Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Good-bye and Thank You

"(HOUSTON, TX) -- Romance Writers of America has outlined two elements -- a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending -- as the crux of their association’s official definition of a romance novel."

I always thought I understood the emotionally satisfying ending part of this definition. It was the loophole that allowed stories that ended with the hero and heroine not together in the traditional sense to still be considered a romance. If the entire story centered around the hero and heroine coming to terms with their love for each other and overcoming the obstacles standing between them, but in the end they had to part ways for whatever reason, the story could still be called a romance.

In Green Card, when the Gerard Depardieu character is deported back to France after finally breaking through the icy exterior of the Andie MacDowell character, we still feel hopeful that these two will find a way to be together. In almost every young adult love story, you kind of know in your heart that the characters are too young to settle down - teen marriages have a very high failure rate - and assume some more living needs to be done before the final, final happily every after. But you feel good about any ending that shows them together for at least the short term.

If the obstacles have been overcome, if the characters have realized, accepted and admitted their love, and if it looks like their future together is pretty much certain even if there will be a hiccup or two along the way, I think it's safe to call the ending emotionally satisfying. Even if they can't be together, if they've shared much and they part with the prospect of future happiness for both characters, I would argue the ending can still be emotionally satisfying in a bittersweet way.

On Sunday night, Queer As Folk aired its final episode after a great five-season run. Since the writers knew going in that this would be the last season, they had a lot of opportunity to tie things up into neat little bows. I think most of us loyal viewers had expectations to get emotionally satisfying endings for all of the regular characters. And for the most part, I think this end was met.

Sort of.

If you've read me regularly, you already know that I've long enjoyed the romance played out between bad boy Brian Kinney and wide-eyed artist Justin Taylor. Those two characters have suffered more to be together than many a romance novel hero and heroine, and the two actors had such great chemistry that they lit up the screen in nearly every scene they had together. I suffered every high and low in their relationship and have rooted loudly for their well-earned happily-ever-after.

Except, all along a Herculean obstacle existed in their path in the form of Brian's attitude. Brian is an out and proud gay man who has always felt that the institutions adopted in the heterosexual world were ridiculous and hypocritical. He disdained marriage, laughed at monogamy, and pretty much rejected the entire concept of love as just a way for straight people to get laid on a regular basis. It took an awful lot for Brian to fall in love with Justin, and even more for him to actually admit it.

When Brian proposed marriage to Justin and Justin accepted - after a bit of expected suspicion - I was a mix of joy and disbelief. My own definitions of happily every after include things like marriage, or at least some commitment that ensures the couple will be together until the ends of their lives. It also involves monogamy. Somehow, though, I could not wrap my brain around the idea of Brian remaining monogamous. It went against everything the character had represented, and despite the countless examples in romance land where the rake becomes reformed by the love of the right woman, in real life this just didn't seem possible. (Yeah, I know this isn't real life either, but go with me, okay?)

Sure enough, from pretty much the moment Justin agreed to marry him, Brian became a shadow of his former self. He lost all of the spark that made him Brian. He walked around with a somber look on his face, used words and expressions he'd mocked in the past (cuddle being something he'd snort at both literally and figuratively until after he became Justin's fiancé). In trying to play the part of what he envisioned being a married man would entail, he was no longer the no apologies, no regrets, balls-to-the-wall character I'd grown to love.

Nor was he the man that Justin had grown to love.

So they called it off. Both of them determined that neither of them wanted the other to sacrifice personal happiness in the name of love. Justin didn't want to be married to a man who no longer acted anything like the person he'd come to love. Brian didn't want Justin to sacrifice a promising art career in New York City to remain in Pittsburgh as Brian's spouse.

At the end of the show, Justin left for New York, and we viewers were led to believe that it was a mutual decision that resulted in mutual satisfaction. The writers had set things up so well - showing us so completely how marriage would change Brian into a walking zombie and how much Justin would be losing in settling down so young - we knew things could happen no other way.

Ta da. There's your emotionally satisfying ending. Right?

Right and wrong.

Right because from a long while back, I knew - knew in my heart of hearts even though I didn't want it to be true - that marriage between these two characters would be impossible. In fact, had the show's executive producers and lead writers, Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, taken Brian and Justin down that aisle, I would have accused them to caving into fan demands and committing character assassination. As much as I wanted these two together forever, it wasn't what was real for the characters as I had grown to know them. So I have to give applause to Cowen and Lipman for remaining true to the characters in spite of the possible outrage doing so might create.

And if it couldn't be between these two, the way that it ended was at the very least something I could accept. The door wasn't shut completely - Justin assured Brian (and us viewers) that they'd see each other often. That they didn't need vows and rings to prove how much they loved each other. The two parted after a poignant love-making scene that brought tears streaming down my face. We are left to believe that if these two aren't together in the right now, there's no reason to believe that it might not happen five or ten or twenty years down the road.

But this is where the "wrong" comes in, because I don't really believe that they will ever be together again.

Neither did Brian.

Justin is very young. He's heading off to NYC, supposedly to fame as a great artist. He'll be meeting lots of people, and he's a loving, generous person who will find love easily. Chances are he'll find his life partner in NYC and Brian will move into his history as the first - and maybe the best - love of his life. Justin will be happy.

Brian, on the other hand, will presumably return to his old ways. Granted, he's now a different person than he was before. He's much more giving. He knows what it is to really care about someone, enough to sacrifice even the very person you are for the one you love. He understands that things must change, that he can't remain a perpetually young club boy forever, and that happiness comes from accepting such change. He also sees that life can be so much better when it's shared.

I don't think Brian can go back to being happy and satisfied in his aloneness. I think Brian has learned that needing people and being needed in return is not an evil to be avoided but rather something that makes life richer. Sweeter. Better.

That's why this wasn't an emotionally satisfying ending.

Brian isn't happy. Despite the last scene that showed him dancing in the club that defines the kingdom he's always ruled, I felt like Brian will always be pining for Justin. Love came so hard for this guy - so difficult to attain and so deeply felt once it was - he strikes me as that once in a lifetime kind of person. It's as if he's now a widower, his one true love lost to him forever. And this is a blow struck so severely that he will never truly heal from the pain of it. He loved Justin begrudgingly but deeply, and his is a soul that will never be complete again now that Justin is gone. I just cannot see how he will ever be at peace with his life again.

My point in all of this is that I firmly believe that a good romance doesn't always have to end with the hero and heroine (or other hero) walking down the aisle. I don't need to see them in rocking chairs surrounded by fat grandchildren. If they must part ways because of circumstances or because of who they are, I can accept the bittersweetness of it all. Because life isn't always perfect, and sometimes love isn't enough.

But for a story ending to be emotionally satisfying, I have to believe that whatever happens, both of the characters have the potential for future happiness. Not just resignation or eventual acceptance or even satisfiction with their lives as they must now be led, but real, true happiness.

In the case of Brian and Justin, only half of that equation was met.

On Sunday night, my heart didn't break because one of my favorite couples didn't end up together. It broke for Brian Kinney.

I do want to thank the cast, crew, producers and everyone involved in the show for giving me five wonderful years. You all deserve a standing ovation. Bravo.


meljean brook said...

Sigh. I don't have this network on my cable subscription, but I'm definitely going to have to check out the seasons on DVD.

Leana said...

I really enjoyed your write up on the series finale of QAF. I'm really going to miss the show.

Let me know if you write up anything more about it.

Steph T. said...

You said it perfectly - I could just weep for Brian. I want to see _him_ happy. And I agree that the marriage could never have worked, but I just feel like all his walls have been broken down but for who and what? *sigh*

But the ending scenes just killed me. I think I need to go back and watch all of season one to make me feel better. I _loved_ season one.

Anonymous said...

I've linked your well written piece in livejournal land. I hope that's okay!


Anonymous said...

You wrote my mind!

I came across your blog from a link in my flist. I think I'm going to enjoy reading your future posts. :)

Anonymous said...

From LJ land via galedreamer's link: I couldn't agree more. This is exactly what I felt but couldn't put my finger on it. I actually DID like the end of series 5 up to a point and thought that Brian-getting-married was so out of character, in spite of very good reasons for being so, that it just didn't ring true for me, but yes, the lack of emotional satisfaction WAS because it felt at the expense of Brian's future.

Regards, Sildil

Anonymous said...

I got this link through Galedreamer also - you expressed my views exactly. I've been trying to say the same since the last episode but you said it so much better.

philflam - long time QAF fan

Anonymous said...

(here via galedreamer from livejournal)

This was beautifully thought out and expressed and void of so much of the incindiary emotion slaying the fandom right now. You are exactly right. I thank you for taking the time to put this down on 'screen.'

Anonymous said...

Excellent and well expressed conclusions after the S5 finale. Months later I still can't accept the future we must anticiapte for Brian Kinney. I agree that Justin can move forward, he's always had the capacity for love and he'll find it again - probably with someone a lot easier to deal with. But try as I might, I can't see Brian ever really opening up to another man in the ways he did with Justin. I don't see Brian ever truly being happy. And that makes my heart hurt.


Tracie said...

Coming here from LJ-land via galedreamer's link...

This was so eloquent and well said, and expresses perfectly why some people were scratching their heads at the end of Season 5.


briansblonde said...

Yep! Everything you said and more.

sass said...

I just came over via a Live Journal link, and you write exactly what I feel. TY TY

Reboot said...

Excellent summary of the ending. Many of us feel the same way you do but you expressed it so eloquently.

As a devoted viewer of the show for five years, the ending left me cold without the hope that the producer/writers intended for those last scenes to represent. Sadly they seem oblivious to their core audience's satisfaction.

tgal said...

WORD, sister. Got here the same way most of the others did - via Galedreamer. You SO hit the nail on the head. Is there anyway that we can ensure Cowlip reads this?? It beautifully communicated what went wrong for so many of us - without being nasty. Thank you, and I wish you all the best on your road to publication.

Anonymous said...

EXACTLY. Got here via Galedreamer, like the other LJer's. The ending just hurt my heart because, Brian, a true hero, deserved better. No successful story would have survived the editors with this ending. That's why so many fans have been re-writing ep 513 and its aftermath-- and doing a better job of it than the series writers. Maybe you should give it a go?

Anonymous said...

If you want to be a writer, then your viewing of Queer as Folk should be a lesson well-learned. Those two characters were never intended to stay together, were not fighting obstacles on their way to true happiness. They both wanted different things out of life, first-time crush and need to be ego stroked aside. The producers have warned over and over against overly romanticising the characters. You are right, it is not intended that they will be together eventually. But that is writing that is true to the characters. And it's not a tragic ending for Brian. He's just Brian at the end, no more and no less.

Anonymous said...

Just dropping by again to say I hope you don't mind the fact that I linked you on my live journal. I see you've had quite a few new responses, most of them extremely favorable. There's always a few anonymous ney sayers - so don't sweat the small stuff.

galedreamer (http://www.livejournal.com/users/galedreamer/)

Michael said...

I agree with much of what you've written. I also feel that the writers gave us a sense that Justin had simply given up on the relationship at the end, that perhaps he felt Brian would never willingly change. This was disappointing because in doing so they(CowLip) disparaged and discounted the complexity and depth of the relationship given us over the four previous seasons...very disappointing. I do think Brian was at a point where he wanted to settle down with Justin, and sacrificed that desire to push Justin into going to NY, hence the zombie you mention, not so much that Brian was unhappy about the commitment, but that he did that to force the NY issue. And it did work, he fooled Justin, something I find unbelievable after all they've been through and not something Justin would've let him get away with again.
I think realism would have been B/J deciding against the marriage but having their own type of commitment, that was the ending I think the majority of viewers expected and would have been more "realistic" than what we got.
Season 5 was a disappointment, the writers made caricatures of Brian and Justin(or one might even say stereotypes of themselves}, they were merely shadows of their former selves.
I agree the finale was not emotionally satisfying, it was troubling as were the writers' motivations in the manner in which they dealt with B/J in season 5.
I don't think the fans over romanticized B/J at all, the writers purposefully made them the most romantic pairing on the show with the aim to hook the viewers and create attachment to that relationship--the suggestion that they gave us warnings not to over romanticize is absolutely untrue, that statement was made after the fact... after the spoilers came out.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone saw them as a romantic couple. Only the die-hard B/J fans saw it that way. Go out and talk to the average viewer on the street and they will laugh at the idea. The two characters never communicated well. They never wanted the same thing. B/Jers even saw love in the first season when Justin was essentially stalking a reluctant Brian. They saw love when Brian let Justin live with him after the bashing, refusing to acknowledge that guilt was the reason. The pattern went on for five years. Yes, Brian came to love Justin, but it was not a forever after kind of love. Too many thought it was the Brian and Justin Show and failed to understand the real story being told. When the show ended, some of us hoped that the hard-core would finally understand the bigger picture. Why continue to rail against an ending that makes sense? And it's not a tragic ending. To borrow a word from Brian: it's inevitable. Try to understand it. If 1+1=3 then maybe you aren't on the right page. I don't read romance novels and I would never have watched QAF if that's what they were serving up.

Anonymous said...

And, to clarify, the warning not to over-romanticise was in every statement ever said about Brian by anyone associated with the show for five years. Re-read Gale's and Randy's interviews, just as one example.

Anonymous said...

First off, I want to apologize to the writer of this blog who tried to write an intelligent commentary...and of course a "Brian/Michael shipper" comes in and tries to start up a war. Let's call a spade a spade shall we? The few of these B/M folks who still exist are writing the same exact crap about B/J *being over- romanticized and the true love never really existing, that it wasn't the B/J show* in their live journals and B/M sites...of course what this person is purposefully omitting is she thinks QAF was the B/M show. To say outrageous stuff like Brian only took Justin in because of the bashing and only due to guilt is the childish spinning of a B/M shipper, obviously it was much more than that, anyone could see how deep the relationship was through the 5 seasons...Brian would never stay with someone out of guilt. The truth is the B/J fans outnumber any of other fans and the reason why that pairing was featured predominantly on the show. Anyone who makes ridiculous statements that assert if you talk to any average viewer on the street, is hardly supporting their argument, because I doubt this person has talked to every average viewer on the street!! I go by what I see on the internet and it's obvious much of the focal point of the show has been on Brian and Justin. If you didn't like the B/J relationship, fine, but quit demeaning it and acting like their love was inconsequential and didn't matter... just because you never got your B/M. Again I apologize to the writer of this blog, I am just sick and tired of reading the same repetitive nonsense that certain people keep repeating over and over whenever they have a chance to interrupt an intelligent discourse about the show.

Anonymous said...

And in response to the second post made about Gale or Randy interviews... I have read every one of their interviews since the show began, many times. Never have they given "warnings" informing viewers specifically that they should not over-romanticize the B/J relationship. Pure hogwash. Obviously the relationship is not perfect, what relationship is? There wouldn't have been a story to write and neither would the relationship have been so compelling if it had been perfectly romantic and problem-free.

Dreambee3 said...

Excellent summary, and I completely agree with you. You expressed the emotions I felt at series end - I grieved for Brian, for his aloneness, and his losses. Certainly for the loss of Justin, and of course it was the Brian and Justin romance that was central, but I will add one more loss, that of Gus - it was too cruel for Brian to suffer both his lover leaving, and also his son, especially so close together. The final image was of Brian alone, and unhappy. There will always be differences of views in this love story, and that’s perfectly understandable, and very normal. It ended perfectly for some, but for those who felt it as you expressed it – I don’t think the producers/writers will truly understand the depth of feeling, and care, that this segment of fans had for Brian – I hope they read your summary, then perhaps they will.

Anonymous said...

I guess I hit a nerve. Believe it or not, this was not intended as a hostile message. Believe what you want to believe, stay blinded by your B/J worship and fail to see the overall central themes of the show. And continue to feel that the producers let you down, did not give you the relationship you were "promised." Randy and Gale have both given more than one interview in which they've tried to explain why Brian and Justin would not stay together, were not right for each other. I didn't invent those interviews. And I don't need to cite them, either, except that perhaps you will listen to them if not me. This isn't about shipper wars. I am not a B/M shipper and I am satisfied with the ending for all the characters (I would rather not have seen the gals move to Canada but I understand the point that TPTB wanted to make). And, by the way, one doesn't have to be a B/M shipper to understand the importance of their relationship (always dismissed by B/J shippers), central to the entire story since they were set up as the closest relationship on the show and yet opposites in terms of how they approach life and what they want out of it - and that is how the story plays out to the end. Why not step back objectively and think about a scenario in which it all makes SENSE? Because it does.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add another comment to the one above. I didn't say that Brian stayed with Justin for five years out of guilt. I said that BJers saw love even when Brian let Justin live with him after the bashing, refusing to acknowledge that guilt was the reason. I also said that (much) later Brian came to love Justin. Regarding the guilt, they spelled that out right there on the screen. And, yes, I have talked to a lot of viewers about the show, including many gay men. I agree that the online BJ fans were the most obsessed, had the most websites, etc. So what? TPTB have said they were shocked by most of those websites because they didn't reflect the show at all. And I'm not making that up, either.

abbafemme said...

Thank you for posting your thoughts about the QAF ending. I know that many people are upset, hurt, dissapointed about what happened and that's their right. I'm a fan of the B/J relationship and I for one wasn't upset by the ending, because I never once thought that they would be together forever in the end.

The writers never created something "solid and credible" for that relationship to work out for both characters. Every season, there seemed to be some obstacle that the couple needed to get through in order for them to realize and understand that they loved each other.

I wished those "obstacles" didn't need to have some other character (Michael, Lindsay, Deb) explaining to Brian and/or Justin what was going wrong. Why couldn't it have been a conversation between Brian and Justin, themselves working on their own problems.

We just got sex scenes.

Again, thanks for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

abbafemme, your message reminded me that I should have said "most BJers" or "some BJers" instead of lumping you all together.

Anonymous said...

I haven't yet seen this, because I don't get the show here and have to buy the season set when it's available.

But what you're saying sounds right to me. All of it. The only thing I want to add is that I think the writers are right - Brian wasn't going to be happy no matter what. Real life is like that - many people just simply can't wrap their heads around what they need to do to find their own happiness.

Su Su Lei Mon said...

You know? I have read your blog about the finale of QAF and I was screaming and squealing the entire time. You know why? Cuz that's exactly what I thought about B/J relationship and the ending.
Like you said, it ended at the right time. Right moment. (Not that I particularly like the aisle the plot had gone down since season 3 but anyway, doesn't matter since it was already written out that way.)
I mean everything you wrote is exactly like what I thought.
A lot of BJ fans still try to make themselves believe that one day they will be together but I think, and of cuz you, that they won't. They won't ever be together.
And again, about Justin, you and I have the awesomely accurate opinion. I think Justin will find someone else. Someone who can be committed. Someone who can give what he always wanted. He won't be back to Pitts like he promised. We can see from his behavior in S5 that he has already passed his boy-crush. Of cuz that doesn't mean he doesn't love Brian anymore but he finally sees that he can do better. He can be happy without him.
You are my hero. You practically wrote out what I've been thinking the entire time while watching S5. Not a lot of BJ fans can accept that hard cold truth.
And Brian. Gosh, you and I must have shared a soul cuz the reasons you wrote why Brian will never get over Justin is exactly the same as I think. Brian will never be fully happy again or find another one like Justin.
He will always be pining over him. Cuz for Justin, Brian is the first and ,maybe like you said, best love but for Brian, he is the one true love.
I personally think that's what makes the entire love story (and the show) stunning.

All for all, I'm ok with the ending. I would love it if they, by defying all logical theories, ended up together but this ending makes the series priceless.
I hope you see my comment one day.
I would love to talk to you.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Only recently discovered QaF but totally loved it and loved the love story between Brian and Justin. Your article is spot on! greetings from Amsterdam

Raine said...

I'm just crying buckets right now. I finished the series yesterday, I could've finished it last week - since I discovered it last May 30, 2015. I was 10 years old when they aired this show so wasnt able to catch it when it premiered.

I was stunned NUMB when I watched the last 15 minutes of the Finale. So 24 hours later, the ending still didn't sink in. I decided to read a few blogs about the ending finale and how people perceived it because even though I knew what the ending meant I refused to believe it, I'm not a cynical person but I'm now grown up enough to understand why Brian and Justin wouldn't end up together, and mature enough to appreciate how graceful and artistically well written the ending was.

Your review finally broke me and I'm now gushing tears, buckets.

Redundantly, as many people have said this over and over again: This is the best love story written on television.

Barbra Aaron said...

I recently watched the whole series (again) on demand. I hadn't watched the final episode for 10 years. It just killed me too much the first time. But I ended up watching it again. And here I was - a decade later - crying buckets. I sobbed for 1/2 hour. But then I read this recently from Cowlip at the Austin reunion - and it made me feel better - and hopeful that if there is a reboot of the show, we will seen Brian & Justin together again:

Cowan: "They had a moment of realization where they both knew they were asking too much of each other, which did not mean that they no longer loved each other or that they would never see each other again. I frankly don't understand where those ideas came from."

Lipman: "Justin went off to New York, which is an hour away from Pittsburgh. There's no reason why they wouldn't see each other. They just weren't married in the traditional way that Ben and Michael were."

Sapphira said...

I have absolutley NO reason to belive they wont be together in the future. Of course they will.
But they wont get married, settle down and have a family - because they dont need that.
Personally, I think Justin has been fooling himself all along.
You dont need marriage. You dont need monogamy.
And tbh, we have seen 5 seasons of Justin trying to change Brian into someone he was never ment to be, because he had hus own childish idea about what love is supposed to be.
Justin will always love Brian.
Lets just hope that he will come to his senses and realise that he doesnt need a conventional relationship or marriage to be with him.

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