It’s occurred to me many times as I’ve watched quality television drama, how few script writers manage a good ending.
I’m thinking specifically of the ABC TV drama Broadchurch, a series that finished last week. It was pretty good I thought, and I hadn’t picked the villain. That revelation was an unpleasant shock (Oh, no! No! I cried) which I won’t reveal, in case anyone is planning to watch the DVD.
However, after the critical denouement, things went south fairly rapidly, sinking into a swamp of sentimentality that left me irritated and offended. It was as if the script writers didn’t quite know what to do next, and settled on an unrealistic coming together of an intolerably fractured community as their nod to catharsis. Obviously they felt compelled to attempt a resolution, in a situation in which such a thing would take decades to achieve, if ever.
The final scenes worked as an exposition of the kind of overwhelming public emotion experienced after a catastrophic event, the short-lived euphoria of an intense and temporarily bonding experience. But it told me nothing about the morning after when everyone woke up to find themselves inescapably trudging through daily life in a bell jar of emotions, most of them necessarily dark.
The other ending that comes to mind is that of The Sopranos. No easy resolution for these scriptwriters: the Soprano family are seated in a cafe, Tony looks up, and everything goes black. What the fuck? I yelled. Then I thought we’d lost our power. However, I count this as one of the finest endings I’ve ever seen. Not even the merest nod to catharsis, bugger audience desire for resolution, everything just went black so figure it out for yourself.
My interpretation was that we were offered Tony’s perspective as his life abruptly and unexpectedly ended.
Of course, everything has definitely gone black now, with the recent death of James Gandolfini, who played Tony. There can be no change of plans and further episodes. It is ended.
Endings are rarely easy. The lovely innocence of Aristotle in Poetics, in which he declares his belief in a beginning, a middle and a cathartic end, seems in 2013 to belong with fairy tales and Hollywood, though in the latter case, innocence is long-lost. The ending has to be happy in Hollywood because that’s what brings in the money. There’s also an infuriating rush to resolution in most media: after the most horrific events, people are urged to seek “closure” and “move on” with what seems to me a most unseemly haste. Grief has its own unpredictable timeline, and Freud referred to the “labour” of mourning, implying the hard slog of it. If you’ve lost a sentient being under any circumstances, you’ll know the rewards of “closure” and “moving on” have to be earned and they don’t come easy. And they aren’t the only losses some of us have to grieve: loss of health, body parts, hopes and ambitions unrealised. Sorrow is, to varying degrees, an inescapable aspect of human life, so why there is such emphasis on hastily tidying up the dark and difficult with such lack of due respect, is a mystery to me.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe I’m alive,” snarls Bob Dylan, in one of his many angrily grieving lyrics written for some woman who’s abandoned him, “but without you it doesn’t feel right…”
It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel the same. Something has irrevocably changed. That’s endings for you. And that’s what I want the scriptwriters to show me. Bugger the confected catharsis.