Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Final(e) Word

by Catherine Giordano

I get it. Series finales are hard. But that doesn’t mean the writers get to cop out and give us a poor series finale.
Breaking Bad ends good.
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There are three types of bad endings.

The ambiguous ending: If I wanted to figure it out for myself, I’d be in the writer’s room.

The slip-shod ending which leaves all the loose ends hanging—it makes me feel that the closing bell rang and everyone in the writers room just left

The just-plain-wrong-ending: We know what happened at the end and the story is pretty well wrapped up, but we feel cheated somehow.

The most famous ambiguous ending was The Sopranos.  The screen just went black.  I thought something had gone wrong with my TV or DVR, and it cut the show off just minutes before the end. I thought I’ll catch the ending when they rerun it for the West Coast.  Eventually, I found out, that was the ending. The ending is whatever you want it to be. Not cool!

The most famous slip-shod ending was Lost.  The show hadn’t made sense for the last few seasons, but I kept watching. I thought that since I had already put so much time into the series, I might as well ride it out to the end.  What was that ending about? They were all in God’s waiting room having some mass hallucination.
 
The most famous just-plain-wrong ending was the Seinfeld series finale. All the characters go to prison. Just because they were all not very nice people, if you thought about it or a minute, didn’t mean that we didn’t love them.  In a comedy, character traits are exaggerated—that is what makes it funny. But the characters don’t stray too far from reality—that is why we recognize ourselves in them.

Now we have the Breaking Bad finale. The show did everything right. Mr. White had triumphed because he accomplished what he had set out to do--provide financially for his family. Yes, he died at the end, but he had cancer. It would have been unrealistic for him to have had a second remission. His death was sad, but really if he had gone on living, it would have been even sadder. He had burned his bridges, his bridges to humanity. He had allowed himself to become corrupted by evil. There was nothing left for him.

Nonetheless, Mr. White’s death is noble. Mr. White uses his superior cunning to get revenge for the death of his brother-in-law and rids the world of a murderous den of jackels who had no humanity to begin with. And he saves Jesse. At the last minute he knows that Jesse was just a troubled kid and that he had dragged him into a hell-hole.

It was so fitting that Jesse not only escapes, but that he kills Todd mano-a-mano. Todd could have been mowed down in the machine gun fire like the rest of his gang, but he survives long enough to be killed by Jesse. It is like Jesse is killing the evil that took residence in his heart.  At the end, he drives off, laughing manically, free at last. Jesse has a future.

The loose ends are all tied up.  Even the ricin that was woven in and out of the plot for many seasons had a final role to play. Mr. White uses it to eliminate Lydia, the genteel drug mastermind who lets others do her dirty work while she reaps millions through her international amphetamine dealing business.  Mr. White plants the ricin in a packet of Stevia which Lydia uses in her tea thereby poisoning her. (A bit far-fetched, but so neat.)

Weeds also had a great series finale. They used the flash forward technique. The family has gone their separate ways, but they have reunited for the bar mitzvah of the youngest son.  Their problems have not all evaporated, but they have all settled into the lives that are right for them. Fortunately, weed has been legalized so life is good for the two who remain in the business.—Nancy Botwin and her eldest son Shane.  In the last minutes of the finale, the Botwin clan all sort of drift out onto the porch one by one and sit quietly together side by side as a light snow falls. Tomorrow they will go their separate ways, but tonight they are a family and old wounds have healed.

The season finale of Dexter was a disappointment. We did not want to see Debra die—she could have overcome her past sins.  But, I was OK with it—sometimes “good” people die and “evil” people survive. The producer said in an interview that when Dexter pulls the plug on Debra it was not a mercy killing, and that makes me even more confused about the ending. I totally saw it as a mercy killing. After burying Debra at sea, as penance for his murders, and most especially for the death of his sister, he drives his boat at top speed into an on-rushing hurricane. Swallowed by a hurricane, a great metaphor, for a person who was engulfed by murderous urges.
   
But then we find Dexter is alive. His penance will be to live a life of isolation. It’s kind of ambiguous. Will his penance last only a few years or is it a lifetime sentence?  It also feels wrong. If he has chosen not to die, shouldn’t it have been because he would not abandon his son. 

He has left the boy in the care of Hannah, not the first person to come to mind when someone says "loving mother.” I think Hannah loved Harrison enough to be a good mother with Dexter at her side as husband and father, but on her own?  No way.  She is essentially a selfish person—she murdered an old woman, her benefactor, because she could not wait to inherit her business after the woman’s natural death.  She murdered a number of others also—anyone who was a threat to her. My feeling is she will soon tire of the responsibility of a child, and who knows what happens to the poor kid then.

Now, I understand that it might have been a bit strange to see Hannah and Dexter walk hand in hand into the sunset even if they were totally reformed from their previous murderous ways. Evil must be punished!  But on the other hand, neither had much of a conscience--they could have shrugged off their previous murderous ways and walked off into that sunset.  In real life, evil is not always punished.

I thought the best ending for Dexter was for him to die saving his sister from Oliver Saxon and then Hannah goes off to pursue new interests and Debra marries Quinn and takes care of Harrison and becomes a novelist, writing crime novels, one of which is a book titled "Dexter." Debra getting all maternal and “normal-lifey” is a bit of stretch, but possible.
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Even the tying off of loose ends was not done very well.  Who was the person seen in the video being forced to kill for “The Brain Surgeon?”  Why did Dr. Vogel think that psychopaths were a gift to civilization? As for the killing of Oliver by Dexter, it seemed perfunctory.  It should have been the central emotional high of the episode. Dexter’s final kill!

Finales are hard. We don’t want to see our favorite characters go. But if they must go, we want them to go out right. Don’t let a great series break bad.

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