That’s not what defines a complete story
I have been trying to circle back to writing a longer review of the finale to the Loki series, but I kept getting bogged down in a rant related more to other comments I had seen. So I decided to bite the bullet and give the rant its own blog entry.
The comments that set me off have been made about all three of the Marvel streaming series released thus far this year (WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki), specifically: these aren’t complete stories (and therefore inherently objectively bad) because they have loose ends which will presumably be subplots or even major plots in upcoming Marvel productions.
That’s not what defines a complete story, though.
Now, it is perfectly acceptable for someone to dislike a series for any reason at all. And it is always open to debate about whether a particular ending worked. That isn’t the issue that was being stated. It was specifically the claim that each of these series don’t tell complete stories. At least one such commenter included a rant that the art of storytelling is being ruined because no one is telling complete stories any more.
At some point I need to finish another post I started about the problems with having what are becoming our culture’s major myths be trademarked properties owned by corporations. But that’s also a separate issue.
For as long as storytelling has existed (and storytelling is an essential component of the definition of out species, so that’s a really long time), stories have had loose ends which potentially could be the seeds of more stories. Not just some stories, but all stories.
Let’s look at a classic for an example: Cinderella. It’s a story with which nearly everyone is familiar. After Cinderella’s mother dies, her father remarries, but then he dies, and she is left in the care of her wicked stepmother. She is forced to be a servant to her step-mother and the two equally wicked step-sisters, until one magic night (with the help of her fairy godmother) she attends a royal ball, meets and falls in love with the handsome prince. And through the macguffin of a lost glass slipper, she and the prince marry and live happily ever after.
A nice, complete story, right?
But hang on a minute! There are so many unanswered questions and loose ends to this story:
- What happened to the wicked stepmother after Cinderella went off with the prince?
- How did Cinderella adjust to royal life?
- Did Cinderella and the prince have children? If so, how did Cinderella’s experience with her wicked step-mother inform her parenting?
- Presuming that "happily ever after" meant a long life together, then they probably lived long enough for the king to die and the prince to inherit the throne. How did that go?
I have left at least one item out of the list: What happened to the wicked stepsisters?
I left it out because some versions of the story give us a bit more on this loose end. In the version recorded by the Brothers Grimm, the two wicked stepsisters are attacked by wild birds after the wedding ceremony and have their eyes pecked out. The brothers end the tail with the line, "And so they were condemned to go blind for the rest of their days because of their wickedness and falsehood."
So one version of the story tells us what happened to them, implying that the birds were sent as a punishment by the universe or god, right? But the stepmother was no less wicked to Cinderella, and told no fewer lies in the story than the two daughters. As a woman who took sacred vows when she married Cinderella’s father, she had a great obligation to care for and nurture Cinderella than the sisters did. Her not getting punished certainly opens even more questions that someone could turn into a sequel or a prequel.
And even with the Brothers Grimm ending for the stepsisters, it said they lived out the rest of their days blind. So:
- Did Cinderella and the prince take pity on them and provide them with caretakers?
- Were they left to suffer alone?
- Did their mother attempt to care for them?
Again, so many questions left open that could easily be turned into a sequel. Yet, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that Cinderella isn’t a complete story (nor that it is objectively a bad story) because there are unanswered questions that could lead to a sequel.
It could be argued that what these commenters are saying isn’t that having a few loose ends isn’t the problem, but rather the issue is that the writer(s) intentionally left those loose ends and are plotting sequels. But again, it leaves me wondering how they managed to miss that fact that authors have been doing that on purpose for (at least) hundreds of years?
While I was ranting to a friend about this, they suggested that maybe the comments I’ve seen are referring to plotholes, which are frequently cited as proof that a story is flawed. I have two problems with this: several of the people I saw making the "it’s not a complete story!" are people who review other works and have used the term plothole before. So I don’t think that’s the argument.
Even if that were the case, a lot of times of time what people call plotholes are not that at all, as I’ve blogged about before. I listed then things that people often mistake for plotholes, which include:
- things an individual reader/viewer wish didn’t happen,
- character actions that contradict the version of the character the individual reader/viewer has constructed outside canon,
- things that contradict the political/moral preferences of the individual reader/viewer,
- things the author(s) intentionally plant to foreshadow something that will explain everything in a future chapter/episode/sequel,
- things the author(s) didn’t think they needed to explicitly explain because they thought you had critical thinking skills,
- things that are implied by the resolution of the main plot which are often variants of, "Now what?"
I’m more than willing to debate whether the endings of the shows could have been better, and so on, but the three series mentioned each answered the questions/mysteries that were posed in the opening by the end. And that is the definition of resolving a plot.
Finally, when each was released, all three were described as a streaming series. It said it right there on the tin that the stories were part of a serial tale.
Again, not saying that anyone is wrong for not liking any of these series or how they ended (in my reviews I had a lot of critiques about one of the series in particular, even though I was mostly happy with the ending). I’m just saying, if you know ahead of time that you don’t like stories which might have sequels planned, maybe you should not watch something that is explicitly labeled a series?