The end of a show: closure or no closure?

Does an ending need to be an ending in sci-fi and fantasy TV?

02_battlestar_lgSpoilers for Battlestar Galactica and Angel follow.

TV audiences inherently want to be satisfied – that’s why we sit down with some series for entire decades of our lives, to empathise with the plight of the characters and watch as they rise and fall. The ending of said series – and there usually is one, unless we’re talking about a soap opera – is a significant part of that. It’s a part of TV storytelling that’s always divisive as well.

This has certainly been the case in sci-fi and fantasy over the past decade. I believe there’s something inherently different about the genre that forces writers to shy away from convention, to try and confound the audience’s expectations to the last, possibly as a result of the otherworldly subject matter involved. Angel’s finale, ‘Not Fade Away’, for example, ends on a powerful but closure-free scene, as the characters march towards their impending deaths against a demon army in a rainy LA alleyway. Battlestar Galactica’s ending has proved polarising, too – the explanation of Earth’s existence and the denial of technology was seen as unnecessarily obscure by many, but it provokes, and some found it validating.

Would sci-fi and fantasy TV benefit from more conventional happy or sad endings? No, they almost certainly wouldn’t. As viewers, we’d find it easier to accept them, but this is a genre that should always try and challenge in a way that others will not. Nothing should ever be easily categorised in these genres.