'Work in Progress' finale's beautiful ending with dark humor and compassion invokes Sylvia Plath and O Henry

The last three almonds in Abby's stash -- the last three days of her life -- prove to be the most difficult ones


                            'Work in Progress' finale's beautiful ending with dark humor and compassion invokes Sylvia Plath and O Henry
Abby McEnany (Showtime)

The penultimate episode of Showtime’s queer-centric comedy left a lot of things in a tizzy. Abby (Abby McEnany) told her boyfriend Chris (Theo Germaine) about how she broke his one rule. She had chanced upon his deadname in the previous episode, and Chris, a trans man, has expressly forbidden her to ever ask him about it.

A deadname is the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning. Much like proper pronouns, a deadname (or the distancing from it) is a very important part of non-binary identity. A thoroughly angry and sad Chris shouted at her and left. At the end of the episode we saw Abby, in her sadness, text her ex Melanie (Echaka Agba), asking her if she wanted to talk.

The season finale titled ‘3, 2, 1’, signifying the last three almonds from the batch of 180 at the beginning of the show (after which Abby had promised to decide on her suicidal thoughts), saw Abby in a state of restlessness, days after Chris’ departure. So much so that Abby even hallucinated about her dead shrink. And even the non-existent therapist told Abby that her coping mechanisms were unhealthy.

She refused help from friends. She refused help from her family. Her sister Alison (Karin Anglin) finally managed to push her way in, despite a lot of resistance from Abby. She comforted Abby, cleaned her apartment and tried her best to understand what Abby was going through. But that was not enough. 

One the penultimate day of the last almond, the 179th day, Abby had another thing she was not looking forward to; a coffee meeting with her annoying colleague Susan (Mary Sohn). Despite her trepidation, the meet turned out to be less pleasant than Abby expected. They ended up having a surprisingly serious conversation about Abby’s future at the company where she was temping.

Susan, not usually the most sensitive or compassionate, showed odd amounts of care and compassion for Abby. She told her that she would create a full-time position for Abby at the firm, adding, “Abby, I don’t want to lose you. Just keep sensing that you’re one foot out the door.”

The 179th day kept getting more and more complicated as Abby met with her ex Melanie as well. Abby told her that while she was not trying to win her back, she was trying to understand what went wrong with their relationship eight years ago. She wanted to understand if it was a pattern for her to destroy relationships. While initially, Melanie seemed annoyed that she was being asked to coddle Abby after eight years of them being apart, she gave her some tough love. She said that Abby made things about herself even when they weren’t. 

Melanie left with the harsh words, “Let’s not do this again in eight years.”

After the meeting, Abby mustered up the courage and visited Chris. She apologized for not telling him immediately. Chris was unmoved despite Abby’s apparent desperation that she had no time left -- one almond. Chris left saying that he needed more time. 

The 180th day is where this show’s blend of dark humor and compassion creates one of the best bits of writing. Abby decided, after getting rid of the almond that she wanted to kill herself. Like the depressed poet and novelist Sylvia Plath, Abby tried to put her head in an oven and end it. Unlike Plath, however, she found the inside of the oven to be grimy that immediately triggered her obsessive-compulsive disorder and she began cleaning it.

Abby imagined decapitating herself and Susan storing her head in Tupperware. She imagined others finding her dead body, calling it a tragedy but appreciating that she had managed to lose some weight in the end. She imagined the grim reaper arriving in an Uber to take her away -- and even that turned out to be a shared ride. 

Ultimately, she did not do any of that. She, instead, went to meet Julia Sweeny, whose androgynous ‘SNL’ character Pat had caused Abby a lot of trauma in the past. Sweeny, in episode 7, had invited Abby to be part of NPR’s weekly public radio program and podcast ‘The American Life’. Julia wanted Abby and her to discuss Pat and how it had unintentionally caused a lot of hurt.

But there, a rude surprise met her. Sweeney was dressed as Pat, the character many claimed looked like Abby. Abby was visibly mad and rightly so. Even as Sweeney attempted to sell the idea of an evolved “woke” Pat to Abby, the latter only saw it as the many indignities she suffered throughout her life because of it. Ultimately, Abby failed to convince her and she left.

As Abby walked down, she saw Chris at a distance. With tears in his eyes, he broke up with Abby, gave her a card, and walked away. In a moment of desperation, Abby shouted Chris’ deadname. A thoroughly hurt Chris returned and asked her to read the card.

When Abby opened it, she found a note that said, “I took it on our first date.” There was an almond. 

The simple beauty and tragedy of this ending is a mark of how good McEnany’s writing is. It leaves audiences both, wishing this grief would end, and for more to hang on to. It is left ambiguous how Abby takes this. But it is certain that that last almond is bound to bring a glimmer of hope to her life. Yes, everything seemed to be over, but maybe if she tried, she could take life, one day at a time. 

Like in O. Henry's 'The Last Leaf', maybe this last almond would give Abby the will to live.

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.