A part of life is death. It happens to all of us, and the grief of losing someone is often so painful. But the series finale of A Million Little Things exemplified just how beautiful life can be before the end. As cancer consumed Gary, he decided to take matters into his own hands and have a death with dignity. Gary died with Maggie by his side after saying goodbye to Javi and his friends.
HollywoodLife spoke EXCLUSIVELY with James Roday Rodriguez, creator/executive producer DJ Nash, and executive producer Terrence Coli about the final episode and Gary’s death. (Note: the interviews took place prior to the writers’ strike.)
Ending the series with Gary’s death was something DJ had been thinking about almost since the show started. “Like any story that we come up with in the room, we bring an idea up, and if someone has something better, the best idea wins,” he said. “I always wanted to juxtapose the suicide as the way the series started with the assisted suicide as a way that it ended. Two friends both have diseases and one beat their disease and one didn’t, Rome and Gary. There had been other ideas that we floated out there, and I even pitched on some, but I think we always came back to this.”
Terrence added, “We had a lot of time to live with that emotionally and to see it come to fruition in exactly the right way, but watching the way that it affected the people who were crafting these stories on a daily basis… I think we knew in our guts that it was the right way to go.”
For several seasons, James has had to keep it a secret that he knew how the show would end all along. “We checked in with each other periodically over the run of the series,” James revealed. “And then after season 4, he was like, ‘What do you think?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I think we’ve done it and done a pretty good job of tracking the authentic journey of someone with this terrible disease.’ We know that they’re not always happy endings, and we had already sort of played out a version with Maggie where she does beat it. As melancholy as it is, it did sort of feel like something that we’d probably do if we were going to pride ourselves in this show being a reflection of a real experience.”
James fully supported Gary’s decision to end his life on his own terms. “I think the concept of death with dignity is something that makes a ton of sense to me personally,” the actor told HollywoodLife. “If you know that you’re done, shouldn’t you be able to dictate what those final memories look like? How you want loved ones to remember you? It’s one of the few things that you have control over in a situation, so I think there’s beauty in it. I think there’s honesty in it. I was thankful to ABC that they let us do it because it’s not exactly network television fodder.”
Gary has become a fan favorite over the course of the show’s run. The show started with Jon taking his own life and followed the aftermath of his death. DJ admitted that he knows that some fans “might be angry with this ending. One of the stages of grief is anger. I think because the show is so authentic, it’s very hard to accept this. But for people we know who’ve lost a loved one, that’s really why I wanted to tell the story like this. The Slossman Cancer Center where Gary receives treatment is named after a family member I had who lost their battle with cancer. There are just so many stories that come from family members I’ve had who have lost their battles that in being authentic we wanted to make sure we told that story true to ourselves.”
Gary initially enlisted Rome and Eddie to help him get the drugs he needed for his death. In the end, Maggie was the one who was with him as he fell asleep and never woke up again. After getting the news that his condition was terminal, Gary was able to spend time with his loved ones and be able to say goodbye. A gorgeous and fitting cover of “For Good” played during this montage.
Terrence noted that the show had a consultant for Gary’s storyline. “In this case, we spoke to an oncologist at length many times, and he said something very poignant. I won’t do a total justice, but he said for a lot of his patients, when they get sort of the final prognosis, it can be a gift because they have the ability to live their life and find the closure that a lot of people don’t get depending on their life circumstance,” Terrence said. “I think as we were approaching Gary’s storyline, and we realized when we were going that direction, we were going to make sure that this was a story where this guy had a chance to say all the things that needed to be said and spend as much time as he possibly could with his son with the time that he had left. I think that’s kind of what motivated the way we told this story.”
James shaved his head and beard to play Gary in his final chapter. The actor quipped that he was “presented with the option of going through 3 hours of makeup every morning. It sounded horrible, so I shaved the head because it’s just hair. It’s going to grow back. I did not shave my eyebrows. If you bought that, all the credit goes to our esteemed makeup department. That was about a 90-minute application every morning. It felt more palatable to me than the full forehead.”
The series finale ending also featured a flash-forward to when Javi is 16 years old. He’s watching the videos Gary left for him over and over. The glimpse into the future gives us Millionaires confirmation that the friend group is and will always be okay. Sophie is pregnant, Greta and Katherine have a daughter, and there’s a new Band of Dads. Gary may not be physically with them, but his presence is still the center of attention.
Turns out, that flash forward wasn’t always part of the plan when it came to the show’s ending. “It was always part of the equation when it came to the ending this season. Terrence and I were talking about how Act 6 was for the fans. Act 6 was to make sure everyone’s okay,” DJ told HollywoodLife. “The idea that there’s a circle of life, and that the four sons would be at the game and continue the tradition. I knew I wanted moments like Maggie giving Gary permission to let go. I knew that would be sort of my part of the episodes for me, but I think to make sure that the fans were okay and to know that life goes on that moment of them all at the game was essential.”
He continues, “When my dad died — I just saw this friend last night — my friend Greg said to me, ‘Your relationship with your dad isn’t over. It just changes.’ That’s a line that is in that last act. When he said it to me, it just freed me up so much. But even as I’ve tried to navigate how to direct and write co-write this episode, my dad was guiding me so much. And that’s what Gary is going to do for Javi.”
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(With Inputs from hollywoodlife)