Because We Simply Couldn't Understand It?

The Ending, Explained...

So I've seen a trend of articles and videos recently that, frankly, I simply don't understand. This isn't some "old man yells at clouds" thing (although I'm sure some would argue that) but more a matter of I legitimately do see why anyone would care about these discussions. The articles and videos in question are "Ending Explained" videos, which are meant to talk to the reader / viewer about some work in question, as if there were lingering thoughts about the ending that needed to be explained.

Let's be clear, there are plenty of endings out there that are worth discussing. One of the greatest, most sadistic endings I can think of is from Inception, Christopher Nolan's 2010 work that is equal parts mind bending treatise and stupid idea a college student would have written while stoned on pot brownies. "Man, wouldn't it be cool if you could travel in dreams? That would be, like, a trippy experience!" And then they ate a bag of Cheetos and took a nap. It's a cool movie in the moment, and I've watched it more than once, but it's not as intelligent as it seems to think. It does have a killer ending.

For those unfamiliar... no, you know what. I'm not doing that. We're just getting into "ending explained" territory that way. Suffice to say the ending of the film is ambiguous, by design, and what the ending of Inception means for its characters (specifically lead character Dom Cobb) is open to the viewer. There are clues either way about the state of the reality he's in and, by the writer / director's own choice, you're not supposed to know what exactly happened. The film trusts you to make up your own mind, and that's part of the fun.

That's my issue with some of the "Ending Explained" articles I've seen: they don't trust the viewer to understand what happened. In fairness sometimes you have a film or series designed to have a follow up and that sequel work never materializes. That can leave a work without its proper conclusion, but at that point we're not talking about explaining an ending, we're writing an autopsy for something that never was. Explaining an ending that was meant to be ambiguous, though, means that you've just taken away the choice of the viewer, at least in the bounds of your own review. "This is the ending and it's what it means," ruins the experience for anyone else.

But then, sometimes these articles and videos explain an ending that doesn't need to be explained because it's obvious. Did you really need to have the ending of The Matrix explained? Neo became so powerful he could see the way the code worked and became a superhero. What more needs to be discussed? Sure, there's a lot of Eastern philosophy and mind bending ideas worked into the film, but the creators also stated they wanted to make a world where a superhero could exist. Neo is the superhero. No explanation needed because we already got that. He fly off, looking cool, with his trench coat flowing a way like a cape. Hell, The Matrix Reloaded even said he was, "doing his Superman thing," underlining the point unnecessarily.

I think making articles and videos to explain an ending that doesn't even need one is frankly stupid. If an ending is obvious, what is the point of going back over it (besides click-bait, of course). "Dd you realize that by wiping away Peter Parker's own life via magic, he has to start all over again at the end of Spider-man: No Way Home?" Yes, I just watched that film. I understood what I saw. Sure, there's new potential for the character in the future, and his life after this is ambiguous, but I don't need someone to explain that to me. The movie was fun but no especially deep. I got it all on my own.

The one I saw that made me especially mad was "USS Callister Ending Explained". This is a fantastic episode of television and it has a great ending (which I won't cover in detail). The fact is, thought, there's nothing really ambiguous about it. The heroes survive, the villain is left a husk, and the subtle commentary of the episode in general (toxic workplaces, creepy dudes, fighting back) is pretty obvious. Plus it's just fun, an enjoyable romp. I fail to see why someone needs to have that explained to them.

I think there are very few instances where an ending need to be "explained". Some articles go into production details and talk about the crafting of the film leading up to its ending, which really doesn't feel like an "ending explained" but "stagecraft explained". Other times these discussions center on the endings that could have been, alternate endings that were filmed and not used. Again, though, that's inside-baseball stagecraft. "Test audiences didn't like the previous ending so we made a new one." The discussion of why this happened is interesting, yes, but that doesn't really change what's on film for, say, Final Destination's ending. It's pretty obvious.

There is a case to be made that someone people prefer to know what happens in a work before they go to see it (if they even plan to see it at all). I know people that will read the last couple of pages of a book before they read the rest of it because they don't want to pick up something that doesn't have a conclusive ending. I wouldn't do that personally but I can see the reasoning. Others just want to know what happens in a work so that, if it's mentioned Online, they get the references. Those case simply requires a Wikipedia entry or a "Alien: Resurrection in five minutes or less" article. (And, frankly, five minutes of Alien: Resurrection is all I really want.)

About the only time I've seen a discussion of the ending of a work that actually made sense was a lengthy look at Wonder Woman 1984 and it's many, many flaws. That film has three lead characters -- Wonder Woman, Cheetah, and Maxwell Lord -- each with their own moral message, none of which tie together and, in fact, all seem to contradict each other. The ending discussed, though, was for Cheetah, aka Barbara Minerva, who seems to have the message thrown upon her of, "if you don't like who you are don't try to improve yourself because you'll become a villain." It's a weird message the film sends, one that was clearly not intended by writer Patty Jenkins, and I think it's something not everyone leaving the film would have read from the subtext. Some might, though, and that's worth discussing.

I think bad writing is always worth discussing. If a film is clearly and obviously flawed from inception, if it's working off a script that probably was two or three drafts away from being good, then discussing why the film was flawed is valid criticism. If the ending of a film ruins the experience that came before, that, too, is worth discussing. Nothing was going to ruin Wonder Woman 1984 as that film was bad, and the discussion I found about it tore not only the ending down but the rest of the terrible film as well. That's fair and justified. But if a film is good enough to stand on its own, you don't need to explain it to me. I'm not an idiot.

This just gets back to my main point, though: "what is the real justification for an 'Ending Explained' video or article?" Am I being obtuse? Are endings really that hard to understand such that they need to be explained to people? I rather doubt that. While there are some stupid people out in the world (and they do so love to congregate /nline), by and large people are smart enough to understand the basics of a work they just viewed. I have to assume, then, that someone wrote one of these pieces and it got a lot of eyes on it. "There's something about this ending I didn't notice? I have to go read this!" And thus, the click-bait was born.

So I get it, these things get views so people keep making them. That doesn't mean they're good, though, and it really doesn't justify the existence of "Ending Explained" works. It's better to find your own interpretation of a piece because it's what matters to you. If that aligns with what the creators wanted then you understood their view. But if you took something else away from a film or show or book that doesn't make you wrong, you just found your own meaning to the material. Whatever the case, an ending that is explained to you isn't as good as the one you discovered on your own.