It’s well noted now, that True Blood ending has caused a bit of a shit storm of opinions and from what I’ve seen, it’s inspired a surge in people discussing the endings of their favorite shows – from the Sopranos to Battlestar Galatica to Breaking Bad and Dexter, not to mention the massive amounts of speculation being throw about regarding how Sons of Anarchy is going to finish off its run in a few short weeks. All this discussion about disappointing endings has led me to one question that I think a lot of us are asking lately:
Why do so many television writers seem to think that their audiences are idiots?
***ALERT – This blog is going to contain a LOT of spoilers about television shows. Specifically, Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, True Blood and Breaking Bad. I may even hit a note from the Sopranos, but if you’ve not seen the end of that by now, you deserve it to be spoiled.***
This past Sunday television viewers saw the end of the vampire soap opera, True Blood. And almost all of the reactions I saw were not only negative, but even more so – ANGRY. It was BAD;
Really, really, really BAD.
Many of us agree that this season of True Blood has pretty much been a train wreck anyway – so I wasn’t expecting the end to be GOOD. There was no way that they could possibly have tied up all the loose ends to the satisfaction of the viewers, but that was just how it had to be so I was willing to allow for some loose ends in service of the greater stories being finished off well. And some were. Hoyt and Jessica get their happily ever after, and Jason and the new girl are headed that way as well. Bill dies, and with his death, Sookie gets her sweet relief from the manipulation and tiresome bullshit she’s willingly put up with for the last five years. But what I’m talking about here was the last scene. THE FAMILY DINNER. In which we see Sookie, Jason, Sam and all the now “happy everything is perfect in our lives since Bill died” people sharing a big communal dinner that would be more appropriate to a show like Parenthood. Which in fact has been done on Parenthood often – and there it works – because it fits the basic premise of the show. Here, on True Blood, a soap opera (really, let’s not call it a drama any longer, because it hasn’t been that since season one) about supernatural creatures interacting with (mostly naked) humans – it so massively out-of-place and intrusive, it feels like the TV equivalent of gum on your shoe. You didn’t want it there, you didn’t need it, it’s messing up your stride and now you can’t get rid of it. I get the feeling that scene was added for the benefit of one dumbass writer after they’d submitted their final scripts and said “Can it be a HAPPY ending? Happy endings are good.” Of course, ignoring the fact that sometimes, the NOT happy ending is the best ending of all.
True Blood’s disturbingly out-of-place ending gave me so much hate not only because it didn’t fit the characters or the themes involved throughout the show, but it seems to be a plot device that more and more writers employ when it’s entirely unnecessary and makes me feel that writers think their audience is stupid and can’t be trusted to come to their own conclusions.
It’s happened so often and to some really brilliant shows. And it seems to be happening more and more… To prove my point, here are some other examples…
First, we have DEXTER – The series finale of Dexter was largely successful at salvaging a pretty rocky season – until the last 30 seconds. Almost all of our favorite characters were acting the way we expect them too – everyone seemed to be in the right position to move on with their lives. Except our serial killer hero, who after securing the most normal life he thought he could for his son (though, why Dexter didn’t send Harrison to live with his step-siblings and their grandparents instead of giving the boy to his crazy black widow girlfriend, I’ll never understand), Dexter sets off into the eye of a hurricane on his boat, dropping Deb’s body into the ocean along the way. (Okay, that part bugged me too but the whole point was that the guy was disturbed, so I’ll allow it.) AND…. FADE TO BLACK. END. FINI. STOP RIGHT THERE. Ending it here – the viewer is allowed to think anything they want – and the open-ended finish would have been perfect. Optimists would be allowed to think that he somehow survives the storm and goes to South America to join Hannah and Harrison. Others (myself included) would believe he died, poetically joining his victims at the bottom of the ocean and ultimately showing that he really wasn’t any better than they were. See? See how that works?
BUT NO. Our dear writers seem to think that we can’t deal with that and we’re too stupid to make up our own minds – so fade back in and Dexter is a FUCKING LUMBERJACK. And in a 30 second scene, you have just ruined an entire series. The lumberjack thing makes NO sense. Even if Dexter had survived and didn’t want to join his loved ones, it would have been completely against character for him to become a FUCKING LUMBERJACK. Yes, Dexter was a psychopath. But he was a high functioning psychopath who needed society and people around him to survive. HE WOULD NOT BE A LUMBERJACK.
In another perfect example – we have BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – Okay, so yeah, it’s been years, but the ending to this show still angers me. One of the most prevalent themes throughout the show was whether or not some version of a God ruled over man AND machine. And would the machines be allowed to become a new form of man? The struggle to find meaning in their respective fights, to find their promised land… these were things that so many of us can relate to. Add to that a beautifully written and tense political drama and BOOM – awesome show. As the show starts to wrap up, we find our lost humans discovering a habitable world with a tribe of Neanderthals wandering the vast grassy plains. They make the decision to stop searching and start over. Without their vessels, and without most of the technology they’ve brought with them. It is a good ending that implies a new beginning. Flash forward a couple hundred thousand years and we see that their arrival has set up the remnants of the 12 colonies to be the progenitors of humanity on our Earth. I LOVE THIS IDEA. And most of the viewers loved it too. What a beautiful and hopeful way to bring this to a close, right?
WRONG. The last 30 seconds show us the reincarnations (or ghostly visions or whatever, who cares, it sucked) of Baltar and Six – talking about how GOD HAS PLANNED ALL OF IT. You know what? FUCK YOU FOR RUINING ONE OF MY FAVORITE SHOWS OF ALL TIME. Again, last 30 seconds of the last episode ruined it. Why could you not just leave it? Why again, did the writers feel the need to take us by the hand and drag us to a conclusion that doesn’t fit with the story we know so far?
True Blood’s shiny happy people ending had the same problems for me. With the exception of missing the hell out of Lafayette, the final episode wasn’t horrible. They just took it too far. The series should have ended with Sookie walking under the arch out of the cemetery, after just having lain to rest her true love, symbolically moving on with her life finally. (I have other issues with Bill’s narcisitic motives for making her kill him but that’s an entire other blog post.) And FADE TO BLACK. THE END. Perhaps, after the credits run, an Easter Egg of a brief New Blood advertisement featuring Eric and Pam would have been a great touch – but the dragged out infomercial and subsequent revelation of Sarah’s fate was unnecessary pandering. (And it wasn’t funny.)
Clearly the open-ended series end isn’t for everyone or every show. And there are shows for which tying up all the loose ends in a neat little package is necessary. But usually it’s not. I know it was met with mixed emotions, but I LOVED the way the Sopranos ended. Because it left the end up to audience interpretation.
Is it possible that the writers are so afraid to piss people off that they won’t consider letting us come to our own conclusions? Or do the writers just truly think we’re dumb? I personally was actually INSULTED by that last 30 seconds of Battlestar Galactica. It felt that the writers were forcing their opinion of what life should be on me – and that’s what it feels like now with the end to True Blood.
I think the television powers that be have forgotten that audiences aren’t entirely made up of unthinking morons. We are allowed and should be encouraged to come up with our own ideas and honestly, when something is left a little less fitted up nicely and more open-ended, we’re actually more likely to re-watch, discuss, and recommend the show to others later, as it gives the thinking viewer opportunities for fun, friendly and enjoyably argumentative discussions with other fans. I have actually said to people “When you’re watching the last episode of BSG, when you get to the flash forward bit at the end, STOP THERE.”
So I make a plea to television writers everywhere – please, stop trying to lead us by the hand to the conclusion you think we want. Just lead us to a point where everything makes sense and we’ll take it from there. If you do, we’ll be happier. Really.
Oh, and as a PS to this – I recently – to my horror – heard rumors that Vince Gilligan is bringing back Breaking Bad for a 6th season. Which would be like a full series of those last 30 seconds that we don’t need, or want, and very possibly will ruin the whole thing. Breaking Bad was a near perfect show. It ended the way it needed to. It was amazing and remains amazing just as it is – SO…