Do we really need a beginning, a middle and an end?

Why Making a Murderer is the perfect never-ending story

POPSCI: A scientific slant on what’s trending in popular culture

A beginning, a middle and an end; from childhood we’ve come to expect the same trajectory from a story. Whether it’s horror, sci-fi or a love story, one thing that stays the same across all genres is that a narrative is tied up in a nice, neat bow. If it doesn’t, we feel cheated.

The Sopranos was an early example of a show that ended with a non-ending. Nine years after it aired, the finale continues to be hotly debated; why did it end mid-scene? But this kind of debate is now commonplace. Making a Murderer (dubbed Netflix’s ‘most significant show’) and Serial (the fastest podcast to hit five million downloads on iTunes) have numerous parallels. Both are murder mysteries, both are open-ended and both have become modern day classics. “I’ve never seen a show consume the pop culture conversation like this,” says Forbes’ Paul Tassi of Making a Murderer.

Unlike Netflix’s other shows, Making a Murderer — like Serial — is a real human interest story, with real stakes. And while they don’t have the happy ever after ending that we’ve been conditioned to crave, they’re all-encompassing; far beyond water-cooler chat. A pardon petition for Steven Avery — the star suspect of Making a Murderer — now has 380,000 signatures and Serial has created countless follow-up stories, think pieces, podcasts about the podcast and even a parody on Saturday Night Live.

But maybe the nature of the content of these stories means the way the narrative flows is ultimately unimportant. “In a tragedy, you have to have a terrible disaster taking place and being narrowly avoided,” says Alan Sommerstein, professor of Greek at Nottingham University. “It doesn’t matter which. Aristotle argues that tragic drama gives pleasure, arousing the emotions.” And what’s even more arousing than a tragic drama? A tragic drama that actually happened.

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Written by Jo Allison, editor at Canvas8

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