Captain Phil Harris died on Tuesday’s episode of Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch.” Phil, the captain of the Bering Sea crab boat Cornelia Marie, suffered a stroke while unloading in port in February. The cameras were rolling as his sons Jake and Josh saw him for the last time at an Anchorage hospital. There was some sense of closure for both: Jake left his dad proud by flying off to Seattle to enter a rehab program, and Josh kissed his father’s head, assured him he’d been a great dad, and promised to bring back a lucky gold chain when he returned to the hospital later in the day. But Phil suffered another stroke after the boys left, off-camera, and died soon after.
It was a heart-wrenching episode, especially since Phil had been making so much progress in his recovery from the initial stroke. The sight of some of the toughest guys you’ll ever see on TV breaking down in tears was pretty much the most achingly real thing you’ll ever see on “reality” TV. The hospital scenes were uncomfortably voyeuristic at times, eavesdropping on intensely private moments, but the footage never failed to be absolutely gripping.
I thought Discovery handled the whole situation really well. Phil wanted the cameras rolling up until the end, and they managed to capture some beautiful final moments of his life. The episode was respectful, understated and not at all maudlin. It seemed to hit all the right notes, and considering Discovery was sailing in uncharted waters — this was the first reality show to have one of its subjects die mid-season — the network should be applauded for its sensitive, professional treatment of a very delicate subject.
A whole lot of Kleenexes were used up around the country Tuesday night. The episode was the third-highest-rated show in Discovery’s 25-year history.
So what’d you think? Do you approve of how Phil’s death was handled? Were you amazed to see Josh grow up almost overnight? And did you tune in for “After the Catch”? (That was a nice epilogue, almost like a good, boozy Irish wake.) This season has been emotionally draining to watch, with the personal tragedies, mental meltdowns and frustrating fishing. But it’s also been the series’ best.
Here’s the final seven minutes from Tuesday: