On the importance of endings, and why you need to get them right

On the importance of endings, and why you need to get them right

I think, on some level, everyone kind of hates endings.

Which makes sense really, doesn’t it? Your favourite television show coming to an end, reaching the last page of a book, watching the credits roll after a film – it’s a story that’s been important to you, that’s made you happy and sad and maybe even changed your life a little bit, concluding. Often, I’ll try to avoid endings. I’ve never watched the last episode of Community, which is an all-time favourite of mine, because that way Jeff, Abed, Annie and Britta are all still at Greendale; there are plenty of programmes where I’ll skip an episode and never go back to it, never watch it, so there’s always that one little part of the story that’d be new to me.

But you can’t put off endings forever. All good things, and all that.

Hence why endings are important. They’re the lasting impression something leaves, the final note of a symphony that rings out beyond the last curtain call or mixed metaphor. Look at something like How I Met Your Mother – years after it ended, that controversial conclusion is almost always the only thing discussed whenever the show is mentioned. For all the goodwill the show had built up across its time on air, its ending squandered that, and it’s now impossible to separate the two.

So, what does an ending need to do to get it right?

Well, the easy answer is that it has to be a satisfying conclusion, but what does that mean? An ending needs to offer closure, a resolution to the plot threads, themes and ideas you’ve introduced over the years. If style is simply the mistakes you never stop making, this is the time to embrace those mistakes: remind them why they loved the story, and go out on a high.  If ever there’s a time to be self-indulgent, this is it – refer back to the old favourites and the recent successes, reflect on the first time you got something properly right, but don’t forget the best of your recent episodes. Normally it’s best to ignore the fans, but after all the support they’ve offered to you, it’s worth looking back on all the ones they liked over the years. Throw in a reference or two to the spinoff series your show might have borne – they’re continuing without you, even if they might not be quite the same anymore.

Of course, we’re also in an age when endings maybe don’t mean as much as they used to – an age when television programmes long thought dead might still return, if only they can find the budget for it (and, you know, all the other things that might get in the way). Not so long ago, Patrick Stewart revealed that he’d be returning to the iconic role of Captain Picard once again – and Star Trek: The Next Generation has already ended at least twice. The story begins anew, and the ending is less of a full stop and more of a semi-colon.

That begs a new question, though, doesn’t it? What does an ending mean when there’s still a chance you might be able to pick up the story again? Revivals aren’t always popular, and the question of whether sequels are ever actually any good is a debate that’s gone on pretty much for as long as there have been sequels.

I’ve never really bought into it, though. A bad sequel or a bad revival doesn’t mean that the original doesn’t still exist, wasn’t still important, wasn’t still a good thing – but then, I really love sequels. I can’t quite think of a sequel I wouldn’t like to see. After all, I like the story to go on. Endings are important, but possibilities are better. When Doctor Who came to a conclusion for the first time, it left things open for more: it was the end, but the moment was prepared for.

So maybe that’s the most important thing for an ending to do: to acknowledge that it is the end, and to do your best to go out on a high, and then take a moment to pause and thank everyone who got your story to that point.

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The End.