I’ve never watched the 5th season of Babylon 5. I’m told that this was a wise decision.
I didn’t watch Babylon 5 when it was actually on the air. I caught the first few episodes, but it just didn’t take with me on its first pass through the filter. It was only a few years ago that I finally settled in, resolved to engage in the show’s rich mythology. Again, the first season nearly wore that resolve away, but eventually, as is true of so many shows I remember with great fondness, the show built its own momentum and found a distinct narrative voice, and I was hooked.
As is all too common in this modern age of television consumption, I binge-watched seasons 2–5. It was a torrid affair, and one that I remember fondly. As the episodes and seasons bled together, the story escalated and became increasingly layered, building to something momentous: a story resolution that I’d come to genuinely care about. Then it dismounted and stuck the landing, and I was happy, which is when I was presented with the choice.
It had been made clear to me at the outset of my adventure that I should disregard the final season of the show altogether, which is exactly what I did. I bring this up because I’ve found a new show to devour, and I’ve come to a similar, all-too appropriate crossroads. I find again that my inclination is to back slowly away from the table before the next course is served, and leave satisfied and happy.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is the example most people seem to use to describe this phenomenon, and it’s a pretty good one. If you’ve not seen the movie, AI seems to land naturally at a final if bittersweet resolution, with even the good sense to seem to almost completely fade out – as though the credits might roll at any moment. But, instead, it trundles on into some twenty or thirty minutes of bizarre directionlessness.
“When you think the movie’s over, it is. Just stop it there.” People will usually say this when talking to someone who hasn’t seen AI, and it’s good advice. It’s what I wish I’d done, because I’d have this nice memory of a quirky but largely enjoyable story, and would think fondly of the film. As it is, having not stopped there, "fond" is not the word that rings to mind now when I think of AI.
For my wife, the example is Moulin Rouge. Moulin Rouge does not necessarily have a happy ending – unless, that is, you stop it at just the right place, which is what she does on the occasions when she watches it. It’s to the point where, even though in her first viewing she watched the whole thing, she’s changed the narrative in her head such that the inevitable fall that marks the story’s resolution just doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s like walking out of the casino when you’re up $100 at the craps table. Yes, there’s at least a reasonable chance that when you cash out, you’re leaving money you might have won on the table. What if you’d stayed, kept your head and come out with $1000 instead? But, of course, that’s how casinos make their money, with thoughts and temptations like that.
The show I’ve been watching of late is Supernatural. It’s a flawed show, but one that I grew increasingly charmed by as I watched its first few episodes. There was something familiar and likable in its pacings, its subject matter, its desire to balance comedy and horror. Most importantly, it was one of those shows that found better and better footing as I ran its marathon. The more I watched, the more cohesive and inventive it became. Most of the time it rewarded me for watching.
I didn’t actually enter my viewing spree with any kind of warning, or a clean roadmap of what seasons to watch and which ones to pass up. But I find I’ve come to a place in the show where I have that same instinctive sense as I did watching AI or Babylon 5. It’s reached a natural resolution, the root note hit solid at the end of an elegant progression, and I wonder if I might not just stop now, take my metaphorical $100 and cash in.
If I found out they’d never made another episode of the show, I’d be happy with what I’ve had. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and in fact to walk away now would leave multiple seasons on the table, and for all the resolution that exists where I am now, there are also a lot of unanswered questions.
I think I can live with that, though. Besides, I don’t necessarily mind narrative resolutions that don’t tie up every loose end. It’s more an emotional landing point that I’m looking for – some kind of ending that resolves the big idea, even if bits here and there remain tantalizingly ambiguous.
Still, it feels a little wrong, in that same way that just drifting away from a game you enjoy before you actually finish it feels a little wrong. My Steam list if chock full of these orphaned good games, where I reached a point where I felt satisfied, yet concerned that if I kept going I might actually lose that sense of satisfaction.
And, if I’m honest, most of the time when I ignore the voice in my head that says "stop," I almost always find myself having traveled further down the road and regretting that decision. Few and far between are the instances where I think to myself, “Thank goodness I didn’t stop watching this show when I’d planned to.”
The problem is, there’s a difference between "few-and-far-between" and "never."
Still, I think I’ll push away from the table and not risk getting to that moment where I wish I hadn’t taken that one last bite. It’s been a good experience, and I can’t shake this nagging feeling that even if it stays good, it won’t keep getting better. I’ll get to the end and be among the crowd that says things like, “I enjoyed the whole thing, but the last few seasons just weren’t as good.” And I hate saying things like that.