*This post contains spoilers for the final episodes of 24, Spooks, Will & Grace and Friends. The fact that it doesn’t contain a spoiler for Lost is certainly nothing to do with the fact that I didn’t understand it…*
I’m told that once I’ve begun a course in TV and Film production, I will no longer be able to watch a programme or movie in the same way. It’s the same principle as a theatre technician focusing on the lighting in a musical, or an out-of-session therapist secretly analysing you. I’m sure they do it. To some extent, this alternate way of looking at the screen has already started. One of the reasons TV appeals so much as a career choice is that I have a lot of criticism for the way some programmes are made now. I want to make them better.
Case in point. Lost. I’m a big fan of the programme and respect the ending, but I can’t help but feel let down by the lack of answers it provided. I had specific questions that needed answering and I didn’t get them. Perhaps my want for TV work is less to do with making things better, and more to do with having the insider knowledge of what actually is going on! The final episode of any TV programme is a difficult one to get right, which is perhaps why so many don’t. Usually, you want your audience to feel entertained, nostalgic and satisfied. I don’t think the final episode of the final season can be treated like any other script; every move you make has got to count, because it’s your last.
Perhaps the easiest way to describe what I mean is with an example. Several years later than originally aired, I have finally completed all eight ‘days’ of 24. I am a big fan of the show and know my view will be slightly biased by my belief that Jack Bauer can do no wrong, but I genuinely think that the writers, producers and directors of the programme got the ending spot on. The final episode mainly concludes the series storyline, focusing on President Taylor doing the right thing and Mr Bauer pursuing what he believes is right. Once that’s all wrapped up, we’re left with a kidnapped Jack about to be executed essentially by a rogue security team. The President must make contact with the team to withdraw the order for his execution before it’s too late.
She’s not too late. With a ’24 – The Movie’ in the works it would have been an expensive decision to kill off Jack, and might have left a sour taste in the viewer’s mouths. But it’s also not a happy ending. Jack had been hoping all season to move to California to live peacefully with his daughter, Kim, but he is now wanted by the American Government for crimes he’s committed during the day. The President, knowing she can’t save him, does tell him to flee the country and, with some help from the surviving CTU agents (including the tearful Chloe O’Brian), the parting shot is Jack doing just that.
Anyone familiar with Jack Bauer would know that a settled life is not in his nature, and for him to set up home in California would have felt wrong. By allowing him to flee the country the audience feels the story is complete, his time in America is done, but there is still an edge of anxiety we have over his future. We have been entertained, we feel nostalgic that the show has ended but we are satisfied with the conclusion.
Contrast this with Spooks. Again, I feel that the ten-series run of the programme was not too long and it deserved the high reputation it earnt in British drama. Having said this, I was disappointed with the ending. I was sad to see Ruth die in a way which didn’t quite make sense to the storyline, and can’t help but feel it was put in just to make it exciting. A Russian secret intelligence agent, Sasha Gavrik, attempted to kill Harry after he watched his father kill his mother, and found out that Harry knew that might happen. Ruth gets in the way and the dreams the couple had of a quiet retirement are shattered. My biggest confusion is why Sasha did not seek immediate vengeance on his father given that he’s just watched him kill his mother. It feels a little stretched that his first thought would be to kill Harry.
So instead of feeling satisfied, we end the episode with a memorial of the people who have died through the seasons, and then Harry resuming work at MI5. My argument is not that a death is never the right way to end a series. I think it can be powerful and, in the case of Spooks, can be in keeping with their track record of suddenly killing off main characters. It does, however, have to be justified and should leave a feeling of completeness in the audience. Shouldn’t it?
It’s not just TV dramas that can struggle with the end. Compare the final episode of Friends and its ten-year run with Will & Grace and its eight-year run. Both programmes won a fond spot in my heart for their characters as well as being funny and entertaining. Friends ended with the conclusion of its defining storyline; Ross and Rachel. The couple have been on and off since the pilot episode, but now Rachel is moving to Paris. Ross chases her to the airport, doesn’t get there in time but in a moment that will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling she realises she’s making a mistake and gets off the plane. Monica and Chandler are moving out of their apartment, and the final scene takes place with them all saying goodbye to a place they’ve called home for ten years. They leave their keys on the table, walk out and a final joke completes the episode. Entertained, nostalgic and satisfied. And possibly crying.
Will & Grace chose to flash-forward and show us what the next twenty years had in store. The main problem with this is that after spending eight years watching a programme based around their friendship, they spend the majority of the next twenty years not talking to one another. Eventually they get together in a bar and, with Karen and Jack, toast to their friendship. Whilst the final episode did contain some moments that encapsulated the show, much of it felt like a fast-paced epilogue that told a story of love getting in the way of friendship. It was a shame that such a well-respected show didn’t quite give a satisfying ending.
Of course all of these are my opinions, and there will be some people more than happy with the endings of Spooks and Will & Grace, and moaning about the farewells of Friends and 24. My point is simply that final episodes are tricky to master, and even the best shows can sometimes fail to hit the spot for the audience. Probably in the same way as if I were to finish a blog post mid