Week 14: Redemption Day (premiered July 13, 2010)
“I’m sorry. When you were growing up, I should have been a better father.”
~ Captain Phil Harris
You know what sucks? False hope. You know what sucks more than that? Knowing that you’re witnessing false hope when no one else in the scene does. And so begins The Episode, the hour we’ve been dreading since Season 6 began—Phil’s final episode.
Phil, it would seem, is making an astounding recovery from his stroke. The doctors are amazed, and the fleet, when Josh spreads the news, is collectively overjoyed. “It’s a miracle,” says Captain Johnathan, and by all accounts that’s exactly what it is. Naturally, we know better, and that makes such scenes painful in the extreme. The hope on everyone’s faces, the relief that their friend and father seems to be on the mend…knowing that things eventually swung the other way is just heartbreaking. I’m not even going to pretend I wasn’t choked up and/or crying the entire hour. I actually watched the episode twice so I could get the worst of the emotions out of the way the first time around and take notes properly for this post.
But for now, Phil is, if not out of the woods, at least able to see through the trees, so off we go to the Time Bandit, where Scotty Hillstrand is griping about Mike Fourtner’s underwhelming performance. Captain Andy basically tells Scotty that if he’s not happy with the situation, he should go ahead and do something about it himself. Andy has other things to worry about, like the fact that the opies seem to be eluding him. Consecutive 20-hour grinds means the crew is exhausted, and Mike’s constant missing of the buoys means that the Time Bandit is taking on the look of a spinning top as it doubles back over and over again so Mike can re-throw the hook. Scotty takes his opportunity and offers to switch spots with Mike, and when Mike says no Andy steps in and makes an executive decision that results in his nephew taking the hook. The rivalry continues on deck while Andy turns his mind to the weather, which has been eerily calm. In the Deadliest Catch world we know this can mean only one thing: a storm is on the horizon.
Over on the Northwestern, Captain Sig is struggling to motivate his beyond-exhausted crew so they can get their 170,000 pounds of crab before the storm hits. The deckhands are shredded. Jake Anderson can’t get over feeling like he’s abandoned his family in their time of need, and Edgar is just plain done. “I can’t fish forever,” he says matter-of-factly, and I’m more and more convinced that Edgar’s days on the Northwestern are numbered. Even Sig has to admit that the season has been “long, drawn-out, mental pain.”
More hope pops up in Anchorage, where Phil’s miraculous recovery continues. “You’re off the curve right now in how good you’re doing,” the doctors tell him, and they actually begin the initial stages of making plans to transfer him to Seattle for rehabilitation. For his part, Phil is conscious and eager to start said rehab. His only concern, it seems, is whether he’ll be back on his feet in time for the September start to king crab season. The whole scene is gut-wrenching, classic Phil Harris, and even knowing how it all turns out I couldn’t help but shake my head and chuckle at his superhuman determination and single-minded focus. There’s no doubt that if anyone was going to beat the odds, it would have been Phil.
The Kodiak (surprise, surprise) is hitting low numbers, and Captain Bill (surprise, surprise) is not amused. Deckhand Clinton has stopped harassing the crew, but has traded his belittling for flat-out subversion. His demotivational tactics are on Bill’s last nerve, and before too long Bill is on the phone shopping around for a replacement deckhand. When the Kodiak finally hits Dutch Harbor with their catch, a man named Randy wanders on board and informs the crew that he heard there’s an open spot on the boat. The crew, who have not been informed of Bill’s plans, are none too pleased with this rumor. Clint decides that, true or not, there’s no way he’s being kicked off the boat, as he surely would have heard the celebration from the wheelhouse by now if he was.
Shows what he knows. Six hours later the offload is complete, and Clint gets called to the wheelhouse. “Your mouth is like a virus out there,” Bill says as he rips Clint a new one. “You’re the most condescending person I’ve ever had on board about the operation, about the fishing.” Then he fires him Trump-style and kicks Clint out of the wheelhouse to pack his bags. Clint’s pissed, of course, and the crew is in shock (really?), but Bill is unrepentant, convinced it will only improve his crew. Time will tell, but with only two episodes left this season, I’m guessing we’re going to have to wait until season 7 to find out if Wild Bill even bothers to make an appearance in the crab fishing world.
The Time Bandit is having troubles of its own. Scotty has suddenly started missing buoys in perfectly calm waters, and Andy’s annoyed with both his nephew and his captain-protégé. “I think they both suck as hook men. I think this is the worst crew I ever had,” he says like he wants us to think he’s joking but really isn’t. When 40 pots gambled in deeper waters come up empty, Andy’s exasperation comes out full-force. “This is like the worst season I’ve ever had,” he mutters, and he’s not alone. The entire crew is tired of failure. “I’m doing a lot of sorting of snowflakes, and none of them are legal,” says a dejected crewman, staring at the empty sorting table. It all goes downhill from there. The crew starts gesturing and calling Andy a loser, which annoys the captain sufficiently to force his people to pull another string. “If they got time to make snow angels (I don’t know, I thought that one was kind of funny, myself), and laugh, and call me a loser, they got time to pull one more string,” he growls. Just to top it all off, Andy has brother Neal shoot bottle rockets at the crew to keep them on their toes. Ha!
Things take an abruptly serious turn in Anchorage, as we see Jake Harris pick up his phone and make one of the most important calls of his life. A rehab facility is on the other line, and it’s clear that Jake intends to make good on his promise to his father. “I’ve been known to use and everything; kinda ready to end that chapter of my life,” Jake tells the person on the other line with weary resolve. But my cheers for Jake were short-lived when the next scene showed Jake walking into Phil’s room to say goodbye. Apparently, he intends to leave for rehab immediately, and yes, I wanted to scream “don’t leave!” to Jake. It becomes painfully clear that we are witnessing Jake’s final words to his father, and there’s absolutely no way to turn away from what’s happening on the screen. “I’m real proud of you. Thank you,” Phil whispers to his younger son. “Seriously, it makes me happy.” Then, Jake utters the last words he will ever say to his father: “I love you, pops.” Go ahead, take a moment. I know I need one just writing this. I’ll wait.
Okay, probably in order to keep its audience from losing it completely right that second, DC cuts back to the Northwestern and Edgar, who has suddenly taken matters into his own hands. “I wouldn’t wish this season on my worst enemy,” he says, and then a bit later, “I don’t know. Maybe fishing and I do need a break.” But if he’s going to take that break he needs a replacement, and he has his eyes on Jake Anderson. Edgar drags Jake over and starts training him on hydraulics, the most dangerous job on the deck in that swinging pots can and will kill someone given the chance. Sig seems to cautiously approve from the wheelhouse, and experience has tempered the unbridled enthusiasm Jake would have shown for this opportunity a couple season ago. Jake’s trial ends when he shakes a pot right out of the rack—something fairly common to people new in that position, from what I gathered—but Edgar starts putting stripes on Jake’s jacket anyway. After 1 ¾ stripes Edgar tells Jake, “Five stripes and you’re a deckboss. But you gotta earn ‘em.”
The Jake-Anderson-as-deckboss idea will have to wait, though, because it’s time. Ten minutes left in The Episode and we all know what’s coming. Josh is with Phil, and Phil is apologizing for not being a better father, and Josh is about to lose his mind. “Don’t ever apologize for that. You taught me everything I need to know to be a man,” Josh says, and lays his head down next to his father while trying not to cry. “I’m trying to be strong,” he says, but hell if I (and millions of other people all over the country) am not crying, so there’s no chance Josh will be able to stave off a breakdown. “I love you so much, dad,” he chokes out. Phil suddenly asks for his good luck necklace, and after Josh promises to go retrieve it from the hotel Phil asks if it’s snowing outside. The hair is standing up on the back of my neck because the whole thing is damn eerie, and just before Josh leaves he says what will be his final words to his father: “I love you, dad.”
Close-up on Phil, and then cut to the raging Bering Sea storm we knew was coming. Pots are sliding everywhere, the boats are listing like crazy, and all hell has broken loose on the decks. It’s a montage of Bering Sea fury that serves as an appropriate metaphor for what is happening in Anchorage, and I’m flat-out impressed that this is how Discovery has chosen to depict Phil’s death. It’s emotional without being exploitive, but it sure does grab you right by the throat.
Cut back to Josh in his car, driving back from the hotel with his dad’s lucky necklace in hand, and the phone call comes: Phil has had another “event,” and they are recommending that Josh return to the hospital as soon as possible. Cue Johnny Cash’s “Redemption Day” just to make good and sure we’re all bawling our eyes out, and continue to cut between scenes of the storm and scenes in the hospital. “I’ve been working on him for an hour. At some point, you kind of have to decide that this has gone on for too long,” a doctor says to Josh. Then, the words we’ve known are coming since February: “Jake, I don’t know how to tell you this Jake, but, um, we lost dad, dude.” Cut to the Bering Sea, the sounds of waves, fade to black, that’s the end, folks.
Now, I watched this episode twice: once when it first aired in my time zone, and again when it re-showed in my area at the same time it was premiering on the west coast. I was on Twitter the whole time, and Deadliest Catch trended in the top ten in the United States for hours. Reportedly, more than 8.5 million people watched Phil’s final episode, making it the third most watched show in the Discovery channel’s 25-year history. That’s a lot of people, and a lot of pressure to do this right. It’s not every day a network is tasked with handling the public airing of a man’s final weeks, and I have had one word repeating in my mind the entire season: classy. There’s no other way to describe the heart-wrenching, reverent, funny, and just overall amazing way the Discovery channel and Deadliest Catch producers handled Captain Phil’s death. So, my hat is off to them for doing right by Phil, by his family, by his friends, and by all of us who have watched him for the last six seasons. Every other network should take note for the future: this is how you handle death in the 21st century, people. With grace, and with class. I was a fan before, Discovery, but you’ve cemented my lifelong support with this one.
Tonight’s episode is going to be another tear-jerker, as news of Phil’s death spreads throughout the fleet. A special one-hour tribute to Phil will follow, so stay tuned and have the tissues handy once again, ‘cause you’ll probably need them.