I predicted shit was going to get real in this season of Catastrophe, and that it did. We know Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) have had some seriously rough times before, but we never actually witnessed it all. We learned that Frankie being born prematurely put a heavy strain on their relationship—so heavy in fact, it almost tore them apart—through a conversation on their wedding anniversary/Frankie’s birthday in Season Two. And although the conversation was gut-wrenching enough to give us a pretty clear idea of what they had gone through, I couldn’t actually see them working it all out together. All the craziness that had come their way prior to Season Three was, for the most part, easily shaken off with the type of quick-witted humor Catastrophe’s become famous for. But deeply personal demons had never been a protagonist on the show. Until now.
It’s as though Horgan and Delaney sat down and decided to push their characters to the limits by making everything bad that could possibly happen to them happen all at once. Having only just gotten back into the groove in their relationship, their privacy is invaded by Fergal (Jonathan Forbes), who sets up camp at their house after fleeing from the Costa del Sol and his wife. For Sharon, it’s a love-hate situation. On one hand, it feels a bit like a sleepover at Nana’s house, back when they were children. On the other, well, he’s still her brother, and let’s be real: There’s only so much family you can take once you’re an adult.
To Rob, Fergal’s presence is nothing but an added source of unease, as he’s settling into his first week back at Braeband. Just because Fergal is his brother in-law doesn’t mean Rob feels comfortable enough to be his natural self, which at this point can be summed up as defeated, anxious, depressed, burdened and guilty. Yeah, not the kind of qualities you’d want to share with anyone, really. Not even your spouse. And just as it looks as though nothing could possibly make things worse, Sharon’s phone rings: Her father has had a stroke on the plane back to Ireland. Fucking Ryanair, indeed.
Whether it’s parenthood, the intimate (dis)honesty of their relationship, all this talk about being godparents to Fran and Chris’ kid, or the fact that, following Dave’s (Daniel Lapaine) OD and being witness to Des’ (Gary Lilburn) mental and physical decline, they have become more aware of their own mortality—whatever it is, it has softened their characters immensely. Sharon’s intense, motherly love for Frankie after his fall at the beginning of this season; her concern for her ailing father, and even her remorse and half-assed, though well intended, attempts at meeting Rob halfway on certain things—they all show a very personal, vulnerable side to a woman who doesn’t care for grand displays of emotion unless they’re of the moody kind. Being at home with her family, hurt by her parents’ shrine to Fergal, underlines her need to discard her role of the adult for just a minute, and be coddled and fussed over as much as her brother.
In Rob’s case, his humiliating position back at Braeband and his secret alcoholism are major contributing factors to his mounting insecurity, ballooning body, and the shrinking of his once proudly tall frame. When Sharon leaves to be with her family, his drunken despair reaches new heights, to the point that he puts his children at risk. Luckily, babysitter Anna (my favorite TV chav, the hilarious Lauren Socha) gives him the wake-up call he needs to pack up and make his way to Ireland to be with his wife. Realizing how far he has let himself sink, he can’t stop himself from crying as he readies himself to head to the airport. But it’s too late; he’s missed his chance to tell her the truth. Sharon’s father has died, and there’s no way Rob can lay his shit on her now, as he explains to Chris at the funeral: “The situation dictates that I’m OK.” Once again, he puts his own needs aside for the good of his family. The kids can already feel something is amiss, and Frankie’s little hand on his parents’ backs in a show of support really drives that awareness home.
As always, even in a sad, difficult situation, such as Des’ funeral, Catastrophe finds room for inappropriate humor, and it’s fitting to find Carrie Fisher take center stage with tactless comments and the type of enthusiasm usually reserved for holidays. I’m sure she would have approved of this performance going down as one of her last, given that she takes an unexpected stance of motherly support on Rob’s failed sobriety. From the moment Mia shows up, it’s evident Rob wants nothing more than to break the silence and confess to his mother.
It’s the middle of the night when he finally does so, and for a moment, Mia’s soft and soothing inquiry as to whether he’s had a nightmare fooled me into believing Rob’s honesty would be met with compassion. Instead she slaps him, the disappointment clearly visible in her eyes as she compares him to his father, who broke her jaw on a violent bender. Rob, unaware of this, is shocked by this revelation, and swears he would never lay hands on his wife. But Mia’s not convinced: “If you ever hit Sharon, I’ll fucking kill you,” she tells him.
The next evening, Rob takes a step forward by showing up at an AA meeting for the first time in a while, but decides to ditch it when Chris and Dave invite him out to a Chinese meal instead. Meanwhile, Sharon meets up for a drink with Fran (Ashley Jensen), who is still grieving Douglas’ (Douglas Hodge) penis after their sudden break-up and can’t seem to make space for her friend’s very real, albeit unspoken, anguish. Self-absorbed as always, she waffles on until Sharon can no longer stand to “blow smoke up her arse” and excuses herself to the bathroom. It’s here she finds a letter from Fergal in her coat pocket, in which he admits to being a prick for never having told her that Des always talked about her; and it is here she finally finds the space to cry and mourn her father.
Drunk, hilarious and incredibly relieved, she calls Rob—her rock—to pick her up and drive her home. He’s exhausted, but his face warms at the sound of his wife’s jokes and he agrees to come get her. Sharing an openly emotional and uncharacteristically gooey moment in the car, the atmosphere is heavy with their fears of impending change. After promising each other a happily ever after, the fleetingness of life confronts them once more when Sharon jumps out of the car and is almost hit by a bus en route to getting a slice of disgustingly greasy pepperoni pizza. They share a telling look, echoing the promise they had just made to one another: Don’t ever leave me. But all is OK. Until Rob drives on and is hit by an oncoming car. Sharon rushes over to him, the shock kicking in as Rob looks up to her sobbing, his face bloodied. “Is the police coming? They’re gonna put me on a breathalyzer. I’m not gonna pass it. I’m sorry,” he says.
I don’t think this show has ever made me want to cry as much as it did in the Season Three finale. Both Horgan and Delaney are at the top of their game, and the former especially delivers an unforgettable, emotional performance, one that casts his character in a completely different light. Season Three has taken on a more serious, “grown-up” tone, and while I wasn’t certain about it at the start of the season, I can now honestly say that in terms of character building and narrative evolution, this may have been the strongest, darkest and, above all, realest season of Catastrophe so far.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.