Laura Linney and Gabriel Basso amaze in "The Big C: Hereafter." (Barbara Nitke/Showtime )
"The Big C" was never going to surprise us with a happy ending. Even though the hard-hitting drama often was lighthearted as it charted high-school teacher Cathy Jamison's battle with stage IV melanoma, it never gave us false hope as her condition steadily worsened.
So consider the following spoiler-free: The final season, called "The Big C: Hereafter" (9 p.m. April 29, Showtime; 4 stars out of 4) and packaged in four hour-long episodes, doesn't present the end of Cathy's journey through rose-colored glasses, either.
As Cathy (Laura Linney) continues to deal with death on her terms, she struggles to keep her sanity as her body slowly fails her. She makes decisions about her care that leave her family flummoxed, not least of which is moving to a hospice facility. She confronts her estranged father (Brian Dennehy) and sets the groundwork for her son, husband, brother and friends to go on without her.
She tries to find a new wife for Paul (Oliver Platt) through an internet dating service. She encourages friend Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) to succeed at fashion school and inspires her brother, Sean (John Benjamin Hickey), to make a sacrifice of his own.
Cathy's big goal is to see her son, Adam (Gabriel Basso), graduate from high school. She pushes him to make his grades while pushing herself to hold on. Basso is a revelation this season, matching the power and dignity of Linney's incredible performance.
Cancer isn't a subject ripe for comedy, but "The Big C" always has managed to find humor in tough, sad situations. With "Hereafter," creators Darlene Hunt and Jenny Bicks, Linney and the cast and crew continue to guide viewers through treacherous territory many people may refuse to consider.
These final episodes overflow with love, compassion and one lesson we all can take to heart: Cathy lived.
We may know how Cathy's story ends, but the journey there is full of surprises.
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