Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc./HBO/Warner Brothers

The end of the road: the importance of how TV series end

With all forms of fiction, be it through literature, film or television, there is a huge focus on the journey, or the buildup, created throughout the storyline. Yet at the same time there is perhaps an even greater emphasis on the ending. In television this being the end of an episode, season or overall series. 

Through the years, numerous shows have varied in their final outcomes and endings. Big shows like Game of Thrones and How I Met Your Mother have perhaps been the most notable for the way that they have divided their audiences. Because the buildup and climax is such a prevalent formula in television, with both episodes and seasons following a similar formula, the overall quality of the narrative can be significantly reduced in longer lasting shows, as Game of Thrones demonstrates. 

A clichéd and predictable ending coupled with a contrived plot lead to a disappointing ending

Following the lack of source material during its fifth season, Game of Thrones struggled to present a compelling narrative. Its plot was ultimately lost in the seventh season with inconsistent character development, overuse of plot armour and a general drop in quality of writing, an outcome which was made clear to its audience in the infamous final season. A clichéd and predictable ending coupled with a contrived plot lead to a disappointing ending, leading to the question of whether this takes away from the impact of the earlier seasons? Is the show worth re-watching if we know the ending is going to disappoint us once again? Would we re-read a book when we know it will have a terrible ending? And should we treat TV shows any differently? are all important questions to consider.. 

Much like Game of Thrones, superhero/comic book TV adaptations tend to have a similar issue. Perhaps this is due to the longevity of these shows, but it is nonetheless pressing when concerning viewership. There was a time when I would regard both Smallville and Arrow as my favourite shows; however, due to dramatic changes in the story, characters and overall aura of the show, they eventually lost their magic. Smallville ended up with a repetitive cycle of filler episodes which took away from the development of the main plot – Kal-El’s destiny. The eight season long romance of Clark and Lana (only present in the show) was scrapped simply for the source material romance between Lois and Clark – which, for me, felt forced and lacking in chemistry. The finale was lackluster and failed to bring anything new to the table; the writers simply played it too safe. 

Similarly, Arrow, which has been renewed for an eighth and final season, has gone through so many lows in writing that it has lost many of its original viewers. It reached its peak in season two with genuinely gripping action and gore, held together with compelling characters and relationships between Oliver Queen, his friends, and family. However, it soon failed to deliver following the forced Oliver and Felicity relationship, generally regarded as fan-service, and ironically, not sticking to the source material in this instance, unlike Smallville. However, the source material in this case isn’t the problem, it is simply the writing. 

The finale was lackluster and failed to bring anything new to the table; the writers simply played it too safe

It feels as though there is a lack of focus on producing quality writing and for some reason, this tends to happen after a few seasons have passed. This begs the question of whether shows should reduce their number of episodes or seasons, and focus instead on the writing, allowing them to produce a worthwhile ending for viewers. 

More iconic shows of the past, like Buffy The Vampire Slayer have produced satisfying endings. Buffy, unlike its spin-off Angel was able to produce a consistent formula throughout its seven season run, and whilst its final season did lack the campy horror and laughable SFX prevalent in earlier seasons, its narrative and witty dialogue was still consistent and, thankfully, provided us with a satisfying ending. And because of this, it still holds its status as one of the greatest shows of all time. 

Teen dramas, namely the ‘suspense filled’ dramas such as Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl, are also culprits of offensively disappointing endings. Pretty Little Liars garnered two of its big reveals for the final two seasons, and despite waiting this long to reveal the psychotic antagonists, the build-up for a large majority of viewers was followed with sheer disappointment. Gossip Girl similarly lost its focus half-way through season four. And, instead of building up the reveal of Gossip Girl, shifted its focus on the toxic relationship between Chuck and Blair, to the extent that season five literally felt like the ‘Blair’ show. Its ending or ‘finale’ wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. While it’s certainly disputable whether the revealed ‘Gossip Girl’ made any sense whatsoever, there was certainly an issue with the build-up to the big reveal, which gave the show’s ending a super mediocre feel to it. Other teen dramas, for instance, The O.C. and One Tree Hill gave us satisfactory endings, but in no way reflected the intense and dramatic episode arcs that the shows seemed to follow earlier in their run. 

Kreuk and Ryan are able to present a genuine relationship, in which the struggles are relatable and feel real despite the fantasy/sci-fi undertones of the show

Unlike the rest of these shows, Beauty and the Beast (2012-16) takes what all of the above shows have – suspense, drama, action and romance – but keeps these elements consistent from start to finish. The highlight certainly is the chemistry displayed by the leads, played by Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan. 

Kreuk and Ryan are able to present a genuine relationship, in which the struggles are relatable and feel real despite the fantasy/sci-fi undertones of the show. There is a deep rooted purpose in their love and end goal, which certainly is fairytale-like or magical even, perhaps what the majority of shows in present day are missing. The finale, whilst slightly clichéd, is perhaps one of the few shows to produce an ending which genuinely made me smile – it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t (Game of Thrones) and didn’t drag viewers along so far that it got lost in its own plot (Pretty Little Liars). As much as I wanted the show to continue, I felt like it had reached its peak, and ending on a high note is, of course, preferable. 

Perhaps, then, the solution to this dilemma is quite simple. Writers should stick to what works best for them, listen to their audiences but also look at what has worked for other shows, and even other forms of entertainment and fiction if necessary. If the ‘big bad’ formula works (as in Buffy), then stick to it. If writers are struggling to produce new material, don’t aim too high, and certainly don’t drag viewers along with filler episodes. Sometimes simplicity is best (not predictability or laziness), and fairytale endings, whether happy or sad, can sometimes be the most satisfying.

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