Random factoid: Today is the one-year anniversary of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica.
I find it odd that it’s been a year because I recall the finale well, and yet it’s an episode I only watched once because it was too much of a kick in the gut to watch without significant emotional recovery time in between. In my book, that’s a mark of greatness for a TV show or movie.
There are comparatively few programs that have an ending as painful-yet-satisfying (Starbuck notwithstanding–I maintain that was just excessive cruelty). Of course, there are comparatively few programs which are good enough to justify hanging in to watch until the bitter end. When I start to take stock, there are few series that I’ve clung to until their ending, and of those there are fewer still that were given the unique opportunity of ending by something other than the swift-pen of a studio exec marking their cancellation, and of that few who received the opportunity to wrap up their loose ends, even fewer actually did it in a way that really did justice to anything that came before. As I started to do the math, I realized the following:
I’ve only actually made it to the finales of approximately 14 shows. I’ve been hooked on a lot of shows that went dud somewhere in the mid-seasons and I never went back. In the case of The West Wing, I watched solidly seasons 1-4 and the first half of 5, then walked away completely until the finale, which I consider among the best I’ve seen. So I counted that as my 14th show, because even if I lost interest in the middle, I did care enough to see it brought to an ending and that’s more than I’ve done for other shows I’ve given up on.
That brings us to 13. Of those, 6 had what I consider the “non-renewal-travesty” endings where maybe some things were resolved but over all you could tell the story was cut short by some moron who decided the ratings weren’t good enough. The most bitter is Remember WENN, for which I’ve boycotted AMC since about 1998. This group also includes 2 series (Farscape and Firefly) which were later wrapped up in a movie event of some sort (neither of which was as satisfying as I would have liked). In general I don’t count conclusions which take place in another medium (for example, Angel was axed with a very inconclusive ending, IMHO, but continued as a comic…which I haven’t actually had a chance to read so, not counting that at all). Some of these may have run to crappy endings one day, but they were cut down at a time when I was still watching and had no reason to cease.
That leaves 7 shows which I stuck with until the end and which came to their conclusion with intentional endings. Of those 7, I found that the more episodic the show, the more likely the ending was not actually as satisfying. For example, I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I can’t honestly say that I got much out of “All Good Things” It was a nice ep and all, but it’s not really….satisfying. And I certainly can’t count the follow-on movies as anything worth calling a good conclusion to that part of the Trek Franchise. The same goes for Stargate: SG-1. Straight ball honest? Off the top of my head, I don’t even really recall how SG-1 ended. Yeah. I’d put in my season 10 DVDs to check, but I have Anne of Green Gables playing right now and little in the world justifies stopping Anne of Green Gables. I do know that the end of SG-1 never answered anything regarding Sam and Jack so my inner-standard-issue-shipper is dissatisfied. Again, there were the follow-on made for TV movies, but you definitely can’t count those as a conclusion. Then there’s the biggest stinker of all, The X-Files. Say wha? Yeah–no. I never expected answered questions to end The X-Files because that would have been a travesty in and of itself, but I did expect that I wouldn’t feel like I’d been cheated after suffering through those last few seasons.
When all is said and done, I’m left with Babylon 5, which had a finale so appropriate to the show that I cry like an infant in need of a diaper change every time I watch (Kristy has actually forbidden me from viewing “Sleeping In the Light” if I’m already depressed because the emotional recovery time after viewing this episode is way too long), and with Battlestar Galactica, which, as I’ve already stated, I haven’t been able to watch in an entire year since first seeing it and drenching two hankies and my shirt sleeve with tears and snot. It does not escape me that both of these satisfying (if heart-wrenching) endings came from programs that knew the value of a full series arc.
And yet, it’s funny. Technically the episodic shows have those tied up endings down pat–after all, they do it weekly. You’d think they’d be better at it. But in giving us a tidy package each week, they deny us the pleasure of concluding with something that feels like more than just another package in a row. By the time the episodic shows have decided to wrap it up (which is generally a season later than it should have been), there aren’t many threads which reach back to the beginning. The few continuous threads they have running through the series (almost exclusively those based on an uncertain romantic coupling) are either hastily put together in a way even the most amateur of fan-fics could out-do, or they are left dangling, generally with some misguided view that this is a deeper and more meaningful thing to let the audience wrap up in their minds. Which is bull, particularly if the dangling thread is a romantic couple. Shippers in an audience already wrapped it up a thousand ways in their minds and posted it to the internet, so the least the series folks could do is grow a set and show that they can handle writing a wrap-up to the romantic web they’ve used to tease an audience over multiple seasons.
Maybe so many endings suck because, ultimately, endings are scary. In reality even the happy endings in life still come with the reality that change lurks around the corner, all creepy and unknown. For those who’ve been writing to the arc, the ending has been known from the beginning. It’s not scary because it’s a known quantity that they prepare for every step of the way. For those poor episodic types, there’s no grand plan. It’s just day by day. So when the day comes to finalize it all, it’s just too much–and suddenly that cancelled-too-soon ending seems more humane. Even if we in the audience don’t realize it.