How those emotional last minutes of the ‘Superstore’ series finale came to be
Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday’s “Superstore” episodes “Perfect Store” and “All Sales Final.”
The original “Superstore” ending went back to the beginning, when Jonah (Ben Feldman) first stepped foot in Cloud 9. The question of how the idealistic business-school dropout came to work at the big-box retailer has gone unanswered for the entirety of the NBC show’s six-season run.
All was set to be revealed in a cold open, taking place about a week before the 2015 pilot: After having a meltdown in the snack aisle, Jonah happens to see Mateo (Nico Santos) turning in his job application at the checkout counter and decides to fill out one himself.
“He’s feeling lost and doesn’t know what to do with his life,” said series creator Justin Spitzer, who wrote the final episode “All Sales Final” with showrunners Gabe Miller and Jonathan Green. “So he decides he’s going to work there just until he figures things out.”
These scenes ultimately got cut from the series’ finale, which aired Thursday. Instead, the episode captures the last day of Cloud 9, before its parent company turns it into a fulfillment center for its booming online sales. It’s a glimpse of what would’ve been the show’s seventh season.
“Initially, we imagined the store getting converted into one of these store/fulfillment center hybrids we’re seeing now,” said Green. “The last image of Season 6 was going to be a wall going up to divide the store into two sections: one with customers, managed by Glenn [Mark McKinney], and the other becoming more of a warehouse, managed by Dina [Lauren Ash]. It would’ve been a good Season 7, and we changed it into this when we realized it was the end of the series.”
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In the episode, Amy (America Ferrera), upon quitting her job in California, returns to St. Louis, Mo., to salute the store that employed her for half her life and the people who worked there. She gets roped into helping with the liquidation sale, during which the various workers ponder what they’ll do after the store closes. Dina, who will manage the new fulfillment center, has trouble picking which five employees to bring with her; Glenn panics at the thought of having to retire; Jonah mulls leaving town since he no longer has anything, or anyone, keeping him there.
After Jonah and Amy share some small talk and discuss the store’s new scanner system — a throwback to the pilot, when Amy did the same when she trained Jonah — the two have a frank conversation about their breakup, which Amy now considers a mistake. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but I know now,” she tells him. But Jonah isn’t sure what he wants and says, “I’m not just something you can schedule for whenever you’re free.”
Toward the end of the episode, Amy tries again, telling Jonah that she used to consider him the most annoying person she’d ever met. “Most of all, I hated how you believed life could be better than it was,” she says. “And yet, here we are. My life is so much better than it was because of you.”
Jonah then interrupts her with a passionate kiss — a moment that was always going to be, no matter when the series wrapped. “When America left, we figured that whenever the series ended, we wanted to try to get Amy and Jonah back together, if schedules permitted,” said Green.
These key scenes were calibrated over many drafts, said Spitzer: “Their first conversation was a lot friendlier at first, but America felt like the way things ended with them was so intensely ugly that we owed them more than that and that it would feel like we were sweeping all that history under the rug if we didn’t.”
With Ferrera and Feldman’s input, the script evolved to include Jonah’s anger and Amy’s remorse, as well as the banter and chemistry that made audiences root for them in the first place.
“My only fear was making the finale so full of conflict that you couldn’t enjoy the last time we were going to get to see them,” said Spitzer. “It still had to be one last fun ride.”
The staff gathers in the electronics section to watch Glenn’s secretly recorded footage of everyone’s job interviews, which was a bucket-list sequence for the show’s writers. Their reactions to the clips — with Amy as a high schooler, Dina with a mullet, and Garrett (Colton Dunn) with a full head of hair — were genuine, as they were screened for the cast during the shoot.
Executive producer Ruben Fleischer, who directed the episode, made sure this was the last scene they filmed, as “it was important to me that our last time on set was with everyone all together, laughing and smiling.”
After the series’ last customer interstitials — which feature Spitzer’s daughter and Fleischer’s kids reprising their appearances from the pilot — the final minutes of the episode flash forward to show where various employees end up. Amy gets another executive job, Jonah runs for City Council. The two get married and have a child, Carter, who shares a room with Parker that’s decorated with glow-in-the-dark stars — a reference to Jonah’s gift to Amy in the pilot.
Dina works at the fulfillment center with Sandra (Kaliko Kauahi), Marcus (Jon Barinholtz) and Justine (Kelly Schumann); Glenn reopens his father’s hardware store and employs Cheyenne (Nichole Sakura) and Mateo, bringing the show’s topical immigration storyline to a happy end.
“It was organic that Glenn, who had made these employment arrangements for Mateo at Cloud 9, would find a way for Mateo to keep working somewhere and not have to worry about documentation,” said showrunner Miller. (At one point, Mateo and Eric’s wedding was a potential flash-forward but was cut from the filming schedule.)
These futures are revealed as Garrett, a famously unsentimental employee who was pessimistic about keeping in touch with coworkers, delivers closing remarks that echo the feelings of the “Superstore” cast and crew.
“Don’t get me wrong: It’s a job — if jobs were fun, they wouldn’t pay us to do it,” he says over the store’s speaker system. “But occasionally there were moments that weren’t so bad. And for whatever reason, those are the only things I can remember right now.
“Most jobs suck 99% of the time, so you really gotta enjoy those moments that don’t. Those bits of fun you have during downtime, or an interesting conversation with a coworker, or something happens you can laugh about later, or you do something that you’re actually proud of,” he adds. “If you’re lucky, maybe you even get to be friends with a coworker or two along the way. I’m not sure what else you could want in a job.”
Garrett shares these last thoughts as everyone gathers for a lively backyard barbecue, sometime after the store has closed. The script reads: “Glenn, with Jerusha at the grill, gives Jonah a platter to bring to the table. Amy is seated with Emma. Dina is with Garrett — we see from their body language that they’re fully a couple. Mateo and Eric are showing Cheyenne and Bo their wedding bands. Jerry and Marcus are there; Sandra and Janet play cornhole against Carol and Justine.
“And all of the other characters we’ve come to know, talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company, together by choice, not a paycheck.”
This emotional sequence, filmed on the Universal Studios backlot’s Colonial Street, is visually distinctive from the rest of the series, which has always been decidedly unstyled and filmed with static cameras. Instead, the barbecue is captured as a single, cinematic Steadicam shot and is meant to callback the memorable “moment of beauty” from the pilot (also directed by Fleischer).
And before the store’s lights turn off, Garrett — who was the first voice that audiences heard in the pilot — says the very last lines of the series.
“Thank you for shopping with us. Cloud 9 is now closed.”
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