Reflections on the Final Episode of Seinfeld
The final episode of Seinfeld was sufficient, but not satisfying. It was deserved, but not desired. It involved poetic justice, but not pathetic sentimentalism. However, we, as viewers, should not feel cheated. The producer, writer, and co-creator of the show, Larry David, was only playing by his own rules established from the beginning of the series -- no sappy sentiments and no sermonic moral messages. The willful neglect of "hugs and learning" has always been the aim of this sitcom. This was annoyingly obvious in the final episode that contained no trace of tenderness whatsoever. After nine years of spending time with the characters of Seinfeld -- Jerry, George, Elaine, and Cosmo Kramer -- many fans of the series left the final episode more frustrated than fulfilled.
Judging by the largely negative response to the final Seinfeld episode, it is clear that for the majority of fans the episode was, at best, a letdown. Why is this so? If we, the viewers, feel a sense of frustration it is not because producer David has changed the rules. In reality, David is ingeniously preaching a message to us that perhaps we don't wish to hear. In the final episode, we see where a heartless inhumanity and a mindless morality lead -- judgment! Convicted of crimes against humanity due to their casual disregard for others, our four friends find themselves on trial before a jury of their peers.
Many fans of the most popular sitcom of our time feel cheated because the last laugh has been on them. At the conclusion of the series we finally see the characters we have grown to love as they really are -- heartless, selfish, callous, anti-social, self-absorbed, and soulless. Coldly apathetic to another's misfortune, they mock a victim of crime rather than help him. Another's suffering becomes just another opportunity for their amusement. Usually this situation would lead to just another exercise in comedic interplay. But this time, our anti-heroes pay!
As the parade of shattered and devastated victims to the New York Fours' heartless escapades reaffirms again and again their twisted character and overall lack of concern, we slowly come to the realization that the characters we have grown to love have been and continue to be unworthy of our love. With testimony after testimony, we realize their sickness. They did not sink into this callousness and apathy; they've always been like this! We learn nothing new in the courtroom. Rather, our suspicions are confirmed once and for all. The characters we've become attached to are sick, enslaved specimens of humanity. They do nothing for anyone but themselves. They care for no one but themselves. They stand for nothing other than themselves. Indeed, in the end, as they casually sit in prison together whining over trivial minutiae, we realize that they don't even care for one another.
The final picture of the four sitting together in a prison cell is a fitting conclusion for these four anti-benefactors to society. Locked in a cage of their own devising, they are enslaved by their own selfishness and cruelty to others. Like brute beasts concerned only for their survival, their own inhumanity is obvious to all but themselves. Having faced their heartlessness in trial, and having nothing to offer in defense except for petty excuses, they face the long-delayed consequences of their actions. Sadly, even this condemnation does not cause them to be concerned for the crimes of which they are accused. There is no hint of remorse, no sign of repentance, and no trace of tears. In the end, all they can do is complain and carry on with their trivial selfish concerns.
And we, the viewers, feel cheated. Why? The sad truth is that we love these characters. We love them far more than they've ever loved anyone. But now we realize that the ones we have loved for so long have not loved us back. In fact, they couldn't care less for us, or anyone, for that matter. Our lovers have been and continue to be our heartless mockers.
We have loved them because we have seen ourselves in them. But now we realize in full who and what we have been seeing and shudder to think that this may be more of a true reflection of ourselves than we would like to imagine.
We hated the final episode because we were confronted with the shocking realization that the ones we've cared for and loved for so long aren't worth loving and caring for. We've been laughing with them, but at whose expense? We wonder if we have embraced their callous lack of concern? Like them, have we mocked at other's misfortunes? And furthermore, are we as blind to these character flaws and shortcomings in our own lives as they appear to be?
We realize, in the end, that our heroes are no heroes, our lovers are no lovers, our friends are no friends. They stand for nothing and thus when they face the full penalty for their misdeeds they continue to banter over trivialities. We leave feeling cold. However, it is not because the temperature has ever changed. It is because we now, with finality, realize that it never was warm to begin with. Perhaps, we realize that for nine years we have been attached to prisoners in self-made cages and are uncomfortable that we may be more like them than we wish!
"Seinfeld was never a show about nothing; it was a show where nothing mattered. The characters took nothing seriously except themselves" (Robert Bianco, USA Online, 5/14/98).
The Monkees, that fabricated, superficial band of the 60's, ended their early career (before their comeback in the 80's) with the failed and forgotten movie, Head. This movie, unlike Seinfeld, really was about nothing. Its point is that there is no point and it profoundly makes that point in a pointlessly pointed fashion! However, this realization is presented as a tortured cry rather than a carefree sigh. The song Ditty Diego -- War Chant, a mockery of their theme song, exposed their frustration over having nothing to say:
Hey, Hey we are the Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophys.
We hope you like our story
Although there isn't one
That is to say there's many
That way there is more fun.
You told us you like action
And games of many kinds
You like to dance we like to sing
So let's all lose our minds.
We know it doesn't matter
'Cause what you came to see
Is what we'd love to give you
And give it one, two, three.
But, it may come three, two, one, two
Or jump from nine to five
And when you see the end in sight
The beginning may arrive.
For those who look for meaning
In form as they do fact
We might tell you one thing,
but we'd only take it back.
Not back like in a box back
Not back like in a race
Not back so we can keep it,
but back in time and space.
You say we're manufactured
To that we all agree
So make your choice and we'll rejoice
in never being free.
Hey, Hey we are the Monkees
We've said it all before
The money's in we're made of tin
We're here to give you more.
The money's in we're made of tin
We're here to give you... *Crash*
At the end of Head all four Monkees end up committing suicide. Although there is probably much we could say concerning their shortcomings, it is obvious that, in the end, they care that they don't have anything of substance to say. Ashamed, agonized, and alone they end their lives only to find that even this act is just another meaningless event in the media circus that surrounds their lives. Trapped in a box of their own devising they long to escape, but even death cannot save them.
One leaves this movie sympathizing with the characters. They had nothing to say, but they were tortured souls because of it. The sad reality is that the Seinfeld gang equally had nothing to say, but they are quite comfortable with this, revealing their emptiness and soullessness -- and perhaps ours as well. The Monkees were trapped in meaninglessness and it tormented them. In their final scene, the Seinfeld gang is trapped as well, but it is more of an inconvenience to their trivial pursuits, rather than a cause for anguish to their human souls.
If we are content with this, then we truly have become the "hollow man" of T. S. Elliot's nightmares. The correct response to nothingness is misery, not mockery; desperation, not derision; seeking something, rather than settling for soullessness and its accompanying emptiness of heart and mind.
Judgment for the New York Four was a fitting conclusion. It just wasn't a fulfilling conclusion. It left us empty. Now let's hope that we don't respond to this emptiness with apathy or trivialities as our now defunct heroes did, but by careful self-examination of why we left empty; and by a soulful search for something meaningful to fill our empty souls -- something other than ourselves. We've already seen that too much of this leads nowhere.
© Richard J. Vincent, May 16, 1998