A week or two ago, some friends started to tell me and my husband about the recent developments in Supernatural, a show that my husband and I had introduced them to. I immediately responded with, “Stop talking! I don’t want to know!” This reaction was not because I was trying to avoid spoilers, but because the show had what I considered a perfect ending in the last episode of season five, what would have been the last season if it hadn’t suddenly grown popular. Now it wasn’t a happy ending by any means, but it was satisfying and cathartic. I tried to watch the sixth season, but eventually I had to stop. I wanted that perfect ending more than to continue spending time with the characters I loved.
I’ve run into this problem before. I use to devour the Star Wars expanded universe novels, but I eventually got tired of how they just kept going and going. This is the same reason that I never really got into superhero comics. I love the stand alone stories, but if I always know there is going to be another week, I just can’t do. I love endings.
Maybe it’s an age thing. When I was teenager, I loved returning to adventures with familiar characters. I thought anything was possible for these characters, because I thought anything was possible for me. In high school, I would sit with my best friend, and we would talk about the many and varied adventures that we’d have after graduation. We’d travel, get rich and famous, move into houses that were right next to each other. When I looked to the future, I saw me and my friend, and the only really change was in the setting. I viewed my relationships with fictional characters in a similar light. I was always going to explore a strange galaxy with Han, Leia and Chewbacca, and none us of were ever going to change.
After graduation, my friendship dramatically imploded with a finality I could not have foreseen. I needed endings to help me understand the endings that were happening in my own life. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway taught me that people die and life is still worth living. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot taught how there is not necessarily a great meaning to all this suffering. Austen’s Persuasion taught me that sometimes there are second chances. Sartre’s The Flies showed me how sometimes you have to leave behind your own faith or be destroyed by it. Hell, even a series of young adult books, Animorphs, which had started when I was in Elementary school and ended a year before I graduated, gave me a cathartic conclusion that I wept over. In that series, where kids fight aliens by shape shifting, I saw characters lose their innocence, die, and suffer from both survivors guilt and post traumatic stress disorder. A series of adventure books for kids became something more, at least to me, because it had an ending.
I think endings often are the most satisfying part of the book, but that satisfaction is hard to describe. I can’t describe the rage that I felt at the end of All Quiet on the Western Front when the army report for the day that Paul died says nothing more than those titular words, “All quiet on the Western Front.” I can’t describe the sense of satisfaction when, in Mary McCarthy’s The Group, Lakey leaves her dead friend’s abusive husband on the side of the road to hitchhike as the rest of the funeral party drives past. Hell, in describing that ending to you, you probably think that it’s a very different book then it is. I cannot convey my feelings of hope being crushed in The Plague when Camus writes:
as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew as those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.
When I closed the covers of these books, I couldn’t simply move on to the next distraction. I had to sit and think about them for days. I now want that catharsis from all the stories I read and watch.
Perhaps, it may seem unfair to demand such endings of my genre TV, comics, and books, but I don’t think so. The truth is the sun sets, people change, and people die, and I need some acknowledgement of that in my fiction. The idea of the world continuing without change is almost to terrible to bear.