My husband and I have an ongoing debate about books and shows. Or, perhaps more accurately, we have fairly firmly set opinions that are entrenched, and that are at odds with each other.
I love a great series. Brian... not so much.
The real difference centers around Brian's belief that too many series outlive their shelf life; they could end on a high note earlier, but instead they're milked for all they're worth and the overall quality suffers.
I have to admit that, while I might not be willing to always pull the plug as soon as he would prefer, that I'm starting to embrace his way of thinking.
Personally, I think it sucks that Orphan Black is taking its final bow this year, after just five seasons. I think there could have been more depths to explore in this richly layered world, but I will applaud them for staying focused. Meanwhile, a few other shows that I've enjoyed in the past are not fairing as well for me. I'm not captured by this season of Orange is the New Black yet, and I didn't find House of Cards to be quite as compelling, either.
However, House of Cards elevated the whole season with one critical ingredient; the ending. A great ending can draw things together in a way that reveals the genius of subtlety that may have been at work throughout the body of the season.
I've been thinking about that a lot as we watch this season of Fargo. The acting is brilliant, as ever. The show retains its quirkiness and its black comic moments... but something this season felt a little off. Perhaps it was my expectations. I'd anticipated season three with the expectation of declaring Fargo the greatest crime show ever made; seasons one and two are amongst the best seasons of any crime show, ever, but when faced with competition such as The Wire I felt like Fargo needed a third season to rise to the top.
Interestingly enough, Brian and I aren't the only ones who've talked about how the truth of the season's merit will be fully realized with the finale. The AV Club's reviewer "said last week that it was possible that the final two episodes of the season might tie things together" and that's the beauty of these complex, season arc shows; they must be weighed as a whole.
And much of the weight falls on their finale.
Recently, The Handmaid's Tale stuck the landing so brilliantly, I was surprised. And I do not want to give anything away, but if you're studying story arcs, if you're looking for great examples of storytelling that masters the art of both the subtle and straightforward approach, look no further.
I think one of the reasons the endings can elevate the storytelling's effectiveness so significantly is because they can give shape to what's been hinted at that may have been missed, and that means you realize there was even more going on than you picked up on fully, and then you watch again and begin picking up on those cues.
Think of storylines that have suffered with an ending that failed to tie things together in a way that convinced the audience or elevated their understanding of the storyline. Lost comes to mind as an example, along with How I Met Your Mother, and I am not alone in those views.
Ending well is an art... and it's a storytelling skill that, when mastered, can take a good story and make it great. Knowing when to end is part of that equation; knowing how to tie together the subtle and straightforward threads is another. In order to get there, yes, the audience has to be invested in the journey, but word of a bad ending can deter an audience from giving a story a try, or finishing it.
As I was once told, the end of your story sells the audience on your next story, and it's what we all should be striving for in our craft.