Every once in a while, we ask a writer we enjoy to fill in for us. This week, we've asked James Renner, author of The Man from Primrose Lane, to speculate on how writers with balls would end some of our favorite TV shows.
Ending a beloved TV show is tricky business. The challenge of capping off a successful series has made bantha poodoo of some of the best writers in the biz (Larry David famously flubbed Seinfeld's finale by shipping his characters off to prison; David Lynch gave his fans the finger by locking Agent Cooper in some backward-talking dwarf purgatory at the end of Twin Peaks).
The key to a good send-off is closure, with a twist. Executed properly, it can be the Prestige of the magic trick that was the show's story. We remember the good ones because of how they left us in the end: M*A*S*H (the war ends, everyone ponders the nature of identity in a world without conflict); The Sopranos (cut-to-black! Tony is so relentless he can't even recognize his own demise).
As House prepares to wrap it up, here's some suggestions for how some of the best shows currently running can end things with a little dignity.
#5. Games of Thrones Is Dungeons and Dragons, Literally
Word of warning: Game of Thrones is the crack of the television world. If you haven't started watching it already, just jump down to #4, because you might talk shit about how your friend is literally getting the shakes on Sunday evenings as the anticipation of the next episode overpowers his body and how it will never happen to you. But the second you start, it gets its hooks in ya. She's a foul temptress.
No, no. "Foul temptress," not "The literal embodiment of evil with tits."
Much like that kid who sat behind you on the bus, explaining how the Black Lotus kills Juggernauts in Magic: The Gathering until you had to tell him, "Goddammit, James Renner! Enough already!" Game of Thrones doesn't make a ton of logical sense.
We've got knights and kings, so it's medieval Europe, right? No. There's dragons, too. Oh, so it's like Lord of the Rings or something, a twisting of history using Jungian archetypes? Nope. There's zombies living up North. Oh. OK. Another planet, then? Wait, they all speak English. Look, let's just call it an alternate reality.
This is how Hillary might have ended up if she hadn't married Bill.
Also, everyone is sexing each other. Like, all the goddamn time. Somehow, in a world where you have to gather firewood to make it through the winter, people still have time for the old in-and-out every night. And every woman has giant breasts. Saturday Night Live even made a joke about how it seems like the show is being made up on the fly by a 14-year-old nerd who has never touched a boob.
And then there's the opening of the show, which shows us a three-dimensional model of the show's universe as a three-dimensional model. That seems like a pretty cynical grab at the show's core demographic -- people who carry 20-sided dice around with them -- unless it's a subtle hint at a larger truth.
THAC0. Fortitude save. Tarrasque. You're welcome for the shout-out, nerds.
Jon Snow is having sex with the bare-breasted she-beast of the Barrowlands when the demon spawn of the Haunted Forest arrives to murder him. Snow deftly withdraws his Black Lotus, which he taps for three mana points, allowing him to release his Juggernaut, defeating the demon and restoring peace to Winterfell.
The camera pulls back to reveal that scene from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial where everyone's sitting around playing Dungeons and Dragons. Turns out the game they've casually been playing while Elliott goes to get the pizza is the story of Game of Thrones, told by their 14-year-old dungeon master. Elliott returns with the smashed pizza, his brother calls him "penis breath" and then we fade to black.
"Seriously, man, tone down the incest. My parents can hear us."
#4. Dexter: Dexter Is Executed
Hey, guess what? Dexter is a bad guy. A really, really bad guy. Sure, he mostly goes after other killers (mostly -- am I the only one who remembers the guy he killed in the bathroom just for being obnoxious?), but his vengeance has made him the most prolific serial killer in history. And he knows that, eventually, he must answer for these crimes.
Every damn episode of the show is about Dexter almost getting caught. For six seasons, the writers have been playing the role of Lucy van Pelt to our Charlie Brown, and every season, right when we believe Dexter is about to be caught, they pull the football.
He's barely even trying anymore.
Ha ha, real funny, writers. You got us. Again. But if you don't give us the football in the end, we're going to do like Charlie did and wear your skin like a Lucy suit.
The Execution (as it were)
Angel Batista stumbles upon Dexter as he's about to make his 100th kill in a now strangely depopulated Miami. Because he's surrounded by incriminating evidence, Dexter is tried and convicted of the murders actually committed by the sicko he was about to dispatch. Meanwhile, every other cop in his department is fired for being fucking blind.
"This all comes out of nowhere."
Florida, as it turns out, is a big fan of the death penalty (which begs the question, why the hell didn't Dexter move to someplace without capital punishment? You know, like Hawaii?). Dexter is strapped to the gurney (which, come to think of it, looks suspiciously like the table Dexter straps his victims to) and put to death.
A second later, his sister, Debra, appears with evidence proving that Dexter did not commit the murders for which he was executed. Realizing that they have put an "innocent" man to death, the governor abolishes the death penalty.
Debra gradually overcomes her grief by falling in love with the staff of a popular comedy website.
In the end, Dexter's death serves to end the killing spree of another mass murderer ... the state of Florida itself.
#3. House: House Dies from Complications of Sarcoidosis
Heading into the finale, best friend character Wilson appears to be the only character whose life is in danger. For a show that has threatened to kill its lead character more than once, this feels like a cop-out. And a missed opportunity, since they've already written themselves the perfect murder weapon.
In every single episode of House, one of his assistants mentions sarcoidosis as a possible diagnosis, but it never turns out to be what's actually wrong with the patient. Sarcoidosis is such an obvious inside joke in the writers' den that there's a Facebook page devoted to it: It's never sarcoidosis, but they always think it is.
For House, sarcoidosis is the ultimate way to go out, because the disease itself is an unanswerable question. Sarcoidosis patients' bodies basically go batshit insane -- their immune cells clump together and gather inside organs to have immune cell parties while slowly shutting down all the body's basic functions. To this day, nobody really knows what the hell causes it.
It's the Moriarty of chronic inflammations.
While listening to the Who in his office, House suddenly begins to vomit blood. His team rushes him into ICU, where they begin a battery of tests. House works feverishly (both literally and figuratively) to figure out what the hell is wrong with his own body. Try as they might, nobody can put House back together again. He dies on the gurney. Of sarcoidosis. The one thing nobody treated him for. Because it's never goddamn sarcoidosis.