Today’s feature contains spoilers without reservation or apology.
Cloud 9 store 1217 closed last night, after six seasons.
In last night’s hourlong finale, Amy, the store’s former manager, confirmed that Zephra, the Amazon-like company that purchased Cloud 9 in season five (just seconds before the company agreed to union demands), planned to close 95 percent of its stores and move its retail venture online. This put Cloud 9 employees in a precarious situation; as one employee yelled at Dina, who swindled her way into management, “You make manager money, most of us need this job!”
The first half of the episode, “Perfect Store,” follows the formula of previous episodes: Amy and Jonah conspire to keep the store open through morally questionable choices (turning away “freaks,” bringing in attractive employees from competing stores) while they actively denied their love for each other. At one point I yelled through tears from the couch, “YOU BELONG TOGETHER.” (I had Sandra on my side.)
Mateo, who inarguably had the most to lose as an undocumented immigrant and is “basically unhirable,” spent the day selling himself as an ideal personal assistant to Carol, who had received a $20,000 windfall from a lawsuit against the store. Carol had expected more money, of course, but at $25 per hour, she could only hire Mateo for eight hours. (The living wage in St. Louis, to support two adults and no children is $28.53. Minimum wage, which most of the employees were probably paid, is $9.45.) How will Mateo find a job as an undocumented immigrant? Who will sponsor his employment? His position as assistant to the manager was the only role that didn’t require involvement from corporate.
Glenn would hire Mateo, and he does, during the second episode, “All Sales Final.” Glenn re-opens his father’s hardware store, hiring Mateo and Cheyenne. This was generous and caring but also wise: Mateo and Cheyenne were honest, reliable, and excellent workers. Mateo said in his initial interview that he would crawl through concrete for Glenn, and while it may not have seen that way in the pilot, he would have.
The scheme is undone by the staff’s ineptitude, which is mostly the discovery of eight severed feet in a duffle bag: horrifying but not surprising, as bodies have been located in the store before.
The foot depositor is later revealed to be Elias, of course, who places another foot on the shelf as a final parting gift on the day of the store’s closing. That he’s not arrested that night begs the question: Are the St. Louis Police so inept they can’t check the store’s surveillance footage? Is he a cannibal like the store’s former mascot, Kyle the Cloud 9 Cloud?
Jonah’s own unraveling is not the discovery of the eight severed feet, which do not fall off legs like acorns, as Glenn suggested, but his failure to sell the store on the local news. It starts out Jonah-y before descending into pure, unadulterated truth:
Yeah! A lot of feet turn up here! I’m sorry we’re not perfect, Natalie! We keep trying to show everybody that we’re the perfect store, and the truth is we’re not! We’re just us! But we’re here, every single day. When it rains, when it snows, when it tornadoes. When there’s a plague and you’re all safe at home except for when you come in here to cough. We’re here, just trying to get you what you need. All we want is to keep doing that.
Jonah’s frustration and near-outrage are accurate. Working as an essential worker is thankless and demoralizing. I know because I was an essential worker. I was reminded repeatedly I didn’t matter and I’d be out of a job and on the street soon. When essential workers did matter, it wasn’t minimum wage employees risking their lives but exclusively better-paying jobs and better-looking people. In the five months I worked on-the-ground I received one thank you. An inflated and misplaced sense of loyalty led me to believe it was my duty to show up, to support my customers and my bosses. Just say thank you, wear your mask properly, and tip 50 percent.
The Cloud 9 staff would probably make more money unemployed, at least until September, since the American Rescue Plan extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Even with $300 per week, many gig and retail workers make more unemployed than they did with a job.
The corporate lackey revealed that the store will become a fulfillment center and Amy quit, which is…unwise, even if it’s easy to go from one executive job to another. (She does!) The nagging flaw in the series finale is that your job is your family. Your job is not your family, your job is a paycheck. One supposes that your co-workers are your family, and I’m reluctant to argue against sweating side-by-side for minimum wage brings people together It’s reassuring that in Superstore‘s world, everyone (except Elias, perhaps he’s incarcerated) does gather again, at Glenn’s backyard barbecue. It confirms an ending for everyone, too: Amy’s daughter is a student at Northwestern, Dina and Garrett are together, Sandra, Jerry, and their adopted 19-year-old son are playing Cornhole; everyone is carefree and happy. Amy and Jonah, by the way, are married, have a son, and live in St. Louis. Jonah runs for City Council!
(“All Sales Final,” was Sandra’s moment to shine. Much like me, she’s capable of stepping up and taking over when no one else will, and immediately apologizing, to get shit done. In this case, she makes herself assistant manager in the warehouse under Dina, choosing her additional four employees. This the least Superstore could do for Sandra, who briefly lost Jerry to Carol, a woman who terrorized Sandra for years. Seeing Sandra confident and powerful was soothing to the soul.)
Superstore gave us a lot. It examined maternity leave (Amy didn’t get any), health insurance (the store provided none, and no overtime), the stresses of a soul-sucking job (mopping vomit, but also: Cloud 9 offers one bathroom break per shift and one 15 minute break for meals). Because it’s an NBC sitcom, it was always my fervent wish that these issues reached an audience that might not have considered the sweeping change needed in this country. Mateo’s undocumented status was revealed in an off-season episode meant to draw in new viewers after the Summer Olympics. Superstore never dropped this issue, either, following the store’s attempt to hide him from ICE, detainment, and the struggle to get an ankle monitor removed. It’s almost auspicious that the finale for a pro-labor sitcom aired on the 110th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
While other programs have handled the pandemic and masks willy nilly–why is Olivia Benson ripping off her mask as soon as she enters a musty old apartment, why are doctors talking inside a hospital on New Amerstdam, and why is Dan Conner removing his mask to talk to customers inside a hardware store—Superstore has carefully highlighted the life-shortening drudgery of working retail in a pandemic. Earlier in the season the staff unsuccessfully hoarded supplies; toilet paper was selling out and the employees staffed to sell it couldn’t buy any. During one of the episode’s cutaways last night a woman bent over and rotated the one-way floor sticker so she could traverse the aisle. Last week a woman tried on masks and put them back on the rack. On the store’s last day a child tested a training toilet in the middle of an aisle.
I don’t know what fresh hell is next. I’m sorry Superstore won’t be able to address it.