Putting It All Together: Landstander's Interpretation of the HM Finale (With A Bunch of References to Other Episodes) [If you have your own interpretation, feel free to email me]

WARNING: LONG

I always hear that the ending to HM was sad. And yeah, the camera breaking was sad, and the show being gone is a shame. But I think that underneath the surface, the ending to Home Movies was an oddly happy one.

The ending seems particularly upbeat when you consider the character arcs. The show was never quite serial, much more episodic, but an underlying theme at the heart of the show was Brendon's father. Andrew himself showed up in 5 episodes, but the idea of him was introduced fairly early on, at "Brendon's Choice", and continued to be major throughout the rest of the series. At a young age, Andrew and Paula divorce, and for many years Brendon is left without any kind of father figure in his life. In fact, as we see throughout the new seasons, Andrew has gotten a new life entirely. Season 2 especially shows how, much to Brendon's displeasure, he marries Linda. Season 3 shows us Linda having another child. Andrew is never played as a bad guy, but his relationship with Brendon seems to be of a very casual nature. Consider the idea of "Pizza Club", in which he arranges to meet with Brendon weekly; or his only post-season 2 appearance in "My Cheatin' Heart", which is simply a golf game. The implication is made (and expressed several times on the commentaries) that, in an oddly dark way, Andrew has moved on from his old family and into his new one. To borrow from CaptainRed (though being a bit more specific), Andrew might show up for the occasional golf game or the casual meeting, but he's pretty far from any real "father".

Never was it explicably said that Andrew gave Brendon his camera, but (beyond being a fair inference on a realism level) the symbolic connection isn't hard to make. Awkward with the world around him and perhaps a bit scared at a young age, Brendon turns to his camera. He will be a filmmaker! As I've (attempted) to show on the site, many of the movies showcase Brendon revealing his innermost feelings on his real life. When Loni leaves him in "Yoko", he uses a Casablanca parody as an escape. When he feels threatened by Linda's presence over his father, he (not very subtly) works it into his movies in "Dad" and "Therapy". Whenever a major event happens in his life (or, at the least, most of the time), he tries to turn it into a documentary, seen as early as "The Art of the Sucker Punch". Facing his fear of public speaking? Facing his guilt about taking his walkathon money? Trying to realize his (temporary) dream of being in a band? The camera solves all problems. The camera is the way in which Brendon maintains a form of control; he can't control his father or his friends or his situation in life or certain aspects of himself, but, when it comes to the camera, he is the all-powerful director. In fact more than a few episodes show what happens when someone attempts to take away this power. "Director's Cut" is the best example of this. Sure, the movies aren't great, but they provide a way for Brendon to deal with the oddly large amount of stress in his life, and a way to share his outlook on life.

Enter Jon McGuirk. The character of McGuirk is played to be funny enough that it’s easy to miss some of the depth in him. Drunk, cynical, angry, a children's soccer coach who hates soccer (and children), and with his own parental issues, McGuirk isn't exactly the prime role model for...any human. In fact, in his dealings with just about anyone (including the kids on the soccer team, or pretty much any plotline dealing with McGuirk interacting with other people), it seems McGuirk has just about had it with humanity. You could likely systematically go through the episodes of the show and see how McGuirk's attempts at human relationships fail. I'll just summarize from memory. He tries to make a friend with Lynch despite the fact neither of them likes each other. McGuirk’s various attempts to get a sex life, such as his unsuccessful wooing of Nurse Kirkman, fail. When he does, somehow, actually manage to almost get a girl (Stephanie), it falls apart in a slew of awkwardness and fear (see "The Wedding" and "Coffins and Cradles"). He spends too much time on his crappy car, he hates his job, he lives alone and randomly does stuff like buying swords in a drunken haze. Yet beyond the dark humor inherent here, there is certain humanity to McGuirk. He does have his own (cynical) worldview, his own thoughts and ideas and all that jazz. Look at any of these aforementioned attempts at a real life and you can see it. It's just that no one is there to hear him out.

I think at its heart, Home Movies was the very odd story of Brendon and McGuirk, how they met and how they realized they mutually needed each other. As mentioned, McGuirk is far from a great father figure. I don't think I need to go into detail as to why. And Brendon, not a model student, not good at sports, and with his own large set of personal problems, maybe isn't the usual type for a coach to get personally involved in. Yet, by some act of God, they wound up on the same field together. And they talked. About nothing in particular, just stuff. Brendon's mundane problems, McGuirk's mundane problems, theories of life, swords, any topic was fine. One of the great things about improvisation is that the character develop on their own; as the series progresses (just as real life would progress for these characters), the dialogue between McGuirk and Brendon gets a certain unique rhythm to it, and as the series goes on, their dialogue becomes more natural. There are rarely, if ever, any speeches or dialogues that would lie out what I just said in detail, but the idea is always in the background of these conversations about whatever the plot of the episode may be around. As the show went on, they started to do stuff together, outside the field. That’s not to mention a road trip to see a dead body, a small role in one of the movies, or fixing up the kitchen. As the show was less subtle about, McGuirk became the father figure in Brendon's life.

One of the best episodes of the series deals specifically with the clashing of Brendon's real father and Brendon's father figure, "Pizza Club". It's appropriate that McGuirk is the one to get angry in that episode. To Andrew, Brendon is a son that he "should spend more time with", and thus he's surprised when McGuirk is so insistent upon being involved in this seemingly meaningless club. To McGuirk, Brendon spending more time with his father indicates a smaller role for himself in Brendon's life, something he just can't let happen. The episode ends on a nicer note; they find a nice truce as McGuirk is brought into the club. This is a nice metaphor for the whole series; Andrew goes more out of Brendon's life while McGuirk comes in.

Combine with that the idea of the movies themselves. There's an underlying theme in season 4 that plays out: Brendon is getting bored with the movies. Almost every episode in the season follows this pattern. The best example is "The Wizard's Baker"; despite a strong interest from Jason and Melissa, Brendon is utterly bored with what he thinks is an awful project. Now, their movie The Wizard's Baker was indeed pretty silly, but no more than, say, "Starboy", to which Brendon put in enough effort as to affect his own school performance. But while Jason and Melissa pitch Wizard's Baker to random people, Brendon goes off and joins the Skunk Scouts in an attempt to enjoy his own youth. In "Everybody's Entitled to My Opinion", Brendon ignores his latest movie in order to take up writing movie reviews online. And it seems he's consistently trying to do more with the movies than he was before, such as attending performing arts camp, trying to enter a film festival, even taking on a play. For whatever reason, the movies are no longer filling in the void.

Involved to a lesser degree are Jason, Melissa, and Paula. Jason's family is entirely a mystery, and that seems to be the way Jason likes it. There's a running joke about his father's bizarre behavior, and the closest we see to an interaction with his mother is when he calls her in "Storm Warning", and ends up telling her about Brendon and the movies for the first time. Melissa's situation is similar to Brendon's; left without a mother figure in her life, Melissa falls into similar problems. For Jason and Melissa the movies serve a fairly similar purpose, though they never really display Brendon's obsessive behavior. There's also an amusing parallel that Brendon lacks a father figure and is subsequently seen as a bit girly (think of the jokes involving his soccer ability), and Melissa lacks a mother figure and the final episode (and "Shore Leave") deals with her own femininity. Finally, Paula was always the caring mother doing her best, and probably has the least character arc of her own.

Now, FINALLY, to get to the last episode, which successfully deals with every single thing I just mentioned. McGuirk takes up a much more "official" father role as he makes a grill for the Small family. In that classic way, he doesn't quite pull it off, but he is trying, which is quite a lot. Melissa finds her feminine side and decides to explore it, and a well-done sequence in which Melissa and Paula share "girl talk" shows that perhaps another informal bond has been made. Paula even gets the idea that perhaps she should start getting out and dating more. The trio finishes their first movie, and upon a session with a focus group, begins to suspect that these movies weren't meant for people at all.

The final moments (after a very funny fake out with the grill exploding) follow Brendon as he takes his last footage. The camera falls, and breaks. The animation on this show isn't generally considered effective, but the gradual change on Brendon's face explains everything that's happening. At first, he reacts painfully, and it seems he begins to cry. Then, he looks in his car (with Jason, Melissa, McGuirk, Paula and Josie). He starts to speak, as the usual HM dialogue pose of sticking your finger in the air is used. But his finger drops, and he goes silent, and looks contemplative. McGuirk then asks a mundane question about what to eat. Brendon joins in the conversation, not even mentioning his camera. The camera flickers off one last time, the car keeps driving, and the show is over.

Sad? Perhaps. But the characters have reached a great new status. Brendon has found his true family, so to speak (once again, to borrow from Mr. CaptainRed, whose interpretation you should also read). The insinuation is that what the movies once represented to Brendon is no longer necessary; he has reached a certain understanding of his life and his world, and the security blanket the camera provided is simply no longer necessary. In the tradition of the great character stories, it is presumed that these characters will live on. But, to put it simply, the portion of their lives that "Home Movies" set out to capture has been completed, and they drive on to places unknown. The Nuclear Family from Hell.

 

Jesus Christ, that was a lot of words. Over 2,000, if you include the title and this little ending thing. I wrote this at like 2 AM-3 AM and I feel like a dork now. :( Still, if anyone got anything out of the show that they might not have before, I think it was worthwhile.