BREAKING BAD SPOILER ALERT!
You’ve been warned.
A few months back I wrote about the beginning of Breaking Bad. How those pants falling out of the sky captured the viewers attention so that he’s willing to sit through boring back story about a boring chemistry teacher and his boring family and his sad cancer problem. He sits through all of that because he needs to know about those pants falling out of the sky. It was the perfect beginning, doing exactly what a hook is supposed to do.
The writers bookended their perfect beginning with a perfect ending.
Over the course of five seasons, Walter White systematically destroys his young partner’s life. Jesse Pinkman is a surprisingly likable character for a drug dealing addict, and it hurts to watch his life sliding slowly down into hell. By the last several episodes, Jesse is literally a slave. He’s kept in a cage and when brought out to work, he’s chained so he can’t escape.
In the final climactic and bloody moments of the show, Jesse is able to escape, climbing into a car and roaring away through the gates of the compound with a happy (and slightly crazed) grin on his laughing face. And that is the end of Jesse’s story.
Here’s the thing – put just a little thought into it, and you’ll realize Jesse is hardly out of trouble. For one thing, his fingerprints are all over the site of a massecre. The cops are probably still quite curious about all that money he had at one point, not to mention he’s the only surviving witness to the murder of two DEA agents.
The writers could have devoted ten minutes or so to showing how Jesse negotiated immunity from the cops and ended up living safely somewhere far, far away from Albuquerque, but that would have been boring.
Instead, they left us with his triumphant, laughing grin as he roared away to freedom.
It leaves each of us with the option to imagine what happened to him.
In my mind, Jesse lives in a cabin somewhere in the pacific northwest, maybe even Alaska. He has a little shop and he’s doing enough woodworking to support himself.
Jesse’s going to be okay.
The take away lesson from that?
You want a powerful ending. Don’t dilute it by trying to wrap everything up with a neat ribbon bow on top. Point us in the direction you want the ending to go. Show us a young man roaring away to freedom, and your reader will believe he’s going to be ok. Show him being tackled and arrested, and your reader will believe he’s going to prison.