The Ending of 'The Idol': An Attempt to Explain

Trying to make sense of a finale that makes no sense.

still from the idol season 1 finale
(Image credit: Eddy Chen/HBO)

The finale of HBO's The Idol aired last Sunday, ending the five-episode miniseries that has been controversial, scandal-ridden and widely panned since before its release. For anyone who has avoided social media for the past five weeks, the series created by Euphoria scribe Sam Levinson and The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) follows Jocelyn, a former child star turned pop diva who's working on her next album while reeling from the death of her mother. When she meets Tedros Tedros (yes that's his full name), a creepy club owner who has adopted a bunch of talented unknown musicians into a cult-like "family," Jocelyn falls under his spell (for some reason) and lets him take over her home and exert control over her career.

While it can be enticing to stick with a show despite all of its flaws and frustrations, there's probably a number of people who skipped out on the rest of The Idol following its premiere. For anyone wondering how Jocelyn and Tedros's relationship ends up, how much screen time Jennie actually got, and whether the show eventually rose to its potential (...yeah, no), read on for a breakdown of the finale.

Jocelyn takes over the cult.

Episode 5, "Jocelyn Forever," begins with a scene that genuinely made me wonder whether I had somehow missed a week of plot. Jocelyn is recording with IRL super-producer Mike Dean, when a strung-out Tedros comes into the room and tries to take over the session. This happened often in episode 4, and it's clear that his direction has influenced Jocelyn's new track (which literally includes the lyrics "choke me"). However, Joss has done a complete 180, and she brutally dismisses him while claiming that he's "served his purpose." She even makes fun of him, telling the producers in an exposition dump that Tedros had been obsessed with Joss since his prison days and he eventually got to her through Dyanne. She finally calls Tedros a "con man" and a "fraud" as the producers laugh at him and Xander and Leia look vindicated. When Tedros reminds her of his artists, she makes it clear: she likes them. They can stay. He can go.

Since the first episode, Tesfaye's performance as the "menacing" cult leader has prompted viewers to ask what's so special about him. Tedros is so overtly bratty and non-ominous that Tedros even admitted in a mid-season interview that his character comes off "as a loser." Whether the overall dud vibe was an intentional choice or the interview is a bit of damage control, it brought down the storytelling as I was left wondering why Joss would ever be into him in the first place. Though it's great to now see the world-famous pop star finally acknowledge that Tedros is just some dude, that realization comes out of the blue. Episode 4 ended with Jocelyn learning that Tedros and Dyanne were a thing, and her immediate response was to call up her actor ex Rob and sleep with him while Tedros was listening at the door. The show doesn't inform us whether episode 5 starts the morning after that party, or a couple of days later, and we don't get a scene where Jocelyn sits with the knowledge of Tedros's manipulation and decides to cut him out. Instead we got an extended, nudity-filled scene with her and Rob, in another example of The Idol spending too much time on awkward sex scenes meant to be "outrageous" that just end up being tedious.

still from the idol hbo

(Image credit: Eddy Chen)

Later on, Jocelyn gets a call from her Live Nation exec Finkelstein setting up a meeting about her big tour, which has been on the verge of cancellation for weeks. She rushes down to the basement where Tedros and the cult are staying with a plan: she wants to save the tour by offering Chloe, Izaak, and Ramsey as opening acts. While she's relaying her plan for the artists to put on an impromptu showcase for her team, Tedros is interjecting behind her like a spurned toddler, but she just takes control over the cult while he sits there as a "sweaty, drunken, f--king pathetic mess." However, Tedros is like a cockroach, sticking around way past his welcome and instructing the cult to keep the team there through pure sex appeal (a.k.a. being half-naked and making seductive eyes the whole time).

The record execs love Jocelyn's opening acts.

Finkelstein, record label exec Nikki, and Joss's co-managers Chaim and Destiny soon arrive at the house for the meeting-turned-showcase, and thankfully they acknowledge that the vibe in the room is weird. While Joss is still upstairs, one of the scantily-clad cult members makes Finklestein squirm and Tedros calls Nikki a "Judas" and a "c--t" for signing Dyanne in episode 4 without consulting him first. However, before the meeting can end before the showcase part, Destiny convinces the team all to stay and hear all of the undeniably talented singers. This progression comes from the last episode, when Destiny moved into the house during recording and the show didn't make exactly clear whether she joined team Tedros or she was just putting up with him to stick with his artists.

All three of Joss's picks (played by Red Rocket actress Suzanne Son, singer Moses Sumney, and singer Ramsey) are stellar, and all of the team members quickly realize that they have a house full of unsigned talent on their hands. While the showcase happens around them, the industry insiders are strategizing on two separate sides. In one group, Chaim and Destiny whisper about how they can monetize Chloe, Izaak, and Ramsey’s talents while trying to convince Finklestein that Joss was just as much of a mentor to them as Tedros. The tour exec is still worried about Joss's mental state and wondering whether she's stable enough, but he's also obviously digging the show. Meanwhile, Nikki has surprisingly allied with Tedros, praising him for finding all of the artists and telling him to bring her more. Nikki has been the most outwardly gross exec all season (she's the one who said the whole "Mental illness is sexy" thing in the premiere), and it's another level of gross for her to obviously go straight for Tedros and try to cut off Chaim and Destiny (who already knew that's what she would try). It also mirrors how Nikki quickly signed Dyanne and gave her Joss's old song, "World Class Sinner." This is the type of character I would have liked to see way more of (a thought I ended up thinking about all of the show's female characters except Jocelyn).

Tedros frames Rob for sexual assault.

While the showcase has been going on, Leia has been dealing with a crisis. At the end of episode 4, Xander and one of the female cult members tricked Jocelyn's ex Rob into taking a compromising photo, and the actor has now been accused of assaulting her. Joss hasn't been answering Rob's texts, so he calls Leia, telling her that the pop star needs to back him up since the false story is that he raped someone at her party. Leia, who's shocked and thinks Rob is innocent, returns to the showcase and tries to confront Xander. However, Xander's still under Tedros's thumb (or is just aligned with him to piss off his frenemy Joss). He just deflects, saying that Joss is probably avoiding Rob's calls because she already knows what's going on (that Rob's been accused? that it's not true?). He asks if Leia's really sure what people are capable of, which shakes the assistant's already cracking faith in Joss for no reason, because obviously Tedros did it.

Fast-forward a couple of songs, and Nikki's reading an article on Rob out loud to Joss.  (Apparently he's going to be digitally rendered out of the five percent of his upcoming superhero film that shows his face.) Joss appears to be shocked when she hears, immediately realizes Tedros set Rob up, and cries a single tear as Tedros claims he's heard things about Rob while barely hiding a grin. Tedros also cues Xander to join the showcase letting the former actor make his return to singing against Joss's wishes. Joss drags Tedros out of the room and confronts him about Rob. As she tells him to get out for the umpteenth time, he taunts her with how much everyone in the room loves Xander's performance, hinting that he may keep the upper hand.

Xander and Leia are both woefully underdeveloped as characters. Leia has always been the voice of reason who doesn't understand the appeal of Tedros at all, but she's also seduced by Isaac, and is in a situationship with him throughout the series. There's several levels of possible motivation for her, as the series hints that she stays and serves as Tedros's punching bag because she truly wants to protect Jocelyn. Or because she's trying to stick it out long enough to launch a makeup brand. Or because she goes googly-eyed whenever Isaac is around, which isn't great seeing as the whole point of Isaac is to be objectified. There's not enough time to really understand what Leia's deal is in five episodes, even if the show wanted to spend enough time on it.

Then there's Xander, who gets relatively little short time early in the season before Tedros realizes there's something in him. Apparently, Xander was Joss's former co-star as a kid, and his mom (and maybe Jocelyn herself) outed him and forced him to give up his singing career so Jocelyn could be a star. If all of that sounds incredibly random, imagine learning it all in the span of one episode, the same episode where Xander joins the cult and Tedros tortures him with a shock collar for no real reason. He interrogates Xander throughout about his beef with Jocelyn, but unless something happened offscreen, nothing instigated this. It feels like most of the context that would make any of Xander's relationship with Jocelyn (and the following torture) was left on the cutting room floor. Again, these are some of the scenes we needed rather than extra-long sex scenes with horrible dialogue.

Tedros is kicked out, Leia quits, and Dyanne loses her record deal.

After the whole Rob thing, Jocelyn refuses to have Tedros in her face for another moment. She tells Chaim to give the scammer as much money as he needs to leave, before performing her new song for Finklestein. While the song is at least a step up from "I'm just a freak, yeah," the performance is essentially a lap dance for the exec, and its enough to assuage all his worries. He even calls himself a "parent figure" as he praises her: "This is the best f--king music that’s ever poured out of you... The pain you went through, everything with your mom, all of it, it all f--king led you to right here." Jocelyn's back in control, the tour's back on, and her opening act of four are confirmed. (Joss doesn't object to Xander.)

Meanwhile, after guards escorted Tedros out of the room during Joss's performance, Chaim offers him a smooth $500k to leave Jocelyn's life forever. If you didn't realize that Levinson wants viewers to feel bad for Tedros, just watch the cult leader tear up the check out of some honor that just magically appeared. Chaim tells Joss that he paid Tedros off, but he goes with Plan B instead, enlisting journalist Talia to write an exposé on Tedros's criminal history. For those who missed it, the con man, real name Mauricio Costello Jackson, was previously arrested for kidnapping and assaulting his girlfriend, and got caught up in a slew of other charges, including sex trafficking. Also he had a failed rap career.

We also see a shot of Leia packing up her things and leaving a note before moving out of the mansion, showing that something was the last straw that finally made her quit. (The Rob incident? Joss taking over the cult? Who knows.) Also, Jennie returns in her only scene of the finale, in which Nikki lets Dyanne know that her single has been tied up in legal problems and her career has been postponed indefinitely. Dyanne quickly realizes this is Jocelyn's revenge, and there's a great shot of her asking without even needing a response as the elevator doors close between her and Nikki. I'm not sure which is more rude, that Dyanne gets destroyed even though (see below) or that the Blackpink member only got 15-ish minutes of screen time among a five-hour series for her acting debut.

Jocelyn and Tedros reunite as she starts her tour.

The finale ends after a six-week jump, in which Jocelyn has released three hit singles, sold out the tour in three weeks, and prompted several walkouts for misogynist lyrics that only ended up adding more publicity. All of this is revealed in an exposition dump by Finklestein, Nikki, and Chaim, during Joss and her opening act's soundcheck for their show at Inglewood, CA's Sofi Stadium. They also get in a few giggles about how they completely ruined Tedros: he lost his club, the IRS is after him, and it's assumed that Joss took over the cult. The vibe is so smarmy that it's clear again that the show wants you to feel bad for Tedros's defeat, even before the now-meek man slinks up to Sofi's will call to see if Joss has left him an artist pass.

For some reason, she has, but under his real name. Mauricio's teased by a couple of security guys before he's let into Jocelyn's dressing room, where Destiny warns him she'll kill him if he hurts Joss. (Da'Vine Joy Randolph, you are a star, it was wonderful watching you.) Then Joss comes out and the couple reunites, with her telling him that "none of this means as much without you." After they embrace and Joss sits down to touch up her makeup, Tedros picks up a brush on the counter: "Did you say this was the brush your mom beat you with? It's brand new." Jocelyn says nothing and smiles. The implication seems to be that her claims of her mother's abuse weren't completely true, and that she's been manipulating everyone this whole time. This idea, that Joss was initially the master manipulator all along, Tedros was just stupid enough to think he was in charge, and after all that she still wants to be with him for some reason, makes zero sense. I am too tired to consider a world in which it makes sense. We still have no idea who the hell Jocelyn is as a character and a person, and the show's pretty much over! The only thing I'm sure of is that Lily-Rose Depp did a great job with what she had in the role, and that the Rolling Stone exposé reads very similarly with hindsight to how it did when it first came out.

still from the idol hbo

(Image credit: Eddy Chen/HBO)

In the final scene, Jocelyn takes the stage in front of a full audience. (Fun fact, they actually filmed this scene during The Weeknd's IRL Sofi shows, and Joss's mansion is actually the singer's real Bel Air home.) She thanks her fans for their support during her "tough year" and introduces them to "the love of [her] life." Tedros walks on stage as Chaim, Nikki, and Finklestein's jaws drop. The couple kisses, and Joss whispers to Tedros, "You're mine forever. Now go stand over there." The loser is defeated, Joss is in charge, and nothing makes sense.

I once did an intensive writing workshop, the kind where you submit a story and the professor goes through it with a fine tooth comb. He kept asking me questions about the short that I couldn't answer, and said that I didn't think about it enough. That experience has always stuck with me, but it makes sense that there are questions on a hastily-written first draft, as more time needs to be spent before it goes anywhere near publication. The Idol is a fully written and filmed network series with great performances from most of its actors and great cinematography, that still prompts way too many questions. There's a bunch of really great threads of possible characterization and starts of themes, including examining Joss's teams complicity, and how they only worried about her personal crises to the extent they might impact their bottom line. But at every point, the show turned into an extended, poorly-plotted psychosexual mind game between a powerful pop star and some random club owner instead of offering any actual look at abuse in the music industry. This show is just a whole bunch of scenes happening without giving enough of a why, and at the end, "Why?"s are all we're left with.

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.