Do the Ends Justify Never Starting?
Rohan posed the question of “Would You Recommend a Work With a Disappointing Ending?”
But I don’t know how that would work for other series. The canonical example in gaming is Mass Effect. I don’t think I’d recommend only playing ME1 and ME2. Maybe one could say that you should play the series, even though the ending is very disappointing.
Television-wise, I understand Game of Thrones had a similar issue. I did not watch it, but many fans disliked the last season. Would you still recommend the show?
My answer is: it depends.
First, how bad is the ending? Some endings are disappointing compared to the brilliance that came before. Some end with a whimper, possibly due to budget cuts or outside reasons. Other endings are so awful that it poisons the memories and joy you experienced up to that point. Obviously the latter is not something you want to be recommending.
Second, how good is the rest of game/book/etc? Is it possible to be worth experiencing for that alone?
With the Mass Effect series, I would agree that the originally-designed ending was poor. But between the enhancements and just perspective in general (10?! years later), I am now inclined to believe that the game “ended” well before the last fight. For what is an ending, if not a desire for closure and/or emotional payoff? Even with the wounds of the original endings still fresh, I said this back in 2012:
Bioware cannot take away the feeling of immense depth with Mordin, when the Salarian stereotype fell away to reveal a reservoir of guilt for necessary evils; a doctor moved to inflict harm, faced with impossible choices. Bioware cannot take away my own feeling of guilt when I heard Kaiden’s “Belay that order!” command repeated in the forest dream sequence; a sacrifice I readily accepted at the time to save a woman I had feelings toward and ultimately passed over. Bioware cannot take away EDI and Joker and all the other hilariously poignant moments in the entire series, but ME2 in particular. Bioware cannot take away the bromance with Garrus, or the absolute struggle I had in choosing whether to intentionally miss that shot or not.
In that same post, I talked about the Wheel of Time series which, at the time, had not been completed. But it also didn’t matter, because I experienced a moment in the 9th book that was so perfect, so cathartic that it justified my time spent. Compared to that build-up and release, the actual ending was merely perfunctory. Which was fine, because the author died and someone else had to write it. But even if he was still around (or they followed his notes exactly) it would not have mattered that much to me because I got the payoff for reading the books already. Anything else was just gravy.
For something like Game of Thrones… that shit is hard. Again, show me another low-magic medieval fantasy I can even compare it to (the Witcher these days, I guess). There were also a lot of satisfying character development throughout the series. Between those and the amazing battle sequences, I would recommend Game of Thrones to just about anyone remotely interested. And yet, I also believe the ending was so bad that it basically poisoned my memories of the show. That same character progression was thrown in the garbage for arbitrary reasons, by studio executives who were hungering to direct Star Wars. Which they didn’t end up doing, by the way, so triple-whammy right there. Or perhaps, bullet dodged?
The more I muse on this, the less it seems like the ending should be the deciding factor.
Consider something like Firefly, which just sort of gets canceled. Or Evangelion, which ends bizarrely due to budget reasons. And I’m assuming that we’re not counting melancholy endings like with the His Dark Materials series. Or the ones that will never actually be completed, like the Kingkiller Chronicles or A Song of Ice and Fire. Do we just not recommend any of these things? Would you consider yourself better off for having not experienced the disappointment? Are there really so many more good games/shows/movies with superb endings out there that afford you the luxury of avoiding the bad ones entirely?
Maybe there is. If so, I would like to know where the list is so I can start working my way through them. But if we’re honest, I think most endings – assuming we even reach them – are just… sorta there. Which is probably the ideal, considering the baseline experience was obviously good enough to shepherd the audience to said ending. I would say the grid of possibilities looks something like this:
So I would argue, again, that the baseline experience is really the determining factor as to whether something should be recommended or not. That is, unless you think there are actually enough great experiences out there in the world that we can exclusively stay in the upper-left side of the grid. In which case, damn dude, stop hiding that shit under a bushel and let us know what they are.