Benedict Cumberbatch on Vincent’s Future

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers from the limited series “Eric,” now streaming on Netflix.

Abi Morgan wants the sting of her new Netflix limited series “Eric” to linger with the audience long after it’s over.

Sure, there is plenty to be happy about in the final moments. Edgar (Ivan Morris Howe) returns home to his parents. Vincent (Benedict Cumberbatch) seeks rehabilitative help for his addiction and behavior issues in an attempt to be a better father and human being. Cassie (Gaby Hoffmann) leaves Vincent to prioritize herself, Edgar and a new baby on the way. Detective Ledroit (McKinley Belcher III) gets some semblance of justice in the tragic murder of Marlon Rochelle.

But as Morgan tells Variety, the joy of one child coming home is a reminder that so many others, like Marlon, never do.

“I didn’t want the audience to say that was a happy ending,” says the series creator and writer. “That was an uncomfortable ending. There is relief, because everyone wants a child to find their way home to their parents. But for me, there is also an ache at the end of the show, and it is a very deliberate and intentional ache that we should all feel. It is palpable and important that it is present. If it isn’t, then this is just another TV show that used the trope of a kid disappearing as entertainment. I want it to be more than that.”

Gaby Hoffman as Cassie
Courtesy of Ludovic Robert / Netflix

Over six episodes, Vincent loses everything, as the fear over his culpability in the disappearance of his son compounds his already fragile state of being. The egotistical puppeteer and creator of the “Sesame Street”-esque kids program “Good Morning Sunshine,” Vincent sinks into the depths of his drug addiction and mental illness until he believes the only way to bring his son home is to bring to life his hand-drawn creation –– a furry gentle giant named Eric. In doing so, Vincent’s mind also manifests a far more unyielding version of Eric that serves as his walking-talking subconscious.

What Vincent doesn’t know, of course, is that his volatility at home is what drove his son to run away to begin with and end up down a manhole, where he is held captive by members of the homeless community living in the abandoned subway tunnels under New York City. By the finale, Vincent has used his artistically gifted son’s own map of the city to track him to this same subterranean community Edgar had already been watching from afar.

But as the city government ruthlessly begins clearing the tunnels of the homeless, Edgar is quite nearly sold to a human trafficker, while his dad succumbs to the temptation of drugs mere feet from his son. Only after Vincent beats the bad habits out of himself through his imaginary Eric is he able to call out to his son through the character on the news and encourage him to come back home, which he does.

Following a stay in rehab –– and an overdue cutting of ties with his own estranged father –– Vincent is able to reclaim his job at “Good Morning Sunshine,” where he now plays the fan-favorite character of Eric each day.

“He’s in a very fragile state still, and a very vulnerable state, which to me speaks to profound change,” Cumberbatch says of where Vincent ends up. “He’s gone through this dark night of the soul to reach a quantum of solace, if you will. I think it is a beginning. It is the beginning of hope.”

The final scene finds Cassie and Edgar attending a taping of the show, where Vincent is excited and nervous for them to see how far he has come. Cassie has had her own revelations during the investigation.

“I do think she finds peace,” Hoffmann says. “On some deep level, even from the beginning, she knew her fear was keeping Edgar in a situation that is not best for him. Not to mention herself and Vincent, who she has a lot of love for. But I think by facing not just that fear, but the bigger and much more troubling one of her son going missing, she discovers that she is capable of providing Edgar and beyond everything that she needs to.”

After the taping, Edgar slips into the Eric suit and mimics his croaky, yet cuddly voice to reconnect with his father, a bridge even Vincent is still apprehensive about crossing.

“It is a really beautiful scene,” Cumberbatch says. “He’s scared about where he is at with the love he has for his child, where his behavior has left his child and whether there is anything to salvage. He has come to a place of really truly being present for his child, and witnessing him. It is deeply moving for him to see the connection Edgar has with Eric, the voice he puts on to approach him as this creation. It is the medium that begins to bring them back together in this relationship. It is caring, it is engaged and loving.”

While Vincent’s story has a hopeful ending, there is no denying that not everyone who alienated everyone in his life with their behavior would be so lucky. Morgan says she made careful considerations in the finale to acknowledge that Vincent’s swift recovery (described as a “few weeks”) and opportunity to reclaim his life and job, not to mention the chance to prove to Edgar that he’s changed, is one of his privileges as an white man with access to money.

“I think if this was a drama that didn’t have the secondary storyline with Marlon, then I would feel very uncomfortable with that ending,” Morgan says. “But it is a very deliberate decision to show the ability that Vincent has because of his privilege and his profession and his intellect and his education and his family support, and because he is a white man with status. There are the tools there for him to rehabilitate himself, and find a form of redemption.”

One of the ways Morgan chose to acknowledge those privileges can be seen in the long-awaited reunion between Edgar and his parents, which cuts away to the lobby of the NYPD station where Cecile (Adepero Oduye), the mother of Marlon, still sits each day to remind detectives that her son never came home. 

“That is very powerfully conscious there,” Morgan says. “We worked a lot on that cut. You cut from Cassie as she is just about to cross the road and be with Edgar, and we stopped them from actually being able to reunite.”

She adds: “I guess I am trying to show that in an unfair world, there is a reason why some children don’t come home. And we have a moral, social and cultural responsibility to be held to account for that.”

McKinley Belcher III as Detective Ledroit
Courtesy of Ludovic Robert/Netflix

It is Ledroit who shoulders that responsibility in the series, as he is dogged in his pursuit of figuring out what happened to Marlon. Ultimately, he uncovers video evidence that the 14-year-old was killed by members of the NYPD after he was found to be engaging in a sexual act outside the Lux nightclub with now-mayoral candidate, Costello (Jeff Hephner).

Ledroit doesn’t bend to pressure from within the department to move on from Marlon’s case, and openly defies his superiors in calling for the arrest of the officers involved in his death. Ledriot’s story isn’t without struggle though, as he silently mourns the death of his partner Michael to AIDS and grapples with how he identifies with the very things that made Marlon a target.

But neither Belcher nor Morgan wanted Ledroit to apologize for who he is.

“I didn’t have to portray a man who is being shut down or who is becoming smaller over the course of the show,” Belcher says. “I got to portray someone who is dealing with the real-life stuff that a man doing his job, who is Black and queer, would have been managing. But I get to navigate a space in which he blossoms. He marches toward what it is to accept himself, to love himself and to sort of operate at his full potential and step into what it is like to be the change he wants to see in the world.”

Ultimately, changing the world is what Hoffmann says is the message of the series. Not in the macro sense, but rather in one’s own corner of a broken world.

“It is easy to point fingers at Vincent and his mental illness, but it is really a larger crisis,” she says. “Vincent, himself, is the victim of a larger crisis of improper parenting, of not being properly loved. That to me is what this show is about. It is about our inability to properly love each other and our children and ourselves in a society that isn’t taking care of us and loving us.”

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