Tag Archives: disappointing endings

Resolution – Not Just for the New Year, Folks

I’ve recently come to a renewed appreciation of the power of a good ending.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Over the past few days, Ireland has been gripped (well, all right. Perhaps that’s a bit over-the-top. Mildly interested, then) by a TV mini-series, which has been showing on our fine upstanding national broadcaster since Sunday night last. I was one of the many thousands of viewers who tuned in, night after night, hooked by the tale of a teenage girl who inexplicably vanishes from the bosom of her (fractured, and slightly weird) family, waiting patiently for the story to come to a Conclusion.

(If, by any chance, you were watching the same TV show and you managed to miss the final episode and you don’t want your televisual world to implode, you might want to stop reading at this point. Here‘s a fun thing for you to look at, instead. See you tomorrow, when I’m sure I’ll be discussing something non-controversial.)

If you’re still with me, let’s proceed. Please note: there will be spoilers.

So. This TV show was, by Irish standards at least, slickly produced and reasonably well acted. It showed Dublin as a hip, happening sort of place with its own fancy tram system and everything (get us! None of this ‘starvin’ for a spud’ nonsense any more), and several lovely cosmopolitan apartments. It featured an ultra-modern separated couple. It had hints of the movie ‘Taken’ (which also featured – of course – the most famous Irishman since Daniel O’Connell, our very own Liam Neeson!) in the frowning, ex-Army Ranger father character. It had a beautiful young mother character who was very well equipped in the crying department and who lived a super-swish lifestyle without any visible means of support. It had a mournful-looking little boy who nobody really cared about, which was terrible and Very Meaningful all at the same time. It hinted at Societal Issues, touching on things like immigration, organised crime, prostitution and underage people doing things that they shouldn’t really be doing in fancy nightclubs.

Nobody mentioned Mass. Or tea. Or shamrocks.

Feck it, anyway. Image: fatherted.wikia.org

Feck it, anyway.
Image: fatherted.wikia.org

So, in many ways, it was different from anything I’ve ever watched before in terms of a TV show cooked up, produced, and made in Ireland. The only Irish thing about it was that funding difficulties meant it was made over two years ago and we’re only getting to see it now, but that’s another story. Anyway, I watched it with great enjoyment, having fun spotting all the places I recognised and wondering if I’d see anyone I knew wandering around as an extra and trying to figure out how they made Dublin look so clean and tidy.

And then, last night, the final episode aired, and everything went a bit sideways.

Nothing was explained. No resolution was offered. I’m sure that plenty of choice words were hurled at TV screens in living rooms across the country as the credits rolled.

The show’s conclusion was one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever seen on a small screen. If I may be permitted a small flight of pretension – I understand, artistically, what the makers of the show were trying to achieve by ending things the way they did. From a creative, oh-so-modern point of view, things were wrapped up perfectly. It didn’t play into the hands of expectation, norms were shattered, and the idea of perfect closure was told to take a long walk off a short pier. Rather more poignantly, from the perspective of how it really feels when a person goes missing, the ending of the show makes sense – and I understand all that.

But from the point of view of storytelling?

It’s important for stories to conclude. Even if things don’t work out the way you want, and even if certain things – important things – are left unexplained. My main problem with this particular TV show was the fact that, as well as the main storyline, so many side threads – subplots, interesting hints dropped during previous episodes, stories which started but sputtered out – were left to the viewer’s imagination in the long run. Sure, I get that when you’re investigating a person’s disappearance in real life, you have to cope with red herrings and false leads and information which doesn’t go anywhere at every step of the journey – but this wasn’t real life. This was a TV show. This was the kind of thing that people turn to for comfort, and for explanations, and for resolution. Leaving a storyline unfinished is like infesting people with an itch they can’t scratch. It goes further than irritation – it is profoundly disturbing.

The human psyche is programmed to need completion when it comes to a story arc. It’s not so much because an audience is curious to know what happened to these particular characters in this particular situation (though, doubtless that’s a large part of it); it’s more than that. Our need for an ending comes from a deep part of the brain, and it’s no coincidence that stories have been told by humans from our very earliest days, when the world was full of unexpected threats. Stories end because they are controllable – unlike life. Stories are utterly in thrall to human power, and it is completely within a person’s ability to affect and effect the movement and meaning of a story. In a world where nothing else seems to pay heed to humanity, where our power is regularly crushed out by nature or war or random tragedy, stories can be used like talismans to reflect back to us our perfected version of how the world should be. We need stories to end – even unsatisfactorily – because if they don’t, they might as well be real.

And nobody wants that.

I wish that this TV show had ended differently – even just slightly differently. I can accept the fact that the main thread of it couldn’t have a neat conclusion, and I understand that this is the only way it could have gone. But I’m irritated by the way it was done. I’m annoyed that the subplots, and the details, weren’t tied off, and that the viewers’ investment in the show – the effort put in to ferreting out connections and seeing the hints and wondering about images and motifs – wasn’t paid off. It’s irritating because it’s frightening, and because it says more about the chaotic nature of reality than anyone is comfortable facing up to. It was a clever artistic statement, sure – but a deeply upsetting one.

And a good lesson in how to anger an audience, too.

Operational Pressure

It’s taking me a while to build up a proper head of steam so far into this young and budding year. My internal writing engine is cranking slowly – certainly, a lot more slowly than I’d like. I suppose this is a normal side-effect of the excesses of the festive period, but it isn’t a place I like to be in. I wish I could shake off the shadows and get stuck right back in, but I don’t think it’ll be as easy as that.

I haven’t yet managed to get back to the WiP – I want to do another read-through in advance of the final approach of the competition deadline, and I intended to get back to it yesterday but had no success. I did (in my defence) send off a short story I’d been working on for a few weeks to the editorial committee of a children’s magazine, write a long (and time-consuming) blog post, and read a book, so the day wasn’t a total waste – but it certainly wasn’t the day’s work I’d wanted it to be! I’m pleased that I managed to beat the short story into shape, or at least a shape I was happy with – coming up with a title was the hardest part. I eventually went with ‘Floyd and the Nose-Bomb’, and as soon as I’d pressed ‘Send’, was sorry that I didn’t go for ‘Floyd and the Noseplosion’ instead. But such is life. Hopefully, I’ll hear from the editors soon, and meanwhile I’ll look for more competitions to enter. *puts on determined face*

Perhaps it’s a good thing that my writing is taking a while to wake up – maybe it’s necessary. I’ve managed to read a couple of books since I finished ‘Paper Towns’, and I’m hoping that every word I read will teach me something, as well as give me enjoyment. Trying to write books of your own is the quickest way to ruin your love of reading, though, I’m finding – every book I pick up has become a creative writing masterclass, instead of just a story in its own right. You might remember I listed off a pile of books I intended to read over Christmas and New Year (none of which I actually managed to read, besides ‘Paper Towns’), and through which I’m still working my merry way; I was lucky enough to be gifted several books as Christmas presents, too, so I have plenty to keep me going. I stayed up late on New Year’s Day to finish ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ (S.J. Watson), and yesterday’s book was Darren Shan’s ‘Zom-B’. I expected to really like both of these books, which is perhaps why I’m so conflicted about my reactions to them.

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ put me in mind of ‘The DaVinci Code’, not because the stories are anything alike, because they’re definitely not, but because it kept me hooked, and kept me reading, despite – in the end – not really being very good. All the characters sounded the same, and I didn’t really believe in any of them.

sleepThis book attracted such wonderful praise and I’d heard, over and over again, how good it was. Perhaps that’s the reason I felt a little let down by it – I often feel that the more I’m looking forward to something, the less I end up enjoying it. And it’s not a bad book – the premise is brilliant, and the set-up is great. I did enjoy the ratcheting tension, and I liked the idea of the central character (Christine) trying to overcome the effects of her amnesia by keeping a journal. For a reader, the idea that we know more about Christine’s life than she does – or, that we have the frame of reference to put together all the hints and suggestions, a frame of reference that she lacks – is a powerful and disturbing one. However, because this is such a strong theme in the book, I found myself putting the twist together a bit earlier than I wanted to. From that point on, it was more a case of waiting for my suspicions to be confirmed than waiting for the tension to come to a head, and it became a bit of a drag. I’m also at a loss to think of any other book I’ve read recently whose ending infuriated me as much as the ending of this one did – I’m telling myself that the end of this book is actually another plot twist, and I’ve written (in my head!) my own final paragraph, in order to satisfy my need for a proper, non-saccharine conclusion to this story. I just refuse to believe the story ends the way it says in the book! Overall, though, it’s not a bad book, and I’d recommend it. Just don’t expect too much of the conclusion, and make sure you start reading early so you don’t stay up until nearly 1 a.m., like I did, in your desire to finish it.

I’m a fan of Darren Shan’s ‘Cirque du Freak’ novels, and so I’d expected to enjoy ‘Zom-B’.

zom-bI suppose it’s not fair to say I didn’t enjoy this book, really – I finished it in record time, and it did keep me interested right to the end. There was just the right amount of gore for me – in other words, there was a lot of it, but the descriptions were the right balance of illustrative and disgusting, which allowed me to imagine what was going on without losing my lunch completely – and I liked the dialogue, as I do with every Shan novel. The character of the racist father, and his abhorrent politics, are probably portrayed a bit simplistically, but that’s fine considering the genre of the book and the type of reader it’s aimed at. There were some great line-drawings included with the text, which is something I always like in a book of this sort, and the book was a perfect length for its target audience (I’m guessing 10-14 as an ideal age range, probably). But – well. The twist at the end (which I’m not even going to hint at here) really annoyed me. It just didn’t seem real or believable. When you know what the twist is, and you think about the character it relates to, the whole story just falls apart. It creates more questions than it answers, I think. I admire the chutzpah needed to even think of a twist like it, but I just really wish it hadn’t been done. Then, this book is the first in a long series, so all the issues I have with the character may yet be worked out in later books. I’ll watch for them with interest.

The brain-machine is starting to whirr a little faster now, and the pressure gauge is hopping. I’d better make the most of it! Off I go to Edit-land… wish me luck!