Why Was Chelsea Clinton in the Last Scene of ‘Derry Girls’?
Great show, but, let’s face it, that ending was total shite
We were having a cracker time watching Season 3 of Derry Girls. Maybe the final season of this beloved sitcom had gotten a little high on its own supply. The gestures were broader, there were too many scenes of the characters moving in slow motion while bad 90s songs played behind them, and, like a lot of shows with teenagers as the main characters, at this point the actors are pushing 30 and straining credibility. But the season still had several great comic payoffs, a kind, warm, generous heart, and a great Liam Neeson cameo.
Derry Girls built to an historic vote, where all the characters, including our teenage heroes who had just turned 18, went to the polls and voted to ratify the Good Friday agreement, bringing peace to Ireland for the first time in generations, if not ever. It was quite moving, and totally appropriate for a show where The Troubles were never far away, to end on a note of hope.
And then the record scratch. A black screen and the words “New York City, Present Day.” New York City? Did Erin fulfill her literary promise and write the novel or the TV show, thereby memorializing her beloved friends and family? Did someone else strike it rich? No. Instead, we have a mailman delivering a 30-year-old letter from the Derry Girls to a luxurious brownstone. And out of the brownstone steps…Chelsea Clinton. You see, back in season 2, the gang wrote Chelsea a letter on the historic 1990s occasion of the Clintons peace-seeking visit to Northern Ireland. Apparently that letter never got to Chelsea, only now finding her in Brooklyn, or the Upper West Side, or…Chelsea, wherever she lives.
Chelsea reads the letter aloud, and the show fades to black. Hers is the last face we see, and the last voice we hear, in what amounted to a 20-plus hour comic miniseries of teenagers about the troubles. This struck me as an extremely odd, and bad, narrative choice. So I did what I do when I disagree with a narrative choice. I complained about it on Facebook, because I’m old and grumpy.
Most of the old and grumpy people on my feed agreed with me. Lame, they said. Annoying. The right-wingers cursed the Clinton name, the left-wingers called them neoliberal scum. When it comes to the Clintons, I’m not a hater like Christopher Hitchens was. I voted for them when I had to. But I hardly hold them up as heroes or gods. Unlike, apparently, the Irish. Then a surprising thing happened. An Irish guy named Thomas hopped into the thread and said this: “Americans will never understand what the Clintons mean to us.”
After some banter back and forth, he continued:
“I’ve lived in both countries, and I am from Ireland. People experience the Clintons differently there, and I know why Americans are disenchanted, I guess. But in Ireland, all three of the Clintons, for different reasons, are really highly regarded, maybe even loved. The Good Friday agreement is a thing of beauty, a peace agreement of profound, elegant simplicity, one that ended a conflict that we all thought would go on forever: a triumph of American diplomacy, and it is very hard to imagine it happening without Clinton. He understood the conflict in a way unprecedented for an outsider. The British can’t understand it, won’t, even though they caused it. Clinton understood the stakes both Irish tribes had in it, he understood what it would take to end it. And he had the power and the presence to get it done. He was a giant in Ireland in the 90s. That is why he features in the show, and Chelsea wasn’t on it because ‘…I bet we can get Chelsea Clinton.’ Americans understand Ireland in a way the British never will, but sometimes they fail, like when they booed Sinéad O’Connor in Madison Square Garden. This Facebook post is another disappointing example.”
Fine, I said, but the ending was still kind of clunky.
“From your perspective it was that,” he said. “But that is what made Derry Girls successful, it didn’t play to anyone’s outside perspective.”
Fair enough. His comments did make me appreciate more how important the Clintons, and Bill Clinton in particular, are to Irish people. But it still doesn’t excuse using a celebrity cameo as the topper to a beloved sitcom, especially in a final episode that felt warmly elegiac. The point of the Derry Girls is that these were very ordinary people. Our main character, Erin, had writerly ambitions, but also read the Cliff’s Notes so she could understand Hamlet. The other characters were intelligent and talented in their own ways, but not certainly destined for greatness. Erin’s parents were kind and intelligent and funny, but also worked as a van delivery driver and a Woolworth’s clerk. They were regular folks, caught up in The Troubles.
The show made it a point this season to drift back into the past, into the 1970s, so we could see the previous generation as teenagers. Maybe it could have paid us the courtesy, if it was going to flash forward at all, to show us what happened to the Derry Girls (and James), in a 21 Up kind of way. Instead, it deposited them into the dustbin of history so one of the most privileged people on Earth could receive a charming letter that she could maybe post later to her Instagram feed. The Clintons mean a lot to Ireland. But Derry Girls did itself, and its viewers, a disservice, by making the story about them in the end. What a load of shite.
One thought on “Why Was Chelsea Clinton in the Last Scene of ‘Derry Girls’?”
I thought it was a charming ending. I’m not a fan of the Clintons particularly. But, I recall the drubbing in the media /comedy circles that Chelsea got for being a plain, awkward teenage girl with big unruly hair. Even my mother used to wonder why they didn’t do something with her hair. So the story line where the Derry Girls (and James) empathized with her, idolized her and just wanted to hang with her as peers, rang very true. They felt confident enough to just ask her to hang out with them because who wants to hang with their parents? That underlying self-confidence, the importance of the group, is what made the show great. And they invited Chelsea into the group. The coda with Chelsea receiving the letter and being touched by it (“we think your hair is cracker”), while not necessary, says they were successful, even if it takes a while. It’s possible one needs to have been an awkward teenage girl to understand.