When Casual started, Valerie (Michaela Watkins) was reeling from her divorce, unsure of herself and what she wanted. As the finale, “Dave,” comes to a close, Valerie is a bit more sure of herself, but she still seems to have no idea what she actually wants. Most of the season has had moments of Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) and Alex (Tommy Cole) deeply screwing up, but the penultimate episode, “Mars,” saw Valerie crossing the line from uninhibited to unkind when she slept with Alex’s girlfriend, Emmy (Eliza Coupe), because she couldn’t handle him being happy without her.
Deeply unsettled by their parents’ (Francis Conroy and Fred Melamed) decision to get married after a lifetime of instability and promiscuity, Val and Alex spend the finale even more unmoored than usual. Val clashes with Laura and Emmy over her actions, and while Laura’s accusations that Valerie keeps f*cking everyone that her family wants is a bit unfair — Val couldn’t have known about Laura’s obsession with her photography teacher — it does raise an important question: When does finding yourself have too great a cost? If Valerie has to alienate everyone she loved the most in her quest to find herself, is she going about it the wrong way? There are no easy answers on Casual, but at least Laura and Val seem to put aside their differences to once again settle into the routine of mother and daughter, no matter how dysfunctional. Perhaps Val will learn from her mistakes and be less of a friend and more of a mom.
After being wronged by his sister and his girlfriend, Alex once again leans on Leon (Nyasha Hatendi) as he haphazardly sorts things out. After a quest to find poor Carl, the object of Alex’s brief stint of dog ownership, ends in heartbreak, he makes the impulsive decision (really, that’s the only type of decision Alex ever makes) to try and crash his car, only to be thwarted by the internal sensors. Still, Alex takes this as a sign that everything isn’t really lost before finding his way back to break up with Emmy and make up with Val. So long, Eliza Coupe. Hopefully you find another show soon, because America needs you on their televisions (or streaming site) regularly.
While his relationship with Emmy is beyond repair, Alex chooses to forgive Valerie. They’ve been through so much together, even just this season, that there is really no way these two could survive without the other. Their issues are so deeply intertwined that no matter how much they hurt one another, it’s still better than having to deal with other people. The finale ends with the core three sitting in a church, watching their horrible parents saunter down the aisle and snarking about how awful everyone else is, echoing the dream sequence that opened the season. Viewers might be left wondering if anyone has actually learned anything about dealing with their issues, or if they have just gotten better at coping. Either way, this is a group of characters that will be worth a revisit in season two.
By season’s end, Casual revealed itself as a thoughtful and often painful look into how emotional scars shape a person and how far people are willing to go to find companionship. Ultimately, thanks to their own bad decisions and the cruelty of the world, the three central characters are still just as lost as they ever were. Sure, Valerie is more liberated and Alex is starting to realize that he isn’t wholly unloveable, but is it enough? Knowing something intellectually and actually putting that knowledge into action are two very different things. Still, if these people were emotionally healthy, we wouldn’t have a show, and I can’t wait to see what another season brings for these broken people.