Monday, August 27, 2018

On Endings and Dragging On

**Spoilers for Supernatural and The Almighty Johnsons may be encountered in the wilds beyond. Venture forth at your own risk.**

My roommate and I have spent the last, oh, year making our way through Supernatural, seasons 1-13. That experience is sort of what spawned this whole post into my head. But to talk about it, and the subject of endings, properly, we need to go back in time a little bit, to the mystical, long-forgotten year of...2008.

I was in high school, listening to my band director be directorial. He wasn't the kind of man who minced words, when things were important. He cared about the results we got out of something. The journey there was never the most important part of the lessons. So he dropped this pearl of wisdom that always really stuck in my head.

If you're going to work on anything, work on the beginning and the end. That's what the audience is going to remember. If the beginning and end are good, the middle doesn't matter.

I really do think, at least in live music, that's a lot truer than an audience would like to admit, and maybe truer than a musician would like to hear. See, I've been to live orchestras and symphonies. And I distinctly remember an example of this from The Four Seasons. I love that suite, and it started beautifully. I mean, who doesn't love Spring and Summer? After the intermission came Autumn, and it was fair.

And then Winter. My god Winter. It's never been my favorite, but it's not a bad piece. Except that night. That night, I don't know if they decided to double up certain sections, or play it at half speed, or if they were just exhausted, but it dragged. It was dull. They didn't nail the ending of the suite, and 10+ years later, it's still stuck in my craw.

I think you can apply the same thing to writing/reading. I mean, look at Harry Potter. Potterheads the world over can recite the opening line, and the ending line. And while there are moments that are just as memorable throughout the book, those two are universal.

Now, we're not quite back to Supernatural, but we're getting there. I promise. Stop judging me.

There's a phenomenon that's well-documented when it comes to long running TV dramas. The longer they run, the more confident they are that they'll be renewed, and the more they'll seed the next season toward the end of the current one. It leads to messy endings, and as we've established, endings leave an impact.

I'm looking at The Almighty Johnsons for this one. Great show. Can't recommend it enough. But that ending...yikes. Not only was it rushed, but they put in a very clear, obvious seed for the next season in...and there was no next season. Just Colin tossing a mysterious gemstone into the woods.

So now we can swing back to Supernatural, and their ending problem.

I wanted to establish the first type of ending because...well, we need a point of juxtaposition. Supernatural, with a couple exceptions, has sort of the opposite problem. They end a lot. Like, so many times, you can see that they were ending the series. That was it. Game over. There's no way to top what we just did, so let's pack it up. And that, honestly, is another problem entirely. It makes the storyline weirdly choppy, and there's no longer an arc to the series. It does take care of any cliffhanger endings or anything like that, but where The Almighty Johnsons swung too far toward continuation, Supernatural swings too far toward a nice, tidy package.

But even that is not the main thing I think Supernatural has an issue with when it comes to endings: I think they drag. I think the entire show is often being dragged along when it should be over. And that's a problem that crosses media.

See, what comes to mind for me here is a long-running D & D campaign. Supernatural started pretty close to the main characters, but it eventually had to move beyond their sphere and into new stories. And that works...for a while. But now, like in Dungeons an Dragons, Sam and Dean have both been to Hell at least once, resurrected at least a couple times apiece, both been vessels for archangels. And in a world where they took pains to establish other hunters...well, those hunters never seem to be able to do anything meaningful. In later seasons, it gets to the point of ridiculousness. They had to include a multiverse, alternate timeline plot just to have something new. And frankly, I found the world without Sam and Dean to be the more interesting one.

None of this is to denigrate the show as a whole. I highly recommend watching it, at least through a few seasons. And I honestly got really excited at the end of season thirteen. I'm going to watch season fourteen. But that doesn't mean it's beyond reproach, either.

Now, I think books have an interesting solution to this problem that TV shows either don't have or don't employ. When you look at something like Dragonlance or the Pern novels, they aren't "Dragonlance 1" to "Dragonlance 182." It's little snippets. Trilogies, maybe tetralogies. They follow characters through those groups, and then stop before it gets boring.

I think it's a solid choice. It obviously has sold plenty of books. And it would be worth trying in television. I mean, imagine if Sam and Dean were only one of three or four hunting groups. And not just for an episode or two. Instead of...the ever-growing mess in the middle, seasons 6-10 were following someone else entirely. Familiar places, familiar faces, but not trying to shoehorn Sam and Dean into everything, and constantly outdoing themselves with the level of the threat. I think it would have alleviated some of the plot slumping.

I don't know that there was a point to this, per se. I wanted to talk about endings. I wanted to talk about Supernatural. And I did those things. So I bed you good day.

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