The Finale Of The Idol Wasn’t The Mind Explosion Sam Levinson Thinks It Was & Here’s Why

The controversial series The Idol released its final episode this week and like every other entertainment journalist with a BINGE account, I have thoughts.

For the record, I made a conscious effort to watch each episode from a blank, objective perspective. And truthfully, that took some serious thought because I’ve been writing about the problematic elements of this goddamn show since before we even saw the trailer. But now that I’ve seen the finale, I’m even more exasperated than before.

Sam Levinson, Lily-Rose Depp, and Abel Tesfaye at the Cannes premiere of The Idol. (Image Source: Getty / Marc Piasecki)

Throughout the series, despite the awful constant glorification of choking during sex, there were many moments where I saw a glimmer of hope in the show. Most notably, through Lily-Rose Depp‘s performance as Jocelyn, a troubled pop star coping with the loss of her mother whilst attempting to maintain a demanding career.

But if I ignored the deeply icky scenes by Abel Tesfaye (formerly known as The Weeknd) as Tedros, the other stars like Rachel Sennot, Jane Adams and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, made the show a bearable and enjoyable watch for me. And let me tell ya, I’ve been singing “World Class Sinner” for three weeks straight.

By the time we got to the finale, I was waiting for a concept, or this long-winded vision that creators Sam Levinson and Tesfaye spoke about to come together. But by the end, I just wasn’t convinced by the story the star-studded cast was trying to tell.

If you still plan on watching the series, here’s your warning that spoilers are ahead.

To put it simply, the big twist in the finale is that Jocelyn was the real manipulator all along. That she was the true puppet master orchestrating everyone around her to get what she wanted, whether it be the emotional trauma she apparently needed to create better music, a troupe of talented musicians to be forever in her debt, or even a sweaty man with a rat tail to “choke her until she passes out”.

In an interview with Deadline, Depp and Levinson spoke about this “twist”.

“I think a lot of the audience will watch maybe the first few episodes and think that this guy is taking advantage of her,” Depp said.

“By the end, he realizes that she knows exactly what he’s doing and she knows exactly what she’s doing. Jocelyn is a very calculated and strategic person. She knows exactly what she wants and she’ll stop at nothing to get it.

“Tedros was her muse and she got what she needed out of him.”

Levinson echoed similar sentiments: “Throughout the season, Jocelyn has been searching for inspiration. She’s looking to go to an uncomfortable place, and it’s just ultimately looking for that next song, that next album. Tedros becomes the conduit for that creative unlocking.”

He also stated that because Jocelyn was so hungry to experience trauma to feel like she could create her art, Tedros “becomes the victim”.

But as a viewer, I just didn’t buy it.

Jocelyn is a product of her industry and throughout the series, it’s made very clear that she’s gone through trauma. She’s had a breakdown, suffered the trauma of her mother’s passing, and even had intimate moments leaked without her consent. All the while her team acts like a band of vultures circling around her to make sure she’s still profitable, or teeing up the next talent snack when Jocelyn inevitably stops being marketable.

Do I think that Jocelyn is manipulative? Yes, and that portrayal has been clear from episode one. But I think the finale missed the nuance that Jocelyn can be a victim and still find her power. While she came out on top due to her celebrity status, Tedros was still fucking awful. The trauma and manipulation he inflicted doesn’t disappear just because Jocelyn trumped him.

If we’re counting, Jocelyn isn’t the only victim. The ones who truly suffer are the people on the sidelines like Jocelyn’s assistant Leia (Rachel Sennot) who thought Jocelyn was her best friend and not just an employee, her ex-boyfriend Rob (Karl Glusman) who was falsely accused of rape, and her former backup dancer Dyanne (Jennie Kim) who almost had a shot at stardom.

Originally, some reports put this disappointing finale down to the series being cut short due to backlash but a quick Google search revealed that those rumours weren’t even true.

When HBO announced The Idol in November 2021, it was confirmed for six episodes with Amy Seimetz directing the project. But when Sam Levinson took over in April 2022, the season run was cut down to five episodes because that’s all they needed to tell the story. And when he took over, he ditched the female-focused, feminist lens that Seimetz had in mind in favour of the gasp-inducing series we’ve just copped.

It’s just one of the many well-documented changes made to the original premise with Levinson at the helm. So, I guess from that we can only deem that the disjointed finale was just a product of Levinson’s imagination.

After the finale, my opinion remains the same as it did after watching the first episode.

I’m sad this show with such an amazing cast – well, aside from The Weeknd – turned to ick-inducing sex scenes and shock factor to keep audiences coming back. Because honestly, it was the incredibly sexualised story filtered through the male gaze that shattered the idea that Jocelyn was the mastermind the whole time. If we actually placed Jocelyn at the centre of the story, and viewed her journey to finding her agency in a soulless business through a feminist lens like Seimetz had planned, it could have been the show of the year.

(Image Source: Instagram / Lily-Rose Depp @lilyrose_depp)