An article in the Radio Times a few weeks ago mourned the quality of endings in recent television dramas and cited The Offence, which I didn’t watch, The Syndicate, which I didn’t watch, The Affair, which I didn’t watch and several other productions [that I didn’t watch] that the writer had devoted hours of her life to, only to feel let down by poorly-written denouements. Why didn’t I watch these programmes? Did I know something she doesn’t know? Were the warning lights on red and more fool her for not throwing in the towel sooner?
Well, I don’t watch much TV as it happens. I read a lot; I’m with Morrisey in believing that the apex of contemporary life is a comfortable chair, a warm room and a shelf-full of books. I listened to King Charles 111 on Radio 3 the other night . . . new play of the year . . . and it was every bit as fantastic as the critics said it would be. But my tastes aren’t entirely highbrow; we are watching Humans at the moment and Wayward Pines [on Fox] and okay the endings could still disappoint but no sign yet that the script is faltering. Also, Wayward Pines has a fabulous cast [genius Hope Davis is in it] and somehow I struggle to believe that they would give hours and hours of their lives to something that was ultimately rubbish. But we shall see.
I wouldn’t watch something called, The Affair nor would I watch something like the Offence with a cast of nobodies and a scriptwriter no-one has ever heard of. We watch The Legacy, with a cast of nobodies and a scriptwriter no-one has ever heard of but we were willing at the beginning to give it the benefit of the doubt and it has repaid that investment in a way that something called The Affair wouldn’t even get four minutes.
It even sounds like middle-class angst and we don’t care.
Books are often a let-down too, it has to be said. Agents and publishers screech on and on about the opening chapter, the first thirty pages, the first sentence and they buy up this stuff but long before the final page, I have given up in a morass of lazy characterisation and endless plot-holes. I knew the endings to all of my books before I put pen to paper but I do wonder sometimes if other writers do. I have heard it argued that they can never end to our satisfaction, whatever writers do. Not sure about that, it should be possible to write or film a story with a satisfactory ending. Does Gladiator have a satisfactory ending? He dies. Is that satisfactory? I think it is. Everything is resolved. The entire arc would have been wrecked if he had retired to Spain to grow grapes. What waz all that about?
I think my point and the RT lady’s point is that writers and TV Producers should take more responsibility; after all, you are giving them ten hours or more of your life.
So here first of all is a short list of books with great endings:
Watership Down: the best ending of any work of literature, ever.
Jane Eyre: reader I married him. Couldn’t be bettered.
Burial Rites: fabulous and a completely [to me, anyway] unexpected ending.
Dead I May Well Be: another unexpected ending and superbly put together . . . McKinty really does have poetry coursing through his veins and thrilling writing dripping from his fingertips.
. . . and films with great endings:
Well, Gladiator is a great film with a great ending.
The Searchers has a brilliant ending.
2001: A Space Odyssey.
What about Tokyo Story, probably possibly my favourite film of all time. Or Apocalypse Now; tricky film to bring to a satisfactory conclusion.
In The Mood for Love? Only one way it could end.
A film with a totally unexpected conclusion that I adored is Animal Kingdom.
Seven? Godfather 2?
That will do. It goes without saying that all of these books and films are pretty great anyway, the endings just lift them to perfection.