Step right up, ladies and gents, for a good, long look into a showrunner’s mind. And you thought you were obsessed?
by Ben Travers
Carlton Cuse knows how to end a TV show. Before co-writing the last episode of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s apocalyptic vampire story, “The Strain,” the showrunner and executive producer had already written four series finales. Four!
In 2000, Cuse penned “Final Conflict” Part 1 and Part 2 for the CBS action drama “Martial Law.” A year later, he wrote the ending to his breakthrough broadcast series, “Nash Bridges.” Then came the landmark finale of “Lost” in 2010 and, earlier this year, he dimmed the vacancy sign at the “Bates Motel” in a beautiful closing chapter.
Next up, as “The Strain” wraps up on Sunday, September 17, Cuse said he knew exactly how to end it.
“I think that to end a show, you have to really look at what your show is fundamentally about and then figure out your ending from that,” Cuse told IndieWire. “In the case of ‘The Strain,’ it’s a graphic novel epidemiological thriller. I think we view it as a wonderful popcorn movie experience: There is a clear force of antagonism, this Master — a vampiric parasitic creature — and there are a bunch of protagonists that are trying to do him in.
“I think that the fair and right ending to ‘The Strain’ is one that gives you a real sense of what the ultimate fate of these characters are and ultimately resolves the conflict between a clear force of antagonism and a clear force of protagonism.”
Not every show necessitates a showdown between good and evil. Some are more complicated, including one of the most hotly debated series finales ever.
“Certainly when Damon [Lindelof] and I wrote the ending for ‘Lost,’ we felt like there was no version where we could answer all of the mystery questions without feeling didactic and unsatisfying,” he said. “The attempt to answer those questions would ultimately just lead to more questions. What we felt was important was to provide a character resolution to explain what happened to them and to provide them with a sense of emotional closure.”
A lot has changed since “Lost” ended, including the very system that led to all those questions stacking up. Prestige drama projects have been snatched up by cable and streaming outlets, which allow for shorter seasons and less seasons overall. (Both length-related issues were regular sticking points for Cuse and Lindelof when negotiating with ABC.)
Such shifts in how television is made emphasize the importance of Cuse’s experience writing finales: He’s done it under the harshest conditions as well as the most idyllic.
Back when “Lost” was made, Cuse describes the network television mentality “like the pony express: you rode the horse until it dropped dead from underneath you… The idea that we made 24 hours in the first season, 23 the second, and 22 in the third, I mean it’s just… In an era of orders of eight [episodes per season], it’s kind of incomprehensible….”