BLOG Dangling Plot Threads

Steven Ellis is fed up with the rise of the never-ending story.

Has anyone been watching The Returned ? The French-made, eight-part TV show has just finished airing on Channel 4. The Returned – Les Revenants in the original French – was adapted from a 2004 film called They Came Back – also called Les Revenants when it was released in France. It’s about a small town where the dead start returning. The show was very good, full of great characters and interesting stories and it has been very popular with SFX staff and readers alike. Hell, there’s even going to be an American remake called Resurrection .

The mystery of the returning dead and the histories and back-story of the people of the town is drip-fed to you over the eight parts and as the show continued the mysteries deepened. It was all accompanied by a wonderfully haunting and eerie soundtrack by Mogwai.

Unfortunately not much was revealed at the end. In fact more mysteries were set up. You see, I was under the misguided impression that this was a single, self-contained, eight-part story. With episode eight I expected an end, an explanation to the mystery and some resolution for the characters. I didn’t get that. The show ended on a cliff-hangers with all of its mystery still unexplained and I was very disappointed. SFX even ran an article on just how many mysteries there were still hanging over the show. As I said, I was expecting an ending to the whole thing not an ending to this particular series. I wanted a series finale. I got a season finale. A quick search online told me that the show has been renewed for a second series coming next year.

I don’t think I’m going to be back for next year’s second series. Don’t get me wrong, the show was brilliant; but I just wanted some answers. I didn’t want another show that constantly teases me and is all about setting up the next multi-plot chapter or spreading its central mystery over as many episodes as it can. I wanted a beginning, a middle and an end.

More and more shows are sacrificing a weekly pay off for ongoing deeper stories, and while in some cases I love this, I would prefer to have a balance between arc-plot and stand-alone TV episodes. I’ve said before that I was always a big fan of the Star Trek -style reset after 45 minutes template; I even touched upon the subject in a previous blog . Time was most TV shows had self-contained 45 minute episodes and every week they set off on another new adventure and for a long time this was the standard sci-fi TV model. But with the advent of Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9 arcs became more prevalent until eventually a lot of shows were all arc and densely plotted season long stories and you were screwed if you missed an episode. For some shows it worked and for some it meant they didn’t see a second season. Some shows hit the ground running with such dense plots that they shed viewers at an alarming rate.

Arc Life

Some shows didn’t follow this trend; the likes of Warehouse 13 and Eureka pretty much stuck to “a story of the week” format and only occasionally had ongoing stories but one of those has finished and the other won’t be around much longer.

Pretty much every sci-fi show I watch at moment has a dense arc and not all of those shows are keeping my interest. I miss the age of shows starting slowly and taking the time to introduce characters and build up a world. These days they all hit the pilot running and expect you to care about the “big story” straight away. And to be honest I’m getting a little tired of it. I’m not against season-long arc plots. I just wish TV had a balance between the two.

“If you enjoyed The Return ed so much why would you give up on it?” you might ask. Surely quitting on good TV is shooting yourself in the foot. But, you see, I watched The Return under a false expectation; I thought it was an eight-part one-off drama. Now it’s been revealed that there will be a season two and pretty much all questions remain unanswered then I find myself asking, “When will they be answered?” Will the next season pose even more questions? Will I find out everything I want to know? Or will I end up with another show that I’m only still watching because I want to know the answers?

Call me pessimistic if you like but I really don’t think I want another show that’s probably going to go on too long and end with a damp squib of a revelation which leaves people feeling short changed or divides audiences as to whether it was all worth it.

Sorry. I’ve just been burnt too many times. Very few shows wrap up their central mystery very well; just look at the split opinions on the endings of shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica . I’d just like a little more action and a little less angst-driven multi-year plotting. Maybe I’m wrong. But I guess I feel the need to draw a line somewhere and I’m drawing it under the last episode of The Returned .

Hey, if it turns out to be that good I can always buy the box-set down the line.

Steven Ellis

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