Why the ‘Queer As Folk’ series finale is heartbreakingly true to form

NOTE: This article contains spoilers for the Showtime/Showcase original series Queer As Folk and may be incomprehensible to those who have not seen the entire show. If you plan to watch the show, bookmark this and come back to it after you’ve watched. I’d love to know your thoughts on the show, not to mention this write-up.

Brian: “I don’t want you to go, Wendy.”
Lindsay: “I have to, Peter.”

If there’s one theme that the five-season Showtime drama Queer As Folk is known for, it’s the pervasiveness of the Peter Pan Syndrome, or refusal to grow up. This is exemplified in Brian Kinney—immature, unapologetic, complex but shallow, gorgeous, promiscuous to the hilt. A sex bomb. Resistant to love. The series begins when Brian is 29 and still at the sexual prime of his very gay life. It ends five years later, somewhat tragically, with a hint of change but not a full-on reversal. And I’m okay with that. There are three major moments in the series that, for me, show that further growth and an offscreen happy ending are in the cards for Brian.

The first moment comes at the end of season one, when 18-year-old Justin is queer bashed and Brian holds his lifeless body in his arms. In that moment, everything changes. This is not to say that Brian is automatically in love and ready to settle down if Justin comes through the ordeal intact, but it is a shift nonetheless. Brian feels guilty. If it weren’t for his showing up at Justin’s prom, the bashing never would have happened; if he’d been just a little faster getting out of the Jeep and running toward the impending incident, he might have stopped the bashing; if he’d just rejected Justin altogether the night they met, the bashing might have been avoided. The beat goes on: if only, if only…

By this point in the series, it’s already clear that Brian has a certain affection for Justin. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have shown up at the dance in the first place. However, as is often the case in life and especially on TV, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. In almost losing Justin, Brian not only feels guilty but also feels his affection grow by leaps and bounds. It’s just not enough.

Season two brings the start of an on-again-off-again, painful semi-relationship between the two as Justin begins the rehabilitation process. It seems Brian will never be able to change, to get truly close with someone, to say “I love you,” to say “you’re the only one for me.” Which is what Justin wants and which is the cause of every single breakup, and most arguments, throughout the show.

So in season five, when Brian nearly loses both Justin and his best friend, Michael, in a gay hate bombing, another shift occurs. This is not to say that there are not many small victories throughout the show’s five seasons, because there are, but it is here that Brian is finally able to see the light. Once again, it’s that notion of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Brian has almost lost Justin a second time, and now, he’s ready. This is the second moment.

I love you.

He hugs Justin, kisses him, repeats himself. Justin reciprocates without words. Perhaps because it took five years, no other “I love you” that I’ve seen on TV has ever felt as earned and sweet as this one—gay, straight, or otherwise. The next day, Brian goes against his stance on marriage; he proposes. The problem is…this is Brian. Justin thinks it’s a joke. When he realizes that Brian is serious, he is elated. But maybe it’s too good to be true.

The series finale in itself is the third major “moment.” Justin calls Brian out on his behavior, realizing that Brian is changing everything about himself just to make Justin happy. Which is sweet, which is romantic. But it means that Brian is not the same sexual, unapologetic man he fell for. Meanwhile, by not going to the art capital of New York, Justin is similarly giving up his dreams for Brian. They call off the wedding and decide that Justin is going to go to New York to pursue his art. Justin insists that they’ll both visit, that they’ll see each other all the time. That they don’t need rings or vows to prove their love.

In one of the most misunderstood lines of the show, Brian says that it doesn’t matter if they ever see each other again.

Whether we see each other next week, next month, never again, it doesn’t matter. It’s only time.

What he means, and what has since been confirmed by the show’s producers, is not that they’ll never see each other again but that the love they have exists outside of time. They are bonded forever, and no matter where they are or if they see each other again, they will never escape it. This is perhaps the most romantic thing he’s ever said.

In truth, he doesn’t know if they’ll actually see each other or, one day, become a real couple, but the fact that he could even see himself desiring such a thing is the most monumental and meaningful shift in Brian’s character. It’s the only one that makes sense for him at this point. Getting married would have been an unrealistic character assassination, and no doubt, the marriage would have been doomed. Both Justin and Brian need to explore themselves and the world more, especially Justin, before they can even think about settling down.

Maybe one day. Maybe in five or ten, fifteen or twenty years. Maybe one day, they will get married. After all, Brian didn’t return the wedding rings. Which says a lot.

For now, they are remembering the love they have outside of space-time. To have Brian do anything more than this at this point would have been to pander to the fairy tale mentality and not just subvert but shatter the Peter Pan Syndrome. The writers stayed true to the series, taking us full circle. The “thumpa thumpa” goes on just as it did in the opening scenes of the show, but this time, there’s evidence that change is indeed possible. This is all the happy ending we were ever going to get onscreen for Brian and Justin. It makes sense.

But if you need more evidence, just take a step back. Look at the finale from a thematic and structural standpoint.

The entire episode is about growing up and moving on while not losing sight of yourself. Michael has found, married, and shared a family with the man of his dreams, which is really all he ever wanted. Emmet seems to have found his man toward the end of the episode. Lindsay and Mel are moving to Canada with the kids so they can feel safer. Even Ted has found his soul mate in Blake, a man who first appeared in episode three in what seemed like a bit part but who returned not one, not two, but three times; for them, despite horrible timing and drug-related issues in the past, the timing is finally right, and they are clean, and they are happy.

From the start, Brian is the one character with the most growing up to do, and to have him do it all in a five-year span would feel inorganic. Besides, there’s the “thumpa thumpa” of gay life, exemplified in the music of Babylon, the larger-than-life gay bar. As Michael says in the closing scene,

It’s who we are. It’s what made us….Some things aren’t meant to change.

I don’t think he’s saying that Brian can never change, can never offer love, but that he shouldn’t lose sight of who he is for the sake of love. Michael is proof that growing up is possible but that it doesn’t have to change a person unrecognizably. A gay man need only become, as Brian would say,

The best homosexual you could possibly be.

That’s all anyone can ask for. Even Justin.

Roger Market is the author of Life on Other Moons, a collection of short stories about war, coming of age, and family. He is a writer of fiction, screenplays, movie and book reviews, and more. Find out more at www.roger.market.