[Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for “Goliath” Season 2, including the ending.]
“Goliath” never set itself up to have happy endings. From the still-shocking image of a woman being run down by a van in Season 1 to the haunting visual of a limbless Mark Duplass under the knife in Season 2, the Amazon series is as hard-edged a drama as mainstream audiences can stomach.
Still, up until the very end, it’s comforting. Season 1 aims to give an honest depiction of the toll taken from a man fighting a giant, but David still slays Goliath. There are touches of humor, quirky characters, and charming romances; all the staples of a drama meant to be taken seriously without breaking from the status quo too much.
But a funny thing happens in Season 2: Right when you expect David to pull out the secret stone, load it into his slingshot, and take down the beast, the giant slaps his hand, grabs him by the ankle, and swallows him whole. “Goliath” Season 2 isn’t interested in telling the same tale as its predecessor; that’s clear throughout, considering just how freaking weird things get, but those final moments make all the difference: Season 2 wants to be the opposite of Season 1, and that’s a bold, winning choice.
Though sad, it’s also a refreshing, thoughtful ending, best appreciated when put into context. The first season’s finale provides not only hope, but a somewhat traditional ending. Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) gets his moment in court; he stands up and delivers a convincing summation that ultimately wins the case against his former law firm. Billy (David) takes down Goliath (Cooperman, his old firm). Yes, doing so took a lot out of Billy, especially when learning his friend and personal assistant Brittany (Tania Raymonde) was paid off by the opposition. The last shot shows him sitting on the beach by the Santa Monica Pier, staring into the ocean and sipping his whiskey with his dog.
It’s far from a jubilant send-off, but good triumphed over evil. Billy even stands and walks off the beach as the image fades to black, indicating he will continue fighting the giants of the world. And for nearly two years, that’s the only impression viewers had of “Goliath.” Its return in the summer of 2018 (instead of its fall release in 2016) only further indicated a reassuring narrative was on the way.
Yet Season 2 goes in an almost entirely different direction; Billy is beaten down and broken-hearted. Inside the law, he loses his client Julio (murdered in prison), his friend Oscar (murdered in the premiere), and fails to convict the man behind it all, Gabriel (played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Worse still, what little satisfaction the audience can get from seeing Tom punished is twisted into knots until there’s nothing left. First, there’s the conflict felt by seeing one bad man punish another: Sure, Tom gets his comeuppance, but at the hands of someone far more evil than the amputee fetishist. Gabriel is the ultimate bad guy, and he gets away.
Throw in the disturbing horror fantasy of having your limbs removed against your will, and the ending is far too creepy to provide any sort of moral comfort. And all this comes before the real gut punch: Billy’s break-up.
It’s not that anyone should feel overly invested in Billy and Marisol (Ana de la Reguera) as a couple; it’s clear early and often that a principled defense attorney and a conflicted but corrupt politician aren’t in the stars. But if “Goliath” was going to find a way for Billy to get just one win in Season 2, it would be by spoiling the new mayor’s victory party. Surely, he had some legalize up his sleeve — Billy has to; it’s what happened in Season 1, and it’s what his reputation has been built around: winning, and winning with clever, clear truths.
Instead, an inverse to the first season’s ending takes place; Billy’s talk with Marisol isn’t a righteous decree bringing down Lady Justice’s hellfire; it’s a crumpled, heartbroken confirmation. He’s so stunned by what’s happened, he can barely react. “I never did,” Marisol says, confirming through tears she never really loved Billy. Whether or not he believes her isn’t the point. This is not the sight audiences were prepared for, and showrunner Lawrence Trilling knows it.
The final shot is of Billy on the beach again, only this time, he’s staring into the sun. His daughter is by his side, and their dog is running through the waves. He’s not drunk or even tired. Billy is determined. He’s lost, and he doesn’t like losing. Perhaps that’s enough to inspire viewers to watch what’s next.
Maybe the fight’s not over. Maybe Billy will get the brother-sister bad guys next year. But what matters is he lost. That choice proves David doesn’t always win; That choices acknowledges the worst can happen; it proves David doesn’t always win. Living in the times we do, that honesty can go a long way with a series like this one. It keeps “Goliath” from becoming predictable, boring, or too comfortable — and that’s a terrific thing. Who knew an unhappy ending could produce so many smiles?