Recently a feud of sorts has developed between George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, and Damon Lindelof, the mastermind behind Lost. When Martin was asked if he felt nervous about ending his series, he answered that he feared “pulling a Lost.” When Lindelof learned of this interview, he lashed out on Twitter, understandably miffed that his show has become synonymous with disappointing endings.
This exchange prompted me to consider a point of crucial importance to all writers. Specifically, how much do endings really matter? If a story is otherwise excellent, can a poor ending bring the whole thing to ruin? Conversely, can an outstanding ending elevate a mediocre story to greatness?
David Milch, the eccentric creator of Deadwood, has shared his belief that stories should not be defined by their endings. His groundbreaking western, the critically acclaimed Deadwood, was canceled prematurely after only three seasons. In a move that aggravated many fans, HBO ended the series without a proper sendoff. The final episode concludes with a cliffhanger, introducing new developments which would never be resolved.
Nonetheless, Milch has stated that the lack of a resolution should not devalue the series as a whole. In fact, he argues that way too much importance is attributed to endings. Milch’s perspective is laid out in an article by TV critic Roger Catlin:
“The whole idea of an ending as something being its source of meaning is something I find problematic,” [Milch] says at the outset… he rails against “the idea of an end of a thing as inscribing the final meaning.” Endings that supposedly “fixes the mark and meaning of any experience is one of the lies agreed upon that we use to organize our lives,” he says. A bigger lie, he says, is that “we were entitled to a meaningful and coherent summarizing of something which never concludes.”
Is Milch correct? Is too much weight given to endings?
Some have argued that the ending of Lost was so bad that it ruined everything that came before it. While I have been vocal in expressing my disappointment with the Lost finale, I wouldn’t go so far as to say than it negated the great storytelling that preceded it. Is such a thing even possible?
What do you think? Are endings really that powerful? Or are they not as significant as commonly believed?