Saturday, 28 January 2012

Saying Goodbye to Good TV

Yesterday was the Series Finale of Chuck, a show I've watched, not since the start, but for the last three years and really enjoyed it. About eight months ago a show I'd watched since it's second season and it went on to last ten years making it the record holding science fiction show in North America, this was Smallville. Around about then I was going to do a vlog about my top five series finales, in fact I filmed it all in preparation for the finale but never actually got around to editing it, mostly because I was still using Windows Movie Maker until a few months ago and that program was one of the most insanely frustrating things I've ever experienced (for those of you who don't know I hate video editing with a viscous passion and anything that makes it worse is clearly sent by Satan to torture me). The jist of the video though was talking about my favourite finales of TV shows. Unlike a film or even a film series, when a TV show comes to an end we've not seen two hours or at a trilogy of films coming to maximum eight hours or so, no, we've seen possibly over a hundred hours of television week after week, year after year and, if the show's creators have done their right, we become attached to these characters and their development and it's always sad to see it go more so than a film series ending. Don't get me wrong, I was quite sad when Harry Potter ended but realistically not as sad as when say Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even Smallville ended. This was because unlike Harry Potter, this wasn't like the really good friend I'd see every couple of years, this was more like my best friend I'd see every week and finally saying goodbye.


Now this isn't going to be a Top Five/Ten/Twenty/ElevenBecauseILikeToGoOneStepBeyond/Whatever list because frankly I'm too lazy to do that right now and I've got a lot to get through in this blog post plus I'm working on a new series for this blog called What I Would Have Changed where I talk about certain films, TV series or video games, y'know random nerdy things as the blog name implies, and what I would have changed with my knowledge retroactively to make it better. I'm just simply going to talk about in this blog post, series finales of TV and how I think they tend to end and cause a lasting impact on people.


First off, I think there's several categories of finale, I don't mean "Good" or "Bad" as often that's relative to your experience with the show. For example despite being very sad about the Chuck series coming to an end, I felt a lot of the finale was rather shallow and focused way too much on Chuck and Sarah with the real finale in my opinion coming much earlier in the series when they faced off against Brandon Routh's Daniel Shaw, Chuck's hated rival and the man who once slept with his now wife and murdered his father, now manipulating his life like a puppet-master. On the other hand a lot of people like my brother were disappointed with Smallville's finale which I liked a lot, even if I knew it wasn't perfect, kinda like the whole show at times. So I'm going to split these up into categories in no particular order.






BEFORE I BEGIN THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS FOR MANY SHOWS, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.



FULL CIRCLE


Full Circle; the type of finale where it analyses everything that's come before specifically where the story has come from and brings things full circle to give a sense of completeness. Generally these finales tend to be on shows with a "half-arc" where the show is not completely serialised but not completely episodic either, where there is an arc woven into the fabric of the show but the episodes themselves generally tend to be separate and easy to watch. The name is thought to originate in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the other hand there's only really one moment in that show's finale that brought it full circle, when Buffy finally gets what she wants "To Be Normal", something she wanted since the start. Examples of Full Circle are, Chuck, which used Sarah's memory wipe to bring many things from the first episode and first season back to try and get her to love Chuck again. Heroes most certainly had this in it's last moments ending with Claire intentionally jumping off a high point and saying "My Name is Claire Bennett, and as far as you know, that was attempt number one" bringing it back to her recordings from the first few episodes. 


Probably the best full circle ending was Angel and it most certainly had a full-circle ending, and unlike it's sister show Buffy, it didn't end on just one not of full-circle, the whole episode brought back little references to the seasons before it, bringing back guest stars like Lindsey and Connor. Hell even earlier in the season on the 100th episode they brought back Cordelia and Doyle, albeit the latter via video as unfortunately the actor had passed away. It also ended on a great note which really brought the message of the whole series full circle. Angel was about two things at it's core; redemption and achieving redemption through a never ending struggle of good and evil. For Angel who once murdered thousands of people and was a sadistic bastard until he was cursed with a soul, redemption is what he seeks spiritually and since the first season his physical reward would be that he could become human and be free of the vampire's curse and get his soul back permanently as prophesied. Now twice in the first season Angel was given this opportunity. The first is when he gets the mystical Gem of Omara, a ring that would make him invincible to sunlight and other vampire weaknesses, essentially making him closer to humanity. However Angel decides to destroy the ring because he saw it as just "false redemption", seeking to earn his reward rather than have it given to him. Later in the first season Angel is made human when his blood mixes with a specific breed of demon. Unfortunately this makes him weaker than he was and unable to protect Buffy when the time is right (I believe it's referencing Season Seven of Buffy at this point). As such Angel reverses time giving up his one chance at happiness to be with Buffy; once again, redemption has to be earned not given freely. In the second season Angel has given up hope realising that no matter what he does he'll always be "fighting the good" fight and in the long run it might not make a damn bit of difference, but has an epiphany that the slightest difference to one person's life is what makes that fight worth fighting. It's fighting that fight even if it seems hopeless and even if it won't ever be won long after he's turned to dust that's how he can earn his redemption. 


Throughout the series Angel's physical reward of redemption can be granted by the Shanshu Prophecy, a prophecy that says the Vampire with a Soul will play a major role in the Apocalypse and as such will be made human as his reward. Many times also Angel stops "counting score" because it's really not about that. In the finale Angel has made lied his way into the most powerful cabal of demons in our world known as the "Circle of the Black Thorn" in an attempt to bring them down. During his manipulations they test his trust to them; he must sign away, literally in his own blood, his right to the Shanshu Prophecy; making Spike, his rival and now the only other Vampire with a Soul, the man who would fulfil it. He is giving up the physical reward of redemption and he does it. Why? Because he's not counting score, he's not after the physical reward any more, he doesn't need the carrot in front to attain the spiritual redemption he's so sought. In fact the last shot of the series has the survivors of the assault on the circle meeting up in an alleyway by the Hyperion Hotel, their base of operations from seasons 2-4, and being charged down by dragons, giants and all manner of thousands of demons sent to kill them by Wolfram and Hart, the extra-dimensional overlords of the Circle of the Black Thorn. Angel and the others might die, and killing the Circle may have done nothing in the long run, but he's earned his redemption by doing his job; fighting that never ending good fight. Despite what the comics say the series ends on a note that says Angel and the survivors will die in this onslaught, some quicker than others who are already dying but as Angel steps forward with a sword in his hand and smile on his face the last words of the show are "Let's Go To Work". And with that his job continues, fighting the good fight, dealing blows to evil and his spiritual redemption, even if he no longer has the rights to his physical one, is earned. Full Circle.


Holy crap I wrote a lot there, okay onto the next one, promise they won't all be like that.


THE END


The End; often the saddest of finales because it's usually when so much stuff happens that it would be near impossible to continue on the way things were. In an action series this usually means big explosions of the hero's home base e.t.c. In The Practice it meant the practice shutting down and everyone going their separate ways. Many characters die in these finales just to really close the book. 


Probably my favourite example of this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In case you haven't guessed already I really like Joss Whedon's work on these shows. In Buffy the finale ends with the entire town getting swallowed in an Earthquake, two or three main characters dead or dying, and Buffy has now created an army of slayers meaning her job is now redundant and she can go on to live an normal life. Simply put it's pretty god damn epic. I'm obviously not going to go into much more but really that's where it ended and no matter what those comics say, that's where Buffy's journey ends for me. The End.


At the end of the third season of Chuck they prepared a series finale, the Buy More is destroyed, Chuck's father is killed, Chuck and Sarah are in a relationship together and they've just brought down "The Ring" the big bad of the last season. The show got to continue for another two years and as such we instead got the Full Circle ending I mentioned before.


A WHOLE NEW WORLD


This is when a show ends and the characters and situation are irrevocably changed but moving on into a new chapter of their lives. Much like "The End", "A Whole New World" has all of it's qualities but also many qualities of what I'll go into below in "And The Adventure Continues..." as it often has some epic event that forever changes the story but also says that the characters will continue in this world in new adventures unseen. Unlike "The End" however usually more characters survive the onslaught so that they CAN carry on.


I've named it this because this is exactly how Heroes ended. Okay it's also named after the song in Aladdin but still... Heroes as I've said before ended with Claire jumping off the top of the tower and injuring herself, that was full circle but what I didn't say was that in doing show she reveals the existence of metahuman people to the world live on national television. Forever changing the world they live in but never actually showing how it ends. This was also partially a "Premature Cancellation" but it mostly goes here in the Whole New World section to the point that the coda of the show or the epilogue is actually called "The New World" hence where I took the name from... and Aladdin.


Greek is also an example of this. The show ends with one of the main fraternities the "Kappa Tau Gamma" house being bulldozed despite their efforts to save it. Two of the protagonists have now graduated also and leave and Rusty, the audience surrogate character now becomes the new President of Kappa Tau as leads them into a new generation of peace with their rivals as they must now build a new house. It's adventures unseen once again but also a perfect example of things ending as the main love story of Cappie and Casey gets a happy ending; Cappie finally leaves college behind him and commits to Casey and leaves the Kappa Tau behind him in that bulldozed house as the song "Forever Young" plays in the background. Whilst I normally hate music like that being played as it's so on the nose, I have to admit this really got me at the time, the question of "Do you really wanna live forever young?" is a poignant one and as someone who not too long ago graduated from University it's something I really felt especially when I went back there for the first time in two years and really felt like I missed that place. It's a very sad finale.


This sort of finale is as with Heroes often one made in fear of cancellation and written to wrap things up but leave hope for the future. Unlike the next category however it's usually written when cancellation is an almost certainty or has already become a certainty and it's just wrapping up loose ends. It's usually very sad like "The End" but has some hope for the future leaving a smile on your face. This is the most bitter-sweet of the types of series finale.


PREMATURE CANCELLATION


The Premature Cancellation is not the opposite of a sexual problem as it might appear to be but is when a show is cancelled before it's had time to wrap up it's stories and usually has to tag on an ending that seems fitting. Sometimes shows will be forced to do something like this and leave it all hanging as they have no idea if they're going to be cancelled long after they've filmed it.


Perfect example: Stargate Universe a show that in it's first season I really did not enjoy. In it's second season, I absolutely loved and was very sad to see it go. It ended on a note that was very much a cliffhanger to be resolved by the next season, Eli Wallace being the only man on board the destiny waiting for them to find out if they'd ever escape the galaxy as the rest go into hibernation unsure if they'd wake up three weeks or a hundred years from now. From that description it's a big cliffhanger and really it was but the way it was shot and written it was done to accentuate the fact that Eli had grown up and that was good because at the start he was the immature geek and whilst intelligent not quite on the experience level as Dr. Nicholas Rush, played by Robert "Should Have Won a Fucking Emmy for this Role" Carlyle. By the series finale only two seasons in when ratings had dropped like a lead brick in a pond, Eli was a man. He was outsmarting even Dr. Rush at times and was left in charge of the well being of the crew of the Destiny.


Premature cancellations often try and bring things full circle with mixed results.  They're often sad because we know the reason they're ending and yet we just have to accept that this is where the journey ends, not at it's logical conclusion but in a wrap up that's forced on the show with little time to spare.


THE BIG GOODBYE


This is the most common of series finales, as what is a series finale if not a goodbye to characters we've loved often for close to a decade sometimes for even longer. It's the most common in sitcoms and often used in dramas too. It's usually where the characters get to say an emotional goodbye to each other on screen even if they are going to see each other again, they probably won't see each other often.


A quick note before I get into a whopping four examples of this is that 24  ended on this note. Despite knowing that it was going to be the next thing really it ended on a goodbye to Jack Bauer and the cast and crew and it's really worth noting here. Chloe and Jack say goodbye to each other for the last time as Jack goes on the run from the Russian and US governments.


First example, a little sitcom known as Friends you've probably never heard of it. Anyway in all seriousness this finale was all about The Big Goodbye. It was Monica and Chandler moving out of the city, it was Ross and Rachael getting together again at last and once it's spin off show Joey had begun; it was Joey moving to Los Angeles. Friends' final scene was with Ross and Rachael together and Monica and Chandler moving out of their apartment, the main apartment of the series with no-one filling the void this time. It was a big goodbye to all those characters and quite a sad one too.


Second example is Scrubs, now before anyone says anything, yes I know there was technically another season after this. I DON'T CARE! Season 9 was good but it was a different show with a different primary character and narrator even if JD returned for a few episodes. It was a different show, it should have been a spin-off, hell if it had been it might have been more successful. Hell even the title had the words [Med School] written in the bottom corner. It wasn't the same show. Scrubs ended with Season 8, with JD leaving the hospital and an influx of emotion as dozens of guest stars returned and as he in typical JD fashion envisioned what his future would be like essentially telling us all that that's what will happen in the unseen world after the show ends. I love this finale it actually had me openly in tears by the end. It was an emotional and beautiful goodbye.


Third example is M*A*S*H, now I'll be the first to admit I haven't seen all the episodes so I'll keep this short. But the Korean War, the setting for the show that went on about three times as long as the actual war, is over and everyone is finally going home. They all say emotional goodbyes and as Hawkeye and co fly off in that helicopter once last time they literally see the word M*A*S*H now turned into GOODBYE, a message from BJ. Hell the finally is called "Goodbye, Farwell and Amen". This is the most watched finale of all time, I think it's actually the most watched episode of television in history having over 70% audience share and over 100 million viewers in the United States. Very sad.


Forth and final example is the science fiction drama Star Trek: Deep Space Nine unlike The Next Generation, which fits into the next category, DS9, as it was known, was very serialised, especially in it's later years with full seven-part arcs revolving around the Dominion War. It was a not a "continuing adventure" show like Next Gen, it was a show with an arc, a beginning, a middle and an end. And boy was the ending sad. And yes I've warned spoilers but seriously don't read this if you haven't seen it. Go onto the next paragraph. Deep Space Nine ends with Captain Benjamin Sisko's "death", Chief O'Brien leaving the station, Worf becoming Ambassador to the Klingon Empire, everyone going their separate ways and saying one of the most emotional goodbyes ever. Just watch that montage here if you don't believe me.


The Big Goodbye is often a sad and often most logical conclusion to a series. It's interesting to see these and compare because it's the standard ending really compared to the other styles of finale.


AND THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES...


When the ending is that nothing really changes even if it's HUGE the ending is that the characters will continue their journey in adventures unseen. Perfect example of this is Stargate SG-1 a finale that didn't even end the big bad threat of the Ori, later to be ended in the rather average film Stargate: Ark of Truth. The finale involved the team of SG-1 and the base commander getting trapped on a ship frozen in time, if they stop the time loop they die. This finale didn't do any form of ending the series as such and ended on a note as they were about to go through the Stargate on yet another mission; not even a mission that would lead to the movie. Just an average mission and they go through the Stargate and as they say The Adventure Continues...


Another example is Star Trek: The Next Generation a series nominated for Best Drama Emmy and the series finale that won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation beating out some serious competition including movies like Interview with a Vampire, The Mask and Stargate. This finale was awesome and in my Top 5 list I originally wrote I ranked this as number one as it's awesome. It's a brilliant episode that examines three timelines through the eyes of Captain Picard. The first timeline is his current one, seven years into commanding the USS Enterprise D. The second is in the past, on his first day commanding the Enterprise and the final is set twenty years into the future where he's going insane from a degenerative brain disease and Admiral Riker his former first officer doesn't believe him that he's time travelling. It's also slightly full circle this episode but as I'd written so much for Angel I didn't want to bog that category down any more. We have the original pilot episode's era, the current era and the potential future era. We have the antagonist from the pilot, Q, returning and in an antagonist role again. It's all full circle. However the ending leaves on a note that makes you happy, Captain Picard for the first time joins the crew for poker night, also a full circle moment, and the adventure continues. In fact Q even says this, his whole reason for tormenting Picard as it were from the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" to the series finale "All Good Things..." was that he was putting humanity on trial for their barbarous history, deeming if they were worthy to exist. He leaves it on a note that the "Trial Never Ends", making us all wonder if he's really ever going to leave them alone, but is that the message? I think it's what Star Trek was all about really, don't get me wrong, I can respect the original series but the Next Generation was what brought Star Trek into the mainstream and it was what made Star Trek's message so clear; exploring the human condition, that's the trial. It's full circle but also ends on an note saying that the crew will go on to continue to explore the human condition going boldy where no-one has gone before.


To a certain extent, Smallville is this. The whole show had been building for ten years and in for the most part a very good progression about Clark becoming Superman. Most people make a mistake with Smallville, they often say "He's not Superman yet, he can't fly, this isn't the man we know... blah, blahhh,blahahshasdsdhgblabab..." I don't care. Not the point, you're missing the point. This isn't a show about Superman, this is a show about Clark Kent and his journey to become Superman, the man we all know and love and by the final episode he is. No matter what people say, I loved it. Does it occasionally drift from comic continuity, yes, but it works in the context. Does it insult your intelligence often, yeah quite often. I don't care, I love it. The ending is of Clark ripping open his shirt to reveal the Superman symbol to the theme of John William's "Superman" music from the famous 1978 movie. It was AWESOME. We know the adventure continues and I would have loved to have seen a spin off show which could see Clark and Lex return. It's also very full circle in man ways as from the first episode Clark is literally asked "What are you? Man or Superman?" when Lana see's his book on Nietzsche, a reference that would be brought back time and again. He responds "I haven't quite figured that out yet". By the finale, he's made that choice, he's now confident in who he is, even if he has to hide it behind those dorky glasses, persona and a bad haircut.


This sort of finale is quite nice actually because it leaves the audience with a really big smile on their face as they know their characters will continue on their journeys even if we don't get to watch them. It's usually done either because there's a fairly good chance that it could continue, there's a spin-off show that relies on this show being around or the writer's didn't want to just end their creation and thought it'd be nicer to see this. For Star Trek: The Next Generation it's mostly the first one as they were going on to do movies, one that summer in fact. For Stargate it's all of the above.




So that about wraps it up. Those are all the finales in my opinion. I've provided YouTube clips to show off if you want to see them. If you have any opinions please don't hesitate to comment. Film people often look down on TV as the "lower form" of entertainment and sometimes it is. There's a beauty in a two hour movie being able to express a story. TV however is able to develop characters further and this is coming from a guy who did his masters thesis in film as opposed to TV. TV leaves a lasting impression because of the time we spend with it and I think a good series finale can leave you wanting more and wanting for them to leave it as is forever both at once.