In the spirit of Goodreads’ Top 5 Wednesday Books You Felt Betrayed By, I figured I should also talk about the television shows that betrayed me.
Beware, this post will be full of spoilers! I always try to keep things vague and spoiler-free, but there is no way I can talk about these shows’ disappointing conclusions without spoiling said conclusions, so proceed at your own risk.
Without further preamble, here are the shows that betrayed and disappointed me.
I started watching Lost a year after it aired, delivered weekly to me by MBC, a subscription cable channel available in Egypt. I distinctly remember watching the second half of the pilot with my mother (I missed the first half), since we both love disaster shows, and being utterly and completely hooked. The first season continued to intrigue as the mystery of the sinister island intensified.
I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion, but personally I think the show started to unravel as early as season two. Frankly, I really don’t think the writers expected the first season to be such a smashing success. They had written themselves into a corner and had no idea how to escape. It was clear they had no idea what the island was – or rather, what they wanted it to be.
As the show continued, this indecisiveness ran clear throughout every narrative. The writers continued to introduce various mysteries and bizarre storylines, many of which were never properly concluded. The final season went off the rails completely, escalating what I originally interpreted to be a psychological thriller into a grand old conflict between the very essence of good and evil – I think. I was never terribly clear on that.
To be sure, the finale was an emotional roller-coaster: I admit I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when Jack died in the same place he had woken up when he first crashed. The scenes of the afterlife were similarly emotional. The writers surely wanted to establish a kind of full-circle narrative with these poignant moments, but the attempt ultimately fell short as various details were retconned or pushed aside. Rewatching the show for the character arcs only serves to highlight the what a mess so much of it really was.
Lost was always the kind of show that should have been plotted from beginning to end before it even began. At the very least, the writers should have had some sense of what they wanted the island to be, and who the main antagonist was. So, ultimately, while Lost will always be one of my favorite shows (and introduced me to one of my all time favorite characters, Juliet Burke), one that I watch over and over again, it will also forever remain a source of frustration due to its missed potential.
Speaking of missed potential. Have you ever seen a show literally center its entire finale on missed potential? It’s like the writers knew they had screwed up and thought that by somehow lampshading the problem it would go away. No such luck.
For those of you who may not know, Merlin was a very popular BBC show that first aired way back in 2008. It was a fresh, clever re-imagining of the wizard Merlin, along with Arthur, Morgan Le Fay, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table. In this version, though Arthur is still royalty, Gwen and Merlin are both servants, and Morgana is Uther’s ward. In this world, magic has been outlawed, and the timeline of the show is fresh of a Purge of the kingdom’s sorcerers.
Merlin started off fantastically, promising to be a show that balanced comedic elements with traditional medieval storytelling, walking a fine line between several thoroughly unconnected genres. Morgana, the main antagonist in the legends, is seen as a righteous defender of justice, and is good friends with the main heroes. Beginning in season three, however, things take a turn, and it begins with Morgana.
The thing about Morgana is that clearly, the writers always intended for her story line to take a dark turn to reflect the reality of the legends. Unfortunately, their execution of this was abysmal. I know not everyone feels this way about Morgana “going evil”, but I feel that it was essentially a personality transplant, and worse, one that happened largely off-screen! It was lazy writing, period. The new Morgana retains only hints of her original character, and her arc continued to stumble along clumsily until it ended in her ultimately anti-climactic death.
The writers missed so many opportunities with Morgana. Her discovery of her magic was messy at best, and Merlin’s insistence on keeping Morgana in the dark made no sense. Morgana’s close friendship with her handmaiden Gwen devolved into nothing, when it should have in fact been the one thing keeping Morgana on the edge of sanity (imagine if Morgana had confided in Gwen!). In the hands of a better writing team, she could have come out of this a brilliant character for the ages. Instead she became a caricature.
But even this failure is nothing compared to the abysmal failure of the series finale. The entire point of Merlin, the one thing they had been harping on about constantly, from the very first episode, was that this was a show about the legacy of Arthur. He would be a king who would transform the world with Merlin by his side. He would bring justice to sorcerers and do great things, and be remembered in history for thousands of years.
Instead he died. Without accomplishing any of that.
Essentially, you have a show that has built up this great, big thing, promising this magnificent, satisfying payoff and then…there’s no payoff. Arthur dies in Merlin’s arms after having finally, after six goddamn seasons of ludicrous secrecy, finding out Merlin has magic. To add insult to injury, the final scene of the show is actually a shot in modern times, showing an elderly, bearded Merlin narrowly avoiding being run over by a truck. This unnecessary, tacky addition took away from any sort of “epicness” the show had hoped to maintain. At the very least, if they were going to kill Arthur, they should have ended on that magnificent shot of his now wife Gwen on the throne, with the court shouting, “Long Live the Queen!”
How I Met Your Mother
Since we’re already on the topic of narratives that swerve in another direction at the very last minute, I’m going to segue into How I Met Your Mother. A long-running comedy show about five white people living in New York City, HIMYM was rife with problems: from the rampant misogyny displayed by its main characters, to its stunning whiteness, to the various inconsistencies in its characters. However, it was a funny enough show, and, as the title conveys, is all about the main character, Ted, telling his kids the story of how he met their mother.
So, in the final season, we finally meet The Mother, a charming woman named Tracy. She and Ted fall in love, have kids, all the hints from the previous seasons make so much sense, it’s a great, fulfilling ending.
If only the writers had left it at that.
Instead, what they decided to do was kill off Tracy, so that Ted can get back together with his ex-girlfriend Robin. Now, the main reason Ted and Robin had broken up in the first place was because they wanted different things. Robin wanted independence and a great career, and Ted wanted children. So, to me, it was incredibly gross for the writers to bring on Tracy, have her pop out Ted’s kids, and then kill her off and leave Ted free to run off the Robin once he’d gotten what he wanted from Tracy.
I know most people absolutely hated this finale, so I won’t talk too much more about it, but suffice it to say I have never before seen a show completely demolish its own narrative so spectacularly.
I know I just said HIMYM takes the cake when it comes to demolishing its own narratives, but True Blood is a close second when it comes to completely destroying its characters.
As a vampire fanatic since age eleven who was also fascinated by the rural Deep South, I absolutely loved True Blood. It started off promising, and though there was a noticeable dip in quality as the seasons went on, it was still generally a good show. Things made sense. Characters were true to themselves. The narrative was understandable. That is, until the second half of the season six finale, which features a six-month time jump. That was bad enough, but then season seven came along, and it was literally like I was watching an entirely different show.
There is an explanation for this – True Blood’s final season had a different writing team than the previous six. This isn’t totally unusual for long-running television shows, as far as I know, but what was unusual in this case was that the new team had no understanding of the characters whatsoever. They charged in and made up their own narrative and characters, plastering them onto the faces of the people we already knew. Bizarre new plotlines were introduced, random minor characters highlighted, and our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is subjected to a strange plotline that has her wallowing in self-hatred.
It was, in short, a complete and total clusterfuck, and a terrible legacy to leave behind for a show that will surely go on to become a cult classic.
My main gripe about the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica is that it turned out to be a creation story. I thought I was watching a space opera, and all the signs pointed to that, but then suddenly it turned into a weirdly spiritual show with hints of God and angels and whatnot being thrown around. I’m going to quote George R.R. Martin here:
“Battlestar Galactica ends with ‘God Did It.’ Looks like somebody skipped Writing 101, when you learn that a deus ex machina is a crappy way to end a story… Yeah, yeah, sometimes the journey is its own reward. I certainly enjoyed much of the journey with BSG… But damn it, doesn’t anybody know how to write an ending any more? Writing 101, kids. Adam and Eve, God Did It, It Was All a Dream? I’ve seen Clarion students left stunned and bleeding for turning in stories with those endings.”
I mean, yeah, pretty much! Battlestar Galactica ends with a lieral deus ex machina! This smacks of writers who had no idea how to explain their shit, so they just wrapped it all up neatly in the easiest way possible, thinking that this also satisfied Kara’s storyline. It did not – you can’t just pull this kind of weird, proto-religious, pseudo-spiritual crap on a show that for three seasons has been grounded in sci-fi realism. It was completely jarring and a total disappointment to an otherwise fantastic show.