Extra PunctuationOn EndingsExtra Punctuation - RSS 2.0
Endings are important. Only in the ending are the loose ends tied up, various subplots and character arcs culminate, and we learn what the point of the whole thing was. In theory, anyway. In practice you're just as likely to get a hasty "TO BE CONTINUED" thrown up while the writer's agent tries to bribe a sequel out of him with a bucket of vodka and money. But the ending is arguably the most important part of a story, even more so than the beginning. Without a beginning a story doesn't exist at all and leaves our memories unsullied, but a bad or omitted ending leaves the reader frustrated and resentful of the whole work, even if everything up to it was a tour de force literary blow job.
The ending is important because it's the last thing the audience takes away, and this isn't secret insider storytelling lore, this purports to be common knowledge. Stand-up comedians are always advised to end the set with their best joke. Movie DVD extras will often include an alternative ending, and very rarely an alternative scene from forty-five minutes in. So why, since everyone knows endings are important, have I played so many games with incredibly disappointing endings lately?
It should go without saying that there may be some spoilers in this column, so this is your warning now. I'll even embolden the names of the games I'm talking about so you can see them coming, assuming the formatting makes it past the edit.
Mafia 2 brought this subject to the forefront of my mind because Mafia 1 had quite a good ending, in which the hero is hanging around in the nice garden witness protection provided, only for some goons to show up and prune back his overgrown conscience with both barrels. In Mafia 2, meanwhile, Vito Scaletti, after a lengthy series of cock-ups that have left him marked for death, manages to fix everything the usual way one fixes everything in the Mafia - by shooting a whole bunch of greasy blokes. Then he gets into a car with his father figure, and Vito's friend Joe gets in a different car. Said father figure then heavily implies that Joe will now be answering for Vito's crimes in a probably non-survivable, bullet-related kind of way. Vito's response is to go into a bit of a sulk as the camera pulls back and the credits roll.
This was very jarring. Inasmuch as any emotion can be said to have crossed Vito's chiseled, expression-less face, the one thing that the story has established is that he is loyal to a fault, the fault being that he's marginally more loyal to his personal family than to his professional one. This is the guy who turns around and murders his employer once it comes out that he may have had something to do with Vito's father's death. Who goes behind his don's back to save the marked man who helped him in prison. And Joe has been like a brother to Vito since the beginning, they've both risked their lives for each other for far worse reasons than this. For Vito to suddenly shrug his shoulders and accept Joe getting the world's fastest crewcut seems awfully sudden. You could argue it's part of an arc in which Vito is gradually suppressing his emotions in favor of loyalty to the mafia, but it's hardly a satisfactory climax for such an arc and now you're just making excuses. Stop it.
Kane and Lynch 2 also had this amongst its colorful myriad of other significant problems. The confrontation with the main bad guy (unless Kane and Lynch are supposed to be the bad guys, which I find easier to swallow), the source of all the unpleasantness up to that point (excepting Kane and Lynch's own actions, of course), isn't even the ending, and wouldn't have been a good one even if it was. The game only ends after the next mission in an airport where Kane and Lynch hijack an airplane and rather cheekily leave the camerman behind, showing that the two of them are still precisely the same absolute amoral fuckwits they were at the start of the game. And the attempts to make Kane sympathetic by having him telephone-stalk his estranged daughter is still as insulting to the audience as ever.