Did They, Or Didn’t They? TV’s Ambiguous Endings

In recent weeks, Sunday nights (some Monday nights, too) have found me gripped by the BBC thrillers Showtrial and You Don’t Know Me.

Both shows are ostensibly similar, involving a lead character accused of murder and facing trial; the suspense coming from whether they will be found guilty or not guilty at the conclusion.  Where they vary is in their social backdrop.  Showtrial involves a spoilt, rich university student and her world of money and privilege; You Don’t Know Me centres around south London drug and gang culture.

In each story, the prosecution is able to produce evidence which appears to make the lead protagonist’s claims of innocence palpably false; but then, by the same token, the defence will bob up with a story to explain away all the same evidence in a perfectly reasonable manner.  Guilty, or not guilty?  In each case, I could scarcely wait for the verdict.



Up bobs that curse of modern TV drama: the ambiguous ending.

I have finished watching both series now, and I am still none the wiser as to whether Talitha Campbell stuffed Hannah Ellis into a black wheelie bin, or not; and I don’t even know what the jury’s final verdict was when it comes to deciding if Hero had offed Jamil in a back alley in Camberwell.

I am left having enjoyed both shows but, ultimately feeling let down.  When real life is so ambiguous, I turn to fiction for certainty.  I want my authors to show… authority.

Of course, when it comes to ambiguous endings, there are plenty of precedents.  John Fowles offers three alternative endings in The French Lieutenant’s Woman; Margaret’s Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an incomplete narrative; almost everything by Daphne Du Maurier could qualify (and Rowan Edmonds – Ed.); The Mystery of Edwin Drood – although I guess that wasn’t strictly speaking the author’s fault.

Sometimes on TV, you know the ending has been left ambiguous because there are plans to have a second series, but for stand-alone dramas… 

Don’t leaving me hanging.  Just tell me the answer.

© Stephanie Snifter

Ambiguous endings get Stephanie Snifter in a spin.

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