The Six Phases of Discovering, Embracing, and Mourning the Completion of a Series
After finishing The Hunger Games trilogy in just two weeks, I went from being consumed by the series to feeling a sense of loss once it was all over. I found myself filling every spare minute with the reading of a page, until it came to the final moments of Mockingjay. By that point, I slowed down, reluctantly flipped the final page, and literally closed the chapter on this literary whirlwind.
I wanted to finish it, but I didn't want it to end.
It's what I go through every time I become engrossed in a series - of books, of TV episodes, whatever. It's what I felt when my husband and I finished the last episode of Six Feet Under, after spending months watching episode after episode. And I think it breaks down into a very distinct sequence:
The Discovery/Word of Mouth Phases
Whether it's friends at work, family members at a holiday meal, or even a best-of compilation in a magazine article, there are TV shows or books that sweep in and capture the world's fancy. Sometimes you can get right in at the beginning of the tidal wave, sometimes you become the tidal wave, or sometimes you're a Johnny-Come-Lately when it comes to what's trendy.
At times, I fall into that latter category. I get suspicious when people - whether friends or journalists or critics or celebrities - jump on the same bandwagon. Is ___ really all that amazing? There are plenty of popular or successful things that are downright mediocre - Twilight, Nickelback, etc.
Yet at some point, we succumb to the curiosity. We want to discover that next show or book we'll be obsessed with, we want to join in the discussion at work or in social circumstances. Because what's worse than being left out of something?
After key endorsements from those we trust, we decide to commit, ready for hours spent flipping pages or changing out DVDs.
The Hesitant, Breaking In, Blind Date Phase
Who are all of these people? How will I keep these names and places straight? Why did I get myself into this mess? It's those feelings that often take over in the breaking in phase. New characters, plot lines, and all of those other little nuances take awhile to get used to, no doubt. There are plenty of people who try on a book or TV show for size and decide to give up, based on the first chapter or pilot episode. I like to give things a chance though, if only because this initial, short-lived awkward phase can often lead to...
The Falling in Love Phase
How did we not meet sooner? Why is everything so fresh, so wonderful, so new and funny? Favorite characters emerge, we begin to root for a relationship or a cause we otherwise wouldn't have known existed, if we hadn't taken the time to get entrenched in their worlds. We gush to everyone about the show or the book, wearing tired eyes as a badge of honor that we are fully committed to seeing this thing through late nights and early mornings. And just as we get to a speechless or heartbreaking or jaw-dropping cliffhanger, here comes the next part of the series just waiting for us. That is the beauty of being a Johnny Come Lately when it comes to these matters - if the storyline has been started, written, and completed, there's no waiting for the next book or the next season. It's ripe for the picking. But soon, the honeymoon is over.
The Out of Obligation Phase
The excited, enthusiastic, cheerful tone of "one more chapter!" or "let's watch one more episode!" turns to a dragging, obligated sense of the need to continue on. Those early days were so good, that magic and newness. But other characters get piled in, just when we were getting comfortable. Plot lines seem far-reaching, the characters' flaws become more annoying than endearing. There's no sense of harmony the way everything felt in the early days. We're already committed, and we can't deny the love we feel for the series, but why does it feel like the ending is so far out of reach? Why can't it just end already, so I can get back to my normal life programming and not be consumed by these imaginary friends and their downright bad luck? Why can't it just end?
The Why Does It Have to End? Phase
As sure as the Out of Obligation Phase makes us feel weary with no end in sight, the ending always seems to come, as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. Plot lines begin to tie up in neat little bows or more mysteries begin to pile up, and often there is a longing for more time - just another season, just another chapter. We took the material for granted, glazed over whole sections because we wanted to get to that big finale so badly. We wanted to talk with others about it, to be a part of the conversation of great series that all but consume their consumers. And yet the finishing of a series becomes a state of mourning, a goodbye to the little world created within the series. A goodbye to the characters who inhabited that world. They can live on in conversations and movie adaptations, but the story will still end where we know it ends, once it has reached its end. In a way, there's a relief that the commitment has been fulfilled, all possible avenues and material consumed - I remember finishing Six Feet Under and having such a difficult time turning off the TV that we ended up watching all of the DVD extras, from cast interviews to behind the scenes factoids from the writers and creators. And still, there comes a point where everything new to the series is gone, and the relationship is over. All that's left are the fond memories of late nights and quiet hours spent with the series. And of course, the desire to become one of those word-of-mouth people, helping others to discover what their free time is missing.
I don't know what my next Six Feet Under or Hunger Games obsession will be. For now, I feel like I need to take a breather, but it won't be long before I'm up for the challenge of falling head over heels for a series that consumes me.