(Mainly a proof of life continued existence post)
I seem to have watched the endings of a number of TV series in the last few months. Only one of those listed below actually on broadcast TV (and that probably a bit behind US screenings), most of them being on DVD or alternate sources.
While you can’t really judge a series solely on it’s ending, it obviously play a large part in how you remember it. It’s been years since I’ve watched any Blake’s 7, and over 35 years since the final episode was screened, but I still have that ending seared into my memory (also, I feel old).
It can, of course, depend on the type of show. The more episodic type doesn’t necessarily need as satisfying a conclusion as a serialised story, the latter justifiably having more expectation on it’s dénouement. Many series these days straddle the two.
One recent series I’m still undecided on is The Mentalist. They dealt with the big bad in the middle of season six, then went on for another season and a half . I can understand wanting to deal with the repercussions of the ending of the main story, but it made the later season feel like it was killing time.
I kind of wish this had finished with season 4. It’s big bad had been around since the beginning, and gave the series a feeling of a larger story than the season arcs it was composed of. Annie had a great arc for that season, faking her death and operating on her own, and it ended strongly. It felt like a good final act for her story.
But it wasn’t the end. Season 5 was fine, but it was mainly bringing in new plots. Possibly I felt let down by it not addressing some of the issues I hoped from the previous season. I know it was probably complicated by casting issues, but how did Annie deal with explaining to her sister (who hadn’t been around for a couple of seasons, but with whom she would have kept in touch) why she’d had to fake her death. A lot of the series had been based around the relationships, so it just felt an odd omission (understandable, in a way that drags you behind the fourth wall).
The shorter fourth season made the ending feel a bit rushed, but it was an otherwise satisfying ending to one of the best SF series of recent years.
It was particularly good in playing up the moral ambiguity of who was in the right (or the less wrong) position, and the decisions they made. Time-lost cop hunting time-lost terrorists could easily fall into cliché, but the rounded antagonists helped make this good. And the ending, while rushed, hit the perfect final note of success at a cost.
To be honest, the story contortions probably started fairly early as they tried to keep this going after the first season. It was usually enjoyable, but the morally questionable situations in which the characters found themselves did start to feel like they were coming too fast.
It never really slowed down fast enough to feel more than a slight jarring from all the plot holes, and as long as you didn’t compare it to Hannibal it was enjoyable enough (I don’t know I’d say it was fun though).
The ending tried to give a kind of set up for future stories you’d never see, but for me it felt a bit, I don’t know, unfinished maybe. It made a kind of sense for where they’d taken the character, and was kind of in keeping with the feel of the show, but I’d have accepted a happier ending.
Person of Interest
While some moves in this long game seemed opaque, and at times it veered towards the formulaic, this series often managed to shift out of the formula as soon as you got too comfortable, and remained entertaining. Mainly because of the characters.
I’m not sure whether to class it as a hybrid SF/Crime Drama, or SF masquerading as Crime Drama, or whether it even matters.
Even with the final season cut short, they knew far enough ahead that they used it to focus on the main story, hitting all the beats they needed to and providing an ending that just felt right.
The end of the final season felt a bit rushed. The entire season felt more disjointed than the previous ones, with having so many of the characters separated, having their own stories without as much interaction. Then it hurriedly brings them all together at the end. It feels like they were expecting another season, but had to quickly tie it all up.
It kind of works, but there were some parts I’d have liked to have gotten more room to breathe.
I doubt there’s much I can learn from these, since they’re so heavily influenced by their medium. Even if they have an ending planned from the outset, the practicalities of such complex collaborations probably require all kinds of compromise – both dealing with input from various sources, and the financial realities of what you can afford to create visually rather than just with words.
If a story is complete over one season, such as with True Detective and similar shows, you have greater control over what can be achieved. Multi-season series are more at the whims of viewing figures and other factors, often ending up unable to provide a satisfying ending, or having to cram so much in that you can feel the artificiality of it.
In prose, you don’t have those excuses for weak endings. It can still be worth thinking about why certain endings work well, though. You simply need to distinguish the story elements from the structure in which they’re presented.