In episode 4 of Netflix original After Life, Tony is forced to question his bleak outlook yet remains resilient in his pessimism.
After Life has been steeped in the depression of Tony Johnson (Ricky Gervais), following the death of his wife Lisa (Kerry Godliman). However, Tony’s sense of humor is a sign that, deep down, he still has a spark of life left. Of course, sad reminders follow him around regularly. In this episode, he passes by Lisa’s old room in the hospital. Although he doesn’t cry, he is clearly reminded of her.
There are, however, signs that Tony was disappointed in life even before Lisa’s death. He hates his job at the Tambury Gazette, saying it’s not journalism. He decries what he considers the awful future of online publishing, including click-bait and angry fools in article comment sections. He is confronted yet again by Matt (Tom Basden), Tony’s brother-in-law and boss who’s sick of his sour attitude.
In fact, when Tony refers to looking forward to meeting his wife soon, Matt points out that Tony’s an avowed atheist or a non-believer in heaven. Tony replies, “I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.” Tony also scoffs at Matt for arranging a blind date for him. Still, Tony does accept.
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Can Tony move on?
Tony’s been seeing a therapist (Paul Kaye) but without significant results. He suggests that Tony try sleeping around rather than serious dating, noting how rare it is to find one mate for life. Later, Tony visits his dad (David Bradley), gaining a few laughs at his gloriously off-color comments. Tony also apologizes to Nurse Emma (Ashley Jensen), acknowledging how good she is at taking care of his dad. There are also signs that he’s burnt out over feeling depressed, feeling guilty for how he brings others down (a classic cycle of depression).
He meets Anne (Penelope Wilton) again in the graveyard. She suggests that he shouldn’t just live for himself “We’re not just here for us. We’re here for others.” The suggestion is, what if he were to kill himself and deprive someone else of happiness he may have brought? Tony seems to grudgingly accept it as a valid statement. It’s a poignant moment, yet understated (as After Life generally has been).
The date and the drug money
Back at the office, Lenny (Tony Way) provides advice for Tony’s date, then Sandy (Mandeep Dhillon) takes him shopping for appropriate clothes. He also sees Daphne (Roisin Conaty) the sex worker on the street and gives her his keys so she can clean his house. When he gets back to his place, there’s also a mini-argument about labeling: She insists she’s a “sex worker,” while he prefers the traditional term of “prostitute.”
On his actual date, he doesn’t talk solely about himself. He learns that the woman (Tracy Ann Oberman) had also lost someone. Specifically, her husband committed suicide. She doubts that Tony ever truly wanted to commit himself, asking what prevented it. He says he had to look after his dog! Later, Tony hits a purse snatcher, again suggesting he has some fight in him (that he’s capable of caring). This is the second time After Life has depicted Tony as a fighter, implying that it may help him feel more alive.
However, when Tony hangs out with Julian (Tim Plester), the addict/paperboy, they seem to reinforce each other’s depressions. Julian laments how, because his wife was an addict, there was less sympathy for her death (implying that some people may have even been relieved). Julian also insists he’s less inclined to resist suicidal impulses. So, when Tony hands him money for more drugs, it’s a sign of a nihilistic outlook. It’s possible that Tony may have been semi-nihilistic before, but usually bleak attitudes get worse when they’re continually reinforced by others.
By giving Julian this money, it’s sort of a way of lashing out at the world, of rolling the dice to see what happens. When life is a cosmic joke, what difference does any one individual’s actions make? While one could easily hate Tony for this action, there’s a sense that the two characters are practically one and the same. However, there may be a such thing as spiraling back out from depression. In any case, addicts (of whatever type) often reinforce each other’s problems when they get together, so that’s just realism.
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