Stories end. We know that, on an intellectual level. The very format of story-telling specifically has points for the climax, it is baked into the style we teach from the start. And yet, we hate those endings. Because all the way down, we want stories to do the thing we can’t. Exist eternally, infinite adventures, infinite possibilities, the knowledge that somewhere out there, in the grand scheme of the boundless universe, they’re still out there as we knew them. An unseen, unreal constant. If that sounds ridiculous, really think about the last scripted show you deeply enjoyed. How much you looked forward to seeing it every week, dropping into an existing in a world that wasn’t yours, visiting with people you could never meet? And how much it hurt, even though you felt too silly to admit it, the first time you went to watch and realized the tale was done. Nothing new, no more windows to that world, only memories to retread.
Stories are many things to many people. Comfort, refuge, inspiration, comedy, escape, hope, horror, love; the list is as long as the cumulative words that have been recorded by humanity. Regardless of why you turn to a story, if it keeps you coming back then it is offering something, some tangible joy that will be missing once the end arrives. So, when faced with the possibility of that finality, that absence, we recoil from the very idea of it. Surely it’s better to keep the story alive, even in a weaker form, than to lose touch with it entirely?
One brief aside, before we dig into this: I realize some people could read this entry as a response to the frequent requests I’ll get from readers for an SP-sequel series, so let me assure you that’s not the case. Those don’t bother me in the slightest, because to me it signifies a strong ending when people want more of what you’ve created, and since I’ve already publicly talked about doing one down the line. No, this is about our own inability to let go, to our own detriment, and understand I’m talking to myself as loudly as any of you out there.
In recent years, there’s been something of a creative shift in the way long-term stories like movies and television are told: chiefly that they’ve started cutting themselves off. Rather than pull a HIMYM and run her story into the ground, Rachel Bloom stopped Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Season 4. Alex Hirsch shut down Gravity Falls after two outstanding seasons, and it was recently announced (as of this writing) that Lucifer is wrapping their tale on the next season. What used to be determined solely by ratings and the will of the mighty dollar is now a choice being made by their creators, in the efforts to tell the best story they can. Which means we no longer have the straightforward scapegoat when a show is done: you can’t really argue with “not enough ratings so they cancelled us” beyond the usual fan-support campaigns. When it’s a creative decision, rather than a cold fiscal one, there’s an expectation that perhaps things could go on forever, with the right new story. And in a way, they can, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
What prompted this blog was the reaction from fans of starting a “More Lucifer” petition, but really, I’ve been mulling on it for weeks, ever since The Good Place announced they would end on Season 4. For anyone new to the blog, I adore that show on every level and consider it to be one of the great works of television. So when I heard it was ending, I felt a great swell of sadness at the idea that the story was wrapping up. Until I saw all the people asking Mike Schur to keep it going, despite him saying explicitly that the story they’d written would be concluded when the season was done. Seeing that, I felt strangely grateful, and relieved that the project was in the hands of someone with Mike Schur’s integrity.
Because it would be easy to stretch. It’s always easy, working on something successful, to wonder if you could get a little more mileage by spreading a few things out. We’ve seen it happen in countless series, films, books, shows, plays, basically all forms of media. Things are going so well that they break from the story they’ve planned to fill more time, and the work we loved so much takes a measurable dip in quality. It becomes a “that used to be good” because the creator lost sight of the story through the success and the stretching.
We have got to be better about trusting creators to end their own works. When we get ones who have the dedication to what they’re doing and care for the audience enough to walk away from easy paychecks for the sake of the story, that’s something that should be celebrated. Whether we ultimately like those endings or not can, and should, be discussed afterward, but we need to praise creators who make that choice unless we want more Lost situations. Good or bad, they started the tale, they deserve the chance to land it as intended, to let an ending fall and allow the audience to decide how it feels. Some will be unhappy with the finish, that too is the nature of story-telling, but here is where I leave you with the silver lining.
No story is truly done forever. One day, we creators will too find the ends of our tales. And as time goes on, copyrights expire, allowing those stories to become part of the public domain, the collective shared universe we can all freely pull from. In a hundred years, who knows what characters will survive the tests of time and find new life in the hands of a fresh creator, excited to work with pieces of their own education in fiction. The only chance any of us has to offer the best story we can, including the ending, and hope it endures.