Thomas Kail. I’m putting his name on the list of people who, if they don’t get an Emmy nomination, I will throw things. This was a masterful episode of television. Kail, along with episode scribe Steven Levenson, manage to (dare I say) satisfyingly close the loop on decades of collaboration, struggle, and the lives of two people whose marks on this world still can’t be fully measured. That’s how you make a finale, folks.
Those final moments were poetic and tragic. And only these two could give us the ending in the first 10 seconds of the pilot and make it mean so much more at the end. “Transformation and tragedy,” as Paddy said in the episode. Although, true to Fosse’s endings, did the hero really change? I think it’s up to us to say what was in those final gazes.
But here’s one thing I am sure of: Thank the Lord we went to a playwright instead of a priest.
So—for the last time—let’s take it from the top.
STEP BY STEP: WHAT HAPPENED IN THE STORY OF BOB AND GWEN THIS WEEK
We open with Bob and Paddy walking in the park in New York during “All That Jazz Pre-production, Week 7” and there are “9 years left.” And I’d like to point out some expert writing here. Levenson shows us, rather than tells us, that Paddy had a heart attack as Bob ribs him for upstaging his own heart attack.
As the two sit for their own bench scene, Paddy explains to Bob that the problem with his movie—with all of this work—are his endings because his heroes never change. “Bobby, it’s Storytelling 101.” All That Jazz, the not-so-veiled movie about Bob’s life, is no exception. And Paddy urges Bob to change the ending, to realize that “it was Gwen all along. … Because she was the only woman who was ever his true equal.” And while Bob “knows all that” he wants his ending to be true. But Paddy, always wise, comes back, “I didn’t say it was true, Bob, I said it was a satisfying ending. You want true go to a priest instead of a playwright.” #WRITING (Also foreshadowing and the acknowledgment of their own creative license throughout the series.)
I think the reason the Bob/Paddy friendship is so satisfying is because they see each other—fully. And while Gwen also sees Bob, she’s in a constant power struggle with him, creatively and romantically. But Paddy isn’t. And when you strip away the competition, you get to people who just understand each other, and see the flaws, and love each other so much they want to fix them, but love them even when they can’t. I’ve loved watching this relationship evolve over eight episodes and bravo to Norbert Leo Butz.
After the commercial, Bob’s listening to an interview he conducted with Gwen to write All The Jazz. Looks like Ann’s moved out as we flashback to the actual interview. “Is that weird? Having Annie replace you?” he asks about Gwen working with Ann to take over the role of Roxie in Chicago. “It’s pretty familiar, I’d say.” Ouch. Well-played.
But he asks this not because he’s trying to remind her but because he wants to hear that it matters. That his choice matters, that he matters. The sadness on Bob’s face as he listens to the interview, you actually feel for him. Credit to Sam Rockwell for making such a complicated character still so darn sympathetic.
Nicole walks in the door; she’s living with her dad now. He asks for her help to workshop something for the movie to the song “Mr. Bojangles.” It’s one of the most touching scenes in the entire series as the two of them dance together. We haven’t seen connection between Nicole and her dad, but this scene…it makes it seem like he really wanted to, he just never knew how.
Meanwhile, Gwen is at dinner with her agent begging to work; Ann is outside an audition room in a long queue of Anns, auditioning for All That Jazz. Inside the room, Bob puts Ann through the paces. It’s difficult to watch. Wow Margaret Qualley. As Nicole is drinking wine and popping pills, Ann is repeating lines over and over and over and Bob is pushing her and berating her.
“Why can’t you do this scene like it means something to you?” he finally says. “Because this isn’t a scene!” she cracks. “Because this is my life. These are my words. You took our life and you put it into a fucking scene in a movie, that’s why.” And while we can agree that that emotion is probably what you’d want to see out of that character in the movie, it was damn near hell forcing someone to relive that.
Bob comes home with yet another girl. Bridget. But who cares? Nicole is on the couch, high on Dexedrine. It does make you pause. With Nicole Fosse as a consultant on the series, these moments (being made up by her mother to sneak into the hospital, her dad coming home and deciding to just “treat you like a grown-up”) must have been formative for her to want them emphasized in the series.
Meanwhile, Gwen and Ron are out on the balcony and Gwen suggests they move to the country. Ron says OK. And it feels like Gwen was hoping he’d say no, so she had someone to blame for her choice to stay. But now she’s in it. It was her idea.
New York All That Jazz “Filming, Day 6” and “8 years left”
Dost I recognize that voice? It’s a Lin-Manuel Miranda cameo! He’s Roy Scheider, the actor who played Joe Gideon (aka Bob Fosse) in All That Jazz. We see the scene of Nicole and Bob dancing in the living room as a scene in the movie with Gwen and Nicole watching from the sidelines. She’s moving back in with Mom.
As Bob and Gwen exchange Nicole’s things, Gwen tells Bob about her plan to move to the country and put Nicole in school there. He answers with the one that that will get her: He wants her to do Roxie on tour. And Sam Rockwell is so good I can’t tell you if this was the plan before all of this or if he’s pulling it out of his a** to rope her back in because she could never say no to Roxie, especially when he adds, “It’s your show. It’s always been your show.”
In Gwen’s bedroom she tells Ron about Roxie and we learn through him how miserable that experience was for her. But Ron is frustrated because she can’t say no to Bob. But this isn’t about a man. That’s what makes Gwen so incredible. “I don’t want to say no to this. I want to work.” It’s always been about the work, it’s just that she and Bob share a creative brain. And the years-long fight that’s been waiting to happen between fiery Gwen and apathetic Ron happens. He’s not playing consolation prize anymore. Bye Ron. You were.
On the set of All That Jazz, Bob is filming the fantasy scene Joe has on his deathbed where an audience roars with admiration. And Roy tells Bob to do a take. As Lin’s voice rings with “Bye Bye Love” (the actual song at the end of All That Jazz) Bob does a take and gets the applause he always wanted. But the fall from grace when he realizes the extras were just doing a take, well it’s as if he had taken that jump off the balcony from Episode 1 and gone splat on the pavement.
Flash forward, we see Gwen “10 months after her final Chicago tour performance” with “7 years left” for Bob. She’s raising money for the Staten Island Post Graduate Center for Mental Health. Here, Kail intercuts bits of her performing to raise money with her making fresh pasta at home. I have to be honest, I’m not sure what this was about. Why at home alone cooking? To show that she’s nourishing herself all on her own? That without a man, she actually really knows what she needs? That’s the best I’ve got, but knowing Kail and Levenson, there is a reason—nothing happens by accident. If you have ideas, @ me.
Then there’s Bob, who does not know how to be alone. He’s badgering another girl with jealousy. Another fight, another woman. The phone rings.
And damn if it doesn’t hurt in my heart when we show up at Paddy’s funeral. The mourning in that dance from Bob—the one he joked about doing only a couple episodes ago—well if that’s not storytelling through dance, I don’t know what is.
“4 years after All That Jazz received 9 Oscar nominations” and “2 months after his next film, Star 80, opened to the worst reviews of his career” Bob has only “3 years left.”
Gwen and Bob are at a bar. Nicole’s trying to make it as a performer, the family business. Joe as in Joseph Harris wants to do a revival of Charity. Bob’s too busy and wants Gwen to supervise. She wants someone else to do it. “That’s our show. That’s our baby. It’s Charity,” Bob appeals. But his pride won’t let him direct it. If you start directing revivals of your own shows they’ll think you’re done.
So in Los Angeles Gwen works on the “Sweet Charity revival” in a “Pre-Broadway Rehearsal, Day 29” and little do they know there’s only “16 months left.” Gwen is distraught because they’re making Charity into a “Saturday morning cartoon.” If this were New York she’d ask him to just swing by. Two can play at passive-aggressive requests.
And we are back to “Big Spender,” exactly where we began. The direction of this scene is impeccable because we see a masterfully designed production but something feels artificial. The costumes are slightly too vibrant to be a broken down club. The lighting not hazy enough.
Gwen: You would have to start completely from scratch.
Bob: You would have get in there with me…character work.
Gwen: Well, of course.
And that’s what this is all about. You can’t have one without the other. Well, of course.
In rehearsal for “If My Friends Could See Me Now” we see Debbie Allen (played by Kelcy Griffin, who has also been in Chicago on Broadway). Bob is frustrated. Debbie’s dancing is technically great, but “what are you saying with those steps?” Because choreography is not just dance. It is storytelling. Gwen, show her.
And as Gwen take the hat and cane we see a rewind of their partnership and I want to cry because it’s almost over and because as she sings “if they could see me now” and takes that grand pause, the lyrics read differently. I sat there thinking of Joan and Paddy and watched Bob and Gwen lock eyes thinking, “What do our friends see?”
Washington, D.C. Sweet Charity National Tour Opening Night. This is it. “8 minutes left.” September 23, 1987, Bob Fosse is 60 years old and Gwen is 62.
We only hear the very first scene we ever saw in the series and boy does it have SO. MUCH. MORE weight than before. They’re talking about Boston, their next out-of-town stop when Bob collapses outside the theatre.
This time is different and they both know it. We see flashes of all the moments when they were for each other and against. When they melded to crash into a Big Bang of artistry. How they tortured each other—going back to that scene of him testing her for Lola, but with an added moment we hadn’t seen where they share a cigarette.
Bob: I’m very nervous for some reason.
Gwen: So am I.
She’s crying over him and she knows. And I’m crying and I know. We don’t get more of this.
Though Bob Fosse actually collapsed outside Willard’s Round Robin Bar on the way to the theatre—not the actual theatre—I can’t help but think of Paddy: “I didn’t say it was true, Bob, I said it was a satisfying ending.” Boy, am I glad we went to a playwright.
NAME-DROPPING: FILLING IN THE BLANKS BEHIND THE REFERENCES
· Paddy Chayefsky had a heart attack in 1977, attributed to the stress of working on his last novel, Altered States, which was then adapted into a screenplay. Chayefsky referred to it as “an updated Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
· The movie All That Jazz was released in theatres December 1979. Fosse wrote the movie with Robert Alan Arthur. The main character’s name was Joe—and it was absolutely autobiographical. Roy Scheider played Joe Gideon and Jessica Lange played Angelique, the Angel of Death. Ann Reinking did play Kate, the character based on her. Leland Palmer played Audrey Paris, the role made after Verdon; Palmer had played Fastrada in Pippin, the role in which Fosse had wanted to cast Verdon back in Episode 4 when she complained she didn’t want to play Pippin’s mother. The cast also featured another previous Pippin-ite: Ben Vereen.
· In the scene where Bob listens to recordings of his interviews with Gwen, there are posters hanging on his wall, including one for the musical Dancin’, the revue Bob directed and choreographed. It opened at the Broadhurst Theatre March 27, 1978, and earned seven Tony nominations, including Best Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Ann Reinking, Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Wayne Cilento, and Best Direction for Fosse. It won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for Fosse and Best Lighting Design for Jules Fisher. The show moved to the Ambassador Theatre November 30, 1980, and closed June 27, 1982.
· At her dinner meeting with Mel, Gwen is upset about not being cast in “Gamma Rays.” The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds bowed at the Biltmore Theatre March 14, 1978, starring Shelley Winters in the lead role. The play by Paul Zindel had won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work in 1971. Fun fact: Carol Kane was also in that original production—which lasted 16 regular performances.
· The Fosse/Verdon scene on the set of All That Jazz is the depiction of a scene that does end up in the movie. It’s Joe Gideon’s deathbed scene. On his deathbed, he fantasizes about directing a huge production number, which we see played out here. And it’s a true story that Scheider had Fosse do a take.
· Gwen Verdon did go out as Roxie Hart on the Chicago tour from April 4, 1978–August 5, 1978.
· Paddy Chayefsky passed away August 1, 1981, at the age of 58 of cancer. True to his word, Fosse did a tap dance at Chayefsky’s funeral. He received three Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay Marty, and Best Original Screenplays The Hospital and Network. Chayefsky’s papers are at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Division. Though she was not depicted in the series, Chayefsky married Susan Sackler in 1949 and remained married to her until his death.
· Fosse took over directing the Sweet Charity revival from John Bowab, which opened on Broadway in 1986, starring Debbie Allen as Charity, Bebe Neuwirth as Nickie, Allison Williams as Helene, and Michael Rupert as Oscar. When Allen left the show, Reinking took over. The show was nominated for five Tony Awards and won four, including Best Reproduction (Play or Musical) that year. Read the New York Times review here.
· The epilogue didn’t mention that Nicole Fosse teaches the “Fosse” style to this day in her Verdon Fosse Legacy Master Classes, typically held at Steps in New York City. A few other choice instructors, former Fosse dancers, teach Fosse/Verdon routines. (Dana Moore teaches “Who’s Got the Pain?,” which we saw in Episode 2.)
For more Fosse/Verdon, you can:
1. Read Sam Wasson’s biography Fosse
2. Watch the documentary Steam Heat
3. Watch All That Jazz (or any of the movies in the Fosse canon from Sweet Charity to Cabaret to Lenny).
4. Watch Fosse, the 1999 musical revue and Best Musical winner
Peek inside the 1986 Broadway Revival of Sweet Charity: