A great beginning keeps readers turning the pages. A great ending builds a fan base, because readers will be thinking about the book long after turning the last page. We’ve all experienced the satisfaction of a perfect ending to a book, movie, or television series. But what’s the secret?
What makes the ending of one story great, while another story’s ending leaves us unfulfilled?
The finale of the TV series WHITE COLLAR helped solve this mystery for me. The series ending was so perfect, I couldn’t help breaking it down, analyzing the elements that lead up to a culmination of satisfaction.
But first, an overview of the series for those who may not be familiar with the main characters and premise of the series.
White Collar ~ The Series
The third time turns out to be the charm for criminal Neal Caffrey. He has been eluding FBI agent Peter Burke for years, a run that finally comes to an end with his capture. But after the resourceful prisoner escapes from a maximum-security facility, then is nabbed once again by Burke, Caffrey suggests a different end-game: In return for freedom, he’ll help the Feds catch long-sought criminals. Though skeptical, Burke soon realizes that Caffrey’s instincts and insight are a rare commodity. Caffrey’s trusted friend and co-conspirator with ties to the criminal underworld, Mozzie, also becomes a useful source for Burke and the FBI. [Series Synopsis]
The series was well written with engaging characters and story lines, and plot threads with enough twists to keep the most agile guessing. Mozzie, Neil’s sidekick, added a delightful streak of rebellious quirkiness for comic relief.
Ingredients of a Great Ending
*** SPOILER ALERT ***
If you don’t want to know how White Collar ends, STOP now.
Ingredients for a satisfying ending, with examples from White Collar:
- The promise of the premise for the story and the genre is paid off. The FBI promised Neil Caffrey his freedom if he was instrumental in helping them solve their toughest ‘white collar’ cases. To satisfy the promise for this genre, justice had to be served to this end. Neil does go free after making the ultimate sacrifice when pulling off a sting on a treacherous ring of international thieves.
- The main character’s arc (Neil Caffrey) is completed in a believable fashion. Neil’s loyalty to Peter (as an FBI representative) and his wife Elizabeth becomes true, when he realizes his freedom ultimately threatens the lives of the couple and their unborn child. Neil also shows deep remorse when his actions hurt an innocent young woman he’s forced to befriend to bring down the thieves. For the first time he questions his life and the role he plays with the FBI. The completion of the character arcs for Peter and Elizabeth Burke, and of course, Mozzie, though less dramatic, are equally rewarding. It would take too long to explain them all here in detail. Trust me. Better yet, watch the series.
- The main character earns the payoff, internally as well as externally. In the end, Neil overcomes his inability to trust Peter (as an FBI representative), and puts the safety and well-being of his friends before his own. To ensure their safety, Neil secretly masterminds the final phase of the sting. His selfless actions earn him his freedom and happiness.
- There’s a significant sacrifice for the pay off. For Neil to earn his freedom (payoff), he made the ultimate sacrifice. He fakes his own death to ensure the lifelong safety of his friends—sparing them from retaliation by the gang members caught in the sting. Neil can never talk to or see the people who mean the most to him again. The ingenious method he uses to fake his death added to the overall satisfaction.
- Enough is left to the imagination without leaving unanswered questions. Everything isn’t tied up neatly, leaving “what happens next” up to the audience’s imagination. In the final scenes, Peter Burke discovers clues leading to the storage locker Neil secretly rented during the initial planning of the sting. What Peter finds gives him insights into how Neil faked his death, thus assuaging his remorse over the loss of his friend. In the final shot, we see Neil strolling down a Parisian side street wearing his fedora, a satisfied smile on his face and a carefree spring in his step.
If you have an a Perfect ending Element to add to the list, Please do!