Friday, April 22, 2011

Can't Stick the Landing 2 - Television Edition: Controversial TV finales.

I've talked a little before about unsatisfying endings, but that was in video games. I also discussed Battlestar Galactica once before, but that was mostly in the context of the board game. So... guess who just finished the series? I kid a bit, as I was actually pretty okay with the ending, though I now understand why there were so many people who weren't. Following in line with the theme, I want to talk about four of the biggest controversial series finales in modern television history. (Without just rewriting something you likely already saw on CRACKED.)

Not all of the shows I'll run down are science fiction or other traditional geek fare, but we geeks love to discuss and debate these sorts of topics. Fair warning: spoilers ahead for Battlestar Galactica, LOST, The Sopranos, and Twin Peaks, though the statute of limitations has run out for sure on a few of these, spoiler-wise. It seems that the biggest issues that people have with controversial endings is either a lack of appropriate closure overall, or a perceived unsatisfactory resolution to plot threads left hanging, questions left unanswered or with answers that make no sense.

"Uhhh... what, dude?" We're right there with ya, Hurley.

LOST pulled a lot of us in. A plane crash, characters with interesting and mysterious pasts, things on an island that shouldn't be there, and layers upon layers of sinister revelations and yet more secrets. Aside from a mysterious “monster”, overt science fiction elements were light to begin with, some unusual things with Walt, a kid on the island, but everything seemed pretty straight and narrow. As seasons progressed, we got all sorts of weird and wonderful science fiction: time travel, mythical beasts connected to ancient religions and a computer that is keeping the world form being destroyed. There were so many loose plot threads in the final season that fans wondered how they could possibly all be tied up. Turns out, a lot of them weren't. We got a “They are all dead, and coming to terms with their life” story, and some people weren't happy.

Despite the fact that she regularly ruined everything, I liked Kate. This image is probably unrelated to that.

The LOST ending gave resolution on a few key points, answered the most important questions (for the average fan) and told us what the “flash sideways” world introduced in the final season all meant. The characters, for the most part, completed their journeys in satisfactory ways, and the last episode felt to me like a fitting end to a show I watched since the beginning. I do understand fan outrage, as even with the extra scene for the final seasons DVD, a lot of big questions were never answered, and some of them were important ones. What was the whole point of the detonation of the nuclear device back in the 1970s? Did it do anything at all? Was that what created the pocket “afterlife” dimension, and if so how did it also send the cast back to the present?

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The Sopranos got an unusual ending. For one thing, the standard HBO Original Series ending of “you're canceled” wasn't used, they got to finish their run, and the actual ending was as though millions of voices suddenly cried out “WTF?” and were suddenly silenced. The crime drama worked toward its final episode with everything closing in on Tony Soprano. Most of the surviving cast and quite a few external forces had reasons to kill him, and as the Soprano family ate in a diner, the audience showed several suspicious characters paying attention to them. Tony talks with his son about “remembering the good times” as “Don't Stop Believin'” plays on the jukebox. When Meadow Soprano, his daughter finally arrives, Tony looks up, and the picture cuts to black. A few moments of black screen with Journey still playing, then... credits.

This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with... Journey.

Many people thought their picture went out and they missed the real ending. Others were angry, confused, talked about what it all meant. Did the guy who'd went to the bathroom come back out a la The Godfather and shoot them all? Did they all go on and live their lives as they had? Why was two of the last five minutes of the show spent showing us that Meadow can't parallel park? Love the ending or hate it, no matter how you choose to interpret it, this cable finale kept people talking, and it still does.

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Twin Peaks might have had a satisfactory ending, but it was a troubled relationship between creator and studio that gave us this unresolved gem. When Twin Peaks first came out in 1990, it was a story about a sleepy town in the American Northwest, near the Canadian border. The murder of a young girl brings an unorthodox but brilliant FBI agent to the town, and secrets begin to be revealed in order to answer the question: “Who killed Laura Palmer?” The show worked on several levels and was initially very popular, as we saw the town's facade, beneath that a seedy underbelly of sex, drugs and scandal, and still beneath that something primal, weird and supernatural at play. Against creator David Lynch's wishes, the studio put pressure on the show to answer the key question, solve the murder. They reluctantly complied, and then were left with a new question for Season 2. “Now What?”

Dammit, Dale. 7 years bad luck. Unless you are a Twin Peaks fan, in which case it is 20 years and counting.

Though there were still a lot of unresolved mysteries, viewers started to tune out once the Laura Palmer story was wrapped up, and the network saw the decline in ratings. They put the show on a significant break, moved it from its usual time slot, and the audience dropped dramatically. (We now call this process “getting Firefly'd.” When the inevitable cancellation came down, Lynch and company didn't wrap everything up nice and neat, they stuck us with a cliffhanger. Much of the cast maybe killed in an explosion? Check. Agent Cooper lost in the mysterious Black Lodge and possessed by the evil BOB? Check. Thousands of screaming fans? Check. Since then, even with a feature film, Lynch has refused to resolve the story, and refused to work with television networks since.

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And, back to where we started, I've had a full day to process the ending of the new BSG since finishing it on Netflix. I've got some of the same questions that everyone did, my suspension of disbelief is strained in exactly the same places. We saw every little bit of weirdness and foreshadowing paid off, and got one of the most amazing space battle finales I've ever seen anywhere. In the third of the three part finale, the neat and tidy compromise “peace” solution is blown all to hell, and by what? A poor decision made by one person to commit violence against another, and the rage and pain of a husband when the betrayal that resulted in the murder of his wife is revealed. Two races nearly destroy each other in the next few seconds from that one act. I loved it.

So... she was an angel? Then why...? How...? But..? Screw it.  I don't even care anymore.

But why did Brother Cavil (Number 1) shoot himself? Was our explanation for what Starbuck was awesome, or a cop-out? There is a lot of Deus ex Machina going on, but with all the talk of a divine hand in everything, is that a bad thing? If everyone can see and interact with Starbuck, why can't everyone do the same with the invisible Baltar and Six? Are they the same thing? Despite all these questions and a lingering doubt about all human survivors completely forsaking technology to pick up farming tools and make caveman babies, I was still very happy with the ending. It made sense, and gave me a more complete feeling of resolution than the other four I wrote about.

Any doubts or feelings on these four endings? Any other endings you felt were really frustrating and ambiguous in TV? I left out some classics, like the Newhart “all a dream”, St. Elsewhere's “snowglobe” (paid homage in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends), Dallas' “Satan makes JR shoot himself” and Roseanne's “Dan dies, she goes crazy and makes up the final season” endings. If you have one I missed or overlooked, sound off in the comments.
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12 comments:

Mike James said...

Great post,

Hopefully you check out my blog and show some support.

I look forward to hearing your feedback

James

Alpha said...

I thought your style looked rather 'Cracked'-esque...

Lemmiwinks said...

nice!

DocStout said...

I've been compared to Cracked before, though I think the "snarky captions on pictures" is where the similarity begins and mostly ends. When I started writing this, I knew Cracked had done something similar, so I wanted to be careful to tread different ground.

It'd be nice to have their traffic numbers, though. I've only been blogging in this spot for 2 months now, anything can happen. There are worse things to be called than "Cracked for Nerds."

Jay said...

ahaha, i share a few of your sentiments. )

Stare Dad said...

So did Brother Cavil shoot himself? (lol)

Kelly said...

I tried getting into watching "Lost" but it was too confusing to me with all the flashbacks. I gave up on it. The others mentioned, I didn't bother with. For one, I didn't have HBO and couldn't watch the Sopranos. That ending to that show and the rest don't sound too satisfying to me. In fact, I think I'd be rather pissed if I was a fan of any of those shows. I hate movies like that, as well. Especially movies that are really good up until the last ten minutes and then they blow it. That's how the remake of True Grit was for me. The Newhart (all a dream) and Roseanne (made up endings) endings were beyond retarded to me. Roseanne, I think, created that ending because she was mad at certain people on her show. Still, it was wrong and she ended up pissing off her fans after all those years. I have no idea what the Newhart excuse was but it was a wrong decision, too.

Eric said...

I HATED the Lost finale. So many of my questions were unanswered or answered half-assedly -- what the island was holding back ("Malevolence?" Seriously? That's an answer?), the magic rock doing so, the four-toed Egyptian statue, where the line of island guardians came from, Jacob's mother, Jacob's other mother, Walt's powers and apparently forgotten significance, etc. But what really bothered me was that I was basically told by the writers and other fans that "None of that matters. It's about the characters' journey." All well and good but don't set up a bunch of intriguing mysteries if A. You don't intend to answer them and B. You don't want us to care about them.

The Angry Lurker said...

What a great post again, the only one I hated was Twin Peaks and never saw the ending of Lost, yet again good post.

A Beer for the Shower said...

Didn't catch the other series' here, but I loved the Sopranos finale. Big fan of open-endings.

DerpFiles said...

Man, fucking Rossane...fuck that show.

How about that hospital one where it's all some retarded child's imagination and zoom out from a snow globe. End shows with dignity ffs.

DocStout said...

That was St. Elsewhere, mentioned there at the end.

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