Emily returns to the UK and attempts to repair her broken friendship with Dolly in the final episode of Doll & Em.
All’s well that ends well (or is that the wrong play?)
Doll is back in London. Her rom-com screen test came to nothing – “Edgar thought that Jessica Biel would be better at playing an English woman than me” – and so she’s back working in the same restaurant she was in before her LA adventure. She’s still being pestered by her ex-boyfriend but is continuing to pursue her acting, playing Caliban in a canal barge production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
Em returns to London with her family for Christmas. She tries to make amends but receives a frosty reception. Doll can’t resist being competitive and gets in a dig about fetching Em a latte.
Nonetheless, she goes to watch The Tempest and is entranced by both the play and Dolly’s performance. At the after-show party, she gives her friend a peace offering: the second of a matching pair of t-shirts bearing a photo of their younger, smiling selves in a bath together. It’s enough to break down the wall between the pair, and they walk off together, planning to co-write a play.
Back where we started, but older and wiser
This final episode brings the entire series full circle, with Doll and Em back together as they always should have been – only older and wiser for their experiences.
It was the offer of a shared bath (with Buddy) which drove the first major wedge between the two women. But it is a much older bath together which brings them back together, reminding both of a shared memory and history which helps them rise above their falling-out. And when another offer of a three-way bath (with Noel Fielding) comes their way, they know better than to accept.
Equally, it was the stresses and strains of the acting profession – Emily’s own insecurities married with Dolly’s sudden success – which proved to be the final straw in LA. And yet it is a simple performance of The Tempest which allows Em to reconnect with the simple joys of acting. Their roles are reversed as now it is Em who is envious of Doll, and watching the performance provides the inspiration for their joint project.
Finally, The Tempest is an apt choice as a framing device for the entire series. It revolves around the relationship between a father and his daughter, just as the bond between both women and their dead fathers has been a key touchstone throughout the series. And Caliban, the character Dolly plays, is forced into servitude when Prospero and Miranda arrive, just as Dolly herself felt in becoming Emily’s PA.
In addition to cameo appearances by Ben Chaplin and Noel Fielding (Dolly Wells has previously appeared alongside the latter on The Mighty Boosh and Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy), there is a whole host of meta references in this final episode.
A customer in the restaurant asks Doll whether Em was in Shutter Island. She was indeed, starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. And when Em’s brother asks her to get Woody Allen to come to his recital, he’s referring to the fact that Emily Mortimer also appeared in Allen’s Match Point.
And finally, keeping things within the family, Em’s husband and children are played by Dolly Wells’ real-life family, while the role of Ariel in The Tempest is played by Emily Mortimer’s son Sam Nivola.
Charming and real
Despite a slow start and a bumpy middle section, Doll & Em has been charming and gentle and, above all, real and sharply observed. Its drama has never felt contrived, and its two central performances have been consistently strong and lacking in pretension.
Given the natural closure of its ending and some shoddy scheduling by Sky Living – they really should have aired the first two episodes back-to-back – it’s unlikely we’ll see a second season. But it’s been an enjoyable ride nonetheless. A very British series, and a critical success which deserved a bigger audience.
Overall rating: 8/10