This story contains spoilers from A Million Little Things‘ series finale. Proceed accordingly.
A Million Little Things broke its audience’s hearts into a million little pieces Wednesday when Gary took his last breath during the show’s final episode ever.
Though James Roday Rodriguez‘s character had been diagnosed with incurable lung cancer at the start of the season, the disease wasn’t what killed him. Instead, Gary chose assisted suicide, borne of a desire to die with dignity. His shocked friends initially fought the idea but eventually helped him get everything he needed, and then they gathered for a memorial dinner while Maggie handed her husband the drug-laced tea that ended his life. Then, an episode-ending time jump gave us a glimpse of how everyone was doing 15 years later. (Read a full recap.)
Once we recovered from the emotionally gutting hour, TVLine chatted with Rodriguez, Nash and executive producer Terrence Coli. In separate interviews Monday, the men discussed what went into the decision behind Gary’s decision. Read on to hear their thoughts.
TVLINE | James, you co-wrote this episode with DJ. Why did you want to take on that duty, in addition to acting, for the last hurrah?
JAMES RODAY RODRIGUEZ | I didn’t. I was approached by DJ pretty late in the game, and he was like, “Hey, man, I think we should do this together.” And at that point, after however many episodes we had shot and all the stuff we had been through, it felt kind of like a Butch and Sundance situation that I needed to say yes to. We have known that this is how the show was going to end for a long time… So, for us, it was like seeing through something that we had been talking about on and off for four seasons. Doing it together, once I thought about it, made some sense. It was also a chance for us to, I guess, reconcile and process the last five years, give each other a shoulder squeeze and go out like people that had grown and evolved.
TVLINE | When you say that you knew how this was going to end for a while: You knew specifically that Gary was going to make the choice to end his life on his terms?
RODRIGUEZ | Yeah. It was a concept that we both felt was absolutely dependent on whether or not we earned it over four seasons, and if we hadn’t felt like that, then we wouldn’t have done it. Whether you love it or hate-watch it or whatever your relationship is with it, for a network show we’ve tried really hard to reflect the human experience as authentically as we can. And the truth is we had two people that were suffering from this horrible disease, and one of them beat it, and the way that we know that life works is that a lot of people don’t get that lucky. So it felt like, in order to balance the scales and reflect the two different experiences that people could have with this rattlesnake of a disease, we had to go the other way.
DJ NASH | I knew from the beginning I wanted to have a series start with a suicide that should not have happened and end with assisted suicide, which was the humane thing to happen. And I love the idea of a series following two friends, Rome and Gary, who both have diseases, and one is able to beat their disease and one is not. So, that was always the plan. I think I told very few people, certainly no actors, and then at one point I told James because there’s a couple things that we were doing, story-wise, that he was pitching that were really smart, but I needed to let him know I didn’t want to do that yet. I let him in on that, and then it became this sort of rite of passage whenever the writers’ room started.
TERRENCE COLI | I started in Season 3, and I remember we were on Zoom, early days of the pandemic… You laid it out, and it was remarkably close to the episode that just aired as the finale. Even then, I was like “That’s what we have to do…” So, we stuck to the plan.
TVLINE | Let’s talk about Maggie not getting clued in until the plan has been put into motion. Although I understand it from a story perspective, as a wife, I’m like, “She’s his partner! She should’ve been in on this from the beginning!” Talk to me about why you decided that it would be the guys dealing with this until the last minute.
NASH | It’s a really great question. Candidly, when I saw the first cut… I was like, “Ooh, this feels a little too much like this was put upon Maggie and we took her power away.” And I found an ADR line that we put in [during post-production] that really kind of changes the effect of that. But I think a couple things — It was only plan Z. It wasn’t the plan. If you look back at the episode with the birthday party, Maggie needed Gary to beat this, and the whole reason he was going to go to Mexico was so that she could feel like “I did everything else.” I think having her know about this other plan would’ve been off the table for her.
COLI | And I’d just add to that: I think it would’ve affected the time that they had left together, right? It would have been a constant thought in Maggie’s mind for the time that they did have left, and I think Gary knew that he needed his friends, who could compartmentalize it a little bit in a way that perhaps Maggie could not.
TVLINE | James, was Gary’s ultimate choice in your head all season, as you were performing? When, in your mind, does he come to the decision?
RODRIGUEZ | I personally tried not to start thinking about it until the end of Episode 11. I think Gary’s responsibility for both his wife and his baby and all of his friends was to remain as positive and hopeful as possible. When he coughs up blood at the end of 11 is when he realizes that things probably aren’t going to go his way. So, that’s when for me, I started sort of letting the mortal coil stuff sort of seep in for sure.
TVLINE | Whose idea was it to have Gary unable to communicate verbally at the end?
RODRIGUEZ | That was definitely DJ, but the reason for it is two-fold. One, we have this consultant who’s been with us from the very, very beginning and she laid out all the things that could happen with someone with Stage IV lung cancer, and that was one of the things that she said is possible. And then in order to sell the death-with-dignity thing, we needed to check certain boxes so that you don’t have everybody watching going, “Well, he’s fine. Like, why wouldn’t he want a few more days or a few more weeks with the most important people in his life, you know, if he can still do this, this, this, or this?” So, it was really about threading the needle and trying to find, like, what is the balance? Like, if someone says they don’t want to be confined to a bed with everybody waiting for them to take their last breath, what does the tier above that actually look like?
TVLINE | What was the toughest part of the episode for you to get through shooting?
RODRIGUEZ | Honestly, watching my co-star Allison Miller have to carry the emotional burden of everything that was happening. To be completely honest with you, I feel like I got off easy comparatively — except for all the time I had to spend in the makeup chair.
TVLINE | How many hours was that?
RODRIGUEZ | Well, it would’ve been worse if I hadn’t shaved my head, which is why the first thing I said was, “I’m shaving my head.” But also I just felt like, I don’t know, as much as we can as actors, it’s like, don’t be a fraud. You know what people go through when this happens. Like, they don’t have bald caps on. So shave your head… But I feel like, Allison really did have to carry the water. And she’s such a good, honest actress that I knew she was suffering, and that was hard to watch.
TVLINE | DJ, I know the character of Maggie was partly inspired by your aunt Madi, who died of cancer. You’ve talked about how you wanted Maggie to survive because Madi didn’t. Was there ever a temptation to pull the ultimate TV happy ending and have things work out well for Gary, as well?
NASH | The answer’s no, but… We were really aware that people are invested as though [the characters] were real and that we had a responsibility, to not give everyone a happy ending, but to make sure everyone was OK. And so that is why, in the premiere of the season, we made it very clear that one day Gary will die from cancer… He accepts that. He is OK with it. Maggie just wasn’t, and Maggie represents the fan group, you know, the same way she represents the viewers in the pilot, where she’s the person who’s introducing us to the group of friends. So, Act 6 of the finale is all about that. We could’ve ended the series with the dog moan [Laughs] — no, we couldn’t have — but we wanted everyone to see that Javi’s okay. Maggie’s okay. They’re all moving on, and just like the lesson I learned when I lost my dad, your relationship with your father isn’t over. It just changes.
What did you think of the finale? Sound off in the comments!
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, dial “988” for the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
I know some people think this was just a poor imitation of ‘this is us’, and maybe yes it began that way, but I feel like it grew into its own thing. James Roday was fantastic in psych and was wonderful in this too. I personally think they went a bit too far into tear jerking misery and it all became a little manipulative, but the actors did a good job trying to ground it.
I hated the ending. It was like the show never existed. No room at all for a comeback unless they are aged beyond recognition. Basically left an entire audience with a finger.
Jeopardy is about it for watching ABC
Horrible and bad decision folks!!
I disliked the decision to kill Gary for the same reason. That said, I strongly disagree that they left no room for a comeback. They could do any of the following.
1. Use old age makeup and do a this is us style show across the timeline gap as well as in the time jump present and maybe the future.
2. Focus on the new friend group with the younger generation as the leads and use the original friend group as guest stars or recurring characters.
3. Move one of the couples to another state for some reason and have them start building again (maybe Eddie and D or Rome and Gina, or Sophie and Ty.)
4. Is just picking up right where they left off with the same child actors just 5 years later. Recast Charlotte and Javi if you need to, but otherwise everything else works fine.
P.S. the one thing I really hated is that Maggie was alone for 15 years. Her being married and happy and giving Javi a loving and supportive step father would have been happier and more true to Gary’s wishes. It is a bad thing all the way around.
Yeah well I don’t have time to wait for a return and to be kept hostage by tv execs and their decisions. Your responses quite lengthy and did even read all of it
There was a dynamic between Gary and his friends .. If the show was alive Gary would be alive! The show aged the rest of the cast 16 years huh?
Anyway not a series watcher any way referral from a friend wad hooked past year
Just say in not fair to castor audience
I’m a female and just watch sports really they retire on their terms may be bc of old age???
Maggie being alone was one thing that I disliked, too. She deserved someone to love, and to love her and Javi.
I understand the symmetry of having the sons of the original four at the hockey game, but later I thought, “So Danny’s husband isn’t into hockey?”
I don’t think that is necessarily true. It’s more likely that this is a sacred guys night ritual and is 2nd generation gang only. I doubt even Eddie or Rome get invites to it. Also given that 2 members are early 30s with at least one child on the way, I doubt this is a thing they can do every home game.
So now we judge shows by their ability to be rebooted in the future? Ridiculous.
In the era of reboots and spin-offs it isn’t that unreasonable to keep it in mind. Obviously the show runners wanted to kill him off to bring the story full circle. But the next iteration will be worse for limiting his involvement.
There WON’T be a next iteration. Not every show will be rebooted. I loved this show and enjoyed it, but it’s over. And it was never a ratings winner, so we should all be happy that we got the 5 seasons we did. And on the chance there could be a next iteration, any good writer can create A Million Little Things: The Next Generation (thus the value of writers and the need for the WGA to get the contract they deserve).
I am not a fan of corporate greed. I will not defend the big studios in their quest to maximize profits at the expense of the writers. But, it is worth pointing out that the business has changed so much between 08 and today (the last contract was signed I believe in 08 or late 07,) that it is more complicated than dollar amounts. I think they really need to reconfigure the entire pay structure to really find an equitable deal, and that will take time.
Don’t underestimate the power of a niche audience to accomplish a reboot or revival. If it streams well over the years it could very well be continued or rebooted. Plenty of ratings poor shows like supernatural survived way past their expected lifetime and are likely to be rebooted one day.
It’s okay for stories to have endings not every tv show has to end by leaving a back door for a revival they told the story they wanted to tell and it ended. That can be enough. That can be beautiful
The ending was done extremely well. I believe we all should die with dignity and therefore I embraced the choice Gary has made. Great series tackling difficult subjects. Will miss seeing the show! Superior acting !
Totally agree Kate….I miss it already. I truly don’t understand why this wasn’t a top rated show. It’s sad our culture embraces shallow sexist programs like the Bachelor but not relevant quality programming like AMLTs…….
I’m with you John. Other than sports, I don’t watch much Television. This was the ONLY television show that I watched EVERY week.
My thoughts, exactly, Kate!
Brilliant! Way to bring everything full circle!
Excellent writing! I cried through the whole thing.
Allison Miller deserves an Emmy nomination, her performance in the finale was spectacular!
Just perfect in every single way.
Was it just me or did they speed up the frame rate of the episode in a few scenes?
Especially the Delilah and Gary fart conversation.
Maybe they did it so they didn’t have to cut anything to make it fit in an hour?
Hopefully when they license it out to streaming or release it on DVD/Blueray they’ll slow it back down and just let the episode run long without timeslot constraints.
The whole show is on HULU if you have it.. I get it without commercials….
it’s just you.
A really great series and loved watching it over the last few years. Disappointed, though, that they chose assisted suicide as their message to all the viewers. The finale was more about that than it was about the life of Gary Mendez and the incredible bond he had with his friends.
He was stage 4, which means its terminal and he clearly was at the stage with no hope of recovery ever. Just because you are not willing to let someone go, does not mean you are entitled to dictate the person who is actually suffering the pain and will only get worst. The finale showed his friends love him so much they are willing to break the law for him to ensure he doesn’t have to lie there in pain waiting to die. Unless you are the person in that position, it’s most definitely not your decisions and not about your feelings.
I was very sad. I always wanted Gary to survive but I realized after the coughing spell I had to accept Gary’s fate. It was a nice touch to see how everyone survived through the years and how they all remained friends.
I saw the early episodes, but had been unable to see it for a while.
Unsure if I would have watched the finale if I had known that James’ character was dying.
The episode was high-quality, outside of that, though, I think.
Good summary—but get some of the facts right. Gary died from stage IV BREAST cancer that spread to the lung, not stage IV lung cancer. Also, it was plan C, not plan Z.
The creators of the show said plan Z in the answer above. It was the last resort, plan Z.
Closed captioning said Plan Z, too.
It was a tear jerker. I loved this show never missed an episode. I thought the ending was very dignified. That being said, I hate they felt the need to have Gary die . I guess it started with the death of John so I guess they felt it needed to end with a death.
Worst possible choice of many endings. This Is Us was a superb ending. This finale was a product of lazy and uncaring writers. What was the message, you can die from cancer, your friends are sad when you go, and suicide is OK? Hope these writers either shape up or never write again. How do cancer patients or those who know of a suicide feel about this finale? Writers come to work or stay on strike.
Wow you must be fun at parties
As someone who was just recently diagnosed with a very aggressive type of cancer and who had a brother who committed suicide, I can tell you that I loved this finale. I think we should have the right to die with dignity. It’s wonderful to have true friends who support you through good times and bad. And I loved the jump to fifteen or sixteen years later, when we saw how everyone and their children were still a group of loving, supportive, happy friends. Though sad like life itself, I can’t think of a better way to end this show.
The final farewell was beautiful as much as it was heart wrenching. I love the fact that #Amillionlittlethings is relatable and it deserves it flowers. Kudos to the writers, the cast, the crew and every single staff member for taking us on this Beautiful journey.
Loved the show. Watched all. Did not love end. Little emotional.
I love that show! I thought the ending was done beautifully. I like that Gary chose to die his was. I believe in assisted suiside when you are terminally I’ll. I’ve watched to many family members suffer terribly.
Having them jump to the future was great.
Will miss that show.
Bawled my eyes out!!! Heart wrenching/heart warming /amazing show start to finish! One of my all time favs! Bravo to the cast, writers *, crew !!! You all did a terrific job.
“And I found an ADR line that we put in [during post-production] that really kind of changes the effect of that.”
Could someone please tell me what “an ADR line” is?
I have loved this show and loved the finale even though I sobbed like a baby. Very clever to show the characters fifteen years later. A very satisfying, albeit sad, finale.
ADR is when they bring the actor back to redo their line in post production.
IT WAS THE WORST!!
Very disappointed with the finale of A Million Little Things. True love isn’t taking another’s life, it’s selfish. In asking or doing. Same goes for abortion. Please stop supporting the easy way out. That’s not death with dignity……that’s cowardly.
Um, OK. Why are you bringing abortion into this?
No one took another’s life, it was Gary’s choice. This was a deep subject although assisted suicide us real and it is about dying with grave and dignity. Wow, …abortion is choosing in some cases to take a life, without the unborn having any say. Get it?!
This was death with dignity and Gary’s choice. That’s why I’m glad that I live in a country that has MAID (medical assistance in dying). It’s selfish to want people to continue in pain just because you don’t want them to leave.
Address Jon’s suicide
Did they ever explain why John commited suicide????
He felt he should have died on 9/11. He missed the plane and his friend died.. coupled with untreated depression he felt his time was up… but really …there is NO reason for an otherwise healthy person to commit suicide. His brain was sick.
It wasn’t just one thing that led John to die by suicide. It was A Million Little Things.
Absolutely wonderful as someone who has dealt with cancer this was done wonderfully. This is us wasn’t as good as this show I will miss it for sure
I truly loved this show was my favorite watched it every week faithfully was so sad that Gary died to me he was the friend that kept everyone together he put so much time and effort into all his friends to keep them going I will truly miss this series wish we could have had more time to see Gary enjoying be a Dad to Javier and Delilah and Eddy rebuild their relationship and Catherine and her new wife try and have a baby too bad they aged them all 15 years tells me there no comeback for this show a million little things will be missed
It was a excellent finale. As much as I hated it, I think the only way it could have ended is with Gary’s death. Colin not leaving Gary’s side and the whimper at the end was heartbreaking.
I loved that we were shown everyone 15 years later. Seeing Sophie and Tyrell happy, Seeing that Catherine and Greta welcomed a daughter into their lives. Seeing that Danny had gotten married. Knowing that Rome and Regina and Eddie and Delilah were all happy. Not sure what Theo was up to but he looked happy. Lastly seeing that Maggie was going to move on and that Havi seemed happy.
The only thing that would have made it better for me would have been a 2 hour finale where we could have seen a little bit of how everyone handled Gary’s death. How after losing the glue to their group they still managed to stay together.
If I heard right Tyrell made a refers to his and Sophie’s baby being a boy. I would love to know if she chose John or Gary as a name. I know that is a little bit of nitpicking. LOL
It is sad that we will not be welcoming this wonderful cast into our living rooms anymore.
I now understand more after reading. This is first real adult show that’s ever been on. It will be SO MISSED!!! But—all those kids need to grow up and just maybe we could see that????. Thank you so much for this program and every single actor 💔