The Sunday Salon: Endgame

I can’t watch procedurals any more. I stopped watching House not only because they killed off my favorite supporting character for little to no reason, but because I was watching a forty-four minute show for about ten minutes of character development. The Case of the Week formula was starting to feel like Chinese water torture, to be totally honest. Even Numb3rs, which boasts forty-four minutes of looking at David Krumholtz, couldn’t hold my attention. (That, and the fandom is weird. Like, Supernatural weird.) It just boils down to the fact that I can no longer take anything—television show or book—that doesn’t have an endgame in mind. It’s like life, in a way—without an end, it has little to no meaning. Or at least that’s what I think.

As a kid, I preferred book series—a more or less natural consequence of being part of the Harry Potter generation. But it also came from not understanding fandom that well; I assumed that a series with a huge fan community was worth watching, which is not always true. But I often find that open-ended series—series that leave room for the characters to have more adventures (which is, sadly, occasionally the same adventure)—leave me feeling tired and unfulfilled. They ultimately slide off my brain like so much water off a duck’s back, and it’s the one-shot novels and tight duets and trilogies that resonate in me for years.

This isn’t to say, of course, that an open-ended book series can’t be amazing and wonderful and heart-wrenching, but only to say that I don’t see it a lot. But I think that we can take a cautionary tale from comic books when it comes to being open-ended—whenever a character dies in mainstream superhero comic books (like Captain America a few years back), we all collectively roll our eyes and start taking bets on when they’ll come back. The death has absolutely no impact. It’s like that with open-ended book stories; we rarely believe, for instance, that Captain Kirk or James Bond will die when they’re placed in a perilous situation, and unless the writing is very good, we don’t. But we worry for the safety of our favorite characters in works like A Song of Ice and Fire, where anyone can die. And that’s because Martin isn’t writing about one episode among many in someone’s life, but about their lives in total.

And I think that’s where the distinction lies and why I like to stay a little farther away from open-ended books series—is it just an event in a life or the defining event of a life? I love a good story, and a good story to me involves a good… well, story as well as great character development. But, while I’ve read open-ended series with interesting stories and characters, I just rarely see the characters grow. This is the same reason I stopped watching Glee—it had elastic character development, where characters learned a lesson… and then half a season later, learned it again. Perhaps it’s a side effect of loving story so much; I don’t want it to be just a story in someone’s life, but the story of their life. I still read and enjoy open-ended book series, of course, but they don’t have that much of an impact on me.

Of course, close-ended series have their own peculiar set of cons—N. K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms slaughtered any interest I might have in the rest of the series by cramming what would be an amazing end to a trilogy into the first book… so it’s not an issue of one is better than the other. It’s just that one is harder to do well than the other.

This week I managed to finally finish The Secret History; I’m still trying to motivate myself to make an effort on The Days of the King, which is just over two hundred pages. I also saw Captain America: The First Avenger last night, which was lovely—expect a review on Monday. (And, yes, the glut of superhero movie reviews will stop around there.)

Tor/Forge is giving away a Not At Comic-Con bundle full of goodies until Tuesday. In a UK-only giveaway, Orbit is giving away five ARCs of The Measure of Magic until the 22nd. The Tor blog is giving away an iPad 2 until the 29th. The LiveJournal community ladybusiness is giving away a bundle consisting of The Hunger Games, A Wish after Midnight, and Kindred until the 29th. The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

Do you prefer close-ended or open-ended series?

2 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Endgame

  1. I agree completely. TV procedurals have waxed and waned in popularity over time; right now they’re popular again, but Hollywood writers have no fucking clue how to pull them off effectively. And you’re right – having the end in mind is essential.

    As it is, TV procedurals tend to do one of two things: do a typical episodic format, but with an overarching plot thrown in (the X-Files, House), or devote every episode to the overarching plot to the point where every episode seems really samey and it’s hard to distinguish them (Lost, 24, Battlestar Galactica after season one).

    But in either case, the mistake writers make 99% of the time is making the overarching plot up as they go along, rather than planning it out from beginning to end. They think we can’t tell the difference; we can. 24, Lost, BSG, ST: Deep Space Nine – there’s a clear lack of planning ahead in all of those shows.

    And that’s also why one of the few shows to pull off the procedural format successfully is Babylon 5. Straczynski planned it out beginning to end (and then had to do it again at the beginning of season 2 when his main character left the show :P), and again, it shows. It’s a very satisfying experience compared to something like BSG, where they clearly did not have that end in mind when they started out.

  2. I find it amusing that House has become the argument about what’s wrong with procedural shows when it started out as a show designed to defy those conventions.

    I like shows that have an end in mind, but aren’t trying to bash me over the head with the plot to get there. I’m a big fan of Fringe, especially the first season where crazy things could happen, throwing every expectation out the window. They usually have arcs that extend over a few episodes with larger ideas being seeded for later use, again in short arcs. Over the years, Fringe’s arcs may have gotten longer, but they’ve always held to the idea of what happens when (pseudo-)science goes out of control. One of the main characters ceased to exist, even.

    So long as the story remains clear and the telling of it is smooth, I’m more inclined to stay interested. If an ending comes about, it shouldn’t be forced to keep going. Let the characters do what they need to do and go through the arc they need to endure.

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