After exploring an abusive friendship for three years, On Cinema has taken a dark turn that even hardcore fans couldn’t have seen coming. The Season 7 finale is a stunning achievement in bleak comedy, and it somehow manages to make the audience laugh at the death of a child and at a grieving parent. How the hell does one pull that off?
The overall arc of Season 7 involves Tim Heidecker injecting even more of his personal life into the show, now using it to promote his hacky rock band. This is spite of signing a contract with Turkington over the summer that specifically forbade this kind of behavior, yet Turkington simply does not have the guts to raise the issue.
But another major storyline was the return of Dr. San, a complete fraud who practices alternative medicine that nearly got Tim killed a few seasons ago. San ran off afterwards, but in Season 7 it’s revealed he’s been with Heidecker’s wife Ayaka the whole time. The two have apparently been taking care of Tim’s son, Tom Cruise Heidecker, and in every few episodes there are small hints that the kid is experiencing health problems.
That culminates in Episode 9, where Tim misses the show in order to take care of Tom. That’s only the second time Tim has ever been absent for an On Cinema episode, so things must be getting pretty serious. And then, out of nowhere, Tom Cruise Heidecker is dead. Yeah, the season finale opens with Tim in tears, explaining to the audience that his one-year-old son passed away over the weekend.
Why is that so hilarious?
Part of the humor simply comes from the fact that the series went there, and they actually had the balls to kill off a toddler. In addition to that, there’s something so funny about a shoddily thrown together series like On Cinema suddenly becoming a grief-counselling session. Tim can’t seem to decide what exactly On Cinema is, increasingly turning it into a soap opera that occasionally mentions movies.
Every moment of the finale is full of cynical humor speaking to the flaws of both characters. Turkington, a sad, lonely man living out of a storage unit, actually thinks he should console Tim by offering him free tapes from the “Victorville Film Archive.” He also lists films that made him cry and says, “…this just feels as bad as any of that, or worse,” as if watching a sad movie is about on par with a kid’s death.
The subtext to all this is that Tim killed his own son. Not literally, of course, but as the episode progresses, it’s clear that he and Dr. San refused to take Tom to a hospital, they didn’t give him any vaccines, but they did try pulling the iron in his blood into alignment using magnets.
It appears Tim takes absolutely no responsibility for Tom’s death, either, having convinced himself there’s nothing that could have been done even though the kid objectively would have been saved if he went to a hospital. Tim has spent the entire season promoting his heavy metal band and fighting with Gregg, ignoring his own child and becoming complicit in his death.
But the worst part? Though nobody mentions this, the viewer is reminded that when Tim was sick and Dr. San’s treatment didn’t help, he ended up getting surgery from a real doctor at the last minute. Yet Tim refuses to do the same for Tom Cruise Heidecker, and so he obviously cares way more about his own health and safety than his son’s. He knows from experience that Tom can be healed, yet he still does nothing.
“It’s nobody’s fault, and let’s not start pointing fingers at each other or what we should have done,” Dr. San says. “But if we brought him to the hospital, he would have even been dead quicker.”
Although Heidecker opened the show in tears, he never seems very emotional again for the rest of the episode, talking about Tom’s funeral in cavalier terms, saying, “we just put him in there with nothing on.” It’s as if he’s somewhat excited because now he can use the loss of his son to promote himself, immediately writing a new song about it. There is no amount of anguish or subtly in the lyrics as he sings over and over, “you ain’t coming back.” It’s the kind of thing you’d right for the funeral of someone you’ve never met, not what you’d write in tribute to your child. All Tim cares about is how he looks and sounds on camera.
The closing of the episode is one of the darkest endings to anything ever. Tim immediately begins discussing his song with Axiom, and his voice is completely back to normal as if this is business as usual. “I want to just record it now so I don’t lose that energy,” he says. To be clear, Tim is talking about capitalizing on the energy of his fucking son’s death. He’s talking about taking this incredible tragedy that is objectively his fault, making it out to be an unavoidable accident, and using it to launch his rock career. Holy shit.
The first thing that came to mind is that Tim Heidecker has gone full Heisenberg. All throughout Breaking Bad, Walter White behaves like a self-centered asshole, but it’s only later that the true consequences of that play out on screen in a violent fashion. In Breaking Bad‘s case, it leads up to the poisoning of an innocent child, at which point Mr. White’s actions have officially started to cause real damage in the world.
Much like on Breaking Bad, Tim Heidecker’s character in On Cinema has been a pompous jerk for several seasons, and the series slowly cranks up his villainous nature so you almost don’t notice much of a change. Now it has come to this: it has never been more clear that Heidecker (the character) is a flat out psychopath.
And I, for one, can’t get enough of watching him.