By Alex Segura
First off: Merry Christmas if you celebrate it. Or Festivus. Or anything. Happy holidays.
I've been thinking about endings a lot. About people's expectations - both in fiction and "true stories." About what's owed to the reader, listener, whatever, and who is responsible for "delivering."
I was pretty hooked on the podcast Serial, which tried to re-investigate the murder of a Maryland teen and whether or not her ex-boyfriend - serving a life sentence for the crime - was actually guilty. I like to think I'm an avid true crime reader, so the format didn't really strike me as new. Nor is it that new for a podcast - see StartUp, for example.
I didn't go into the podcast's debut season expecting An Ending, or Big Resolution. Because hey, this is real life and endings aren't tidy or clean. Life is gray and muddy and very rarely features tight plotting. Things get messy. But as the show gained momentum, press, buzz and its very own subreddit thread, it struck me that some listeners - relatively new to true crime narratives and maybe even new to podcasts - were expecting that. They were expecting a final episode that revealed the killer, Murder She Wrote-style. Actually, it felt like they wanted that kind of closure. The final episode came and went. I won't go into detail because I imagine plenty of you are still listening or plan to listen. But, like I said, it got me to thinking about endings.
I had a similar feeling, except this was regarding something fictional, while watching True Detective's first season on HBO. It also started off on a subdued note - in terms of attention - and gained traction as it developed, reaching maximum buzz before the season finale. Who was the Yellow King? Who would survive? Would all the questions be answered? The finale happened, people discussed, and here we are.
Both endings were totally fine, in my view. Good, even. They managed to stick the landing. They were solid conclusions to the stories both Serial Executive Producer Sarah Koenig and True Detective showrunner Nick Pizzolatto set out to tell, or in Koenig's case, investigate. But have we reached a point where a "good" ending isn't good enough? Is there such a thing as a perfect ending - and is it impossible for it to leave anything unresolved?
I love sloppy endings. I think the grays and what's left unsaid are much more interesting than having everything explained. While I do want to see a character arc and certain things resolved - if you're building a mystery, you better solve it (see season one of The Killing, for example) - I also don't expect Every Single Thing to be crossed off like a shopping list. I'm not that kind of consumer of media. But maybe I'm in the minority? I think that, sometimes, stories just end. You take a journey with characters and it stops. There's no villainous speech, no heroic battle at the precipice of a giant canyon. Sometimes it's a haunting visual or a bit of dialogue that signals this is it for now.
If I'm taken on an interesting journey and the ending matches the trip or delivers on the promises made, I'm content. I think it's unfair to expect an earth-shattering ending to stories that have not purported to be those kind of stories. Am I wrong?
What say you?