Ending any series is never easy, and this tends to apply
even more so to science fiction series’ which tend to have a very devoted
fanbase who have certain expectations of a series finale, or quite frequently
object strongly to the series ending at all.
So why do some final episodes result in a storm of hurt,
outraged letters to the Powers that Be, while others are hailed as classics and
some of the best episodes of the show?
Ideally a series comes to an end because the writers have told all the stories they want to tell, accomplished everything they wanted to achieve and are ready to move on. Of course this isn’t always the case. Lack of cash/ratings/support from the networks, any one of these, or a combination can result in a series premature cancellation. And of course even when the producers of the show think they’re ready to end it, the fans may not agree! Done badly, a series finale can leave them feeling cheated, hurt and disappointed – which leads to the above mentioned hailstorm of protesting letters and emails.
I adored Babylon 5. I didn’t want it to end. I sobbed my heart out watching the final episode – but Sleeping in Light is still one of my absolute favourite episodes, in spite of reducing me to a whimpering wreck every time I watch it (It’s the amazing swell of music as the charges blow on the station that usually breaks me). It was well written, the characters had moved on and developed in a believable fashion, and while it was sad to see the series end it felt like a proper, fitting farewell.
The Highlander series was another favourite and again I’d count the final two part ep (ToBe/Not to Be) as one of my favourites. Between the slightly odd story and the frequent guest appearances by favourite recurring characters it felt like a party. Where Sleeping in Light felt like a farewell, this felt like a party, like a wake, in the true sense of celebrating the deceased’s life, not mourning its death.
An ending doesn’t even have to be a happy one to be dramatically and emotionally satisfying. One of my favourite shows, Blake’s 7 being a case in point. In the final episode (Blake) the entire regular cast die. And not in a glamorous, heroic way either. Instead, in a stunning display of stupidity on both sides Avon shoots Blake and then everyone else gets gunned down by Federation troops. It’s dark and brutal and entirely unexpected but it’s an amazing piece of storytelling and I alternately love it and hate it. Dramatically I think it’s perfectly in keeping with the overall dark tone of the show and shows a lot of guts on the writer’s part to make such a definite statement. “This is The End.” On the other hand, I can hardly bear to watch that final scene and, like many others, spend far too much time reading or dreaming up fanfic alternatives.
I think a good ending should inspire an emotional reaction of some sort, whether it be sadness at the characters demise, or elation at their successes. Where the endings I haven’t liked fall down, that’s usually the problem. I’ve been left feeling nothing more than vague annoyance or disappointment.
Star Trek: Voyager is an example –I couldn’t work up any concern or enthusiasm for the final episode, it felt shallow and predictable and I was tempted to turn the channel over more than once. To be fair, part of the problem was with the format of the show. The ending really could only go two ways…they left them wandering in the Delta quadrant which would have been rather dull and unsatisfying, or they brought them home. Which meant any drama or tension built up during the episode was negligible as you were pretty certain they were going to come through okay.
And then there’s Jump the Shark… You knew this rant was coming, right?
Where to start…
We’ll ignore for the moment the inevitable problems caused by the fact they were trying to squeeze a Lone Gunmen episode into the X-Files, that half the episode was taken by making sure the X-Files viewers who hadn’t seen The Lone Gunmen were keeping up, that the ‘mood’ of the X-Files is very different and much darker than The Lone Gunmen and that for much of the episode the focus was on the X-Files regulars not the Gunmen themselves.
Let’s rant instead about the dismal plot, which was basically just a setup for the ending, the plot that was completely irrelevant to both The Lone Gunmen episode which preceded it and the X-Files story arc which surrounded it. Let’s rant about foreshadowing so blatant and unsubtle that a kid being taught story writing at school would be ashamed of it.
Or we could rant about the pointless death of the three characters that were the most likeable and human characters in the X-Files. It’s not just that it was an unhappy ending. I can cope with unhappy endings, if they’re well written and meaningful. As I said, I rather like the final ep of Blake’s 7, but it was in context. It was in keeping with the rest of the show. Blake’s 7 was an essentially pessimistic series. The Lone Gunmen wasn’t and the ending should have reflected that. You give people a tragedy when they’re expecting a comedy and of course they’re going to be upset.
“But they died heroically” doesn’t wash either. Let’s rant about the sickly-sweet speechifying meant to make the angry and disappointed fans feel better about having their favourite characters killed off simply because the writers had no further use for them. And Arlington? What a pointless gesture that was. Here we have three guys who didn’t trust the government, definitely didn’t trust the military and as a mark of respect they get buried in a military cemetery? They’d have been spinning in those graves!
But then they do say that funerals are intended more for the living than the dead so maybe that bit is fair enough.
It is possible to write good, satisfying series endings. You can even kill off characters and still leave the fans content (if not happy), but you’ve got to do it right.
The three essential ingredients for me to enjoy an ending are
Closure. If you’re going to end the story then end it. There’re few things more frustrating than a series which just trails on and is left hanging.
Emotion. Happy or sad is good. Disappointed, angry or indifferent is bad.
Consistency. Just because it’s your last episode isn’t an excuse to throw out everything that’s come before.
A series ending should leave you remembering everything that made you enjoy the series in the first place and stick with it right up until the end. If it’s managed that then there’s probably not too much to complain about.
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