Story endings that fit their means

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So much has been written and said about the Sopranos finale. I’m prepared to give a writer like David Chase any kind of ending he wants to his epic television show.

The commentary on the “surprise-cut” ending calls out viewers’ preferences for story. The howlers, well, they like genre stories: mystery, sci-fi, romance, all respectful of formula and always with a resolution. As in the Tom Waits song, they all “want to know the same thing we all want to know — how’s it gonna end.” Genre sells best. That’s why the howls are loudest this week.

A significant minority of viewers have sounded off with satisfaction after Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” cut off in mid-chorus, with a sudden cut to black. They’re literary readers, in my view, who enjoy stories with an ending you create yourself, like life. So few times do we know how everything turns out. Or if we do know, we’re wrong, because we have only our own point of view to consider.

I laughed out loud at the ending — after a moment of wondering about our satellite reception. David Chase has always used a “take it or leave it” approach to his HBO storytelling. Characters dropped, plot lines left tangled. If the howlers had looked closer at his style, they shouldn’t have been so stunned.

But millions of people, from the sports-talk host Jim Rome to my grocery store bagger, all had a better ending in mind. A flock of yay-ohs, all wanting to write the sweetest part of Chase’s story for him, to act as vicarious storytellers. Chase fights for his story, outlasts actor holdouts, agrees to write and produce about twice as many episodes as he wants. In his moment of ultimate spotlight, everybody wants their ending tacked onto his story.

You want an ending to a brilliant story with mesmerizing characters? Write your own damn story. Then you are entitled to whatever finale you can dream up. Asking for anything else is an ending that’s beyond your means as a storyteller.

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