All good things must come to an end.
There's always a temptation to look for meaning in endings, from the cathartic emotional rush of the Great Dane's recognition that his unprincely prevarications have royally buggered up his plot for revenge, to the happy homilies of family friendly TV fare - serving up the moral du jour as bite-size soundbites: ''You see, Timmy...!'' moments. In both there's a sense of satisfying finality. Easy closure. Everything which has gone before leads simply and inexorably to the daily reading from the Book of Ben Cartwright...or the Gospel According to Cosby...or whichever law-giving patriarch happens to be presiding.
With Tragedy there is a certainty to proceedings. From word one you know that the protagonist is completely gubbed; that however hard he struggles, whatever heroic aspirations are realized, he will fail, and that it will be his own bloody fault. That's the thing with fatal flaws. How they suffer - and, oh how they suffer - is the point. They generally enjoy a brief moment of realisation, of course, however skewed that understanding may be. That jealous old Othello ''loved not wisely, but too well'' is small consolation to the newly strangled Desdemona...still, as long as he knows he's screwed up, that's okay. Like the Montagues and Capulets, we realize that the journey of the heroes reflects and informs our understanding of ourselves. Tragedies are about consequence and, like funerals, they exist largely for the benefit of those left behind.
With Comedies - unless you are Shylock (poor sod) - the hero will prevail, achieving fortune, self-understanding and the love of a good woman - or, if he's very lucky, a bad one. Comedies don’t have to be funny of course, just end well. Buffy gets to share her burden and live an ordinary life. The Galacticans get new and ever-recursive opportunities to screw things up with the Cylons. Alex Drake gets closure, and Gene Hunt rediscovers his purpose. The heroes of Lost get...um lost (along with their audience) in unsatisfyingly half-hearted attempts to resolve mysteries which its authors hadn't properly plotted out (Abrams did exactly the bloody same with his Alias mythology). Were these tales metaphors for teenage alienation, societal discord or existential angst? Who knows? We want these stories to mean something, often simply because it makes the chaff as easy to digest as the wheat.
Then there's the expectant almost-a-cliffhanger ending. Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle got to quietly board a ship to America at the end of Foyle's War, causing a pleasing chuckle from fans fully aware that his US 'lecture tour' was likely to be a pretext, allowing him to hunt down a murderous industrialist who escaped his particular form of quiet justice in an early episode. Louis and Rick solidify their “beautiful friendship” on an inexplicably rain-strewn Moroccan runway. Molly Bloom gives a life-affirming ''Yes.'' Willie and Modesty, four decades of daring deeds done, die as heroes and meet again in an afterlife of their own devising: friends forever. A door closes on Francine and Katchoo, having found happiness, themselves and (finally) each other. A door closes. We know in our hearts that the story isn't done, but that we are not permitted to witness what follows. Quite right, too. We've seen them at their best, through triumph and tragedy. The best may well be yet to come, but it's theirs, not ours. Let them enjoy their immortality in peace. Better that than make them endlessly repetitive caricatures of themselves, diminished by time and wretched familiarity. The door closed, we need not concern ourselves with what is yet to come, and the Return of the Hero is rarely satisfying.
Still, we ask ourselves, what does it all mean? After all, sometimes The End is just...an end.
There is, of course, another kind of ending, the sort where the protagonist simply decides, against expectation, to opt out. Jack Knight, at the end of James Robinson's superb Starman comic series in 2001, does just that. He chooses a quiet life, and hasn't returned to the DC Universe. To the credit of editors, Robinson hasn't been requested to disturb his creation’s retirement. The most graceful exit in comics.
When I was asked to contribute this weekly column, a little over a year ago, I told myself that I would, irrespective of circumstance, strive to stick to a schedule. Largely I've managed that, despite the interruptions of mundanity, mugging and mishap. I also told myself that when the day came when the weekly task of sitting down for a couple of hours to rant or ruminate on a favourite fillip or fandom became a chore, I'd stop. Since I stressed myself into another Mini-Stroke in the late Spring, I'm afraid that has been the case. Fortunately I had, at the time, a number of near-completed columns, so the burden of meeting a weekly schedule wasn't too great. Now though, I find that I'm more irritable and less focused on the task in hand, and it would be an insult to regular readers - and to the editors and proofreaders - to plough on in snappish manner, dissatisfied by my own output and needlessly narked by editorial minutiae (NOT the cause of my departure, incidentally - as some of you know I've been thinking about this for quite some time). Sixty-odd columns isn't a bad run. I hope you've enjoyed them, and wish my regular readers well: I just don't have the physical or emotional energy required, right now, to keep this up. No Tragedy. No pregnant pause. No tears or tantrums. No morals. This is as graceful an opportunity for a dignified exit as I'm going to get....we can't all be Starman.
So, what more is there to say? “Hasta la vista, baby!”? “So long and thanks for all the fish!”?. “Live long and prosper!”?. “Pub!”? “It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for...!”?
“And the rest”, as the ham I started with once said, “is silence.”