Having just seen the excellent Nikita series finale I am taken back to all those little TV moments that cause us, the viewer, to form such an attachment to a show, it’s characters and their lives. Even more so than film, in which a 2-hour plot introduces us to its core characters and conflicts, a television series captivates the viewer throughout years, generating an even bigger emotional impact.
Sure, both film and TV are genre-based, counting on standardized stereotypes (both to use them or tear them apart) to generate an emotional link with the viewer, which forms the basis of our interest and investment, be it time or money. It’s not just that Television has more time to tell these tales, in which most seasons go from 10 to 22 episodes, but because we are so exposed to the changes that go on behind the scenes as well. The digital age brought us closer to understanding, or, I should rather say, within exposure, of the TV selection process: what gets picked up? how high (or low) are the ratings? What’s the feedback from the audience?, so we are aware of every move made in the industry, whether the show is on the bubble, renewed, barely renewed, and we think back to the storylines and figure out how these will be affected.
Think back to Veronica Mars and the post-finale cancellation that left everyone hanging while Veronica walks out of the voting booth under the rain and gets lost within the crowd. This goes beyond the open-endedness of the conclusion of a film, it isn’t disappointment, it’s heartbreak. The longevity of television also plays well with the theory that it is all just a big experiment. The entire ninth season of Dallas was a dream because there were changes behind-camera; Season four of Community was written without Dan Harmon, it’s creator and showrunner, with claims the entire season be discarded to start from scrap; St. Elsewhere was all just an imagination of an autistic kid once the camera pans out of a snowglobe being held at the last frame of the finale.
Storylines derail from the original plot as years go by, but the audience is still there hanging on to those characters, feeling each and every death, bad decision, wrong move or ultimate demise. This generates fandom and followings that fight for shows like Nikita to stay on the air despite bad ratings, or Veronica Mars to get a movie more than seven years after it’s cancellation.
The so-called Cult shows, those with a very strong but small fanbases, usually within the sci-fi and supernatural genres, are the TV series that experiment the most, that expose the every-day conflicts through an alternate reality and are focused in their storytelling and character exploration. These are the shows worth talking about, worth theorizing about because they leave topics up for discussion, up for reasoning and breakdowns. Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Awake, Hannibal, Dollhouse, and countless others have revolutionized visual techniques, sound editing and storytelling in which a clear vision from the creator can be seen, merged with the big, corporate network desires that intervene to aim to an audience whose shares are up for grabs.
In the end, this is just a reflection, a thought, on series finales. These are the television events that make you relive entire years spent watching beloved characters suffer and fight for a purpose; flawed characters striving to be better people or just to make it out alive. It isn’t about just tying up loose ends and happy endings, it’s about justice, respect and gratitude.
Nikita managed to pack four years of memories into an hour of unforgettable excellence, aptly titled Cancelled. It’s a celebration of fandom, really, as they only reason the CW allowed a six-episode final run is to allow fans to say one final goodbye, and this move, while strategic, will pave the way for future long-running television series. Undeniably into the Cult Classics club along with the greatest televisual memories. The TV landscape has been reshaped in this past decade, shifting its focused from an analytical marketing point of view towards a viewer-oriented model, allowing closure for the fans and one more sign of gratitude to all those involved in shaping one hell of a ride that was this exceptional series.