Y’all, I have had A DAY so I’m writing this with a beer in my hand. We’re all cool with that, right? It’s Christmas and none of us can really be expected to get through it without alchohol (preferably delivered by the boxful by a beautiful woman).
I’m assuming you already know all about my complicated feelings for Last Tango In Halifax and that yours are just as strong and just as complicated. But here it is, briefly: last season (which was nearly two years ago by now), the show killed off Kate, one-half of its beloved interracial queer couple, in the single most egregious instance of Bury Your Gays I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen ’em all. The TV watching community at large (and myself in particular) devoted no small number of curses and tears to this staggeringly awful decision, many vowing never to return to Halifax again.
But it seems that our cries did not fall on deaf ears, for recently, Sally Wainwright gave interviews in which she admitted that having a queer woman of color killed offscreen the day after her wedding and pulling her unborn child from her dying body on an otherwise quaint and charming comedy might have been just a teensy bit of an error.
As I’ve said before, there are some things you just can’t come back from, and for me, Kate’s death is one of them. I’ll never love or trust Last Tango as I once did. On the other hand, I was curious about what the show would look like, post-apology. How on earth would they go about trying to make it up to us? And of course I was also drawn back by the powerful gratvitational pull of Sarah Lancashire as Caroline, whose performance frankly makes me want to be a better person and daughter and homo.
So, with a great deal of scoffing, and amply supplied with cookies and booze, we stick our head in the door of LTiH, just to see what’s going on with everyone. And the answer, surprisingly, is: ghosts. This is a ghost show now. But here’s what’s up with the living.
Okay so first of all, Alan and Celia are still alive, though Alan has begun to wisfully plan for death and eventual freedom from Celia. For, though the two are still “happily married,” Celia’s detioration from a shrewd and likeable old woman (with some understandable faults and blind spots) to an unberaable harpy has continued unabated. And even though now it’s too late for Alan to start over (and presumably reach out to a girl he felt a connection with in nursery school), one can almost hear the endless loop of his internal monologue, sadly repeating “why did no one talk me out of marrying this rich, mean stranger?” But of course they tried.
At any rate, Alan spends the episode drawing up a will and making burial arrangements, which could be quite poignant weren’t all processed through Gillian’s unfailingly selfish lens.
As for Gillian herself, she opens the episode by announcing to Caroline that she is thinking of converting to lesbianism. Naturally, this is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and long overdue, since I believe everyone started watching Last Tango under the assumption that the sarcastic, flannel-wearing Gillian would be “the gay one.” However, Gillian’s motivation for switching teams is less “saw a picture of Cate Blanchett in a tuxedo and was forever changed” and more “irritated at her husband for breathing so loudly all the time.” As you’ll recall, we left Gillian and Robbie after getting married, despite the fact that Gillian is a serial cheater who murdered her ex husband, Robbie’s brother.
Caroline says she’s shocked that the two of them are still married at all, given what happened between Caroline and Gillian on the day of her wedding, which I was FULLY EXPECTING to be: “when we feverishly made out in the broom closet.” But apparently they have yet to cross that bridge (though under the influence of the amount of wine consumed in this episode, it is only a matter of time).
First, however, Gillian must deal with the elephant in the room, or rather, the ghost in the barn. You see, Gillian never came clean to Robbie that she murdered his brother all those years ago, and she has come to belive that his vengeful ghost is now haunting the barn where he died. Her evidence is that Robbie has now had three near-fatal accidents in the barn, which to me merely proves that:
1. Straight cis white dudes can’t die on television, even if you nearly decapitate them with a fucking saw.
2. One should not handle dangerous farming equipment if one is pretty nearly always drunk.
Gillian confides her fears to Caroline, and it goes down like this:
Caroline: How about some tea? Let’s just get some tea, eh? Before you start off on a whole ghost thing.
Gillian: HE CAN’T STAND TO SEE ME HAPPY, EDDIE’S GHOST. NOT THAT I’M HAPPY, OF COURSE.
Caroline: Well I certainly don’t judge you for feeling connected to a departed soul. Why, I still speak to Kate’s spirit regularly, which I used to find comforting, but lately I’m realizing–
Gillian: *sobs violently*
Caroline: …Is this about Eddie still?
Gillian: NO. MY FATHER WANTS TO BURIED WITH YOUR MOTHER AND NOT MY MOTHER AND HE’S NOT EVEN LEAVING ME ALL HIS MONEY.
Caroline: I see. So it’s got you thinking about death.
Gillian: I’M THINKING OF HOW NOBODY LOVES ME.
As always, Gillian should, by all rights, be impossible to like, given her status as an emotional tsunami who demands constant attention. But as always, her character is saved by Nicola Walker’s impossible charisma. At least in these later seasons, this tension between the approbation Gillian deserves and the patience she receives is made explicit in the script. A couple of times, both Alan and Caroline are like “well, we can count on our Gillian to take a drunken, violent revenge on us over some imagined slight, but we’ll just have to budget that into the day, god love her.”
Mercifully, Gillian finally does tell Robbie the truth at the end of the episode, and they part ways. It’s a bit sad, given that I did briefly root for them, but as we’ve established, there are some things you just can’t come back from, and murdering your husband’s brother with a wood-splitter is one of them. Best of luck in Canada, Robbie. You do seem built like a Canadian, somehow, so I think you’ll be happier.
In minor news, Greg (Flora’s biological father) has an insufferable girlfriend, and every time I contemplate the fact that he still gets to be a character on this show, I want to vomit. John and Judith are back together, as she is now a successful (and sober) children’s book author. But every time John is permitted to attend a family event, I hear a dischordant buzzing which I can only assume is the ghosts of a thousand dead lesbian characters screaming “WHY?” Gillian’s son is super handsome and functional despite having to parent both his baby and his mother. Caroline’s older son is just actually Percy Weasley, and Caroline’s younger son is definitely for sure fucking Angus every chance he gets.
AND OF COURSE THERE IS CELIA, WHO DEMANDS THAT EVERYONE SHUT UP AND LISTEN BECUASE SHE IS ***APPEARING IN A PLAY***. The apotheosis of Celia’s character is the scene when she’s about to go in for an audition, which Caroline drives her to. Before she gets out of the car, she calls Caroline an unfeeling snob, derides her for being a lesbian, insults her hair, AND THEN DEMANDS CAROLINE OFFER HER ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE AUDITION. Forget the Ouija board and the barn ghost: let’s focus on exorcising the real bitter old spirit haunting this show.
Except no. I take it back. Let’s focus on Caroline.
The Christmas special is a two-parter, and I spent the entire first half being mystified at Caroline’s decisions even though, as her son said, I tend to trust that she always knows what she’s doing. First of all, she leaves her job as headmistress at the school which is the closest thing to Hogwarts we have here in the Muggle world, to go be a principal to THE POORS! She also moves away from her gorgeous mansion and into a dilapidated (and haunted) house, and what’s worse, she allows Celia to come too! And most alarmingly, she is dating someone who is NOT KATE.
Her name is Olga, but I found it impossible to refer to her as anything but “NOT KATE” for the entire first hour, because her presence felt like such a ham-fisted attempt to placate the show’s queer audience. I mean, how else are we supposed to take the way she is inserted into the show like a Monopoly shoe used to sub in for a missing bishop in a game of chess? She’s loud and oblivious to social cues, and the fact that she is black initially felt just like an odd sort of one-for-one diversity trade.
But in the second hour of the special things become more clear. Caroline, it transpires, is not leaving her school by choice, but being forced out by homophobes seizing on the fact that she is too bereaved to fight back. I think there’s a real case to be made that she moves to the awful house in the hopes that neither her mother nor sons will be tempted to follow. And as we learn the story of how Olga and Carolina me, we begin to see that Olga is not obnoxious, but endearingly messy and forthright.
Okay, sure, she hit Caroline’s car becuase she was texting her girlfriend who she was cheating on, but she also encourages Caroline to take her incredible talents to a public school where she can do some good! And she always shows up with a box full of wine, which grants her forgiveness from a multitude of sins. Most importantly, though, she sees Caroline. Her eyes light up with mischief and admiration when she looks at her, and that is the way that Caroline truly deserves to be looked at. (I mean, what she really deserved was a lifetime of happiness with Kate as karmic payment for dealing with her family, but failing that, she deserves a cavalcade of beautiful, wine-bearing women.)
To be clear, Caroline maintains throughout that Olga is just a rebound, and though she’s smart and funny and refreshingly light-hearted, she doesn’t see what they have as a serious relationship. Which I can be fine with IF AND ONLY IF, that means Caroline is ready to fall in love again in this final season. You don’t get to give us one Christmas special of romance and think we’re cool, Sally. Not by a long shot.
The truth of it is, we’ll never be fully cool with Last Tango again. It’s mostly because of Kate, but the charms of so many of the characters–Celia, Gillian, and John, most glaringly–are wearing mighty thin. Nevertheless, I’ll keep coming back to it, like that Christmas casserole someone makes every year despite its unpopularity, out of a sense a tradition, a dogged hope for a taste of magic.