The time has come to make a stand. There are many possible stands I could take. I could decide that flavored whiskies must be destroyed in the marketplace. Or that haircuts are a form of oppression. But the stand I have chosen to make is to protest against the Blackout Ending.
What’s a Blackout Ending? It is often referred to as The Sopranos Ending. You know, where everyone was on the edge of their seat waiting to see if Tony was going to get shot in the head while eating onion rings with his family, and then the screen cut to black and David Chase basically stuck his thumb into your eye? Here’s a screenshot:
This should also forever be known as the only time anyone will ever be allowed to do this in the age of Prestige Television, by dint of being the first to do it. And also because I believe Chase did the heavy lifting in the editing and construction of that final sequence to earn his Blackout Ending. You can sift through the cuts and actually make a case for what happened, so I am inclined to give him a Mulligan on this and allow it.
Everyone else who’s done it since? Fuck you, you lazy writers.
The Lady? Or the Tiger?
The ending that isn’t an ending, or the Anti-Ending, isn’t new. The most famous example is probably The Lady, or The Tiger? by Frank Stockton, published in 1882. Anyone who attended at least one decent school probably read this story at some point. If you didn’t, it’s time to reflect on the terribleness of your education. But, that said, it’s not a good story. It’s well-written, but its fame comes from its non-ending, when Stockton basically asks the reader what they think just happened. It cuts to black. It’s bullshit. It was ever bullshit, and it ever remains thus.
Since The Sopranos, other shows have tried this trick, most recently Fargo on FX, which ended with the villain and the hero sitting in an interrogation room, arguing over what was going to happen next. Cut to credits, and we never found out. There are a lot of arguments that this is a perfectly acceptable way to end a story. That it encourages people to come up with their own endings, to study the episodes before and decide what happened.
This is what Literary Scientists call bullshit.
Yes, those arguments are valid enough. And some people like these sorts of endings, arguing that anything the writers came up with would be disappointing. And certainly a lot of endings are disappointing—most notably endings that just cut to black like that. But
- The Sopranos gets a pass because it was the first TV show in the modern era to pull this trick. Points for surprise.
- The Sopranos gets a pass because, as mentioned, Chase put the work in to seed that sequence with clues that, taken together, point towards a reasonably certain conclusion
Every other show since then is just giving up and saying ¯\_(?)_/¯ as an ending. Listen, I have approximately 5,001 unfinished novels on my hard drive. If this is what we’re doing, I can publish about 5,000 of them immediately. I’ll just cut off the last chapter mid-sentence and let you all bastards figure out what happened.