Spoilers for the season finale of Terriers coming up:
I am going to do my best not to write about Terriers, the series, in the past tense. Despite its ratings, I believe there’s still that chance that FX will realize it had—has! has!—a series too charming, well-written, and simply good to take off the air. But while there is a temptation to write strategically and pretend otherwise, honesty requires me to note that if “Hail Mary” were Terriers’ last episode ever—which it wasn’t!—the series would have gone out on a fitting and remarkable note.
It was in the spirit of this show that the endgame didn’t turn on any remarkable twist or bit of especially ingenious sleuthing. It was briskly plotted to the end, but as interesting as how the case would turn out was the state Hank and Britt were in by the time they got to that end.
Yes, it was fun seeing the two track down the airport-and-murder conspiracy to its source. The interrogation scene with Zeitlin on the boat was a brilliant, satisfying set piece. (“I’m going to ask you questions, and Britt here is going to punch you in the face every time you don’t answer them.”) Neal McDonough made a fine man behind the curtain, painting his character’s smug amorality in a few neat strokes. (“For the world to function, a thousand things have to go right every minute, and they have to go right quietly.”) And the final chase included some of Terriers’ finest lines of gallows humor: “Our life expectancy is between that of a fly and a fly with a heart condition.”
But in the end what enabled Hank and Britt to bag their quarry was not just personal cleverness but the fact that they had each reached the point where they had nothing to lose: Britt with his relationship ruined and facing jail time, Hank faced with how his ornery mistrust—the same thing that makes him good at his job—has poisoned his relationships. Why shouldn’t Britt just run for Mexico? Why shouldn’t Hank just plug Zeitlin and call it a day?
In the end, they decide not to. They decide to close out their case—because it’s what they do, because it’s the right thing, because what the hell, you might as well try to win one. There are a lot of words for that kind of attitude—principled, stubborn—but it’s also romantic, and it’s the kind of melancholy, hangdog romance that is the heart of what makes Terriers so appealing.
Which is why the aftermath of the case in “Hail Mary” is as important, or more so, than the end of the case itself. The airport has been stopped, but the basic facts of Hank and Britt’s lives haven’t changed. Except for one thing: they’ve each decided, in their way, not to give up. Hank realizes that he has to let the house go, and with it the crippling legacy of his marriage. Britt decides that once he’s done his time, he wants to be a father to his baby, whether it’s biologically his or not. (The scene where he told Katie to tear up the DNA results was one of the most moving I’ve seen all year; Michael Raymond-James gave this entire episode everything he had, in fact.)
So we can debate the resolution of Terriers’ traffic-light cliffhanger if we want, and I sincerely hope that there’s a season 2 to resolve it in. But to be honest, there’s only one way I can see it going: Hank and Britt have been through the dark and come out the other side, and I can’t see them running at that intersection. They’ve come through this case as two men with something to live for, and this season of Terriers has given us something to hope for.
Toward the end of “Hail Mary,” Laura Ross—who I hope is a big part of this show going forward—said something to Hank that makes a pretty fair description of Terriers as well: “You’re remarkable in a funny way. Or funny in a remarkable way.” Let’s just call it both.