If you have not watched Final Space, you’re doing everything wrong in life and that makes you a failure but that’s okay… Final Space embraces you for your failures and celebrates you as a person for going through them.
Final Space is, at its heart, a show about characters failing and, unlike it’s peers in adult animation, it does this without the nihilism and negativity and that is… so refreshing. There’s nobility here that is both surprising and welcome.
I am, by no means, trashing the peers of Final Space that deal with failure head on. The Venture Brothers poses the question, “What if Johnny Quest was a failure” and wallows in that failure every week. Rick and Morty celebrates the failure of human decency in a jaded world. Bojack Horseman, another show I adore and you should also be watching, hits home with the failure of living up to the person you think you should be. These shows do this and they do it well but what sets Final Space apart is that, where in Bojack Horseman or The Venture Brothers where people are defined and judged by their failures, Final Space rewards people for theirs.
I know what you’re probably thinking… how do you reward failure unless you’re a Republican voter?
Well, I’ll get to that but first, let’s talk about Final Space a bit more.
The first minute of every episode of Final Space is devoted to what you can define as the ultimate failure… our hero, Gary, floats in a cloud of debris and bodies in outer space. His suit is leaking oxygen and his artificially intelligent computer friend, H.U.E., stoically counts down the minutes he has left to live. In every episode of the show, he loses a minute of life.
Gary… Let’s just say that he’s written with a very shaky grasp of reality. You might dismiss this as a series creating a purposely stupid character for cheap laughs and, at first, that’s exactly what Gary comes off as. He’s cocky, not very bright, and never seems to fully realize the deepness of river of feces he finds himself drifting through without the benefit of a paddle.
Throughout the series, however, we learn that this is not the case. Through exposition and flashbacks, positioned in such a way that the compliment the story and never seem shoved in your face, we learn what makes Gary tick: A stunning failure to live up to expectations. His father was a hero who died saving the universe and Gary’s biggest claim to fame is accidentally destroying 90 spaceships and a Mexican food restaurant while trying to impress a girl. In every sense of the word, Gary is a step down from his dad, a failure in every way.
We see this as he drifts… at first, he pontificates his usually delusions of grandeur, asking H.U.E. how he’s going to get out of this situation. Wasting time asking pointless questions and wondering aloud if he might be secretly immortal… but as the season wears on and his minutes tick away, Gary becomes less bombastic and more rooted in reality. He becomes somber and quiet… he admits that he’s scared. It’s one of his most real scenes in the season and, as I said before, it compliments the story in every episode. As Gary’s walls come down as he drifts through space, his walls come down in every episode as well. Gary admits and accepts his failures.
His failures are numerous. He brings an unknown alien into his ship that he doesn’t understand and keeps it as a pet even though he learned fairly quickly that it has enough power to destroy a planet. He makes friends with a bounty hunter named Avacato, only to watch him later sacrificing himself to save his son… a son Avacato trusts Gary to look after, but Gary put this kid in danger so many times, ultimately and accidentally killing him in the climactic season finale battle, something that Gary sadly doesn’t even notice. He isn’t able to save the resistance, he isn’t able to stop the Lord Commander from stealing Mooncake, he isn’t able to save his ship, he isn’t able to save the Earth… he isn’t even able to save the woman he loves of even himself. Everything Gary tries to do fails and he dies… he dies. Everyone dies.
It’s not just Gary.
Avacato is suffering for being a failure as a father . He made a bad choice to follow the Lord Commander and then, when he was told to execute his own son as a show of loyalty, failed in that regard too, leaving Little Cato a prisoner. When he was finally able to free his son, his dreams of actually making peace with his boy were cut short simply because he failed to keep his bombs secured.
Avacato died, as some would say, a hero and, yes, saving the lives of people you care about at the cost of your own is a noble way to go out, but that death was the result of failure.
Even Quinn, the character who you would think has it all together is awash in failure. She doesn’t recognize that the Infinity Guard, Earth’s outer space police force, has come under the fiendish thrall of the Lord Commander. She’s told this scenario several times by Gary but never believes it even though the evidence is solid. She has faith and, as it turns out, she has faith in the wrong people.
Quinn’s faith, upon learning that the Infinity Guard is corrupt, is crushed and, rather than reroute her faith to people more deserving, she loses it completely, closing herself off, making her cold and unfeeling to the point that even the future version of herself that shows up to assist them warns her against it. In way, though Quinn has also lost faith in herself. By the end of the first season, that faith starts to re-emerge as she finds herself more and more attracted to Gary’s maturing personality, but even that comes too little too late for as Quinn sets off the bomb to save the universe, she’s lost Earth, the Infinity Guard, and even Gary, the man that she could barely stand a few episodes ago. She dies a failure.
Little Cato spends most of the season being used. He’s used as bait in a trap, he’s used to dupe his father and Gary into bringing Mooncake to rescue him… he’s even used as a puppet at one point to beat up his dad.
After the death of his father, Little Cato craves nothing but revenge and he is extraordinarily bad at it. His first attempt is hilariously ineffective, his second attempt almost results in him getting erased from time. When Little Cato is finally able to stand in front of the Lord Commander with a gun pointed at his face, he’s mowed down by the crashing Galaxy One and thrown into space, dying an unknown and unceremonious death.
Little Cato’s journey into Failuretown is complete.
Heck, when you get right down to it, even the series’ big bad, The Lord Commander, is a big ol’ failure. He begins the series as a genuine threat, someone who could kill you with a look even with his diminutive stature and yet, as the series goes on, not only does his plans go straight to hell, but his body does as well. When last we saw him, he was coughing up blood near death, wallowing in the sickening realization that he was not going to become a Titan, but rather that he was every used right along side Little Cato.
Even Tribore, that multi-eyed alien who was little more than a glorified cameo all season, returned as a bad-ass resistance leader, only to be dealt the undignified fate of being shot down in the conflagration of battle.
Everyone dies. It’s bloodier and more brutal than an entire season of Game of Thrones. Everyone dies, the Earth is destroyed, and our protagonist suffocates alone in space.
Yep, this is a comedy.
But, that begs my previous question: How are these characters rewarded for their failures?
The main difference between Gary, Quinn, Avacato, Little Cato and people like Rick or Doctor Venture or BoJack Horseman is that the characters of Final Space saw their failure coming right at them and they stood their ground. They had no illusions they were going to survive, even less illusions that they were going to win, yet they went into battle anyway. They knew they were doomed, yet they persisted with all of their hopes and beliefs and values for no other reason than the very slim hope that they might make a difference in some way.
Often, we see characters dealing with failure, but very rarely do we ever see them up against such insurmountable odds. Rarely do we see the good guys lose to this extent. Rarely do we see the uphill battle change people like it did Gary and Quinn. These characters were rewarded for their suffering and sacrifice in the face of defeat and disaster by never compromising. It’s something truly special. This show is something truly special.
Yes, it’s not perfect. There are some character issues and some forced humor that I would like to see straightened out and, given the series has already introduced a “temporal worm” in a previous episode and the original pilot, there’s a fairly good chance that a gigantic reset button is about to be hit, but Final Space is not being given nearly enough credit for what it has done… It is not the predictable triumph of a group of people when the odds are stacked against them that makes a hero, it is persistence in the face of inevitable defeat.
These characters greeted death like an expected guest and had a bitter cookie together. They didn’t want to die, but knew they were going to and then they did.
For an animated television comedy, I’m not sure you can get much more brave than that.
If you’re not watching Final Space, you’re doing everything wrong.