In its final minutes of its second season, “The Comeback” asked us to believe that Valerie Cherish would actually leave the Emmys and what appeared to be an inevitable win for her work on “Seeing Red.” Literally walk down the aisle and out the door, into the rain.
It was believable. That's mostly because Lisa Kudrow sold the moment and the choice, Valerie's eyes flooding as soon as she learned in the middle of the opening monologue that her friend and stylist of 24 years, Mickey Deane, had been hospitalized. Later, as she, Mickey, and her no-longer-estranged husband, Mark watched from a hospital room as Sean Hayes announced that she had, in fact, won an Emmy, “The Comeback” found its Hollywood ending: Valerie seemed truly, legitimately happy, having won back her husband and having won her Emmy.
The moment she left the award show's auditorium, “The Comeback” abandoned its conceit, with Jane's documentary camera crew staying behind. (In one of the more interesting subplots of the second season, Jane became increasingly aggressive with both Valerie and others, perhaps as a result of her confidence in what could come from the footage she was getting. Thus, Jane abandoning the documentary after Valerie fled the Emmys was out of character, and the one stray loose end.)
After Valerie left Jane and the cameras behind, we still saw Val, of course, but exactly how was never addressed — and didn't really matter. Valerie Cherish left affirmation and the possibility of recognition behind, at least momentarily, for family, and whether she was holding a red umbrella and trying to catch an Uber in the rain or sitting in a hospital room, it looked great. There was no more shaky camera work or grainy footage, just like there was no more addressing the cameras or trying to control the content. There was only the two people who Valerie cared most about in the world.
The finale wasn't perfect: Leading up to that ending was a near-absurd amount of foreshadowing Valerie's final choice. That was characteristic of the second season, which was darker but even more over-the-top than the first season, especially with its heavy-handed messages. At times, it felt like this season wasn't so much satirizing Hollywood's worst as skywriting it. For example, in the finale, Valerie's house overflows with actual crap, a not-so-subtle metaphor. Later, former Bravo reality star Brad Goreski falls face first into raw sewage.
Most of the foreshadowing and message-delivering came in the form of cameos from season one characters, including Jim Burrows, who told Valerie that the Emmy is “important, but it's not as important as” her relationship. Since Valerie received so much advice like that, it at least raises the question of whether leaving the Emmys is just another instance of her doing what she thinks others want or expect from her — though I ultimately do not think that's what happened. Again, Lisa Kudrow sells the moment, making it clear that Val realizes she truly wants to be there for her sick friend.
Val's interaction with Chris (Kellan Lutz, who, along with Malin Ackerman, followed “The Comeback” with true stardom and thus was playing a version of himself here) also illustrates that her marriage really is important. “You tried hard,” she tells Chris after he aggressively tries to seduce her. Valerie dismisses him to Jane's cameras as a “movie star with a mommy complex,” but when she tells him, “I'm married,” those words are the ones that clearly carry the most weight and meaning for her. That's not insignificant, especially after last episode's devastating fight that followed her ambushing Mark with cameras.
Burrows' cameo was the last of a series of awkward conversations with deeply exposed feelings about Val's behavior, kicked off by Juna telling Val that what she's done by appearing in “Seeing Red” “really hurt me” and “just feels bad.” Valerie gets it but has a sort of <i>What did you expect me to do?</i> reaction that tells us the character really feels trapped in this life she's made for herself. Later, she's lectured by a neighbor whose shower she needs but whose name she doesn't know.
Those are constant reminders of who Valerie is and how she's pretty consistently behaved for two seasons and 10 fictional years. Valerie probably hasn't changed at the end the second season, and this season wasn't about her growing into a better person, but she has possibly taken that first step toward evolving into a different, less self-centered version of herself. That's a Valerie Cherish who's earned a third season, to show us where she and “The Comeback” can go next.
What'd you think of the way “The Comeback” ended?