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The Ending Of After Life Season 2 Explained

When "After Life" first appeared on Netflix in 2019, it cemented Ricky Gervais' reputation as a purveyor of hilariously uncomfortable TV comedy. But unlike "The Office (U.K.)", the show that established that reputation, "After Life" delves into deeper and darker emotional territory, exploring themes of grief, depression, melancholia, and self-loathing. A hit with both critics and audiences, Season 1 garnered a 73% fresh critics rating and a 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

"After Life" stars Gervais as recently-widowed Tony, a man wavering between suicidal ideation and the need to stay alive, if only to take care of his dog. Tony decides that rather than dying, he'll exercise his "superpower" to simply not care about life and say and do whatever he wants regardless of the impact on others. The show's mix of emotional drama with dark, punchy, and often spiteful comedy really resonated with audiences.

The first season of "After Life" has a satisfying arc for Tony as he slowly and painfully makes his way toward the light, and by the final episode the seeds of change are beginning to sprout. Tony asks nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen) on a date; apologizes to his coworkers, including brother in law Matt (Tom Basden), who's going through his own marital crisis; and makes an encouraging connection with his father who suffers from dementia. Then came Season 2.

When Season 2 of "After Life" dropped in 2020, it was generally as well-received by critics and audiences as the first season (via Rotten Tomatoes), but the ending left some viewers scratching their heads, wondering exactly what it means for Tony's story and the arc of the show in general.

There is no closure at the end of After Life Season 2

Season 2 picks up more or less exactly where Season 1 left off, with Tony still experiencing dark days, still drinking, and trying to get a little better every day. True to its brutally honest self, the season starts with Tony and newspaper colleague Lenny (Tony Way) interviewing a lady who just received a telegram from the Queen for turning 100 years old. Far from celebrating, the bitter old lady belittles the letter from the Queen as something "some butler" sent, dismisses her long life as generally rubbish, and wishes she were dead. Tony's brother-in-law is still having marital problems, and sleeps in the office. Everyone's struggling, and Tony just wants to help those people who helped him in his darkest days.

By the end of the second season Tony has lost his Dad (David Bradley), but he's processing the death in a much healthier way than that of his wife. His relationship with Emma seems to be going nowhere — he wants to stay friends because he'd feel like he feels like he's cheating on his wife, but Emma wants more. The best Tony can offer Emma is "Groundhog Day" — a relationship limbo. He's still working through grief, trying to help others while having dark moments. In the final sequence of the season, Tony can't take it any more and grabs a handful of sleeping pills. Apparently intent on ending it all, he's interrupted by the arrival of Emma, who tells him she's ok with "Groundhog Day."

Gervais wanted the ending of Season 2 to be open-ended

This ending doesn't seem to move us forward much. It doesn't seem to go anywhere, and we're not sure what's next. Will Tony and Emma stay in relationship limbo? Will Tony eventually succumb to suicidal thoughts, or will he push through? This uncertainty and lack of closure is — apparently — exactly the point, and in some ways it's more honest to the show's themes than a satisfying, tidy ending like the one we got at the end of the first season.

As Gervais put it in an interview (via Digital Spy), "It's got to be ambiguous, because we don't know. It's up and down. It's up and down, like life. We don't know. Someone doesn't say, 'Do you know what? I'm better today, and I'll never be bad again. Bye!' That doesn't happen. We've all got problems, and they reoccur, or we suppress them, or we get over something, and another one pops up." 

Gervais continued, "So I want it to be: 'Here's a little victory. He might be OK. There might be a third series. But if not, don't worry about it.' So that's why."

Fortunately, we will see where Tony (and the show) goes next. Shooting for Season 3 of "After Life" wrapped in June of this year, so fans can expect it to drop on Netflix soon. Meanwhile, Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream at will for subscribers.