Monday, April 03, 2023

When the Bad Guys Win

  My wife and I have been binging on the Neflix series, Peaky Blinders and tonight we will be watching the last two episodes of the final season.  If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a story of a gangster family, taking place right after WWI in 1919 and through tumultuous years into the 1930’s.  The name Peaky Blinders is from the gang sewing razor blades into the peaks of their hats so that they can be used as a cruel weapons. 

Much like the series the Sopranos and Breaking Bad, we’ve watched episode after episode quietly rooting for the bad guys…the antiheroes. Rooting for them, more or less. 

We’ve seen this particular family overcome incredible obstacles while using absolutely detestable methods.  But still, they hold on to a modicum of morality, at least when it comes to their own family. 

After watching the end of the last season, my wife asked, “How do you think this all will end?”

Good question.  Do we want the bad guys to win?  

Spoiler alert…if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad or the Sopranos, you may want to stop reading. 

At the end of Breaking Bad, the main protagonist, Walter White is gunned down.  True, he did so while heroically fighting a gang who had enslaved his protégé and was forcing him to manufacture methamphetamines.  He’s been doing that anyway before being captured, but he hadn’t been chained up in the lab.

So, Walter wins but he’s riddled with bullets.

Tony Soprano doesn’t go down in a blaze of glory like Walter White.  As a matter of fact, we don’t know what exactly happened to him because while Journey is playing “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the jukebox, he’s sitting in a diner with his family, and the scene goes black.

When I saw that, I thought at first my television had glitched out.

Best guess as to that ending, Tony never saw or heard his bullet.  

But when we read mysteries, I’m a firm believer we want a satisfying ending.  We want the good guys to win and justice to prevail.  Most of the mysteries, indeed, most of the books I’ve read have that kind of ending.  Not always an ending that screams, “Happily ever after”.  But enough where you can close the book and say, “They had it coming.”

Once in a while, I read a book where that’s not the case.  Two in the last year.  I won’t name them because I don’t want to spoil the ending if you haven’t read them.

One of these was a New York Times bestseller.  It got wonderful reviews and when I read it, it really was a page turner.  And then I got to the end.  The villain kills the good guy…and not only gets away with it, but is successful at stealing his work, becoming wildly rich and famous. 

Will I ever recommend the book?  I don't think so. 

In a second book, not a best seller but written by a highly respected author, the good guy is really relatable.  You love the guy.  He overcomes incredible odds. I loved the book until, once again, I got to the end.  The villain not only kills the good guy, but nobody ever knows what happens to him.  He vanishes, his body never found.  His loved will never know what happened to him. It was awful. 

I was left with a feeling of anger and annoyance. 

When asked about his ending, this particular author said, “There aren’t always happy endings.”  No worries.  I'm angry enough, I probably won't read another one of his books. 

If I want unhappy endings, I’ll read the newspaper or watch a cable news station.  That’s real life.

In the meantime, don’t tell me how Peaky Blinders ends, okay?   


Donis Casey said...

I'm with you. I don't want to get invested in someone only to lose them. That's TOO much like real life. Paradoxically, I've been mulling whether I should attempt to write a story where the hero turns out to be the villain.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Thomas, I HATE stories where the villain wins and even more, I hate shows when I don't know how it ends. And Donis I don't like stories at all where the good guy turns out to be the bad guy. I like books where good triumphs overwhelmingly and evil is banished to outer darkness never more to return. Forever and ever. In other words, I like fairy tales.

Adored Breaking Bad. And The Wire. I'll tolerate reality if the writing is just excellent.