Now that the aftershock of the series six finale of Line of Duty has begun to settle… what does our reaction tells us about how we engage with stories and our need to believe in a “happily-ever-after”? (If you’ve not yet seen it – don’t worry, I promise this will be a spoiler-free blog!).
The Finishing Line…
For me personally, not since the M15 drama Spooks (remember that?) have I been so addicted to a BBC drama. On paper it shouldn’t work – a drama based on a Police Corruption Investigation Team??! It hardly sounds like a strong pitch. But the stories lines have always been so strong, the characters (and relationships) so believable, and the twists so unpredictable, that it has been one of the only ‘much-watch-telly’ events for me over the past couple of years.
Which each new series, the expectation has peaked and peaked again; this success only adding huge pressure on the writer, Jed Mercurio to deliver on the promise of a huge reveal that has been years in the making.
The level of anticipation before the final episode felt more like a blockbuster than the beeb, with all kinds of fan theories revolving around the identity of it’s central villain, and maybe those expectations were always unrealistically high…
I don’t know if you are a fan, or what you thought of the final episode – but the public reaction was extraordinary! The general feeling seemed to range from bitter disappointment, through to confusion, right through to actual anger at the final reveal!
The Shrine of Story
It’s not the first time the ending of a major TV drama or movie series has provoked such powerful reactions. Remember the furore when Game of Thrones ended? I must confess that I didn’t actually watch that show at all – but there was actually a fan campaign to have the final episode retracted and rewritten!!
Before that there was the divisive ending of the HUGELY popular Lost that seemed to leave many of the show’s core questions unanswered.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, I won’t mention The Rise of Skywalker – or if you’re a Star Trek fan, that final episode of Enterprise… and I’m still not able to joke about the conclusion to The Matrix trilogy…(!)
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
The question is – why should we care? Isn’t up the writers how these shows end? After all, it’s their world we’re in, and it’s their characters we’re watching, right?
Well, no… not really. At least… that’s not how it feels.
The truth is when we’re gripped by a good story – we invest emotionally in the journey. Studies show that our brains are actually ‘living the experience’ – chemicals are released that are associated with pleasure and empathy. It’s incredible – even when we know that the characters are fictional – we are able to suspend that knowledge long enough to care deeply about their outcome.
Whether on the big or small screen, or sat around the dinner table or camp fire… stories matter.
They matter because they move us, inspire us, warn us or compel us. To put it simply: our stories are what shape us.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –
those He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those He gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
The End of the Line
Author Edgar Allan Poe argued that the closing paragraph of a novel should be the first thing that you write, and that everything else that comes before should be written with this end goal in sight. I’m not sure that’s true in every case, but how a story ends ultimately shapes your understanding of what the whole story has been about. (One of my favourite examples of this is Frank Peretti’s brilliant novel: The Oath, an incredible modern parable I read as a teenager that still lives on in my mind!)
For those who were disappointed with Line of Duty, it’s not just that they didn’t like the ending – it’s the feeling of being misunderstood by (or perhaps their own misunderstanding of) the writer and his intention. Jed Mercurio’s story was about something very different than people had grasped: a complex social commentary on the power of institutional corruption rather than a more simple (and conventional) ending.
Disliking an author’s choices is one thing – but the feeling of being deeply let down (or even betrayed) by an ending points us to something else entirely… we feel like we’ve had our investment wasted, our desires misunderstood, and our feelings misled. Why is that? Could it be because deep down we’re all hoping for a happy ending… all longing to be part of a bigger and better story?
The Story of My Life
One of Jesus’ preferred ways of communicating was through story telling – His parables are some of the most well-known stories in the world. In fact He was so committed to this teaching style, that Matthew tells us:
He did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
Jesus was a master storyteller whose images live long in your mind after the telling:
- the house foolishly being built on the sand,
- the dirty prodigal son back in his father’s tight embrace,
- the petrifying reckoning day for the servant who buried their talent in the ground.
And somehow, in their telling – if I’m listening closely – I find myself in those stories… for the first hearers, and every generation since, there is that shocking moment of recognition as we realise: He’s talking about me.
- I’m the lost sheep He recklessly leaves the 99 to find!
- I’m the servant who is totally forgiven of all my debts and yet unforgiving towards those who owe me an insignificant amount by comparison…!
- I‘m the Priest and the Levite who all too often crosses over to the other side to avoiding helping the bruised and battered in my life…
See, Jesus wasn’t afraid of telling stories with wild twists and turns – and yes, even confusing and controversial endings… but despite of that (or is it because of that) those stories live on in our hearts and minds. They don’t so much settle an argument as start a conversation with Him; inviting us deeper into God’s story, and inviting Him to rewrite ours.
You can imagine people going home after listening to Jesus tell His stories, and sitting around the dinner table debating them. What did He mean? Who was He talking to/talking about? Was He right about God, about the Kingdom, about me?
Some of Jesus’ stories have endings that probably caused a similar stir to the Line of Duty finale:
- How can you end a story on a question (as in the case the Prodigal son)?
- How can the Samaritan be the hero who fulfils God’s law to love his neighbour?
- Who would throw a party over finding one coin (that presumably costs more than the coin you’d lost in the first place!!)?
But each controversial ending forces us to see the whole story differently… and then ultimately to see the whole world differently… to flip my whole world view on it’s head so I can actually see the “Upside-Down-Kingdom” of God at work.
The stories we tell matter to us because of our need to believe.
They are powerful precisely because they give meaning to our existence – giving our day-to-day lives a structure and a purpose, helping us to find a place in the grand scheme of things.
We don’t all wish for a child-like “happily-ever-after” scenario – but on a deeper level, we all want our lives to have meant something, to have been part of something greater, to tell a noble and meaningful story. But what story do we serve? And whose story?
One book series that certainly didn’t disappoint was: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the very final paragraph of The Final Battle we read these words:
“All their life in this world had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which each chapter is better than the one before.”
C.S. LEWIS – THE FINAL BATTLE
For C.S. Lewis, it is Jesus that gives us that bigger picture – that better story… And so much more than a fairy tale ending, Lewis’ parable awakens in us that longing for ‘the Great Story’ – for our mistakes to be erased, for our lives to have meaning, for our need to be loved.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Ultimately, all of our heroes have the potential to fail us, and none of us can ever really know how our own stories are going to turn out… but if Jesus is ‘the author and finisher’ of our faith we can be confident that the ending will be far from disappointing! Spoiler-alert: it is going to be good – unimaginably good!
However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived” all that God has prepared for those who love Him!
1 CORINTHIANS 2.9
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