No Perfect Finale for TV or Life
Girl Meets World
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 00:01
This month marks the beginning of my last semester of college, which has me feeling a little nostalgic and very sentimental. Since lately I’ve been dwelling on endings in life, I’ve also found myself thinking about how endings are portrayed in movies and television.
It’s hard to think of movies with completely unsatisfactory endings, not because they don’t exist but because endings are essential to their works. Since films are relatively short, if the ending is awful, no one will watch it again and it will be mostly forgotten. That’s how important the ending is to the work as a whole.
Television shows are more likely to end unsatisfactorily, partially because the ending isn’t usually planned from the beginning and partially because after many seasons, fans become incredibly invested in the characters. They imagine their own perfect endings and shows have to live up to that. You can spend years becoming invested and then hate the home stretch.
Part of the problem, though, is that no one can agree on what makes a good ending. When it’s vague, like “Inception” or “The Sopranos,” people complain about the ambiguity. When J.K. Rowling writes an epilogue that tells you everything that happens to the characters, she’s given away too much. “Return of the King” takes too long to wrap things up. “Friends” was too sappy, “Seinfeld” too mean. Then there’s the king of controversial endings: “Lost.”
I hold the unpopular opinion that the “Lost” finale was wonderful. The science fiction show about plane crash survivors, smoke monsters , time travelling and a magical island ended with all its characters together in heaven. Many mysteries remained unresolved. Critics derided it as an over-sentimental letdown.
For me, the ending works because those mysteries were never the point of “Lost.” The show was always about the journey of the characters — deeply flawed and intensely human — as they sought salvation. Midway through the episode, Desmond tells Jack, “None of this matters” — the island, who killed who, the mysteries. What matters is that there’s a place where they can all be together and happy, a place that the show gives them in its last moments. A handful of sinners have a chance at redemption. It was the perfect finale for one of the greatest TV series of all time.
This focus on characters isn’t just what sets “Lost” apart; it is intrinsic to any good television show. If it’s all just about the puzzles — preventing the terrorist attack, saving the patient, solving the crime — or mocking characters with no heart underneath, then none of it will prove memorable in the long run.
So where does that leave me? My college career isn’t a carefully plotted drama, but rather a hodgepodge of things I found interesting at the time. Like a final season of a comedy series, I’m working to create meaning out of all the things I threw out there for laughs during each season. But since this isn’t actually a comedy series, I can only control my part of the story. I can’t write myself a happy ending in which I get the job or the boy or in which everything perfectly mirrors the pilot in heartfelt and touching ways. But I might be able to look at the best and worst television finales for a little guiding light.
I can be like Pam Beesly-Halpert on the finale of “The Office” and take a big risk. I could fight my best friends like Will and Grace do in their show’s finale or I could be like Desmond on “Lost” and hold close the people I love most. I can try to run away from my problems like Ted during the last season of “How I Met Your Mother.” I can accept change with grace like Coach Taylor at the end of “Friday Night Lights.”
In the end, I’ll probably channel Liz Lemon on “30 Rock” — which, coincidentally, ended almost exactly a year ago — and combine these methods into a messy but funny ending.
Liz’s observation on endings? “I guess there’s a reason people don’t say honest goodbyes. Because when stuff is coming to an end, people freak out and they act crazy.” Liz sucks it up though, and instead of sulking about the end of an era, she says goodbye and carries her friendships with her into the future.
I’ll be trying to take a page out of the Lemon book as this chapter of my life closes: Act a little crazy, but hold it together with the help of friends and junk food.
Victoria Edel is a senior in the College. GIRL MEETS WORLD appears every other Friday in the guide.