What makes the most satisfying television series ending? This post is inspired by the grand finale of the wonderful Boardwalk Empire this week and I cannot get over the ending. It was perfect!
If you haven’t heard about Boardwalk, it’s an HBO drama series set in prohibition-era America. It follows the career of Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi) as town treasurer of Atlantic City and king of his own bootlegging empire. It’s based upon the ever-changing relationships and business deals of the big New York gangsters; Al Capone, Charlie Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Johnny Torreo, to name a few. Since it’s now finished (as I didn’t want to see any spoilers) I can confirm there are scenes that are taken right out of history. It’s a cracking show which I would highly recommend and if you intend on watching it then read no further, I want to use it as an example of what makes a really great series finale.
*** Spoilers ***
Stop in the right place.
Too many series’, whether they’re books, TV shows or movies, don’t know when to stop. As the makers churn out more episodes/sequels in order to make more money the quality can be heavily reduced. This is why I’m inclined to loathe anything with a ‘2’ after it. I would much prefer that they quit while they’re ahead. Proof of this is that every Boardwalk series has 12 episodes but series 5 ends on episode 8. What is the point in stringing out a further 4 episodes when it should naturally end right there? I feel like a lot of books strive to be trilogies because that’s the thing since Divergent and Hunger Games but really they could have written one book and left it there. And don’t get me started on Toy Story FOUR!
Don’t tie up all the loose threads.
It’s rushed and unrealistic when stories end with every single question answered. Don’t get me wrong, it works the other way too, don’t give me enough answers and I will feel unsatisfied a la The Maze Runner 3: The Death Cure. I have seen series’ that try and solve every question it has presented us with in one episode, which makes me feel as though the writing is almost a fanfiction where everything turns out better than expected – see the Harry Potter epilogue. Boardwalk gave us an unquestionable ending, we know what happens to Nucky, Wikipedia will tell you about the other mobsters’ fates and then we are guided to form our own conclusions about the remaining characters. What’s nice is that, although we don’t have a definite answer about Margaret, Gillian or Eli, we can look at it whichever way we want because we were given enough clues in the last episode.
There’s a final resolution.
It would be rubbish if Nucky had just got ran over, out the blue, by a car – although a drunk driver would have been nicely ironic. What I mean to say is that there should be a lesson learned by the conclusion. This last series showed us a series of flashbacks of what he was like as a child and a young man, he always tried to work hard and do the right thing and it turned out that it didn’t get him very far, and so we see the crucial moment when he gives Gillian to the Commodore for his own gain (although I’m sure he was thinking about disappointing Mabel too) and it is these thoughts he struggles with right up until the end. I thought, certainly from the ending of the penultimate episode as he reads Gillian’s letter, that he would have done more for her, I think that he genuinely couldn’t do more for her as he no longer runs the town but his snappy manner around her suggests he can’t handle his guilt. All his success, fame and money came at the expense of a young girl’s innocence. I wonder if he thought if he’d taken Gillian home, Mabel might not have taken her own life because that’s certainly what I think! I believe that had he not died on the boardwalk he’d have gone for another swim past the point of no return.
Everything comes full circle.
These are the best endings. When the final episode harks back to key moments throughout the program. A good example would be the series Fringe (another highly recommended one, look away now!) wherein Walter takes the Observer boy back in time to prevent the entire fifth series happening but leaves Peter the drawing of the white tulip. The exact same happened with Boardwalk, when it was revealed that Tommy Darmody was Nucky’s killer I gasped allowed because I was stunned and it was wonderful. I’m ashamed to say that I forgot about gorgeous, little Tommy in this season. The 7 year gap between the 4th and 5th season, although historically necessary, was a clever ploy in order for us to forget all about him and a few other things as well. Nucky pimped out Tommy’s 13 year old grandmother to a dirty old man to save his job, this messed her up for life and she became a heroin addict who sexually abused her own son. The son, Jimmy, was Nucky’s protege until he didn’t like what was happening and died at the hands of Nucky himself. Angela got shot and poor, poor Richard, the one last ray of hope in Tommy’s life, came to a heartbreaking end. In these 7 years we can only hope he grew up happily with Julia, only to sneak back in and exact revenge on the man who destroyed his life before he was even born. Poetic justice at its best.