The consensus about this year’s Emmys is that they were far more tolerable than usual, even bordering on enjoyable. But of course, as it is a major Hollywood event, it’s required to have at least one thing Twitter freaks out over, and host Andy Samberg kindly delivered by showing a spoiler-heavy montage featuring the finales of every popular show that ended this year.
The main spoilers people took 140 characters to express their malaise about were the endings of Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Sons of Anarchy. On one hand, it’s understandable why you’d be disappointed if you were behind on a show and dutifully avoiding spoilers, only to have it unwittingly thrown in your face when you’re just trying to watch an awards show at the end of your weekend. On the other hand, the rise of the term “spoiler alert!” shows that although we may be in a Golden Age of TV, we’re also in an age of viewers focusing on all the wrong things.
That last guy exemplifies it perfectly: yes, that is indeed how Sons of Anarchy ends, which should not be remotely surprising because the show is biker Hamlet and even if you haven’t read Hamlet, you know how it ends. Speaking of Hamlet, you know what else everyone knows the ending to? Macbeth. And yet, knowing that Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard (Spoiler Alert!) are definitely going to die will not hamper most people from seeing this. Nor does it stifle your excitement when you see how badass and epic it looks:
We enjoy these stories — even knowing their endings! — because it’s not about the Grand Finale, it’s about the path they take to get there. When I first read Romeo and Juliet, I knew how it ended because I was a person in the world who did not live under a rock. But I was blown away by Mercutio — nobody had told me about him! He’s one of the most amazing fictional characters, far more interesting than Romeo and Juliet’s melodramatic final death scene. But he gets lost in the shuffle if you only discuss the story in terms of its Big Finish. Our current cultural moment of SPOILER ALERT!! places all the emphasis on The Big Finish to the detriment of the rest of the narrative — the other colorful characters, the side detours taken on the way.
Sons of Anarchy and Boardwalk Empire leave legacies as shows that were captivating to a lot of people for a handful of seasons before both running off the rails in ways that have nothing to do with their final scenes and their protagonists’ deaths. Mad Men is remembered as a largely successful show, even if its final scene did not leave you on fire. An ending, after all, is just another scene. Engaging with a TV show — a medium that demands hours of your time— shouldn’t be about folding hours into one single five-minute scene.
So, annoyed citizens of Twitter, yes, Jax Teller and Nucky Thompson die, and Don Draper finds his Zen. Yes, it’s understandable that you’re upset if you haven’t gotten to these points yet, but unless a show pulls a How I Met Your Mother or a Dexter and delivers an ending that fucks up in such a flaming supernova, it obliterates everything that came before it, narratives are not about their end points. Take it in as a whole, and if you do happen to already know that last scene ahead of time — SPOILER ALERT! — it’s not the end of the world.
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