David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone David Duchovny, Natascha McElhone

David Duchovny knows a thing or two about saying goodbye to a long-running TV show.

Because the actor previously walked away from The X-Files after nine seasons, Duchovny says he knew what to expect when the time came to say goodbye to Californication, which kicks off its final season Sunday at 9:30/8:30c on Showtime. But knowing what to expect didn't necessarily make it any easier to leave the show behind.

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"When the  X-Files ended... I was ready to go off and try new things. I felt like I was ready to move on," Duchovny tells TVGuide.com. "I was pushing against that show at that time to get out, so I wasn't really allowing myself to feel the nostalgia, which I feel now much more. Spending seven or nine years with people is a significant chunk of your life; it's not something to downplay. ... It's cliché to say it's a family, but coming back year after year with the same people, there's a lot of sadness in moving on from that."For seven seasons on 

Californication, Duchovny has played Hank Moody, a writer and lovable hedonist who seems incapable of growing up enough to win back his first love Karen (Natascha McElhone). And even though he went into this season knowing it would be the last, Duchovny said his approach to playing Hank has never changed."The guy has remained essentially the same person, so the stakes have always been what I signed on to do in the beginning," Duchovny says. "I asked [creator] Tom Kapinos, 'What is this show really about?' And he said, 'What if you got it right the first time, in terms of love, and you screwed it up? How do you get it back and is it possible to get it back? Is it possible to live a happily ever after?'"

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Thus far, that question hasn't exactly been answered. Although Hank and Karen have given their relationship a renewed attempt over the year, they've never quite been able to click. In Season 6, when the couple's daughter Becca (Madeleine Martin) left the nest to pursue a "literary pilgrimage," Karen began to wonder if Becca was the only thing holding the couple together. So, how much of an obstacle is Becca's absence as Hank tries to woo Karen one final time?"Hank has always said that there was more than Becca holding them together," Duchovny argues. "I think he always knew he wanted Karen. He's always been sure, I just think he's ruthlessly honest about himself, the world, the relationship and the family. There's the comedy of him constantly making the wrong decision for the right reasons. But aside from those mistakes, he's always had a very clear view of what it is he wanted. It's just a matter of figuring out how he can do it and Karen figuring out how she can do it."Figuring that out will once again be complicated when Hank crosses paths with a woman from his past (guest star Heather Graham), who not only is a threat to Hank and Karen's relationship but also brings with her some baggage that turns Hank's world upside down. Meanwhile, Hank once again finds himself taking a less-than-stellar writing job to pay the bills. This time around, he's working under showrunner Rick Rath (guest starMichael Imperioli) on a TV show adaptation of Santa Monica Cop, the failed movie Hank wrote in Season 5.

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"Every year, we have a foil for Hank, somebody who represents something very different from what he thinks he represents. This year it's Michael," Duchovny says of Imperioli's character. "It's an easy job for Hank because he really doesn't care. On the other hand, it doesn't feed his soul. But it's part of the comedy that this guy wants to be an artist of great integrity and yet he finds himself working on crap."As for whether now was the right time to send Hank Moody off into the sunset, Duchovny is of two minds. "If I'm being ruthlessly honest, I never saw any kind of legs on the show," he says. "I'm always amazed that it went one full year, and I've been amazed at every year that we get to come back. So on one hand, I'm surprised that it went anywhere, but on the other hand, because it did keep going, I figured it could go on forever. In a way, the ending to a show is a little like the ending to a life. It's never perfect. It's never the right time to die, and it's never the right time to end."That said, Duchovny, who will next star on an NBC drama about real-life serial killer Charles Manson, is satisfied with where Hank's journey ends. So, do Karen and Hank get their happy ending? "Tom is a very sentimental guy," Duchovny teases. "The show does not appear to be sentimental on its surface, but [Hank and Karen] has always been the endgame for us. The heart of the show was always sentimental, so I think the end is going to be true to the heart of the show."Californication airs Sundays at 9:30/8:30c on Showtime. The sixth season DVD is available in stores now. And because love hurts, check out an exclusive supercut of Hank getting beat up below:
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, Showtime's parent company.)