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On the Ending of Series

by Amy R.
May 16, 1997

Last Modified October 11, 1999  /  Comment on LiveJournal

        Musing on the ways in which television series can end, I wandered onto the track of Quantum Leap's finish -- what, five, six years ago, now?  I was dissatisfied with the ending.  A friend of mine was deeply satisfied with it.  We were each surprised to hear the other's reaction.  As I understand it, those two camps still persist in Quantum Leap (QL) fandom.

        QL's choice to have its hero, Sam Beckett, discover that his deepest desire was to help others on a mission divinely given him, rather than to return home to the wife and friends who love him, was made to enable the series to continue in some form; at the time, they were talking HBO, if I recall correctly.  I think that situation makes QL almost unique among canceled fannish shows; Forever Knight's final episodes, "Last Knight" and "Ashes to Ashes," were deliberately engineered to frustrate any hope of revival, and so many shows inexplicably choose that path.  Blake's 7 is, of course, not the least of these.

        The aspect of QL's ending which makes it a particularly clear example of the choice typically inherent in this kind of decision rests in how differently the finale spoke to viewers who constructed the show as a quest and to viewers who constructed the show as a pilgrimage.  I wanted the story to complete itself as I understood it, like a traditional novel; I waited for Sam's enlightenment, for his completed quest, to bring him home to his wife, Donna.  I expected "that his next leap would be the leap home."  I wanted him to obtain what I had always understood to be his goal.  My friend, on the other hand, wanted the story to complete itself as she understood it, like a sonnet with an unexpected couplet at the end to redefine everything that went before; she wanted Sam's enlightenment to make him surrender himself to God's will, eternally "putting right what once went wrong."  She wanted his goal to change.

        So she was happy with it, and I was not.

        Similarly, I will never be happy with "Last Knight" as an ending for Forever Knight (FK) because it does not properly complete the story of FK as I understand it.  Instead, it redefines everything that went before by stepping just outside the story as it had been told to that point . . . or, perhaps, by making dominant something I had always believed an undercurrent.

        When television series are short-lived, I get away more easily with regarding them as novel-like constructions which ought to have a measured structure and consistent set of themes.  The longer they run, the harder that becomes, and the five seasons of QL push almost beyond the limit of my favored construction, I suppose.

        A comparatively odd caveat, however, comes from my adoration of the last exchange of the BBC's Doctor Who, the longest-running science-fiction series in the history of television.  If it had to end, I thought, this is the way to go.

        "Survival," the final story of that series, concludes with the Doctor and his sidekick Ace walking up over a grassy hill to the TARDIS.  The Doctor says something like: "Somewhere, there is pain.  Somewhere, there is suffering.  Somewhere else, the tea is getting cold.  Come on, Ace; we've got work to do."

        Now, that's the essential truth of Doctor Who as I know it.

        I wish other shows would be as wise.


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