A good twist is one that you never see coming. A great twist is one that shocks you, yet has a trail connecting all of the dots. That’s what Schitt’s Creek managed to do in the eighth episode of its final season on Tuesday night. Be warned—there are major spoilers moving forward.
In its final season, Dan and Eugene Levy have the difficult task of wrapping a six-season story about a wealthy family who loses their fortune and is forced to live in a two-room hotel in a small podunk town. And 13 half-hour episodes to wrap up six years of beloved character arcs is not a lot of time. For the daughter, Alexis Rose, that means taking a turn into dramatic territory. In Tuesday’s episode, Schitt’s Creek pulled the plug on Alexis and Ted’s (Dustin Milligan) long-term relationship. It’s moves like these—gentle dramatic moments nestled with the comedy—that have come to define the series. And with the clock running down, Schitt’s Creek placed its secret weapon at the forefront.
At the start of the series, Alexis appeared to be a bit character, played to perfection by Annie Murphy. She was a selfish high-school drop out whose most interesting qualities were the misadventures she’d casually drop into conversation. But as the series has moved forward, Alexis has become the most interesting character in the series. Much of that is due to Murphy’s smart, if not surprising, ability to mix the comedic within the dramatic.
With a burgeoning career and a new sense of self, most of this season has featured Alexis and Ted managing their long-term relationship from afar after Ted takes a temporary job in the Galápagos Islands. But in “The Presidential Suite,” he returns to tell Alexis that the temporary job has been offered to him permanently, and he doesn’t know what to do.
The episode centers around Alexis’ decision, and it’s the first time we get to see Murphy dive steadfastly into a dramatic episode. Speaking with waitress, Twyla (Sarah Levy), she debates making the sacrifice, saying, “I did that with Harry Styles and he said it was like, ‘too rainy.” Even in somber moments, Murphy injects this involuntary absurdity into Alexis, but unlike the more ridiculous storylines that opened the series, Schitt’s Creek opted for reality, smartly knowing that the best comedy is always juxtaposed with a touch of sadness.
Alexis sets up dinner for her and Ted. She explains that he has to take the job, but she won’t be going with him. “I’d like to think we helped each other get here,” she tells him. “And when you get on that plane tomorrow, I want you to know how grateful I am to have met you.” Then she joins him on one side of the booth, and the episode ends.
Mastering a final season is an impossible task, but Schitt’s Creek‘s choice to not write a fan-driven final season takes the series from a cult favorite to a masterpiece. Amid the absurd comedy, it’s easy to forget that Dan Levy has always intended these to be real people. Among a cast of legendary comedians, it is Murphy who has emerged as the backbone and heart of the series. The actress, who just signed on to the upcoming AMC sitcom Kevin Can F— Himself, about the oft-castoff sitcom housewife, has the makings of a comedic great.
With only a few episodes remaining, Alexis is cleared to fly the small town nest at any moment, and while it was always written in the script that she should leave, it’s hard to imagine any other combination of events and performances making it more believable. All that remains is seeing how high both Alexis and Murphy manage to fly.