Laura Linney

The Big C's creator and executive producer Darlene Hunt -- much like the series' heroine, Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) --  isn't afraid to tell it like it is. Even when the truth hurts. "Honestly, I actually always envisioned it as six seasons, not four. I just want to have it out there that it fell below expectations," she tells TVGuide.com with a laugh. "I'm a very transparent person. That's just the reality of it."

Albeit two seasons short, the show will still enjoy a proper swan song. The season's fourth and final season, the mini-series entitled The Big C: Hereafter, kicks off on Monday at 10/9c on Showtime. Although the series isn't going as long as Hunt would have liked, she is quick to praise Showtime and Sony, which produces the dark comedy, for planning the show's end in advance. "We really engaged in a conversation to put that together," Hunt says. "With this show in particular and dealing with somebody's illness ... it was really important for us to know what would be our ending. It was very respectful the way they handled it and the way they brought us into that conversation and the way we decided to craft it together."

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The advance notice not only helped the writers plan out an entire goodbye season, but gave them new freedom to experiment without the looming possibility of cancellation. "There wasn't this sense of, 'Oh God, will we get another season and be able to finish up our stories?'" executive producer Jenny Bicks says. "It's a very satisfying feeling to know that you took it home the way you wanted to."

One of the biggest changes fans will notice is that instead of 10 or 13 half-hour episodes, the fourth season is actually a miniseries consisting of four hourlong parts. "I'm really enthusiastic for this last season partly because it is different," Hunt says. "I sort of feel that because it's different, at least we went out and tried something and it could either flop or be something really worth talking about."

However, Bicks warns fans the show won't be too different despite its longer running time.  "We wouldn't say that it changed its DNA," she says. "The actors would say that they got more time to be in the moments so that makes it feel a little bit more dramatic, but we didn't set out to make it more dramatic show. We just wanted things to breathe a little more."

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The new season adds more gravitas simply due to the fact that Cathy learned her tumors had started growing again in the Season 3 finale. "We're tackling the issue of her cancer head-on which we didn't do as much of last season," Hunt says. "So I was actually really looking forward to it, and terribly sad. [We thought], 'Alright, she is sick. Let's put that a little more front and center.'"

Cathy will not only struggle with her illness, but also with letting those around her help her in her time of need — such as her estranged husband Paul (Oliver Platt), who decides to stick around after contemplating divorce last year. "She's always been the person who's held everybody together," Hunt says. "In this case, it's about everybody else stepping up and filling in the holes for her and letting that struggle take place and letting her give in to it."

In the midst of her struggle, there will also be lighter moments as well. This season will see Cathy learning to play the piano — a development that has been on the writer's board for the last few seasons, but failed to make it onto the screen. "Darlene had said early on, 'I really, really want her to try to learn play the piano,'" Bicks recalls. "Every season we would talk about it, and then it would live for a little bit and then it would go away, and she finally does in this final season."

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One element of the final season the writers didn't have planned in advance was, surprisingly, the final moment of the series. "I had the last moment pictured, but this is not it. It does not play out this season, but that [original] ending sort of became moot because of a story line we did last season," Hunt says. "Moving story forward is always a good thing so that's fine. ... That's not a failure — it's just traveling the road and seeing where it leads you."

So will that road ultimately lead to life, or death, as viewers have long speculated? Season 4's special subtitle, "Hereafter," seems to imply just that. "[It's] this idea that even as you're living, you're dying. So you're here, but you're also after. We're always in between two worlds," Bicks says. "It doesn't necessarily mean that Cathy is going to die in the second episode and then come back as a ghost." Hunt facetiously chimes in: "But that does happen."

Whatever that ending is, Bicks thinks it's a satisfying way to wrap up Cathy's story. "I think the fans will feel like they went on a journey, and we gave them an ending. Whether that's the ending they want, that's not up to us," Bicks says. "We're not here to make everyone happy, but I think it's a satisfying conclusion for all of the characters."

The Big C: Hereafter airs Mondays at 10/9c on Showtime. Are you sad this is the final season? Do you think Cathy will die?