After Life Season 2 Review: A therapeutic tale about the inevitable acceptance of eventuality
Ricky Gervais' Netflix series, After Life, is about a widower (Gervais) grappling with the death of his wife
Why do we say someone died peacefully in their sleep? Who is it peaceful for? Us or them? Do they know, in their last moments, that it is going to be their final few breaths? Are they really peaceful then? Are they really content with their lives thus far? While, in a way, we are happy about someone dying in their sleep without undergoing a struggle, isn't it also an extension of our own feeling of peace? Just like their struggle, their peace too, eventually, becomes ours.
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Kerry Godliman, Penelope Wilton, Joe Wilkinson
Created by: Ricky Gervais
Streaming on: Netflix
Ricky Gervais' Netflix series, After Life, is about Tony (Gervais), a widower grappling with the death of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman). He's lost the love of his life to cancer. In Season 1, we saw the funny and genial Tony become acerbic and sarcastic. He believed goodness wasn't rewarded in this world, and truth, however bitter, was better than sugar-coated lies. Being honest was his superpower and he wielded it with zero empathy. In direct contrast, Tony, in Season 2, is too empathetic. Yes, he is still highly opinionated, but understands that there are many like him in the world who are waging a lonely battle.
After Life Season 2 plays out like Groundhog Day, a reference Tony himself gives multiple times. Every episode begins and ends with Tony watching a video of Lisa. We see them in happier times to know why Tony is so angry with himself about her death. How can he overlook the fact he didn't get to bid farewell to her on his terms?
But no one can dictate terms over others' experiences, and this gradually dawns on Tony. His life is not just about him and Lisa anymore. There is Emma (Ashley Jensen) who makes him understand that others' lives don't stop just because he wants to stay in one place. There is his brother-in-law-cum-boss Matt (Tom Basden) who, from being the emotional crutch for Tony in Season 1, needs one this time. There is postman Pat (Joe Wilkinson) and sex-worker/friend Roxy (Roisin Conaty), who remind him of the beauty in the mundane like having breakfast with company. There is his colleague Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon), who lets him know there are people that just want him to be happy. There is his best friend-work buddy Lenny (Tony Way), who just sits there quietly, walks with him, works with him, but doesn't offer any advice on coping with grief. Sometimes, it is just about being there. Nothing more, nothing less. And as always, there is Anne (Penelope Wilton), who continues to be Tony's sounding board and is just the warmest human being ever to be shown on television. Of course, there are certain slight missteps in some characterisations that seem amplified because of the pitch-perfect nature otherwise.
Despite all these people trying to enrich Tony's life, he continues to be harsh on himself. "It is kindness I have a problem with. I'm not sure if I deserve it," laments Tony, who just cannot catch a break from heartbreak and loss. But this time around, he sports a smile wider than before, although it barely reflects what he truly feels. "I don't remember how I was when normal. I want to be normal, but I'm weak," he breaks down, and this sense of openness is rare and therefore unsettling.
If Tony tested every relationship in Season 1, he keeps them as close as possible in Season 2. He knows the importance of those people in his life. Yet, he is sad. He is moody. He cries a lot. He is unhinged. He is empathetic. He becomes a sounding board for his colleagues. He is aching. He is pining. And he is all this and more every single day that begins with watching Lisa on a video and ends with... watching Lisa on video. His very own Groundhog Day. Not everyone can fit into that scheme of things... or can they?
After Life is not just about the brilliant performances by Gervais and Co. It is not just about the soothing music used at the right times that allows silence to engulf us in others. It is not just about the therapeutic dialogues that will surely come out as motivational posters on social media soon. It is all about one man's search for closure. Each of us aches for it one way or the other. That is why when After Life Season 2 ends with the promise of a Season 3, we are upbeat. Over two seasons, Gervais has made us internalise Tony's struggle, and when the peace that Tony desperately seeks seems within his reach this time around, it is but natural of us to expect things to look up in Season 3.
And... just like his struggle, we hope that his peace too, eventually, becomes ours.