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Why do TV dramas always end so badly?

"Join me in a massive class action as we all demand the return of the time we spent on dramas we enjoyed, only to watch them crumble into ruins in the final episode," says Alison Graham

Published: Wednesday, 8th July 2015 at 7:00 am

I’m going to invoice Sky Atlantic: please return to me, immediately, the ten hours I spent watching The Affair. If you can’t add ten hours to my life, then I’ll happily accept the equivalent in violet creams. You’d better hurry – interest is accruing.


I’d also like a rebate from BBC1 for The Syndicate, though I am prepared to compromise here and I won’t insist upon settling for the full six hours for six episodes. And I don’t think Channel 4 should escape, either: I want an hour back for The Offence.

Maybe you’d like to join me in a massive class action, an audience first, as we all demand the return of the time we spent on dramas we enjoyed, only to watch them crumble into ruins in the final episode.

Yes, endings. Why are endings always so bad, or at least so painfully unsatisfactory? When was the last time you watched a terrific drama to its final moments and smiled with pleasure in your armchair as you stroked an imaginary white cat while murmuring, “Yes, very good, that rounded things off perfectly. I am so happy.” (For me, it was Cucumber that sent me merrily on my way. But it was a rarity.)

The Affair, The Syndicate and Black Work, ITV’s undercover cop drama, all finish this week. I’ve enjoyed them, until the leaky triumvirate of endings. The Affair was particularly infuriating because it resolved NOTHING and did little except light the runway for a second series. The Syndicate was messy and Black Work was easy enough to guess for a very specific reason that I won’t go into. 

A couple of weeks ago No Offence’s final episode, after a blackly funny, admittedly flawed but absorbing debut series, simply dropped to bits. I felt like getting a dustpan and brush to sweep up the mess. 

Maybe drama writers should simply dispense with endings altogether, and just leave their plots and characters bobbing around in the great TV drama ocean, with no hope of rescue. 

At least until a second series comes along to explain everything in its first episode.

Or maybe there’s some enormous TV Drama Endings lost property office where all the good endings sit on shelves, waiting to be picked up and given a home. Or maybe there are no new endings in the world because we’ve seen them all.

Maybe dramas that we enjoy and invest in with our time and emotions can simply never end to our satisfaction, whatever writers try to do. Just think of the fuss when The Fall, Line of Duty, The Missing, Broadchurch (series one and two, but particularly series one), the last series of Homeland and the French zombie drama The Returned finished. The television-viewing nation wailed in fury because questions were left hanging in the air like motes in a sunbeam.

In fairness to everyone involved, I doubt anyone could live up to such high levels of expectation. When dramas simply take off and blindside everyone involved, like Broadchurch and Line of Duty, they are pretty much all done and dusted – filmed, edited, ready to go.

We are presented with a whole package, someone’s vision and not necessarily a “we need to talk about (insert name of drama here) so we want our world to explode with the shocking denouement”.

Social media doesn’t help, fanning unrealistic expectations until last episodes arrive, shrouded in almost panicky speculation and fervid excitement. So everyone is hyped up and it’s all going to end, inevitably, in disappointment. Maybe we expect too much. Maybe the perfect ending just doesn’t exist.


The Affair concludes tonight at 9pm on Sky Atlantic


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