The Big C

For a show focused on mortality, few fans of The Big C saw Marlene's sudden suicide coming. Last week, viewers mourned the loss of Cathy's curmudgeonly neighbor-turned-confidant after she decided to end her battle with Alzheimer's.

"We all grieved the loss of that character and for the writers in the room, we were grieving months ahead of even telling the actress [Phyllis Somerville]," creator/executive producer Darlene Hunt tells TVGuide.com. "The idea came about to have that character die, and I was personally like, 'We could never!'"

With time, though, Hunt realized Marlene's death would bring the season full circle while also pushing Cathy (Laura Linney) forward.

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"The series is about death and dying and what that means. Sometimes it's not who you think it's going to be, and how different people react to that and how we can explore that is really what the entire series is about," she says. "Hopefully, those who hate us for doing that will have a better understanding and appreciation after Monday's episode."

After largely employing the first stage of grief — denial — to deal with her melanoma, Marlene's death will push Cathy to re-evaluate her life and how she wants to approach her illness.

"Literally, the second next stage of grief is anger. And so for the second season, that's what we're looking toward," Hunt says. "Anger also means fighting and in this case, it might be Cathy fighting the cancer in a different way than we've seen her do."

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Part of the change in Cathy comes courtesy of her formerly estranged husband Paul (Oliver Platt), who is now well aware of his wife's illness.

Paul is eager to help his wife recover and be there for her now that they're back together. The real question is: After years of Cathy acting as Paul's caretaker, will he be able to reciprocate? Hunt says that question will be explored, as the series delves deeper into their marriage next season.

"Early on, when I was writing the pilot, I came across a study about divorce rates in terms of people married to people with cancer. It was really interesting because they found that ... if the wife has cancer, the divorce rate is likely to go up," she says. "That was so fascinating when I was writing the pilot — to think of why someone would leave someone with an illness and what that meant."

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With the loss of Marlene, Cathy will need a confidant. Hunt is hoping that Rebecca (Cynthia Nixon), Cathy's college roommate, will step up. "We are absolutely planning to bring her back and really explore that relationship because Cathy needs a girlfriend," Hunt says.

So how will Cathy get angry next season? "We've been exploring what that stage of anger would mean; we're reading books on death and dying," Hunt says. "I have a newborn, so I'm reading a book on death and a book on sleep training at the same time. It's an ironic coupling for sure."

The Big C season finale airs Monday at 10:30/9:30c on Showtime.