Watching this show with her has been a bit of a marathon for us. Between living in different cities and that pesky life thing it’s taken us three years to get through the series. But it was something that was really important to us because, as previously mentioned, I am a huge Alias fan and my mum wanted to show me Alias’s darker, Canadian predecessor.
These shows are made of very similar elements: spying, angsting and drama. But where they differ is in their tone. While Alias is plenty angsty, it is also very aware of just how cool it was and so it could also be a lot of fun. Nikita is not fun. Nikita was the type of show where at one point I was legitimately scared that they were going to kill a child and have his father find the body on screen.
So it was fitting that these shows ended radically differently, one with happiness tinged with some sadness, and the other in a way that made you cry uncontrollably. And it’s the endings that I want to talk about today.
By necessity, that means that I’m going to spoil the endings of both of these shows. I don’t feel too guilty about it because both of these shows ended years ago but if you don’t wish to be spoiled now is the time to leave.
Now let’s talk.
Alias ended on a mildly happy note. A few key characters died, others were trapped by their own ambitions and obsessions, but our main characters, Sydney and Vaughn, end up together in a beach hideout with their son and daughter and with a happy future ahead of them.
It was an optimistic end, one that said that there had been a lot of things that had happened but that life goes on and that it’s still possible to get a happy ending despite all of that. There was nothing wrong with it.
Except, perhaps, that I had to struggle to remember what happened to them. There are many part of Alias that I can call to mind without struggling (most involve Mr Sark) but how Sydney and Vaughn ended up was difficult because there was nothing really too it. No emotional impact apart from the sense that life can go on despite terrible things and gladness that these characters could have a normal life after all.
Nikita, however, was a whole different kettle of fish.
In order to save Michael’s son from evil terrorists, Nikita’s father (and head of the evil spy organisation everyone has been working for/trying to escape from for the past five seasons) must sacrifice himself. He does so, but only under the condition that Nikita take over the organisation and continue in his place.
Nikita accepts the responsibility and Michael’s son is saved. But now Nikita is stuck running the organisation she hates, the one that has tried to kill her several times and that has both a special torture room and missions where operatives are explicitly sent to die. Michael, on the other hand, now has his son to look after and intends to raise him as far away from the life as possible.
After a heart wrenching goodbye scene, Michael takes his son and walks away, reassuring Nikita that one day his son won’t need him anymore and that he’ll come back. Nikita, meanwhile, goes back to survey her new empire and her prison.
Nikita’s ending fit well with the darkness of the series. If anything bad was to happen, it would and the ending reflected that. If Michael and Nikita had ended up together, it might have given me the same glad feeling that Alias gave me, it would even have fit reasonably well. But it wouldn’t have been that memorable. By keeping them both alive but apart by necessity, Nikita reached the holy grail of endings: the story was most definitely concluded but your mind was given the opportunity to travel down the path of what if.
But what do I mean by that?
With Alias, there weren’t any questions left with Sydney and Vaughn. We knew they were together, we knew they’d left their spying life behind and we knew they were raising their children on some abandoned beach somewhere. What was left for them? Some wacky day-care hijinks? A Dramedy about them trying to fit into a world where magic prophecies don’t always come true and no amount of cool costumes can save you?
But Nikita was different. Nikita is left with an organisation she never wanted, one that she was forced into in the first place, but one that she is obligated to continue because of the number of people counting on her. Does she become the person she always hated? Does she try to make changes in a system that can’t necessarily be changed?
And what about Michael? Does he end up going back to Nikita when his son has grown up? If he does would it work? In the twenty years or so that would take would they have both changed too much? Would he resent his son a little for preventing him from being with the love of his life?
All of these questions, and yet there was no feeling that the show had left anything hanging. The show tied up its loose ends and left hints about what to come for viewers’ fertile imaginations to grasp on to.
I adore this kind of ‘ending/not ending’. By concluding the main part of the story and leaving your audience with something for their minds to chew over, you allow your story to stay in their consciousness for much longer than an ending that wraps everything up neatly.
It’s a difficult line to walk, however, because if you leave too much unanswered, you risk leaving your readers hungering for your blood/for a sequel. And a sequel is about the worst thing you can do for these kinds of endings. When you leave a question, your audience’s imagination will generally fill in the blanks. And their imagination will always be much, much better than whatever you come up with.
For example, Darth Vader’s past?
What would happen if Hannibal escaped?
Leaving some elements of your ending open to the imagination ultimately makes your reader’s imaginations have to take over and, ultimately, leads to an ending their mind will chew over for a much longer time than if everything is resolved and everyone lives happily ever after.