Spoilers below for Mrs. Fletcher episode 7, “Welcome Back.”
With every role Kathryn Hahn adopts, there’s always the question of, “What’s she gonna do now?” The veteran actress made a career of embracing messy, insatiable women, from trading filthy barbs with Will Ferrell in early Adam McKay projects (Anchorman, Stepbrothers) to a woman driven to the edge with obsessive lust in I Heart Dick. In Mrs. Fletcher, an HBO miniseries based on the book by Tom Perrotta, Hahn’s Eve explores a mid-life sexual crisis complete with grocery store fantasies, self-spanking, and, for the climax, a three-way with her coworker Amanda (Katie Kershaw) and writing class partner Julian (Owen Teague)—a former classmate of her college-age son Brendan (Jackson White).
Brendan’s facing a sexual awakening (awokening?) of his own at university, which offers a more challenging environment than the high school food chain where he flourished. Brendan’s porn-informed sexual proclivities alienate the women he attempts to connect with, and his arrogance outside the bedroom ultimately isolates him from campus social life. The finale finds him sobbing alone in the dorm shower, where a sympathetic student convinces him a weekend at home with his mother is exactly what he needs. Instead, Brendan finds Eve in bed with a stranger and the kid he used to bully in high school. This collision of private desire and shattering vulnerability is too jarring for either to fully process, and the episode ends with mother and son on the porch, unable to face each other after months of self-discovery (her) and self-interrogation (him). It’s up to the audience to determine if either of them are any better off after this seven-episode journey. Below, Kathryn Hahn opens up about the meaning of that final shot, her hopes for Eve and Brendan’s relationship, and the fearlessness that defines her body of work.
What does that final shot of Eve and Brendan on the porch mean to you?
Full disclosure, I don’t think we actually knew—and I don’t think Tom knew exactly when we were shooting it—if it was going to be the closing. It was only after we shot it that we knew it was gonna be the closing shot of this piece. We kept thinking, what would that next morning feel like, of the two of them around the breakfast table?
There’s so much leading up to that evening. I’m not trying to put any judgment on it. I think that evening was some sort of culminating event for her, good or bad. When you step back from it, there’s a lot of ooey behavior and decision-making leading up to it. As she says to Julian at some point, “No good can come out of this.” You know on the other side of that, it’s going to be so messy. But leading up to it, that was a joyful event in her life, and maybe in the life of all three of them. I mean, I’m sure Julian is gonna get his heart broken. For Brendan coming home, at the end of it—I mean, I cannot imagine. And also to see Julian there? It really is walking into a shitshow nightmare.
It’s fascinating that the audience is left to fill in the blanks. We’ve gone on a journey with two very different people, and now they’re coming back together in the face of this life altering moment that Brendan witnesses. It’s up to us to figure out whether or not either of them have actually grown.
Exactly! Or whether it matters, or what the next step is, or whether or not it’s up to us to make sure that the audience feels satisfied, or what satisfaction ultimately means. There was a big feeling of it during the whole thing: that idea of what satisfaction is. Because there is this feeling of being unsatisfied at the end, which frankly did drive me crazy. But that is such a human thing! Even though she does get to experience some pleasure with those two, there is something so unsatisfying of just the two of them [Eve and Brendan on the porch]. It’s like when a chord on a piano isn’t resolved. But it was very important to Tom that that’s where you see these two off.
I think an unsatisfying ending links directly to the character of Eve herself. Watching women onscreen who are allowed to be messy and imperfect still feels very radical.
I agree. I love the fact that you get to see her in all of her contradiction and all of her messiness, that she’s still hurling herself forward on this path that isn’t necessarily the right one. But I mean, who are we to say? It’s her path.
And that’s why we don’t get to see how her story ends. It challenges the viewer as much as it challenges the character.
I hope that the two of them [Eve and Brendan] would, when they’re stripped down and actually see each other for the first time underneath all of this artifice and these labels society put on them—mother, jock, the fact that he could not see her as anything but someone to take from, and she couldn’t see him as anything other than something she needs, she needs his love so badly as his mother—that they finally are able to come to a new chapter of truth in their relationship. That he would be able to see her as a woman, and have empathy for her as a human person, and she would be able to look at him and see the ways that maybe she failed him, because she could not actually see him clearly, [or] what he needed as a young man.
Speaking of shedding labels, did working on this show make you reevaluate yourself at all as a mother, wife, daughter, actress, human?
Any job you step into is an exercise in empathy, always. As a recovering Catholic, I always had been raised to be the good girl and not question—to not make waves. I always tried to color between the lines. [Eve’s] journey on the show, and especially that chapter in the game, in her mid-40s, to see a woman wake up from the fog and say, “fuck that,” of course is inspiring. I think any actor would say that there’s a part of any [role] that’s somewhat aspirational. It’s something you can’t really say or do in your real life.
There are a lot of risks on your resume—women we haven’t necessarily seen onscreen before. Has that fearlessness been there from the start of your career, or something you grew into?
I think that has a lot to do with the people that have wanted to work with me at this last chapter [in my career]. It’s always been in there, and whatever this last chapter is and the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with, and the parts that I’ve been asked to play have afforded me [the ability] to go to those places. Maybe I have become a little more fearless, as a person. Becoming a mother really helps you not give as much of a shit about the little stuff. You start to become a little more fearless in all aspects of your life because you put it all into perspective, so making emotional leaps at work doesn’t feel as big or as precious of a deal.