After I rattled on about dark moments and cliffhangers the other day, it occurred to me that there might be more comparisons to be made between television and novels (thereby justifiying my TV habit for another round). Many series end their seasons as they might end any episode: they wrap up the current story and hope that the audience likes the show’s characters, plots, and ambience–a novelist might say voice–enough to come back for more. Most novelists do the same. A writer who sets multiple novels in her imaginary world may leave a few strands loose, to pick up in another book, but most commercial novels end with enough finality to satisfy the reader.
As I thought about some of the shows I’ve enjoyed lately, I realized there’s another way to end a season, with a gamechanger rather than a cliffhanger. Take Castle. And who wouldn’t? Nathan Fillion–enough said? He’s adorable. Rick Castle is funny, smart, goofy, charming, successful, and he loves and respects the women in his life. And he’s clearly been in love with Kate Beckett since very early in the series. In last year’s season finale (a true cliffhanger which left Beckett with a bullet in her chest), he even told her so. Not that easy, Rick.
By the end of this season’s last episode, the case was solved, and Castle was thoroughly fed up with Beckett’s attitude. For her part, Beckett was thoroughly fed up with police procedure, turning in her badge and gun and stomping out into the rain. And thinking about her life. When she turned up, soaking wet, at Castle’s door, he asked, “What do you want?” “You,” she said. And they fell into each other’s arms like, well, like TV characters who’ve been kept apart by wicked writers for four years.
Okay, someone’s still out there trying to kill Beckett, but that’s nothing new, so it doesn’t qualify as a cliffhanger. And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind what happened after the closing credits. No cliffhanger there, either. But the events of those last few minutes will surely change the course of the story. The captain may well ignore Beckett’s resignation, but no one will be able to ignore the change in the Castle/Beckett relationship.
This evening I watched the season finale of Glee. Again, not a cliffhanger, nothing like the mid-season break, when Quinn was hit by a truck while driving and texting. But tonight half the cast graduated, Rachel headed off to New York, Finn said he was joining the Army, and Sue–well, Sue said really nice things to and about several of the kids. Sue will surely revert to her hilariously toxic self in the fall, but the make-up of the show choir is in for some big changes.
A reader might throw a cliffhanger novel against a wall (unless she is prepared for the idea that the third of six installments in a fantasy cycle is unlikely to tie up many loose ends), but a gamechanging ending shouldn’t be a problem. After all, many romance novels end just that way–with a wedding. If you don’t think that’s a gamechanging event, you’ve never been married.