The Big Reveal
I once watched ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ at a cinema in Putney, West London, when the film broke down just before the ending and the audience didn’t get to find out who did it. Not that anyone cared much – this was the first version directed by Sidney ‘Living Statue’ Lumet, famous for never knowingly moving his camera, and was even more boring than the two other versions that followed it. The problem, of course, is that it’s the most static of all Christie’s whodunnits, consisting of stereotypes being serially interviewed, and the solution is tiresome.
Without the solution, such films have no reason to exist. But ever since the writers of ‘Lost’ got away with wasting everyone’s time by not having any answers to the endless puzzles they set up over what felt like thousands of agonisingly slow episodes, writers have been dangling unresolved mysteries before their viewers and then having their shows cancelled.
The latest to be binned is ‘The OA’, a ludicrous farago of interdimensional bollocks about a blind woman who vanishes for seven years and returns as a sort-of angel with restored sight, who uses the power of interpretive dance to stop a high school massacre – ‘scorchingly tasteless’, the Guardian suggests. It’s all about pretty visuals, vague woolly-brained ideas, half-established plotlines and oh, a psychic octopus.
It follows ‘Sense8’, ‘The Leftovers’ and others in setting up what it can never deliver, but hey, that doesn’t matter because it has been canned. What writers are learning now is that adaptable-length episodes mean shows can be completed – so why are we still getting endless third-rate American SF shows with no real premise?
To some extent all writers have to work backwards, because a story is defined by the way it ends. I’m careful to provide satisfactory climaxes (steady, vicar) at the ends of stories because there’s nothing more annoying than a poorly thought-through finish. The partwork serial thrillers of the Strand Magazine allowed great talents to emerge in the 19th century. Will today’s showrunners learn that it’s not all about the first episode hook? Perhaps they should take a lesson from ‘Years and Years’.