Whenever and wherever the split between ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ fiction occurred, it was accompanied by a new fashion for ambiguous endings. In some circles, there’s something a little bit geeky and uncool about a story that ties all its loose ends together. Ambiguity is valued as more representative of ‘reality’, of being somehow more true. A similar aversion for the neat ending applies to film and television: a well-crafted movie with a mysterious conclusion seems to draw critical approval more easily.
In genre fiction, be it on the page or on the screen, a satisfying conclusion is almost always essential – ambiguity isn’t particularly valued here. And when an ending is promised and not delivered upon – as happened, spectacularly, with Lost – fans will turn away, disgusted and feeling rather used and cheated.
Last night, Fringe came to a close – for me, at least. And it did so by tying things up – as much as any series that had perambulated along the random and the impossible could be said to be ‘tidied up.’ I think it did it with some style and a lot of heart, and even some humour along the way. The ending of a longish-running television series is a difficult thing to pull off – so many loose ends to tie up, so many writers along the way, so many characters and motivations, so much mess. Those great critical darlings of television, The Sopranos and The Wire, took two approaches: one knowingly and joyously ambiguous, the other tired and sad and acknowledging how little things change. Both were celebrated for their ambiguous endings.
Fringe won’t be remembered in the critical sections of the broadsheets in anything like the same way. But I will remember it as a clever and committed bit of genre telly, wildly uneven at times but always unafraid to go after the surreal and the insane with gusto. Its ending was appropriately and wilfully neat – as satisfying as the last bite of a very good sandwich which wasn’t particularly healthy but you really, really enjoyed.