Last night, in a horrific ending to a truly great television program, “Medium” concluded its successful seven-year run on network television. CBS rescued the show after a five-year run on NBC; but after two seasons on its network, CBS drew down the hammer and cancelled the show.
Medium starred Patricia Arquette as Allison DuBois, mother of three, who would dream of horrible murders and help solve them. Her perfect husband, Joe, played by Jake Weber, held the family together with resolve and a rumpled, lovable, gumption.
For some reason, Medium executive producer Glen Gordon Caron, decided to end his television series with a cruel final episode that felt more like an “F-U!” to CBS than as a proper farewell to a faithful audience.
Medium was always about the vindication of victimization. Allison would dream about a tragedy and help resolve it with the police and District Attorney. The triumph of goodness over evil was the human centerpiece of every episode. In the end, Medium betrayed its own moral mandate for a temporary, and brittle, revenge by killing Joe.
For Caron to decide, in his last gasp, to kill Joe in a plane crash and make Allison and her children suffer without a father — was unjustified in the context of the virtue of the show. Sure, killing Joe is an easy means to an irrevocable, Twilight Zone ending, but it was unfaithful to the emotional merits of the entire series.
Joe said good-bye to his wife, but not his three children? That would never happen. Joe was always the stand-up-and-do-right father and and put-upon Darren Stevens-like Bewitched husband, and he was never intentionally cruel to anyone. To have Joe selfishly create a false dream to help Allison grieve was so far out of the wonder of his character that it didn’t make any sense.
There is no way around the added-on sappy ending that Allison lived 41 years without Joe, and even though they were reunited in the end after her death, you still cannot get over the fact that their children and grandchildren were cheated out of growing up and older with Joe in their lives. Sure, that happens in real life all the time, but Medium was never about the duality of real life. Medium was about singularly setting things right that go awry in life in ways in which we are unable to abide in our personal station.
The final credits for the show were touching, but full of remorse. Not our remorse, but rather Glen Gordon Caron’s clear remorse for ruining our vested faith in his franchise by killing Joe. Having each cast member “wave goodbye” to us as actors, and not their on screen characters, was a cheat of a way out of an unconscionable mess. “Oh, come on,” the final credits cry, “Don’t be sad Joe died. None of this was real. We’re just actors!”
The written notification that the “real” Allison DuBois and her husband and children are still alive and well put the nut on the rusty bolt that we’d been played for seven years by Glen Gordon Caron, and he was having his final twist of revenge at our expense in the farewell episode.
Now let me take a moment to share a personal reflection about Jake Weber and what a great guy and actor he is in every way.
In the late 1980’s I was a graduate student in theatre at Columbia University in the City of New York, and Jake was a rising actor at the Juilliard School. One of the first shows I saw after moving to New York to attend Columbia was an Off-Broadway spectacular called “Road” and Jake was one of its young stars. The show was set in a warehouse theatre and the audience was seated on all four sides — arena style — but we were seated on a single balcony level, so the entire play happened below us. It was an amazing way to watch a play and I was moved by the spectacle.
Jake was the star of Road. He was electrifying and dangerous and you always wanted to see more of him.
I was so moved by Jake’s performance that I knew I had to have him in a reading of one of my plays at Columbia. I looked him up in the Manhattan phone book and found him — right there! — with a telephone number and address. I called and Jake picked up the phone. I told him who I was and how much I’d enjoyed him in Road and he was gracious.
When I told him I wanted him to do a reading of one of my plays, he gently turned me down. I pressed him a bit and said I’d make arrangements so he’d only have to show up one night to read in performance, no rehearsal required, and I even offered him everything I had in the world — $20.00USD cash — if he would only show up and read the lead role for me. The trip from Lincoln Center to 125th Street, I argued, was only about a 12 minute subway ride away. I wasn’t quite begging Jake, but I sure was trying my best to plead with him.
Most people would have start yelling at me at that point or just hung up the phone — that’s the New York Style of doing business, but Jake was born in England, so perhaps he has a more refined system of core values that those surrounding him — and Jake again, kindly, refused saying he’d missed a lot of classes at Juilliard and that my performance date conflicted with one of his classes.
Jake said he was on academic probation at Juilliard and that if he “missed one more class for any reason” he would be summarily dismissed from the program. Jake didn’t have to share those personal details with me, but he did, and I didn’t feel rejected as a Playwright, I felt disappointed by the system.
I was heartbroken, because I knew Jake was a great talent and he would’ve made my show so much better. I thanked him for his time and patience.
Who knew, 20 years later, that Jake Weber would break my heart a second time by dying, and successfully killing off the legacy of a wonderful television show?
Killing Joe DuBois in the final Medium episode forever poisons the rerun pool for the show — and perhaps that’s just fine by the miserable Glen Gordon Caron — but for the millions of fans who faithfully watched the show each week — well, we’ll never be able to see the show again with the same innocence because we still have Caron’s final “F-U!” ringing in our eyes: Joe dies in the end, and we’re watching a corpse stumble through his life until his unjustified killing takes him away from the family we used to love almost as much as our own.