All great stories must have an end. It is as inevitable as the changing of the seasons or a person’s death. There has to be a final spot for every story, or else the journey isn’t complete. The show “Breaking Bad” was able to wrap up everything in its final episode, giving the characters and the viewers the ending they all wanted and needed. It was a flawless ending to as close to a perfect show that television will ever air.
But why do endings sometimes get things wrong, or just feel out of place? The finale to “Dexter” a few weeks ago gave that impression, and the series ending to “The Sopranos” gave many people frustrating headaches. The film “Inception” left viewers with a sense of permeating dread or wonder with its premature cutaway. The classic film “The 400 Blows” ends on the beach, with nothing resolved and with a still frame of the main character.
One of the main reasons these endings are challenging is because they aren’t true endings. They are ambiguous, and they don’t complete all of the story lines. The viewer doesn’t see the top fall over in “Inception.” The viewer never sees who walks into the diner in “The Sopranos.” The viewer has to create their own ending. Most people want to have everything wrapped up, whether it’s a happy ending or a sad one. They want a final image. “Breaking Bad” gave everyone that.
Ambiguity might cause dissonance, but sometimes it’s necessary. One of the themes of “Inception” was dreaming and if the characters were ever actually in reality. The final shot just re-established that idea.
I also don’t think that people really wanted to see Tony Soprano get killed on screen. One of the advantages television has that a film doesn’t is it involves its viewers for years. Aside from sequels, a movie takes about two hours; a great show takes about five or six continuous years to finish. That is a long time to develop a relationship with a character. The viewer devotes their time week in and week out to see the characters. Those characters take on a life of their own, and they become part of the viewers’ lives, making the emotions from an ending larger in scale. It is hard to let those characters go. Even though Tony Soprano was a murderer, he still had compassion that made him likable. It is important to give a character like that a proper sendoff, but sometimes the more challenging ending to the viewer is not giving a final one. The viewer can then create their own ending in their head, and their own fantasy can be played out over and over.
While tying all the loose ends up with a perfect bow is usually the ending that most people want because they won’t have to think about creating something up for themselves, it’s not always the one that is called upon. When you’re a child, the word “The End” always popped up at the conclusion of a fairy tale or story. Children are told that a story has come to its final resting place. It leaves them with no doubts of the fate of the characters. People are taught about endings from the beginning of their lives, and ambiguous endings are rarely presented to a child.
When an ending that doesn’t conclude everything pops up, it will always make people unsure and cause them frustration. “Breaking Bad” might have concluded everything, and that will make people enjoy it more, but it was also the ending the characters and the show deserved. This show didn’t need an ending that just made the viewers think. It needed to conclude. The slogan for this season was “All bad things must come to an end.” It certainly did.