The rumors about the death of “Stephen Colbert” turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Leading up to last night’s final episode of The Colbert Report, some were speculating that Colbert may take the opportunity to “kill” off the right-wing pundit persona he had successfully portrayed on the show for nine years. This made sense especially when it was announced that “Grimmy” (The Grim Reaper, a show regular) would appear as the only “guest” on the finale. It also made sense in that, once that “Stephen Colbert” was gone, the real Colbert could proceed with his real personality (which did creep out time and again throughout this series) when he takes over Late Show next year.
Things appeared to be going in that direction last night when Colbert introduced his final “Cheating Death” segment, which usually opens with Colbert cheating Grimmy at a game of chess. This time, however, Grimmy didn’t fall for it, and instead began strangling Colbert. Was this the end? Nope. At the last moment, Colbert took out his trusty gun “Sweetness” and managed to kill Grimmy (afterward ditching the gun in the audience, where an obsessed fan caught it and accidentally shot himself).
Having killed Death, Colbert concluded that this must make him immortal. Near the end of the show, this was confirmed when other notable “immortals” led by Santa Claus in his sleigh arrived on the rooftop of Colbert’s studio to meet him. Santa was joined by Abraham Lincoln and “the man with all the answers” — Alex Trebek. After joining the group in the sleigh, carrying his Captain America shield, and offering some parting words, Colbert soared off into the heavens.
It was a delightfully surreal ending to an episode that got increasingly odd as it went on. It started normally enough, with Colbert beginning with a news item (after warning viewers that “If this is your first time tuning into The Colbert Report, I have some terrible news”). A final “The Word” segment found Colbert backhandedly thanking the audience for doing much of the work over the years (even though he’s the one who got paid).
With about 10 minutes left in the show, following his killing of Death and realization that he is immortal, Colbert (after deciding he now no longer needs a bucket list, which primarily consisted of things he would like to eat out of buckets), got up and began singing “We’ll Meet Again.” He was quickly joined by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart (Colbert’s character began on Stewart’s show), and as the two dueted they were eventually joined by dozens of celebrities and former interview subjects, who just kept coming. (Just offhand, I noticed Alan Alda, Bryan Cranston, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Gloria Steinem, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, George Lucas, Willie Nelson, Tim Meadows, Cyndi Lauper, Doris Kearns Goodwin*, Patrick Stewart, Ken Burns and Katie Couric. J.J. Abrams appeared on film singing the tune, with a Star Wars-like crawl featuring the song’s lyrics behind him (earlier in the show, Colbert had joked that his show would, in a few years, be rebooted by Abrams). Vince Gilligan was also seen still chained in the basement, apparently still working on the new Breaking Bad episodes that Colbert had forced him to make last year.
Aside from singing with Colbert, Jon Stewart played more of a role last night, too. As Stewart led out last night’s Daily Show, he threw it over to Colbert, as they used to do in the early days of Colbert’s series. Last night’s Colbert also ended with a “throw-to” segment from 2010 when Stewart and Colbert were sort of out of character, perhaps helping introduce the real Colbert to some people.
*(One of the final end credits offered apologies to Doris Kearns Goodwin. Not sure if that was simply a non sequitur or something else?)
Following the singing, we took a quick pan through the empty Colbert studio, getting one final look at the desk and assorted background items, before moving to the rooftop and Colbert’s encounter with the other immortals. In the end, it was an appropriate sendoff for the type of pompous, self-absorbed character that this Stephen Colbert was. Perhaps it even offers a chance for him to come back at some point (online, or even as a character on Late Show on occasion?)
The “real” Stephen Colbert can now move on to his new future, while the rest of us can be comforted knowing that this “Stephen Colbert” is still out there, thinking from the gut and offering truthiness wherever it is needed.