How 5 Popular Shows Would End (If They Had Balls)
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.
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."
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.
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.
Grey's Anatomy: Meredith Has Alzheimer's
Grey's Anatomy is one of the few shows that feature narration in every episode. Most of the time it's Meredith Grey's own voice we hear, setting up the events of the show and explaining how her personal bullshit parallels some medical emergency. Unlike Scrubs' real time internal monologue narration, in Grey's words seem more reflective and summarizing, as though they're coming from a place in the distant future.
Evidently a future without HIPAA.
This show is all about memories -- the importance of memory and how it creates our personality. And most important, the constant fear of losing our memories. That fear is the driving force behind Meredith's entire life.
Know why Meredith became a doctor? Like many college grads, after completing school, Meredith was kind of aimless. She took off to Europe to find herself, but while she was busy being a hipster before hipsters were cool, her mother developed early onset Alzheimer's.
Meredith flew back to Seattle to be at her mother's side. Her control freak of a mom was a legend at Seattle Grace Hospital, and in short order convinced Meredith to enroll in med school and begin a surgical residency there. The entire first five seasons are all about Meredith struggling to get out from under her mother's shadow.
In the Season 6 finale, "Death and All His Friends," a grief-stricken husband goes on a shooting spree, killing several doctors. During the chaos, Meredith suffers a miscarriage. Later screenings inform her that she has a "hostile uterus" (FYI, Hostile Uterus is playing the Grog Shop in Cleveland this Saturday!). She starts to wonder what else might be genetically wrong with her and begins to worry that she, too, has Alzheimer's.
Derek Shepherd, Meredith's husband, then takes it upon himself to find a cure for all the Alzheimer's, promptly beginning a clinical trial. Bad news, though. Shepherd's trial is rendered pointless when Meredith screws up the data in order to make sure the chief's wife gets the new Alzheimer's meds.
TV doctors violate basic medical ethics even more often than they violate each other.
The point? Alzheimer's and Meredith Grey are as destined for each other as Izzie and Denny (amiright, Grey's heads? ).
The final episode's narration is all jacked up as Meredith begins to recall her last day at Seattle Grace in vignettes that seem to be out of sequence. Derek realizes the early onset Alzheimer's has begun to claim her, even though he's still a year away from getting FDA approval for his experimental drugs.
It is slowly revealed that Meredith is living in a nursing home, sitting by a window, speaking to herself. All she can remember now are the long-ago years when she worked at Seattle Grace and the narration we heard all along is just her speaking to the wall.
In other words, a happier ending than any British sitcom has ever seen.
Mad Men: Dick Whitman Died in Korea
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has been winking and nodding at us from the very beginning of his show. Look at the title sequence. I mean, look at the title sequence the way a creative executive (i.e., Don Draper, i.e., Matthew Weiner) would look at it. It's a goddamn guy plummeting to his death while his life flashes before him in brightly colored advertisements.
Huh, maybe all that midday drinking wasn't a sign of good mental health.
And by Don Draper, I mean Dick Whitman. As we learned in Episode 12, "Nixon vs. Kennedy," there was once this bumbling poor cursed soul named Dick Whitman, the son of a prostitute who named him after the business end of a man. Whitman is beaten by his father and abused by his stepmother, and eventually ends up in a far outpost of the Korean War. It's just him and his lieutenant, Don Draper.
But then, in some weird mishap worthy of The Three Stooges, Whitman accidentally blows up Don Draper and sets himself on fire. We see him switch dog tags and take Draper's identity. And somehow the new name makes him the ideal man: handsome, self-assured, successful.
Except, Whitman really did die in Korea. The entire show is the life he wished he had the courage to live (sort of like An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, except less high school English class 8-millimetery).
"You've got your whole life ahead of you," says a woman on a train in "Nixon vs. Kennedy." "Forget that boy in the box." Cigar is to penis as box is to coffin. And consider what Draper/Whitman himself says in the very next episode, ominously titled "The Wheel": "This is not a spaceship, it's a time machine. It's not called the Wheel, it's called the Carousel. It lets us travel around and around and back home again."
"Also, there's little-kid puke everywhere and touching anything gets you sticky."
As we've pointed out before, Woodstock was conceived of by a team of Madison Avenue suits just like the ones at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While attending Woodstock with Peggy Olson, Don Draper drops acid and finally becomes fully enlightened. He realizes that Peggy is his true love, that love is not about power or expensive things -- it's about partnership. Love really is all you need.
As he kisses Peggy, the sound of spinning helicopter blades quickly builds. We're transported back to Korea, where Dick Whitman lays dying next to the corpse of Don Draper. Inside his acid trip back in time, he dies as the helicopter lifts into the sky. But he dies happy, knowing that none of the harm he's caused since assuming Don Draper's life has come to pass.
Outside his acid trip, we see that the helicopter sound was Jimi Hendrix arriving via chopper. As Hendrix plays his famous riff on the "Star Spangled Banner," we pull back and up from Draper/Whitman's motionless body. Did Don Draper die with Dick Whitman inside that acid trip? Acid isn't typically a deadly drug, but Don Draper was, in the end, a figment of Dick Whitman's imagination. Whatever the answer is, we're guessing that series creator and former Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner won't be telling anyone.
That, or Draper's Woodstock escapades give birth to an STD capable of wiping out mankind.
For more on famous endings, check out The 7 Most Soul-Crushing Series Finales in TV History and 6 Plot Threads Famous Movies Forgot to Resolve.