Leave Rory Alone! On Gilmore Girls and Endings

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This is a guest blog post my Jason Gruber. You can follow Jason on Twitter at @jmgruber

Stories should have endings. By itself, not a particularly controversial statement.

But consider it in the context of the hurricane of TV revivals that's on the horizon. The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Gilmore Girls. You could argue that the first two didn't have proper endings, but Gilmore Girls definitely did. All was well in Stars Hollow.

But we're going back.

Personally, I don't want to know what happens to Rory Gilmore until the day she dies. That was what always bothered me about the later Raymond E. Feist Riftworld books: poor Pug, even after he has grown wizard children, still doesn't get to retire. He'll be saving the world forever. 

Stories are conflict, right? And unless you're willing to risk alienating your audience, often they're the same sort of conflicts, stranding your characters in what's essentially Hades, plagued by the same problems, over and over again, never able to move on. 

This happens a lot in superhero comics. There are arcs, with jumping on and jumping off points--see the recent Matt Fraction run on Hawkeye as an example--but nothing ever truly begins or ends for these characters. Spider-Man will always have trouble with girls and money. Bruce Wayne will never get over the death of his parents. Don't expect relationships, even marriages, to last. If it takes a literal deal with the devil--Spider-Man again--to get the hero single so he can have juicy romance plots, they'll do it. 

So: Gilmore Girls. The show is driven by relationships: between Rory and Lorelei, between the girls and their various romantic interests, between Lorelei and her parents, and between Rory and her friends, specifically Lane and later Paris. By the end of the show, all of these were pretty settled; to bust them up again, to give them something to overcome, would be to head into superhero territory, where nothing lasts, nothing can ever really be fixed. Realistic? Maybe. But not hopeful and not helpful.

The reason we need endings is because you can't make sense of something until you've seen all of it. Humans are pattern-seeking creatures. That's how we solve problems. We extrapolate from examples. Stories are tools for problem-solving, and a story without an ending is a tool without an edge.

And endings are valuable because they let you close a chapter in your life. You can't pine for your high school girlfriend forever--looking at you, Dean--and sometimes things have to end so that you won't stay in the same place, comfortable and stagnant, forever. Man cannot live on remakes alone.

There are exceptions, of course. If you have a story that really needs to be told, if there's a genuinely new angle, if you're willing to take the risk of doing something different from what your audience expects, you can throw your retired characters back into the fire. 

That's what Robin Hobb does in her Fitz and the Fool trilogy. In the six previous books, poor Fitz has been tortured, crippled, he's lost his best friend, his king, and his true love, and he even died. He dealt with it as well as he could, winning some battles and losing others, and his ending was perfectly bittersweet. But now Hobb is revisiting Fitz. So why don't I hate it?

The key difference is that, as an aging single father to a daughter with special needs, Fitz is facing problems with which he has no experience.  Sure, there's some threat to the kingdom--isn't there always?--but what Fitz is mostly worried about, and what he spends the majority of his time dealing with, is his relationship with his daughter. In a sense, it's a permutation of the same dilemma we've seen before--whether to serve his kingdom or serve himself--but it's about family now. And the fact that he's earned his rest, the very reason I was wary, is a part of the story too. It's a story worth telling. Which, admittedly, is a very hard thing to judge, and subjective too.

Maybe I'm wrong about Gilmore Girls. I'm not going to be angry at people who watch it and I might end up watching myself. Perhaps the revivals of X-Files and Twin Peaks will be masterpieces. But maybe we shouldn't always get what we want. Because stories do end, just like days and kisses and lives. We can't stay in Stars Hollow forever, any more than Rory could.