Something unusual happened on American television last week: a drama finished its first season with all the loose ends tied up. There were no cliffhangers. No teasing hints at stories to come. The show in question was Hostages, which started on Channel 4 last night, and it is adding to the stirrings of a television revolution.
Hostages’ satisfying ending wasn’t the result of early cancellation. The tense thriller, starring Toni Collette as a surgeon who can only save her family if she kills the President, was always intended as a discrete 15-episode tale. If the show does return it will be with a different cast and storyline. Poor ratings in the US mean it may not get that second season but for once that doesn’t matter. UK viewers tuning in will find themselves rewarded with a fast-paced story that ends when it should without outstaying its welcome.
Contrast that with rival conspiracy thriller Homeland. That had a wonderful first season but has been inching steadily downhill ever since. How much more fondly would we look on Carrie and Brody if their tale had been wrapped up in one season? Similarly how much more satisfying would it have been if Downton Abbey had closed its doors when Matthew and Mary got together, or last year’s new French import The Returned had solved the mystery of the undead townsfolk in eight instalments and been done with it? The truth is not every show benefits from the expansiveness of a Breaking Bad. While Walter White’s fall from grace deepened with every episode, other tales stretch thinner with each weekly visit.
Thankfully a number of recent shows prove that television commissioners are starting to realise this. There’s American Horror Story, which revived the anthology format, with each season having a new cast, new setting and new story, and HBO’s superlative crime drama True Detective, which comes to Sky Atlantic next month and will take the same approach. Meanwhile Netflix’s political drama House of Cards returns for a second and final season in February, and all we currently know about season two of Broadchurch is that it will be “completely different” from season one.
As an idea it feels strangely refreshing. We don’t expect every book we read or film we watch to come with a sequel. Let’s stop demanding it of television.
Hostages is on Channel 4, Saturdays at 9pm