[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the “Baskets” finale, Season 4 Episode 10, “Moving On” — including the ending.]
Going into a series finale without knowing what to expect is an exciting prospect in today’s day-and-age of writing toward an endpoint. Even the great shows tend to set up an ending where one big thing has to happen: Someone will rule the Iron Throne on “Game of Thrones”; The Jennings will survive or perish in “The Americans”; Selina will win the presidency or die trying in “Veep.” Even “The Big Bang Theory” built up to Sheldon and Amy winning the Nobel Prize.
But an ending for “Baskets” can’t be so easily anticipated. Last week’s penultimate episode closed with the Baskets family abandoning their plans to protest California’s high-speed rail plans, which would force them to close their rodeo. What seemed like a typical rallying cry for a high-stakes climax in court was overturned early, in favor of sending Chip (Zach Galifianakis) into internal reflection at a retreat run by his adopted life coach, Tammy (Andrea Marcovicci). Let the high-speed rail come. Let the rodeo close. It’s not what Chip wants, nor the rest of the Baskets clan.
What was at stake in the finale was Chip himself — his pride in who he’s become over these past four seasons, and our understanding that a man who lives his life as a clown isn’t any less of a man for it. Written and directed by co-creator Jonathan Krisel, the “Baskets” series finale was deeply personal and casually defiant, without reaching for anything it hadn’t already accomplished.
The plot beats are almost, almost, irrelevant. Martha (played by the wonderful Martha Kelly) goes looking for her friend Chip after not hearing from him for a few weeks. During her search, she finds out Christine (Louie Anderson) is moving to Denver with her beau, Ken (Alex Morris) and that Chip sold his newly bought condo to move in with Tammy on her self-help compound. Martha, with a little encouragement from Dale (Galifianakis, as well), quickly decides Tammy is taking advantage of Chip, setting him on a path toward self-discovery and then making him pay her for further answers.
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So they spring him. After Chip’s French ex-wife Penelope (Sabina Sciubba) lures him outside Tammy’s gates, Dale, as usual, goes way too far, using masks and firearms to drag his brother into the back of a van and shooting Martha in the process. This explains the winking episode description — “Martha removes her cast,” which nods to the semi-permanent encasement Martha has had on her right forearm since the premiere — but also sets up one of many sweet, brief goodbyes, as Chip crawls into bed with Martha in the hospital, watching her shows and enjoying something she wants to enjoy, instead of making her engage with him on his terms.
All of what came before, though, is to set up a formal sit down between mother and son. The two driving forces of the series, both stubborn in their own right, have to come to an agreement before Christine leaves town and Chip makes his next move. Mrs. Baskets defends her actions of the last four years — interfering with his marriage, his life coach, and more — as being in the best interests of her son: “I’m sorry, Chip. When your dad died, I was trying to protect you from all the pain. […] Maybe I was just trying to feel better myself… […] but I know these people don’t care about you. They’re not your family.”
Christine is right in this regard, and Krisel acknowledges as much. The Baskets family is twisted, weird, and features plenty of unhealthy antics (I mean, just look at what Dale has become), but they are there for each other when it counts. Right after Christine says her peace, there’s a shot of Dale and Ken drinking beers, patiently waiting for their family members to hash things out. Them being there can’t be taken for granted, and it’s a sweet moment, even after all the problems Dale has caused (and will cause).
But “Baskets” really wraps up on Chip’s side of things, as he finally defines who he is, and why that’s OK:
I’m not a boy. I’m a grown-up. But I’m a clown. When I clown, sometimes I fall and slip on a banana and I get back up and I step on a rake and it hits me in the face, but I get up again. Just like I do as a grown-up. […] I just want you to treat me as an adult. And I’ll do the same for you.
In the grand scheme of things, we’re all like Chip. We all fall down, and we all get back up. That’s life. But he sees those travails as comic pratfalls and endearing encouragement, rather than serious accidents and reasons to change. It’s why he can rent a car and immediately total it, running away from the scene without a second thought (other than to call his rental agent). His life is a stage, and he’s always in makeup. Chip doesn’t want to see himself as a regular guy. It would be too sad. But he doesn’t want to live as a sad clown either.
When “Baskets” began, he was accepting a loveless, lonely life. Chip was living overseas away from his family and marrying a woman who made it explicitly clear she only wanted him for a green card. That’s a sad clown if we ever saw one. But by the series’ end, he’s accepted that’s not how his life has to be; he can live in Bakersfield near his friends, his brother, and his people. He can take care of himself, both professionally (by making a good living) and personally (by surrounding himself with people who love him). Clowning makes him happy, but, more importantly, he can live his life as a happy clown.
The final seconds of “Baskets” pass by in a flurry. Though there’s a long hold on Chip and Martha in the hospital, as the camera retreats every so slowly out of her room, the last scene shows Christine and Ken loading up and heading to Denver. They say goodbye to Chip and Dale, and then Dale peaces out like it’s no big deal, leaving Chip standing tall by himself. Krisel then cuts to a brief shot of Baskets the Clown, spinning in the spotlight, happy as can be. That’s Chip, and that’s how we’ll always remember “Baskets” — a grown-up, but a clown.
“Baskets” is available through FX. Seasons 1 – 3 are streaming on Hulu.