So, I was listening to a podcast of Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff on a long drive recently, and someone asked a question something like this: Why do all long-running tv shows have terrible final seasons? It probably wasn’t quite that, but something close.
I don’t watch much tv these days, but of course that is the general pattern, isn’t it? No one liked the way Game of Thrones ended, did they? I wasn’t watching it and even I know that much. A lot of people considered the last season of Lost was famously bad. The last season of Buffy wasn’t anybody’s favorite. The list goes on and on.
Well, Ken and Robin have a suggestion about why it’s impossible to end a tv show like that properly, and I think it applies to Robin Hood retellings too.
It’s an episodic story, where the characters are doing the same kind of thing in episode after episode, and the pleasure the viewer derives from the show consists of watching the character act like themselves as they face and solve problems in a characteristic way. When the director tries to come up with a way to do something else, then inevitably that involves:
a) the ensemble cast breaks up, with everyone going off to pursue different lives.
b) a lot of people die.
c) the situation is jerked violently sideways, so that the finale involves characters doing stuff that is completely unlike the stuff they used to normally do.
No matter how the director handles it, the ending will feel unsatisfying to most viewers because it is too great a departure from the typical episode that has been enjoyed in all the previous seasons.
All the above is from memory, but I think it’s a close approximation of the discussion.
Obviously Robin Hood fits perfectly into this idea. It’s not a smooth story with a single arc. It’s an episodic story with an ensemble cast, just like a tv series. There’s Little John and the bridge over the river, there’s the thing with the golden arrow, there are all the episodes we’re familiar with. Lots of writers can do a great story that incorporates those elements. But then how do you end the story? You can’t. The ending, whatever you do, in intrinsically impossible to construct in a satisfying way.
Ken and Robin suggest that honestly, the best you can do is stop cold without trying to do a final arc or any kind of finale. Just cancel the show abruptly and leave James T Kirk and his crew to go off and continue their five-year mission without taking the viewer along. That way the viewer can derive some kind of satisfaction in the idea that the adventures are continuing just as always, only out of sight.
That, unfortunately, is probably not possible with The Adventures of Robin Hood. We all know how the story ended in the . . . I hesitate to say “original” . . . the version we read in grade school. That ending failed exactly as all other endings fail, but it’s probably not going to work to try to step away while The Adventures of Robin Hood are in full swing because everyone already does have that ending in their minds.
I do have a retelling or two of Robin Hood sitting around on my Kindle. But when I go into the stories, I’ll doing it expecting the books to wind up in a bit of a mess at the ending.