Monday, January 24

‘Dingy Forever’: Why Great TV Shows Never End Well | TV

If Sunday night’s Line of Duty was really the last, there is a feeling that the entire show has been clouded by its ending.

Because that’s what happens with television shows. Think of Game of Thrones. Think how ecstatic he was received for years, and how it was all undone by the abject bloodlessness of his final episode. Think of Dexter and how a once-hugely successful series became a laughingstock as the end credits progressed. Think of Lost, and how a divisive ending sent Damon Lindelof into such a state of confusion that his next show ended up being an explicit meditation on the depressive nature of pain. Ruin the landing and everything will go to hell.

What makes this more cruel is that you will always ruin the landing. Almost 13 million people watched Line of Duty on Sunday. No one alive could create an ending to a series, let alone a series fueled by dozens of bold plot twists, which satisfied 13 million people. So why bother? The show belongs to Jed Mercurio, not us; If you wanted to see him with a shrug and some waffles, that’s your prerogative.

This is not to say that the programs are not capable of having good endings. Fleabag, for example, ended in the best possible way, with a goodbye salute to the camera that had clung to his side no matter what. It was a perfect closing moment. On the other hand, Fleabag was only 12 episodes long and was not dependent on a gigantic mystery. Expectations were lower, so the ending mattered less.

The same goes for Mad Men. It ran for much longer than Fleabag, but a retrospective exploration of the emptiness of the American dream will never have people on the edge of their seats the way a deliberately conventional thriller would. And Mad Men has probably my favorite ending of any TV show, using a formal skip of introduction, a rewrite of history, and a level of cynicism that still takes your breath away six years later.

However, Mercury should be glad to know that an end is not always forever. Ending a show with a thematically subtle anticlimax rather than a definitive burst of action can alienate viewers in the short term, but it also provides a platform for discussion that could last for years. The Sopranos was a perfect example. When the seemingly going nowhere dinner scene ended with a sudden cut to black, people immediately made their displeasure known. It seemed likely that it was an embarrassment on a Dexter level.

But then people discovered layers of meaning that, when they expected a boom-pow denouement, were lost. They watched all the main themes of the show (family, aggression, paranoia) in a microcosm. The more you watch the final scene of The Sopranos, the more you find to appreciate, to the extent that it is too easy to get lost in a online breakdown rabbit hole, shot by shot.

Whether the same can be said for Line of Duty is anyone’s guess. Perhaps in the years to come, people will find new depth in Ted Hastings’ flaccid confession and sow the seeds of a critical reassessment. Maybe they won’t. Or maybe there will be a series seven years from now, and this will all be a strange little problem. Honestly, who knows?

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