Any good TV show being cancelled before its time stings. Whether you come to a show after its death or pick it up relatively late in the game before it is axed, there’s nothing nice about knowing you won’t get to see the conclusion to a story you’ve invested in. It’s like learning your favourite book is missing its final pages, or a great movie is about to end prior to its climax. As more and more television shows take on a novelistic approach to storytelling they begin to take the shape of long, epic tales designed to build towards a pre-developed conclusion. But unlike books and movies, TV shows are beholden to things like ratings and subscribers, and so no matter how much you love something, sometimes that something doesn’t make enough money to end on its own terms and so your love and investment becomes a cruel joke played on you.
But as much as undeserved cancellation always sucks, there’s a different, keener pain when it’s something you’ve loved since day one. When it’s a show that nobody tried to convince you to watch, but rather one you discovered yourself in its infancy, one that turned you into that annoying guy who rants at anyone who’ll listen ‘seriously man you have to check this out.’
When Hannibal was cancelled three episodes into its third season it sucked, but it wasn’t surprising. Despite a rabid cult following, Hannibal is inaccessible and strange and was probably never going to last all that long. And there seemed to be plenty of hope for another channel or streaming service to pick it up. But as the weeks went by, rights issues reared their ugly head and more and more potential saviours passed on Hannibal, I started to realise that for the first time ever I might be about to lose my favourite show before it reached its intended ending. A show I watched from its very first episode and stuck with as it found its feet and became a contender for one of the best things on television. A show based on a source material I had loved since I was a kid. A show that, unlike anything else on TV, had really felt like my show.
The thing about tight fan bases is that they can let you feel like a part of the thing you love. Back in 2013 I reviewed the first season of Hannibal for Cultfix.co.uk and I remember the thrill as showrunner Bryan Fuller thanked me for my ecstatic review of the finale over Twitter. Likewise, seeing hundreds of fans share my many Hannibal related articles on Tumblr and Twitter always made me feel at the very centre of the experience of being a Hannibal fan. There’s something warm and comforting about it, something that makes the prospect of losing the show really hurt. At the time of writing there are still five episodes left to go, so it’s not like I won’t have time to say goodbye. But those episodes are not meant to be the end. It’s not the melancholic satisfaction of watching Breaking Bad or Mad Men bring a perfect run to a perfect conclusion. They got to have their ending. Hannibal might not, and that’s a horrible feeling for something I’m this invested in.
Likewise today I read the altogether more surprising news that cult action show Banshee is ending after its fourth season. It’s almost eerily similar; Banshee was created by one of my all-time favourite writers, I stuck with it from day one and watched like a proud parent as more and more people discovered it and started suggesting it was one of the best things on TV. In its third season I started reviewing it for DenOfGeek.com and found myself in the middle of a passionate fan base not altogether different from Hannibal’s. I got thanks from cast and crew members who re-Tweeted my glowing reviews. And now Banshee, already deep in production on its fourth season, is ending before its time. The writers were clear from the start that they had a five season plan and up until recently held to that. Now we’ll probably never get to see that play out. Again, there are still new episodes to enjoy, but knowing the show will come to an unplanned ending casts a pall over the whole thing.
In this day and age I think we take TV for granted. As more and more shows are either kept alive despite low ratings or rescued when cancelled, it’s easy to assume that the stories we love will stick around until they’re ready to end. Just this morning I heard that another favourite, BoJack Horseman, was only just renewed for a third season. It came as a surprise because I have never assumed there wouldn’t be one. The idea that it might not have come back is made worse by the fact that I watched the season two finale assuming there would be more. If things had gone another way it would have been a horrible goodbye to one of my favourite new shows. Finales need to be watched as finales, otherwise you don’t get to feel all the things they’re meant to make you feel. And likewise, episodes that aren’t meant to be an ending take on a whole new meaning when you know there won’t be any more, a meaning that the episode was never meant to carry.
Stories need endings. Endings tie everything together and help you see what the whole piece of art really meant from start to finish. A TV series without an ending is a sad, sad thing. When that show means the world to you? It’s downright tragic.
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