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Apple TV+'s Physical Loses Its Strong Voice in Final Season

What does it look like to triumph over an eating disorder? That’s the central question in Season Three of “Physical,” starring Rose Byrne as the fitness entrepreneur Sheila. In this final installment, “Physical” moves from dramatizing what bulimia looks and feels like to imagining a resolution to the many problems, compromises, and mistakes Sheila has made along the way.

Without giving too much away, I can say that Sheila finds an imperfect peace, a way not to silence the voices inside her head but to exist in harmony with them. After bending to fit everyone else’s expectations, she finally gains enough confidence and power to insist on her values and live by them.

Byrne continues to use her sad eyes, evident vulnerability, and capacity to exude power to her advantage. Her performance doesn’t shy away from Sheila’s issues, but she never turns our main character into a villain.

All of which to say, “Physical” wraps up perhaps too nicely. Season Three harkens back to earlier moments, Sheila examining another pimple, side characters left behind getting neat conclusions. It leans into the lore of its previous two seasons, a move that feels a little unearned for a show with around 15 hours to its name. 

This final season is also disjointed, as if they had to stuff multiple seasons of plot and character development into one last set of episodes. Shows like “Physical” need six seasons to tease out their story arcs and build complex explorations of their themes. Too often, they have to wrap their stories quickly, and the last season of “Physical” suffers from just that.

This season opens with Sheila battling Zooey Deschanel’s Kelly Kilmartin. Well, more like Sheila is battling the idea of her. Kelly, the real woman, is busy building a Jane Fonda-esque fitness empire with rival products. The two become real business competitors, but at the start, Sheila doesn’t interact with the actual Kelly. Instead, she’s arguing with a fictionalized version of Kelly, a phantom who embodies and speaks to Sheila’s worst fear while also making Sheila seem crazy. Kelly is Sheila’s inner, self-hating voice personified.

As Kelly, Deschanel appears to have fun under all that bleached hair. She oozes sex and snarkiness, speaking in a hyper-affected accent. "Physical" doesn’t waste Deschanel’s many talents, giving her space to sing and dance on screen and generally vamp it up.

But partway through the season, the show abandons that conflict after a climax so extreme that I thought it was in Sheila’s head. When Greta (Dierdre Friel) confirms that Sheila’s nightmare did, indeed, come true in the flesh, it’s hard to know where “Physical” can go next.

The show then pivots, and after ditching Kelly, it becomes less like in-depth storytelling and more like fan service. Have you been missing anybody from Season One? Don’t worry; you’ll find out what happened to them here. Do you want more confirmation that Danny (Rory Scovel) is terrible (but somewhat alluring)? Stay tuned!

It’s a shame, as “Physical” started with such a strong, unique voice. Sheila’s situation may be extreme, but it's relatable. Her negative self-talk dramatizes a part of the feminine experience rarely explored on television—how it feels like to exist as a feeling object within the patriarchy. 

The last season doesn’t abandon that conceit, but Sheila’s path to fulfillment is more about economic fulfillment than self-actualization. It’s money—and the freedom it buys—that heals her. And that capitalistic fantasy is frustrating, a rare false note in a show filled with self-assured numbers.

“Physical” ends up buying into the system it started out critiquing, setting up a simple narrative where making money can help women recover from the thousands of cuts of negative messages about our bodies and worth. If only it were that simple.

Season Three of "Physical" premieres on August 2nd on Apple TV+. 

Cristina Escobar

Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of LatinaMedia.Co, a digital publication uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media.

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