Well, it’s May. And for the past few years of my life, May has primarily meant three things: 1. Good movies, 2. My birthday and 3. Finale season on TV.
I’m not going to talk about 1 and 2, because my brain is still going OMG!AVENGERS! and because I’m not really concerned with my birthday, but I am going to talk about finale season.
I talk about how TV has shaped my creative life. Watching shows like Alias, CSI and Angel taught me how to pace a story, both in terms of a single episode (CSI), a plot arc (Angel) and an entire series (Alias*). For most of the time I was in university, television was this amazing thing that delivered stories I loved on a regular schedule (except during the World Series, over Christmas and during March Madness), and if I ever got bored, I could rent back seasons from Rogers or get caught up on the Space Channel.
So what is it about finales that gets me all worked up? Well, for starters they’re usually really good. Show runners arrange their budgets so that they can get all their regulars and guest stars in place, things explode, the music is typically good, mysteries are solved, mysteries are STARTED, and then the screen fades to black and when your heart returns to its normal rate, you’re all “CRAP, SEPTEMBER???”
Let’s look at some of the greats.
1. Veronica Mars, Leave it to Beaver: What made this finale magnificent is that both of the season-long mysteries are solved, and the cliff-hanger is RIDICULOUS. I watched the whole season after season two had started (you would not BELIEVE the lengths I went to not to get spoiled for this show!), and so I didn’t even really have to wait that long, but ARGH. Brilliance.
2. Star Trek TNG, The Best of Both Worlds: “Mr. Worf, Fire!” SERIOUSLY! Again, I had to wait about ten seconds between episodes, AND I already knew that [spoilers], because it was nearly a decade later, and STILL.
3. Graduation Day, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The cool thing about this finale is that it is entirely tied off. There’s no last minute mystery or disaster. Everything explodes and then it’s over. And it’s still absolutely amazing.
4. What Kind of Day Has it Been and Two Cathedrals, The West Wing: Yeah, these two should probably be entered separately, but it’s my list so it’s my rule. 😉 Both of these are terrific cliff hangers, and both of them are very different. The first is the “explosion” model of finale and the second is just one of the most amazing musical montages in the HISTORY OF TIME, and then a question that gets answered via flashback. GENIUS. (Also, Jed yells at God in Latin, and I LOVE THAT FOREVER).
5. Why We Fight, Jericho: Well, it got them a season two, didn’t it? 🙂
6. Silence, Joan of Arcadia: OMG, THIS SHOW. AND THIS EPISODE! Joan of Arcadia dealt with religion with such an amazing amount of finesse and grace, and then THIS EPISODE HAPPENED, and you were all “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME, SHOW?” It was beautiful and it HURT, and it was amazing.
7. The Hunger Artist, CSI: While holding the distinction of being the only CSI episode that uses the TMI Cam in ways gross enough to make me throw up THREE TIMES, The Hunger Artist is also insightful and compelling in a way that many episodes of the show were not. As we watch Sara dig through Ashley’s life and Grissom filter Cassie’s, we get a better picture of all four of them, and it’s just really COOL. It’s a quiet finale, but it’s a solid one. I just never need to see that rat again, okay?
8. The Telling, Alias: Okay, so this led to a bunch of stuff I didn’t like, but it did have the BEST. FIGHT. EVER. and then the end of the episode happened, and we were all “WHAT! WHAT! WHAT!!!” about it for THE WHOLE SUMMER.
9. Die Me, Dichotomy, Farscape: Can I get a “Hell, yeah”? OH MY HEART.
*looks at list*
I guess the purpose of a finale is no mystery: they want you back in September. What impresses me about the good ones, though, whether they are BIG AND EXPLODE-Y or small and thoughtful, is that they can STILL surprise me. Or at least be written in such a way that I get to figure it out with the characters. I am still entertained, and I’ve spent most of my life seeking out every story I could get my hands on.
I think it’s the same for books too. We hear it said a lot that there are no original stories, which I do believe, but there are are original WRITERS, and that’s what makes it worth the while**. Those people can take a fairy tale you know by heart and make it into something more amazing than you could have imagined. Those people can take a hero you’ve seen a million times and use him in an entirely new way. Those people can make a heroine from whispers and dreams, and have her be the strongest character you have ever come across.
That is why I get so annoyed when people talk about television as a non-engaging medium. You can engage as much as you want; screen, print or real life. What I choose to engage is the story, regardless of how it is delivered to me. I love a page-turning book as much as I love a movie I leave the theatre plotting my next viewing of, and certainly as much as the show that leaves me shrieking at the screen as it fades to black. It’s the story, and the community I have found around those stories, that keeps me coming back.
Well, that and the fact that there are a lot of very pretty people involved in the Vampire Diaries.
Do you have favourite finales? Finales you didn’t like at all? I’d love to hear about them.
*Not EXACTLY like Alias, thank goodness, but you get my point.
**I wanted to make a Fifty Shades of Grey joke just then. But I didn’t.