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TV finales — Lost in translation

September 15, 2010

Now that a new TV season is beginning, I’m hoping for some compelling dramas that help fill the void created by the demise of top-notch series like Lost and Damages. But I don’t want to get caught up in a new set of characters only to see a series eventually end in an unsatisfying, perplexing or needlessly downbeat way.

It’s not that I expect or want happy endings most of the time. It would be inauthentic for a gritty, realistic crime show, for example, to go out with an episode that wraps everything up neatly. Ditto for a complex drama or sci-fi series. But if I’m going to invest an hour a week watching a well-made show — that by some miracle doesn’t get canceled after a few episodes — I want a reasonable payback on that investment.

Which may be the problem. Maybe I get a little too vested in what, after all, is just an entertainment. But judging from fans’ strong reactions to the finale of Lost and other recent TV series, I guess I’m not alone.

I had long forgotten my angst over the Lost series wrap-up last spring when I came across a video clip of an interview with Michael Emerson, the actor who played Ben Linus. He assured fans that the island was real and the characters did, in fact, experience the many bizarre adventures depicted in the six-year-long series.

That news came as a relief. I — probably like many fans — had an entirely different interpretation of the final shots in the finale. My conclusion was that Jack’s death (the famous eye-closing scene), followed by a shot of the plane crash site devoid of survivors, meant that most of what happened before those moments occurred only in Jack’s head. The last scene seemed to imply that Jack – and everyone else on the airliner – had died in the crash or shortly afterward, and that the show’s entire narrative was created by Jack’s mind as a kind of crossing-over journey before death. (I do agree with the view that the sixth season’s parallel universe was a purgatory-like place for the main characters, not something conjured up by Jack.)

Because of the ambiguity of the final episode, I was left feeling unsatisfied and unsure of exactly what the show was all about. Was it true that the post-crash story lines of the survivors – Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Sun, Jin, Sayid, et al. – characters that I was fascinated by and cared about – were figments of Jack’s imagination? Was the same true of all those mysteries, mythologies and plot twists that I exhausted untold brain cells trying to decipher?

But three months later, when I belatedly heard Emerson’s explanation, I got some closure. Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true of some other recent series finales.

One of the worst offenders was Prison Break, the FOX series about a structural engineer who maneuvers his way into prison so that he can execute a plan to help his innocent brother escape. Normally, I find prison movies and television series about as appealing as a rush hour traffic jam. But Prison Break was different. It essentially was an adventure story that featured several talented actors (especially William Fichtner and Robert Knepper) and a plot involving political conspiracies and crimes.

So I stuck with the show for its four-year run, even when the characters ended up imprisoned again – this time, in a brutal human warehouse in Panama – and even though many of the events stretched the limits of plausibility. I do have to admit, though, that I fast-forwarded through the creepiest and bloodiest of  the Panama prison scenes. (Thank goodness for digital video recorders!)

The fourth season, when the characters were on the run again, was the best. But it all came to a disappointing and sad end.

Most of the characters got what they deserved – happy reunions with family members, official pardons and in one case, a return trip to the state pen. But the writers, for mystifying reasons, killed off Michael, the lead character. We learn in the final scene, which fast-forwards four years, that he died (of a brain tumor) just a few months after the escapees and their cohorts finally won their freedom.

This was an unnecessarily cynical ending. Yes, the series was hard-nosed and unflinching, and a syrupy finale would have rang false. But after rooting for Michael and following the ups and downs of his life for four seasons, the fans deserved better than to see the hero die.

So will I look forward to this season’s new batch of TV dramas? Yes…but with a more skeptical eye and guarded attitude. And I will continue to wish for happy-ish endings.

Photo by J. Leary

© Janice Leary and My Point Exactly, 2010-2014. Unauthorized use of this material, including original photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Janice Leary and My Point Exactly with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. diane permalink
    September 19, 2010 6:28 pm

    Good points about TV shows that we come to love. I’m hoping the new HBO series Boardwalk is as good it promises to be.

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