by Julian Spivey
The ending of the most recent episode of “SEAL Team” titled “Aces and Eights,” which premiered on Paramount+ on Sunday, Nov. 6 wasn’t a surprise to me because I know what’s going on outside of the fictional world of the series with the cast. It was still a major disappointment.
(Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the episode)
Let me begin by explaining why the tragic ending to “Aces and Eights” was not surprising to me. Max Thieriot, who plays Clay Spenser in “SEAL Team,” is the creator and star of the new CBS drama “Fire Country,” which premiered in early October. When I heard “Fire Country” was picked up to series this past spring I just assumed that would be the end of Thieriot’s run on “SEAL Team.” Very rarely do actors pull double duty on two shows airing concurrently.
So, all season six of “SEAL Team” I’ve expected the character of Clay to say farewell to Bravo Team. The most obvious choice for Clay’s farewell was on the battlefield and it appeared to me – and probably many viewers of the series, especially those who knew about “Fire Country” – that this would occur at the beginning of season six following the bombastic way season five ended in the spring.
Indeed, when season six premiered in September it looked like Clay would be a goner. He was the victim of a direct strike and one of his legs was left mangled. Due to the state of his leg and him vomiting up the antibiotic pill given to him at the scene it appeared he would succumb to infection.
Surprisingly, the series opted not to kill off the character at the beginning of the season. Clay’s leg was amputated and his time operating with Bravo Team was over.
The series decided not to give Clay the heroic battlefield death you would see from many TV shows and movies, and I was fine with that decision. Many warriors come home changed forever by physical or mental wounds and live fulfilling lives. It seemed this was the future “SEAL Team” envisioned for Clay.
I still expected his run on the series to end, but in a positive sendoff, where he and his wife Stella (Alona Tal) and their newborn son ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.
Unsurprisingly Clay develops depression as the result of his life changing abruptly and in episode six of the season titled “Watch Your 6” is considering suicide. He walks off into the woods with a rifle planning on ending his life before being talked out of it by his brothers in arms. This wouldn’t have been a satisfying end to Clay by any means, but it would’ve been a realistic one in terms of how lives of many servicemen end.
Again, it felt like the show was going to send off Clay and his family in a positive manner. Things were looking up for the character in episode seven of the season titled “Strange Bedfellows” when Clay helps out a fellow vet struggling with PTSD. It seems Clay has finally found how he wants to spend the rest of his career – helping out those who are like him.
At the end of “Aces and Eights,” Clay receives a phone call from this vet Ben (Joey Pollari), who’s considering suicide and destroying the military sign-up center that he blames for destroying his life. Clay talks Ben out of killing himself and as Ben hands Clay his gun a security guard shows up and shoots Clay dead. The aftermath of Clay’s death both on his Seal Team brothers and his family at home will be seen in the two-part season finale that airs its first episode on Sunday, Nov. 13.
It's certainly a shocking way for Clay to die, though not surprising based on knowing there was a good chance he wasn’t going to outlive this season. I just feel those in charge of the show, led by executive producer Spencer Hudnut, did the audience dirty in the end with the way they chose to bring his storyline to a close.
Hudnut told USA Today this week: “I struggled with it. I love Max and this character, which has been a big part of me for five years. But once it was clear, it became a question of how. We thought about having Clay ride off into the sunset, but that just isn’t the show.”
But … many military veterans do wind up riding into the sunset.
Shows are going to be emotional, especially when we’ve spent more than 100 episodes with these characters, but those in control of the shows shouldn’t intentionally string along the emotions of the audience by constantly putting a beloved character in danger and then having him escape leaving us to believe everything will be alright in the end.
Sure, it’s just a fictional show and character, but the death of Clay Spenser doesn’t seem befitting of the character. Not in this way.