Sorry For Your Loss ended its first season with its characters learning painful truths about Matt (Mamoudou Athie) and about themselves. Most deeply shown is—of course—his widow Leigh (Elizabeth Olsen) who ends the season visiting the location where Matt died. She also learns that Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo) has developed feelings for her and subsequently doesn’t want to be around her. The first season is somehow painful and yet calming, poignant and yet joyful, selfish and yet generous with its story. It balances the contradictions of grief and trauma so well that it begs to ask: how do you follow that season up? Not only in terms of quality but in terms of plot, when much of the season was spent unspooling the circumstances of Matt’s death?
I half-expected a big time jump for the second season à la Michael’s death in Jane The Virgin but that isn’t the case with Sorry For Your Loss Season 2. Time passes slowly and we pick up shortly after where we left off, which could make the grieving process displayed feel monotonous—thereby making the plot feel monotonous. But what’s displayed with Leigh in the second season is this ebb and flow: to think she’s ready to move on from Matt death’s only to be sharply jolted back into the reality of her grief. If Season 1 brought our characters closer in the face of tragedy, Season 2 confronts the realities that were ignored in these relationships. The fourth episode, “Mr. Greer,” brings these things to the forefront while also setting up the themes explored in the rest of the series.
“They Didn’t Know Matt.”
Early on in the episode we are greeted by Leigh and Jules (Kelly Marie Tran) now running Beautiful Beast as a duo since mother-and-business-owner Amy (Ozark’s Janet McTeer) went on her impromptu walkabout to Alaska in the last episode. The keeping shop scene is our only moment with Jules (who is still not on great terms with Leigh) in the episode, but we see more of the tension starting to form between type-A instructor Lacey (Lyndon Smith) and Jules. This becomes an important relationship for Jules later on in the season, so this is very much a moment where breadcrumbs are left.
In her own world (as usual) is Leigh, who has to go to Matt’s school “to be the widow” during a small ceremony in Matt’s memory. She’s actively avoiding her writing deadline by visually merchandising the goods at Beautiful Beast, but in the midst of this there’s a line that comes back to haunt Leigh later. She downplays Matt’s relationship with his students and fellow teachers saying, “they just saw him an hour a day.”
“…And On Christmas, I Had No Sons.”
Meanwhile, in Danny’s world, he’s avoiding going to this ceremony (and seeing Leigh) until his mother Bobby (LisaGay Hamilton) shows up at his apartment. She basically grounds him by taking his bike keys and spreading a nice layer of guilt on him. A reluctant Danny shows up to the school around the same time as Leigh, and they’re both introduced to Matt’s coworker (and work confidant) Nina (Khalilah Joi). Thus begin the parallel journeys of Matt and Leigh throughout the episode.
Matt says he’s going to the bathroom but actually leaves, which leads him to his car, which has been hemmed in by a random red SUV. So, he can’t actually leave. He wanders to the sports field dugout where he finds three students skipping the ceremony to get high.
Leigh, meanwhile, furthers conversation with Nina until it’s time for the students to come and speak and/or sing about Matt aka Mr. Greer. Something strange happens for Leigh and Danny: they witness that the students cared for Matt. This thought, seemingly basic, seems so groundbreaking to them because they only ever saw Matt complaining about his job and his students.
“The Hole Wasn’t Just in My Life.”
In the past, we see increasingly chummy moments between Nina and Matt, Matt’s tough-as-nails teaching approach (but also his softer side), and a conversation about wanting children between Leigh and Matt. In the present we see Leigh acknowledging the similarities between herself and the students who also lost Matt. Again, it’s a revelation that on the surface seems basic, but given what Leigh thinks she knows about Matt’s work, she expected something different.
Whereas Leigh embraces this similarity after some time, Danny completely disavows it when his vaping-school-skippers express sadness toward Matt’s passing. And here is where we start to confront some of the big things looked at in series, namely the question of who gets to grieve for Matt.
“All He Ever Did Was Complain About This Place.”
But rather than answer this question outright, Sorry For Your Loss just produces more questions. It’s frustrating, but maybe that’s what makes it so human…it knows answers in grief do not come easily (or at all).
For Leigh and Danny, who both have somewhat radically different ideas of who Matt was, this question is used as a defence mechanism. To say (with words or action) that you do not have the right to grieve Matt is also to say that they knew him better than you. This is a big part of what Leigh and Danny are grappling with throughout the series: the hard truth that they didn’t know Matt as well as they thought they did. In the first season, this is used in a way that forms connections between the characters, but in the second season, this turns into the main conflict between them. And this gets a little bit muddier in Episode 4 with the introduction of Matt’s coworker Nina. Although that plotline does not reach its thesis statement or focal point in this episode, it becomes clear that Leigh’s “they only saw him for an hour a day” rings truest to her by the end of the episode. In the past—between bites of vegan chorizo tacos—Matt tells Leigh a filtered version of his day, but the bulk of his thoughts and commentary that day go to Nina.
“We Can Believe Our Own Lies.”
Crying on the floor of the girls’ bathroom, we find Leigh as we end the episode. She gets a call from her editor Drew (Zack Robidas) forcing her to send whatever she has for her makeup article (which she’s avoided writing). What flows out is a surprisingly meaty monologue which includes the incredibly timely:
“Why are we trying to be okay and normal on the outside when there’s a nuclear holocaust happening on the inside?”
Yes, this is an eyeliner review. But this is also about grief and the expectations of grief in society: that it is a linear healing process, and that it has five tidy stages. Leigh, so mad at herself for believing this, breaks down while talking about how her eyeliner can stand up to tears and still look the same. Thinking the worst of grieving is over six months after her husband died is simply not true or realistic. And maybe this is also partially directed at the viewer, and conventional expectations for linear emotional development in television.
“Mr. Greer” is a rare episode of television with its own contained arc that also blends into larger arcs through the series. It questions its characters’ closeness to Matt while also questioning societal expectations of grief and story progression. It’s a narrative of collective grief that feels incredibly timely. And how interesting that it was cancelled before it reached its intended ending. But perhaps that makes its unfinished ending all the more real?
The ending of the series also finds Leigh’s grief revisiting her when she thinks she is ready to move on. And maybe it’s this pain—this depiction of non-linear healing— that “Mr. Greer” and Sorry For Your Loss at large leaves us with that is most profound. Maybe the unfinished and cyclical nature depicted is the most human take on loss and grief that fictional television can offer.