingers (“I’m sorry Mark, you just stepped into the arena naked and in a few seconds wild beasts are going to fly to your delicate areas and tear you to shreds”). Amidst the uniforms smirking at his expense, Mark’s joint description of the three (“Jeff, Jerry, Johnson: a trilogy of shits.”) gave them the air of a gloating Greek chorus, a schadenfreude-spewing collective there to snicker at Corrigan’s cannonball into the dark waters of disaster. The approaching riptide of tragicomic finality was cleverly underscored by the reason for Mark’s sacking; the El Dude brothers’ greatest failing has always been an inability to recognise the symbiotic nature of their friendship; their apparent willingness to screw one another came back to haunt them collectively yet again when Jez reneged on the loan Mark mis-sold him, claiming that he didn’t want to be responsible for “causing another Greece.”
Naturally, conflict ensued with Mark subsequently punching the sleepy Jez in the nose. We’ve seen the pair resort to physically inflicting their will upon one another before (such as series five’s Burgling: “Finally, you’re restraining me!”) through to last series’ finale which concluded with the duo pushing each other repeatedly into an electric fence. This episode’s return to violence marked a familiar retread of Mark and Jez’s cyclical swan-dive into oblivion; much like last week’s episode, there was a terrible sense of history repeating – a sense that somehow our heroes had managed to miraculously delay the inevitable once; this time it seemed, there would be no reprieve for the shambling twosome. The arrival of Super Hans, newly single for hilariously spurious reasons only added fuel to the fire. The pair’s misadventures have always been at their most anarchic and unscrupulous when Hans is at the centre of them and this final scheme proved to be no exception.
Mark’s remote shadowing of his would-be girlfriends has been one of this series most profitable sources of laughs; appropriately enough this theme was ramped up for Peep Show’s finale with the trio taking the surveillance on the road like some ill-intentioned Google van. Once described as a “red setter bounding after a tennis ball in the bedroom”, Jez was no less eager to please here, his misguided attempts to atone for Mark’s sacking resulting in an impromptu kidnapping. Whether it was due to the influence of Super Hans, restored once again as his partner, quite literally in crime or simply a result of imbibing of too much “yellow mellow”, Jez’s simple-minded belief that abduction was the answer to all of Mark’s problems was a typical display of the trademark ham-fisted-earnestness that makes his character so redeemably endearing.
There’s been some back and forth this series as to how Peep Show has managed its payoffs with opinions varying regarding each episode’s success in sculpting those masterfully wince-inducing moments; thankfully, Are We Going To Be Alright? found the magic formula: Jez’s fortieth celebrations offered the opportunity for some seriously public humiliation; love was on the line in the form of Mark and Jez’s respectively doomed attempts to win April and Joe, whilst the captive Angus lurked miserably in the background – a constant reminder of the fragility of the El Dude brothers’ hashed-together plan.
Mark’s equally-rushed ‘tribute’ to Jez (“he is a nice man… up to a point.”) fittingly led into something of a deconstruction of their relationship, played out (as is the Peep Show way) in very public circumstances. Jez’s observation that “we’ve lived together for shit long and it’s been… alright” summed up the duo’s mutual dissatisfaction with one another and nicely foreshadowed the show’s final scene. Mark and Jez aren’t (and never really have been) happy with one another and yet their numerous mutual failings as human beings have long cemented their fate together. Like some soul-crushing game of karmic Tetris, impediments to the duo’s happiness continued to relentlessly slide into place: Joe dumped Jez; Angus escaped and April left forever. In the episode’s downbeat denouement, Mark’s dumbfounded wonderment at how it could all have gone so wrong and Jez’s request that Mark pull him off illustrated that the pair had learnt nothing from their escapades and are doomed to court failure and embarrassment to infinity and beyond.
In the show’s final shot, the POV perspective that has been its signature throughout nine series was finally removed and we were left with a depressing tableaux of our heroes, the better to see the misery and discontent writ large across their features.
And so ended Peep Show – unhappily, as I suppose it had to. To borrow (and slightly misuse) an quote from Blackadder Goes Forth’s finale (perhaps the greatest conclusion to any sitcom, ever), Mark and Jez’s final pursuit of happiness “started badly, tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end, the better – but apart from that it was excellent.” While they may not have achieved any kind of personal growth throughout the last fifty-four episodes, they rarely achieved anything less than excellence when it came to entertaining us.
We want Peep Show’s characters to be happy because in so many ways they’re merely inflated caricatures of our own petty, self-indulgent lives… but that’s only partly true. By seeing our own failings amplified in the lives of Mark and Jez, we feel like better people. Now they’re gone (and wolves have apparently returned. Bloody hell.) and with nobody to project our self-delusions and petty hypocrisies onto, it looks like a long, hard look in the mirror beckons.
Crikey. What on earth are we going to do?