‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

The third season of YouTuber Olan Rogers’ Final Space is, at best, a mixed bag and, at worst, a shadow of its former, offbeat self. What started out as a vibrant science fantasy romp with Gary Goodspeed, a kind of intergalactic Alonso Quixano who’s delightfully loony due to his exile in deep space, is now so generic that its universe ending stakes feel without consequence. However, the plot of the show and Gary’s character arc align with the careers of major YouTubers, where success only stifles creativity and transforms a YouTuber into the kind of mainstream figure they previously rallied against. 

Whether it knows it or not, Final Space is about working as a YouTuber and the show’s decline serves as a grim reminder of how little stability and fulfillment the position holds as a long term profession. In examining the watering down of Gary as a character to a more generic protagonist, and season three’s suggestion that Gary might be a villain; it becomes clear that Final Space captures the rise and inevitable decline of so many YouTube stars.  

Final Space Season 3 In a Nutshell

Before we get too far into what Final Space is about thematically, let’s cover the actual plot beats of the season. This collection of episodes begins with the main cast of characters trapped in the titular Final Space, which is basically space hell with more, or fewer, giant monsters depending on how metal your views of the afterlife are. 

The season then follows our heroes trying repeatedly to escape from Final Space, getting forcibly separated and then reuniting a bunch, and some interpersonal relationships changing a little bit, but not in ways that feel satisfactory or are fully addressed. If it seems like I have a chip on my shoulder while I describe this season, it’s because I do and need to bleed out the venom this show injected into me.  

The only character to have any kind of meaningful arc this season is Ash, who’s voiced by the always terrific Ashly Burch. Apparently her psychic powers come from Invictus, the leader of the aforementioned giant monsters and a primordial evil. While processing how a major part of her identity is tied to a cosmic horror, she loses her adoptive brother, Fox, and begins to mistrust and resent the cast around her. As Gary’s priorities increasingly diverge from her own and as he unintentionally kills Fox, Ash even goes so far as to accuse Gary of actually being evil. This is a hell of an accusation, considering Invitus is literally space Satan, but whatever. Her frustrations with Gary are understandable, and Invictus was doing a ‘devil on her shoulder’ thing for most of the season, so this hard to swallow development is at least understandable from a character perspective. 

After thirteen episodes of Gary struggling, and sometimes failing, to protect those close to him, most of the main cast manag es to escape from Final Space, though Ash joins up with Invictus. She also captured and siphoned off power from the living weapon Mooncake, and Invictus used the energy to open a portal between Final Space and regular space. So, if an undeserved season four happens, it’ll probably focus on Invictus’ army trying to take over the universe. 

This season is a pretty standard space epic, which is exactly what makes it so disappointing. In the first season of Final Space Gary was an unwilling space hermit who was so desperate for friendship and intimacy that he tied up an assassin sent after him, Avocato, and forced him into a poker night. In season three, there just isn’t any of the weird shit that made the show so appealing in season one. There’s no encountering an alien family while wearing their dead mother as a disguise, no Gary insasting that he’s Little Cado’s new dad minutes after Avocato sacrifices himself to save them, and no jubilation in response to the death of the annoying robot KVN.

Gary isn’t a quirky guy trying to find his place in a universe that isn’t sure what to do with him anymore, he’s just the kind of space captain that the show mocked in earlier seasons. Even if it came with a pretty hefty price tag, Gary now has everything he’s ever wanted; a position of respect and power, plenty of meaningful relationships, and a partner who loves him. As mean as it might be to the fictional character Gary, these developments are a bummer and the show loses a lot of it’s charm and originality as it becomes a more standard and traditional story. 

Unless that’s the point. What if the third season of Final Space is about someone sacrificing their originality to achieve their goals and be conventionally successful? What if Final Space is about a growingly common kind of YouTube career arc? 

The YouTuber to Sellout Pipeline

Career YouTubers and the people behind the platform really like to brand YouTube as a space where creatives can express themselves freely. This digital space isn’t bound by the same regulations and ‘in-crowd’ mentality found in television and film production, meaning YouTube is a space where even niche communities can thrive. Now, in reality, YouTube makes LGBTQ+ content less discoverable and played a significant role in the recent growth of the alt-right and conspiracy theory communities, but at least YouTube and YouTubers like to paint it as a place for any content creator and their communities. 

On some level, this branding is true. As the current default video hosting platform, there’s something for everyone on YouTube. Where the lie really starts to breakdown, though, is when YouTubers paint the platform as being superior to traditional media industries. Now, how the problems found on YouTube measure up against every other entertainment medium and industry is a whole ball of wax that we’re not going to get into today. We don’t even need to, though, because most folks aren’t on YouTube as their last and best career move; they’re just doing it until they can move onto a better, more stable gig. 

If you’ve been on YouTube since it really started taking off in the late 2000s, chances are you can think of at least a dozen channels that have functionally shut down because its personalities moved onto greener pastures. You can hardly blame them too, as between the constantly changing algorithms, nearly unchecked harassment, and demanding production cycle; a nine to five gig working in a more established industry seems like a pretty cushie deal. That creates an unusual situation, though, where YouTube, which as a community that celebrates and demands authenticity, is functionally just a temporary gig for its biggest creators until they build up enough clout to move onto their ultimate career. It’s like working as a production assistant until you make enough connections to make the jump to a script writing gig; except there isn’t a convention for PAs and they’re not treated like celebrities. 

The job of being a YouTuber centers on presenting yourself as being as raw, original, and unique as possible; right up until you can afford not to be those things anymore. And then we have Final Space, which originally set itself apart from most other television shows by feeling one of a kind, and is now a generic sci-fi romp that feels like something that’ll just keep getting renewed until the second it’s unprofitable. 

I don’t know if this symbolism is intentional but, considering the rest of season three’s writing, I’m guessing it’s not. There are definitely parallels, though, and, as I witness Gary’s weirdo charm fade until he’s a monotone cliche, I’m filled with the same kind of sadness I felt watching the YouTube channels I grew up with chase algorithms until they’re not longer appealing to me before the creators leave the platform all together. 

Enjoying the Long Death Spiral

I don’t bring this comparison up to commend Final Space season three’s writing; as the season was so bland that I can’t even recommend it to my friends who watched the previous two. I’m bringing it up because this show accidentally reminded me that nothing great can last forever. That’s not even what I’m really upset about, though. Nothing genuine or anything trying to be can last forever. At least not in any kind of way that allows the people behind the project to live comfortably, or maybe even sustainably. 

With the systems we have in place, and how we as a global culture value art and entertainment, current media industries just don’t allow for authenticity unless it has, or can turn into, mass market appeal. Sure, anyone can do small projects that are wholly their own as a hobby, and there’s definitely value there, but only the lucky can make anything close to a significant amount of money off of those kinds of projects. That’s not even getting into the issue of creators burning out as people, the systems they form, and hosting platforms demand a steady stream of similarly high-quality work. 

As of writing this essay, Olan Rogers uploaded his last, non-promotional, video to YouTube ten months ago. If he never returns to the platform and the kind of material that helped him reach his current success, I don’t think anyone can fault him. He made the jump from being a YouTuber to successfully writing and developing his own TV show. He doesn’t need to come back; he’s outgrown YouTube unless there’s something he really wants to do that can only happen on that platform.

That really sucks for the people you enjoyed Olan Rogers’ channel. I think the only thing we can do, though, is enjoy the upward spiral of our favorite small-time creator’s careers, until they manage to ascend to anything beyond the initial stages of their career. YouTube and other hosting platforms aren’t the goal for most of the people trying to make a career out of their creative drive, it’s just one possible first step. No matter how YouTube wants to brand itself, that’s just how it is. 

I wish I had a more positive note to end on, but yeah, being yourself is just a means to an end for a lot of online creators and most will drop that veneer of openness the second they can take the next step forward in their careers. All we can do is enjoy these half-truths while we can and appreciate the stuff we connect with while the people behind it are able and willing to make it. 

I wish I liked the third season of Final Space more; I wish it was something that I could like. But it doesn’t have to be the things that made me like it anymore and the same can be true for the dozen or so YouTubers I loved in high school who aren’t around anymore or are no longer that version of themselves. 

I’ll always have the joy that the first season of Final Space brought me, though, just as I’ll forever treasure the niche channels that I and my high school friends revealed in; even if those channels have now been defunct for longer than I was in high school. Time goes on, things and people change, and we’ve just got to enjoy what’s good while we can. 

Thank you for checking out this essay! If you want to keep up with all of my writing, following me, @LucasDeRuyter, on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out my media focused podcast, Voluntary Viewing

I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings about a declining cartoon, and good luck with whatever you have going on. 

‘Final Space’ Embodies The YouTube Career Arc

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