The Conundrum of a (Somewhat) Dissatisfying Ending

My husband and I don’t watch most “network” TV. We are totally unaware of anything new or trendy or hot or with it. With the possible exception of crime shows on HLN or ID (and of course, Snapped on OWN and Celebrity Autopsy on REELZ), we can’t stomach “reality” TV either. The “news” (I refuse to call it “fake” because I’ve known for 20 years that it is and a decade ago even hosted a web site of NonNEWS) is depressing and serves no purpose besides propaganda, but I digress. We watch series, not binge watch but one episode a night. We wait until a series shows some value or positive reviews and then we latch on. We’ll watch them over and over too. Good TV, like good books, never goes bad. Besides, if you wait long enough you can stream or buy the DVDs and don’t have to contend with pesky nuisances like commercials.

We started with Leave it to Beaver back when the kids were little, hoping to impart some wholesome values as we are not regular church goers. Every one of those 239 episodes had a moral to the tale. We moved on to That 70’s Show, which was funny and irreverent and so like the 1970s that we grew up in – upper Midwestern mayhem. The Wonder Years is also a great series for such nostalgia. I’m sure my husband sees himself as Kevin Arnold, much like I see myself as Winnie Cooper. (We were, after all, the same age at the same time.)

Then we started on House of Cards, which was entertaining but also like real life. And scary. And hot.

Finally we began watching Mad Men. This series hooked us from day one. The splendor of the photography, the perfect ensemble of actors, the plots exploring relationships and race, fast living and heavy drinking, the accurate depiction of the 1960s. (I love when Sally and her brother are playing with a dry cleaning bag – over their heads. I did that!) Turbulent times reflected just as I remember them as a kid, even though I grew up mainly on the High Plains and was miles and worlds away from the swank of NYC.

Last week, we watched the final Mad Men episode. If you haven’t watched the show, too bad; it’s too old for a spoiler alert. This was the end of the line, folks. The 60’s had ended, Sterling Cooper was no more. While parts of it were satisfying (Roger finds love – with a woman HIS age, Peggy and Stan get together, Pete gets his family back and scores a job at Lear Jet, Joan makes use of her Rolodex and reinvents herself) where most of the characters seem to find some sort of resolution, a huge part was not. A very huge part.

And that part of was what happened to Don Draper. You know, the handsome main character? The original mad man? At the very end, we see him in what I assume to be Big Sur meditating with a bunch of  hippies with a smile on his face.

But is he really smiling? Meditation is the polar opposite of Don Draper, womanizing, high stakes guy that he is. Is he really content with the Northern Californian alternative lifestyle? Grinning like a Jesus freak?

For some reason, Don Draper’s denouement didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sit well with my husband either. We’re still talking about it, and it’s been nearly a week.

I remember feeling the same way about certain books, The Horse Whisperer and Gone Girl being two that come to mind. I was so disturbed by the endings that I couldn’t stomach seeing the movies.

There are two points of view to endings. A pleasant, sensible one ties up all of the loose ends. Without sounding too much like a romance writer, you would like to see resolution. I personally do not subscribe to “happily ever after” as I enjoy watching my characters suffer, but hope for the future, a definite maybe. You like to leave your readers with resolutions but further possibilities. I like to hear that my characters are believable and when people ask me what happened to them.

Then there is the unexpected, highly dissatisfying ending. Like “Yay, I’m so happy I solved this problem but now I’m going to jump off a bridge for no reason at all.” No. That kind of ending is jarring, the kind that leaves your stomach in Maalox knots.

However, there is an upside to the unexpected ending. After all, we’re still talking about Don Draper, as I’m still talking about Gone Girl.

Thinking about this further, I might change some of my endings to the unexpected, dissatisfying type. What can it hurt?

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