>Let me tell you a secret: I rarely cry.
Not so much that I’m devoid of a heart, but it’s just that it is easy to see clear manipulation when you’ve studied writing and media theory for several years.
But it’s the good and skilled writing that looks past those cliches (or at least manipulates the cliches themselves) to create something that is powerful and moving.
Here are some examples:
Torchwood: I like the occasional sci-fi, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a stalwart in my favourite genres. That said, this past Saturday’s episode hit me hard. Although this is a common trait in UK and foreign television in general, it is very rare that Americans are exposed to endings that aren’t happy, or at least happy with a bow wrapped on it. The Unit nearly went there this current season with the death of Hector (Demore Barnes) , but The Unit got their revenge and now Charles (Michael Irby, but I can’t remember when they ever gave his character’s name) is going to walk off towards a happy ending with Hector’s girlfriend. Contrast that with the Pyrrhic victory in “To The Last Man”, even if Tommy somehow comes back, it’s hard to change the underlying tone that every single member of Torchwood is–for lack of a better term–fucked by their fate. A tone which Davies–as creator, and one must assume a relatively involved one, since this is UK television–has woven since the very first episode.
Orange Road: I Want To Return To That Day (aka the first movie) : Here’s an interesting concept, going into the movie, the creators knew that the audience (at least the fans) had the ending figured out: Kyosuke breaks up with Hikaru. So the skill comes from how this transpires…and it is brutal. The eager-to-please Kyosuke has to act like a prick, and not just callous, but full-on, I-Don’t-Care-About-Your-Feelings cold, and it makes you rethink everything that you read in the manga, saw on the TV show, and I just felt like I lost a bit of innocence. The scary thing is that is exactly the point of the film. (We just won’t talk about how this brilliant ending is totally negated by the movie sequel.)
The last two episodes of Evangelion: I’ve already applauded Evangelion in terms of writing, but now I want to zoom in on the emotional impact of its final two episodes. Basically here you have a character in the throes of what appears to be an emotional meltdown (I’m not going to even begin to describe The Human Instrumentality Project save for calling it “everybody becomes one big gumbo”) as he questions himself and his relationships. Quite honestly, The End of Evangelion confuses it more, but in the TV ending, we get the emotional connection as it is presented not in terms of what is literally happens, but what it feels like to Shinji, and for the vast majority of us who felt inadequate as preteens and teenagers it cut like a knife, even though it seems like the TV ending is relatively happy (“I Love Myself Unconditionally”), the real cruel fact is this: Just as Shinji comes to this realisation, he becomes nothing at all. (By the way, Evangelion episode 24 is highly recommended too.)
If indeed the strike is over, then those who are writing should take this as a chance to re-examine themselves and their relationship to their work. I’m a believer that all stories have already been told, but they have not been told from all perspectives. There is nothing truly ground-breaking in any of these examples at their core, but what makes them noteworthy in my mind is their presentation.
Trust that the public/network can weather the occasional sad ending if it is believable. We owe you that much.