death of the happy ending

The Death of the Ending

It’s a good time to be a fan. Sure, there are always going to the loudmouths, the elitists, the jerks who think critics are simply out to hate whatever they love, but there has never been a better time to deeply and genuinely love a book, film, or television series. As long as you keep showing up, they’ll keep making it. And as long as it’s still good, you’ll keep showing up. It’s actually a nice little cycle, albeit one that requires fans to actually judge the things they love without blinders and acknowledge that a movie or book that bears the name of a character or a universe they love is fundamentally broken (but that’s a conversation for another day).

But that cycle comes at a cost to the characters we cherish so much. As long as we’re engaged, as long as we’re reading and watching, our heroes are never going find peace. They’re never going to be happy. Our love for Harry Potter doomed him to be a shitty father. We love Han Solo so much that he had to come back, just to get murdered by his own son. I think about that scene in The Avengers where the heroes all enjoy lunch at a shawarma place after the Battle of New York and how it inspired so many memes. I think about that extended party sequence in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where so much charm and comedy is mined out of these characters sitting around, enjoying each other’s company and being happy. Then Age of Ultron throws its characters into a meat grinder, destroying friendships and tearing the team apart.

That’s the way it should be. In fiction (especially genre fiction), happiness can mean complacency. It means reverting to a status quo. It means Han and Luke and Leia remaining Best Friends Forever and having repetitive adventures in a galaxy they saved or Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley having a dull marriage where everything goes right and they never come into conflict with evil again. Most of all, it means the death of drama. It means embracing comfort over surprise, pleasantries over development.

This is the new model for this kind of serialized storytelling: make it hurt so much, so often that it’s impossible for anything to grow stale. The happy ending must die for the story to live.

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