Friday, February 20, 2009

Satisfying Resolutions to Long Term Mysteries

Thinking about Lost and BSG this week. Describe a long term mystery -- longer than a two hour movie -- that had a satisfying conclusion.


Gary said...

The original Top Ten series - the revelation that the off-world drug customer was the Commissioner.

Another Alan Moore piece, the Supreme Story of the Year - the revelation of Darius Dax as Supreme's old girlfriend.

Man, Alan Moore keeps coming up, Watchmen - the revelation of Ozymandias as the mastermind behind the plot to get the superheroes, plus WHAT the plot really was.

Fables - the identity of the bloody-handed Adversary as Gepetto.

And I'd like to throw in two of my own personal favorites, though they're a bit off to the side,

Alan Davis' run on Excalibur as writer and artist - revealing that everything in the series to that point had been to prepare Excalibur to battle Necrom, all plotted out by Merlin and executed by Roma, even though (to my knowledge) THIS WAS NOT THE CASE WHEN THE PRECEDING 41 ISSUES WERE BEING WRITTEN.

Avengers Forever - completely straightening out who knows how many years of Kang continuity, and making Kang a compelling villain to me for the first time.

ba said...

Uh, who my real parents are?

finsof72 said...

whether or not this girl in my eng class has a boyfriend. Answer as I found out today: no.

Also, if anyone here keeps up with South Park, the answer to who Cartman's 'father' is was wierd because it was both empty and dull yet at the same time completely unexpected and, to an extent, satisfying because I've never thought of it more since then.

Kyle said...

His father is his mother. You never find out who his biological mother is.

brad said...

Kyle, are you talking about South Park or Lost?

scott91777 said...


Yes, but does she have a girlfriend?

Now the mystery begins for me as to who this is... do they have dreads?

scott91777 said...

Oh, I agree with Watchmen and Top 10... however, having read these in trade, they weren't as 'long-term' ... but along the same lines... the resolution of Morrison's Animal Man run.

finsof72 said...

I'm surprised at the number of girls here in college with girlfriends. To relate the subject to the blog, it seems to be an increasing occurence in media...almost 'trendy.' And no, they don't have dreads or a girlfriend.

Madd_Hadder said...

Season 1 of Veronica Mars. I did not think that season 2 had the best conclusion to the year long story, but season 1, I thought, was wrapped up perfectly and in an interesting way.

Stephen said...

Season 1 of Babylon 5 - season-long mystery of "what happened at the battle of the line"? (or more precisely, why). Also Seasons 1-2 of B5 -- two-season-long mystery of "what to the Vorlons look like (and why do they care if we know)"? Very, very, very strongly *NOT* included is the three-season long mystery of "What do the shadows want?" -- the failure of that mystery is, I think, at the heart of B5's collapse as a story. ... Ok, as Willow would say, My issues.

Small mystery, but well done: The Wire, s1: "refrigerate it". A tiny mystery woven through a season for those who were paying attention, well paid off.

Oh, and I strongly endorse what Gary said above about Alan Moore (various) and Fables; and Madd Hatter on s1 (but not s2) of Veronica Mars.

I don't think, incidentally, that any of this is very hard to do. For the most part (s3 of B5 is an exception here) all you need is to *have a plan* from the beginning, to be writing the mystery with a knowledge of the end. The reason I gave up on Lost, and eventually BSG, is my coming to believe that neither writing team was doing this... which leads almost inevitably into X-Files territory.


Stephen said...

By the way, Geoff, I'd love to read your reaction to this rant about BSG:

...I think that he gets the basic problematic politics of the show right, although I'm not enough up on the show to say for sure, particularly having not seen any of s4. Still, I'd be interested in your thoughts on it...


Geoff Klock said...

SF -- Veronica Mars was not satisfying I thought -- we started out with rape and incest as plot points, then in the season one finale removed the teeth out of both. Weak Sauce.

That essay is pretty amazing. I am still thinking about it. It seems very smart, except for the fact that stuff that is weak ideologically can still make for great television. My first reaction is that he is totally right but that it does not really bother me.

Kyle said...

Brad: South Park

seth hurley said...

Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective" mini series.

While sick in the hospital (suffering the same condition Potter did) mystery writer Phillip Marlowe's fevered mind enters a fantasy world that is a mix of his novel, The Singing Detective and his WW2 childhood in London.

The noir mystery of the novel intersects with the mystery of his mother's death as characters from both, as well as his hospital life, begin to bleed into one another.

Stephen said...


I *strongly* disagree with you about Veronica Mars.

First, neither of the things you mentioned were the main mystery of the season, so even if one were to grant your quibbles, the point would still stand.

But your quibbles are way off-base. The solution to the rape plot was brilliant -- that what *seemed* to be a rape was not, but rather was a chain of individually cruel, but not criminal, actions; that, as Abigail Nussbaum put it, "Veronica was raped not by a person but by a social class and a mindset." It was a far more interesting solution to the mystery than any individual rapist would have been (which is why I hated the s2 retcon of it). It was a solution that was plausible, convincing, and appropriately disturbing.

And for the incest -- I think they *did* a lot with that plot. Demanding that any hint of incest be real is, I think, silly.

So -- respectfully -- you're just wrong here.


Jeff said...

Of course, Veronica was raped, by Beaver. Even though it's revealed in Season 2, isn't that technically the end of that long-term mystery? Duncan's just a red-herring (even if it wasn't intended to be or presented that way in the 1st season.)

Stephen said...

Jeff - That was what I meant by "the s2 retcon". I think that was, in fact, a retcon, and that the solution in "A Trip to the Dentist" was originally supposed to stand on its own -- and should have been left to, since it was much, much better.

Kyle said...

In reference to Geoff's Tweets:

As satisfying as Frisky Dingo season one is, season two is even moreso (and the end of the first half is brilliant).

Streebo said...

I would like to recommend season 1 of DEXTER as a long running mystery that offered a satisfying conclusion. In short, Dexter is about a forensic blood specialist that moonlights as a serial killer who preys on serial killers. The mystery in the first season revolves around a killer that knows Dexter's secret. The Ice Truck killer as he becomes known as - attempts to draw Dexter into a dangerous cat and mouse game. I won't go into any specifics for fear of spoilers - but would like to recommend Dexter for everyone.

Dave said...

I thought Dexter season 1 was actually pretty awful, and the handling of the "mystery" was fairly inept compared to the book it was based on.

Of course, that was because they had to pad out what was a fundamentally sound 2 hours worth of plot into a full 13 hour season of television, but even then at least the book gave us some ambiguity as to whether Dexter was actually committing the murders instead of the show, which made the killer's identity fairly obvious for around 4 episodes even before they finally revealed it.

I know I'm in the minority here, but I cannot stress enough how absolutely awful I found the writing on the first season and how completely terrible every actor other than Michael C. Hall was. In the novels the fundamental flimsiness of the characterization works to the advantage of the story, since we are immersed in a sociopath's subjective perception of the world and there's no way he could have any insight into these people anyway. However, the show attempts to present these characters objectively, and consequently every attempt to add depth to Deb, Doakes, Angel or LaGuerta misfired spectacularly and killed any momentum the season was building with the main plot.

I'd back up The Singing Detective though, the original BBC miniseries is seriously the best screenplay ever written.

I'd also argue that Carnivale was able to pace and present the questions and answers behind its mythology in an amazingly successful manner for the two seasons it aired, but I don't know if you would count that as a "mystery" due to the fantasy nature of the show.

Streebo said...

I've never read the original novel of Dexter. I've been meaning to pick it up. I thought the killer's identity is revealed before the end of the season in order to create tension - while leaving some connections as mysteries that aren't unraveled until the end. I enjoyed it as do most of the people that have seen it. Thanks for your comments, Dave. I need to read the novel soon.