Sweet Tooth’s Final Season Makes Good on Bringing Closure to This Exceptional Adaptation

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Sweet Tooth’s Final Season Makes Good on Bringing Closure to This Exceptional Adaptation

Jeff Lemire, the creator of the 40-issue Vertigo comic book series Sweet Tooth, should feel pretty good right now. Not only did he write an excellent comic, but he’s the rare creator who can boast that the live action adaptation of his work has done him very proud. While Netflix’s Sweet Tooth does depart dramatically from Lemire’s narrative in its final season, showrunner Jim Mickle and his writers ultimately remain true to the themes, character arcs, and the environmentally-stark message of the source material—just in their own brilliantly remixed way.

Occurring a decade and change after a global virus—dubbed “The Sick”—killed most of the human population, 10-year old Gus (Christian Convery) represents how nature has reimagined itself. He’s a hybrid, part human and part deer, who might be the “patient zero” of this next stage of human evolution. As there have been no “normal” human children born post-“The Sick,” many of the adult humans who managed to avoid the deadly plague now harbor an outsized fear and resentment for all hybrids. In the first season, the death of Gus’s father, Pubba (Will Forte), forced the young boy to leave the safety of his remote Yellowstone cabin to seek out the mother he’s never met, a scientist named Birdie (Amy Seimetz). 

At the end of Season 2, Gus, his human protector “Big Man” Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), and newly reunited sisters—human Becky (Stefania LaVie Owen) and hybrid Wendy (Naledi Murray)—brought down the maniacal hybrid-hater General Abbot (Neil Sandilands) and his The Last Men army. However, the cost was great, as Wendy’s adopted mother Aimee (Dania Ramirez) sacrificed herself to protect her daughter. With Gus having visions of his mother and an ominous cave in Alaska throughout the series, the quartet hit the road to get answers once and for all about his origins and whether there’s a cure to be found to eradicate the still-potent virus. 

Mickle wisely broke Lemire’s comic arc into three parts, which gives the series an overall strong structure with a worthwhile third act goal. James Brolin carries through as the unseen series narrator who speaks at the beginning and end of most episodes. In prior seasons, his folksy voice lent the series a fairy tale-esque quality, which set it apart from the bleaker tone of the comics. Taking that magical realism approach has done wonders in translating the story into a family watch, with an aged-down Gus literally and figuratively growing up over the course of three seasons. 

But be warned, tonally, Season 3 dovetails back to the sourcework with its somber and intense mood. On his journey to Alaska, Gus will see, experience, and process death in ways that are meant to ultimately prepare him for what’s to come in the Arctic. At times, it’s harrowing and may be too much for sensitive kids. But character-wise, it’s necessary as it moves Gus into the most proactive version of himself that will be ready to confront his destiny. The shift works because Convery really steps up to the emotional plate as Gus, transitioning the sweet kid into a more thoughtful and world-weary space. No bones about it, Season 3 puts Gus through the wringer. And while it’s painful at times to witness, it’s about getting Gus to where he needs to be so he can make some potent realizations and decisions in the last act.

Supporting Convery’s Gus is an ensemble of actors who remain exceptional at selling both the intimate and high concept ideas of the story. LaVie Owen and Murray get space to create a sisterhood between their characters, with plenty of moments to share their sorrows and strengths as they fight together for a future that isn’t so bleak and unforgiving. The steady anchor of it all remains Nonso Anozie, who does a beautiful job bringing Jep full circle here. As the football star who could once stomp the world into submission, he now knows both humility and compassion. Through his travels with Gus, Anozie has gracefully channeled Jep’s transformation into being the father he couldn’t comprehend being to his own hybrid child, this time for Gus. 

In fact, the exploration of parenting, in all its shapes and forms, is well served this season, running as a parallel story to Gus’ coming of age arc. New characters like fierce Alaskan Outpost mom Siana (Cara Gee) and her arctic fox-hybrid daughter Nuka (Ayazhan Dalabayeva) finally provide a model example of what unconditional parenting can be in this new world order. Also entering into the parental discourse is Dr. Singh (Adeel Akhtar), who is obsessed with finding Gus and the cave. He’s an altered man after working for Abbot and losing his beloved wife Rani (Aliza Vellani) to the virus, certain that Gus is the key to his fate and redemption.

Meanwhile, the frontrunner candidate for “Worst Mother Left Standing”’ is Texas Warlord Helen Zhang (Rosalind Chao). She returns with a vengeance as this season’s “big bad,” intent on continuing Abbot’s mission of wiping out hybrids to correct nature’s “mistake” so human children can rise again. Where she excels as a despot, she fails as a mother riding roughshod over her two adult daughters who she’s bullied into doing her bidding. In particular, she poisoned the mothering well for her embittered eldest, Rosie (Kelly Marie Tran), who’s been made to suffer for having wolf hybrid children out of wedlock. While it’s a treat to see the always-great Tran play against type, outside of the episode “The Pack,” Rosie gets a bit short changed when it comes to character development that allows her to stretch. 

Altogether, there’s not a bum performance in the lot, including several that can’t be mentioned due to embargoes asking us to avoid spoilers. However, it is safe to praise Chao for how villainous she is as Zhang. It’s full out, Wicked Witch-levels of nasty as she struts with authority as the richly appointed meanie-matriarch. Why has it taken so long for other writers to hand Chao as meaty a villain as this? 

If the season suffers any weaknesses, it’s when the players assemble in Alaska. There’s a new pack of characters that come with Siana and Nuka who feel more like filler than vital additions to the last hours of the series. They exist in a subplot that’s a pretty thinly veiled excuse to add more action beats to broaden the stakes for the lesser players, giving them something to do while Gus and Jep head to their final yard line. None of it is bad, but it’s just not as compelling or engaging as other side-quest scenarios that were done better in  episodes earlier in the season. 

However, when it comes to landing a satisfying series finale, Mickle and his writers do a remarkable job tying together the disparate character, mythological, and thematic threads from the book into a cohesive and impactful outcome for the show. Again, while the details differ, the broader themes and reimagined representations of Lemire’s visuals are quite surprising and maybe even a little more resonant, especially in the final episode. The writing and direction of that final episode doesn’t miss a beat in delivering a respectful interpretation of the sourcework that also confidently rewards audiences for embracing this version of the story too. 

It’s been crystal clear from the start that Mickle gets this story in his soul, masterfully augmenting and embellishing upon Lemire’s framework without diminishing it one iota. Mickle’s Sweet Tooth earns its place amongst some of the very best comic book adaptations made. So, grab a box of tissues—because you’ll need it—and raise a glass of maple syrup to the team who so lovingly brought it to life. 

Sweet Tooth The Final Season premieres Thursday, June 6th on Netflix. 

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, NBC Insider, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written official books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios, Avatar: The Way of Water and the upcoming The Art of Ryan Meinerding. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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