How Our Obsession With Closure Is Ruining Television

Do we really have to wrap up every series that gets cancelled? Why can’t the characters we love just go on and on in our minds, doing the things we loved watching them do? Or to put it another way: What viewer of MAGNUM P.I. would have wanted to know that Tom Selleck’s future had him solving crimes in the Old Folks Home while waiting for somebody to tell him his name?

Or to put it another way:

whattheby Nathan Reese

Earlier this week, The Sopranos was back in the headlines when showrunner David Chasekinda, sorta revealed Tony’s fate in the final episode. “David Chase finally answers the question he wants fans to stop asking,” claimed the Vox.com article. Now we could finally have closure! Or could we?

As any fan of the show remembers, the Soprano family’s deep-fried Eucharist cut to black, leaving Steve Perry hanging mid-syllable and viewers calling their cable providers in panic. It was both jarring and ingenious—quite possibly the only proper way to end a series where explicit closure would have seemed like a cop-out. It was also the first (but not last, or should I say Lost?) time that commenters on the Internet would proclaim that the last episode of a series “ruined” a show. (Seinfeld  had an equally controversial ending, but no one thought Jerry and co.’s prison sentence invalidated seven seasons of America’s most beloved comedy.) With 20 atramental seconds of silence, Chase ushered in a new era of expectation that drastically changed the way we experience TV.

Fast forward six years, past Lost‘s spiritual send-off and Breaking Bad‘s “Baby Blue” blowout, to the weeks before the Damon Lindelof’s new series, The Leftovers. In case you misplaced your mom’s HBO Go password, the show is a drama about a small town dealing with the unexplained phenomenon of two-percent of the world’s population having poofed out of existence. In the weeks leading up to the show, the New York Times published a piece titled “Damon Lindelof Promises You His New Show Won’t End Like ‘Lost’,” in which Lindelof assured audiences that his new show wouldn’t be a repeat of his past failure. It was a bizarre, possibly unprecedented situation where a writer was justifying the audiences emotional involvement before a single episode of a show had even aired. 

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