I live in constant fear of contracting some rare, painful and terminal disease. I’m afraid of height, needles and shadows moving in the dark. I am, generally speaking, a fearful person. My worst fear, however, is not that of abandonment, or the social anxiety I experience at parties, or the dreadful nightmare I often have where my skin falls off and leaves gaping holes behind. My worst fear is being disappointed by a TV show.
We’ve all been there: you’ve invested God-knows how many hours in watching a show you have come to love with all your heart, and, quite suddenly, like the writers have lost their heads, the resolution of the plot is terrible.
Any writer can tell you that endings are hard. They run the risk of being cheesy, either too happy or too sad, or being just plain random. The ending of a long-running TV show should satisfy the audience, but giving them everything they want runs the risk of appearing unrealistic. It seems to me that the problem is this: we have no endings in real life. We go on, or we die. Even when we die, the people around us, the supporting cast, so to speak, eventually go on. No one has any experience whatsoever with something ending; so, it’s extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to write an ending.
Still, I have some opinions on what constitutes doing it right and doing it wrong. Let’s have a look at some examples. WARNING: None of these examples are spoiler-free, but spoilers for each show are only in that show’s paragraph, so skip ahead if you must.
How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother had its finale in 2014, but I only caught up on the show just last year. My friends had been watching it for a while and encouraging me to do the same. It was funny, they promised me, but not in the way of so many sitcoms that got nothing but the occasional snort of laughter from me; HIMYM had character development, it was a TV show with a heart and a soul.
I watched it. That takes three days, four hours and sixteen minutes, according to BingeClock. So I think it’s fair to say that I invested quite a bit of time. Of course, I made it to the final episodes with slight feelings of apprehension, as the resolution of the plot and the answer tot the Big Question (“Who Is The Mother?”) are infamous for being a disappointment.
The rumors were true; it was disappointing. The derailment of HIMYM’s plot wasn’t slow, like in Lost. It happened quite suddenly, over the course of the last handful of episodes. I was no longer amused. Through a series of events that don’t bear repeating, the character development the audience has witnessed over seven seasons is completely undone. No, Barney is not a one-woman man now. No, all those times we saw Ted’s relationship with Robin fail were just temporary, and they are actually meant to be.
A mainstream TV show like HIMYM, which gets its viewership mainly from people like me, looking for a happy feeling and a laugh, should not defy expectations in its final story arcs. HIMYM’s finale should have satisfied the fans, and it did not.
The ending of Lost is equally infamous for its failure. Don’t watch Lost, people tell you. It jumps the shark in the blink of an eye. They’re right. Many of the questions raised in the first season of the show are never answered, and from season two onwards the plot becomes increasingly unlikely and predictable. Eventually the whole thing is put to rest with the worst deus ex machina in the history of television.
And yet, I watched all seven seasons. I watched them rapidly, within a month or so, with a feeling of crazed excitement. For a while I was under the impression that it couldn’t be that bad. I thought writers who were capable of such suspense, of such well-rounded characters worthy of my love, would surely be able to pull of a respectable ending. But they didn’t. I watched, and watched, and watched. I screamed at the television about Shannon and Charlie and Sun and Yin, but most of all about Penny and Desmond. In spite of the terrible resolution of the plot, Lost had some of my favorite characters of all time. Unfortunately, they also had some unexplained polar bears.
As a young girl, I loved Grey’s Anatomy. If there’s one lesson it has taught me it’s that every TV show should have a final episode. This september, the hospital drama will start its 13th season, and 13 is an unlucky number for a reason. I think I lost interest somewhere around season six, when suddenly airplane crashes and musical episodes were thrown into the mix. I think the show also lost a lot of viewers recently over the death of fan favorite Derek Shepherd. You know the one, they call him McDreamy.
I never finished watching Dexter. Sure, the first season was absolutely spellbinding, the ice truck killer one of the most suspenseful storylines I know. I loved Dexter because it was one of the first TV shows that made me think about the moral gray area between right and wrong. But the second season was little more than a repetition of the first with some minor changes, and that should have been a warning sign. Because then, the third season was exactly the same. Season four was somewhat jazzed up by John Lithgow’s stellar performance as the Trinity Killer, but after that our favorite vigilante serial killer really lost his touch.
Season five, which starred Julia Stiles, was nothing more than a lengthy, glorified snuff film, with long scenes of torture and sexual abuse to underline the rest of the violence. In season six, when vague convictions of religious fanaticism came into play, I stopped watching. Dexter has really disappointed me.
Of course, there are a number of TV shows out there that did it right. For example, I though the resolution of Gossip Girl was particularly satisfying. I might do a blogpost on good TV endings in the future, but for now my question is: were you ever gut-wrenchingly disappointed by a TV show’s ending? If so, what was it and why did you hate it so much?