Satisfying Conclusions & the Problem of Endings

I’ve seen a lot of endings this year. The end of Game of Thrones finally aired after 8 years. The first major arc of the MCU came to a close with Avengers Endgame and 22 movies over 11 years. And I finally got around to playing Kingdom Hearts 3, which wrapped up a series of 7 core games spanning 17 years. In less than a week the final entry in the Skywalker saga, The Rise of Skywalker, will hit theatres. As we wrap up a decade, many franchises I’ve been super invested in are wrapping up as well.

And that leads me to today’s discussion. Maybe because I’ve seen so many this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings, the weight we put on them and the culture we’ve built around them. We live in a content-rich society, and I think that has both its benefits and its drawbacks.

There is something cathartic about a good ending. We like to see a character arc complete, and the good guys win. We like to see the world returned to a more peaceful state – the status quo restored. We want to see the mystery solved and justice served. Real-life rarely gives you those certainties. It’s one of the reasons why we love a good story. The sort of satisfaction and resolution that we crave in real life we can get through a story.

When you’re really invested in a story and it’s characters, you want it to have a satisfying conclusion, but a good ending is a huge undertaking. We’ve entered a time where franchises last years, and as long as it remains popular and generates money, new entries continue to appear to draw out the story and make those big corporations some cash. And I’m fine with my favourite series being pimped out for money, because it means I get more of what I love. But that’s only true as long as it’s being handled well.

And that is one of the biggest problems when it comes to wrapping up something that has lasted so long. The longer you have to build up to something, the higher the expectations on the ending, the more ends that need tying, and the greater the risk that the audience will not be satisfied.

We live in a hypercritical world, where any faults are going to be immediately dragged out and put on display. Any plot holes will be immediately targetted, and any resolutions that feel contrived are going to be used as ammunition against it.

And it’s interesting how quickly a bad ending can ripple through the rest of a series and taint it for the viewers. The reaction to the ending of Game of Throne has caused some people to hate the series as a whole. For some, the ending is the point and it justifies the rest of the journey. It’s strange to think that all of the time you invest in something is only worth it if it has a decent ending. I took care in my reflection of the final season to make sure that didn’t happen to me. I didn’t want a rough season to ruin the rest of the series.

At the same time, I know it definitely colours the experience. I was one of many who wasn’t thrilled with the ending of Game of Thrones, but I loved the rest of the journey. The wounds are still too fresh for me to dive into the series again, but I don’t want to let an unsatisfactory ending destroy how much I enjoyed the last seven years.

Kingdom Hearts was cathartic in many ways, and definitely not a bad ending. A lot of questions were given answers, and it was nice to see a happy ending for at least some of the characters. But it also felt hectic and weirdly paced. There was a lot to resolve, and the ending felt a bit more ambiguous than I would have liked. Endgame had the strongest ending by far, but it was still the result of criticism. The bigger the audience the more likely it becomes that an ending isn’t going to be able to satisfy everyone.

The end of a series doesn’t just have to resolve its own plot, but the plot of an entire series. It has to be a satisfying story on its own but also bring together all the other threads. As a storyteller, I recognize the challenge, and I can appreciate when care is taken to give a great ending, and how hard it must be. The ending carries the weight of the story on it’s shoulders, and that’s not an easy burden to carry.

In an ideal world, I’d want everything to have a satisfying ending. I want to walk out of the theatre on Friday and feel that sense of closure. But I also don’t want to ignore the journey that got me there. I’ve always enjoyed Star Wars, but it was The Force Awakens that truly made me a fan. I’ve enjoyed reading the theories, seeing the fan art and investing in the incredible lore of the Star Wars universe, just as I have for other franchises.

It’s so hard to remember the journey when the ending leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, but I hope, going forward, that we can remember these journies a little more. I don’t want to be an apologist for poor storytelling, and I don’t think it means we shouldn’t be critical. I think we should always hold ourselves to a higher standard, because that’s how we improve. But the ending is only one part of the story. It’s not the part that invests us in the narrative, but it is the reason we might remember it.

We’re about to enter a new decade that I hope is filled with excellent stories and memorable conclusions. I know that won’t always be the case, but it’s important to remember the journey that got us there, too.

Author: Alyssa Flynn

Alyssa is a writer of fantasy and sci-fi, a certified geek, and a blogger over at Alyssa Lost in Space. She is currently writing her first novel which she plans to self-publish in Fall 2020.

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