I followed ‘s advice and stuck it out.
One useful metric I often use for a narrative is to ask “what’s different at the end”? I think this is one metric which works very well for narratives and stories, but less well for experiential works. At the end of The Odyssey Odysseus has returned to Ithaca and restored the natural order of his oikos: it’s a narrative, one of the oldest. At the end of The Iliad… Achilles has gone from being not angry, to angry, to not angry. It’s about the experience of rage, the decisions you make as a consequence. But nothing really changes.
A similar metric, oriented at characters rather than their narratives, is Robin Laws’ distinction of Iconic and Dramatic protagonists. An Iconic hero uses their static identity to re-arrange the world, a Dramatic hero is altered by the world – but either way, something changes.
At the end of Season 1 of Californication, everything was different to how it was at the start. The characters had apparently grappled with their demons, they were in different situations, there was a large story impetus.
Season 2 was interesting, and in hindsight, more satisfying on some levels, because it set up Lew as Hank’s alter-ego. Lew had the same vices, and had sacrificed his true love to tame them and channel them. Lew in an essential way was Hank.
But then, in Season 3, they started slipping back – Hank was alone, and horny. The emphasis was more on his lovers in some ways – what was the effect of encountering Hank on their lives? But, this was not particularly satisfying; and once True Love was back on the table near the end, I struggled to see what was dramatic or iconic…
By the end of Season 4, I think things have come full-circle in terms of the structure of their lives. Hank and Karen are estranged. But Hank appears to have come to terms with it. He’s not writing, but he’s living off the work which emerged from his destructive tendencies from the first season. So after 4 seasons, I think fundamentally what’s changed is Hank’s level of acceptance of his circumstances, his ability to cope with being without Karen.
I think that this largely restores his Iconic status: he is now able to live as the version of himself that has been distorted and suppressed by various circumstances. Is this interesting? Maybe. It is entertaining, but I think that if I’d watched only Season 1 and 2, I’d have been pretty happy with that.