“That isn’t the end of the story. You don’t know that the story ends that way.”
DeAndre McCullough, to David Simon
Quoted in DeAndre’s obituary
“Everything has a second act and a third act. And everybody gets to write their endings.”
David Simon, to reporters
Quoted in Fran’s wedding announcement. David Simon was the best man.
The meaning of a TV series is that it ends. Shows are aired and replaced and recycled and cancelled every day. Even if a show has a life as a syndicated rerun, the finale remains the finale. The story’s plot exists within a bounded world. When it’s over, it’s over. That is the trouble with adapting the truth of ongoing lives for the small screen. The viewer is aware that this is simply a dramatization of a single year, but we have also been conditioned for our entire lives to expect the format of a television show with a beginning, a middle, and an end. DeAndre is arrested, and that’s it. The Corner got him. It’s over. What we misunderstand is that “it” is just a TV show, “it” is not The Corner’s, or DeAndre’s life.
The show’s creators attempt to combat our instincts by including interviews, in the same style as the dramatized interviews, with the “real” versions of the series’ characters. Just after a montage telling the fates of DeAndre’s friends and family, the director talks to “Real Blue”, “Real Fran”, “Real DeAndre” and “Real Reeka”. These are the real people on whom the characters were based. Even the director seems to be shocked by this. “The Real Blue!” he repeats, awestruck. He interviews them about their impressions of the series; Fran hopes that it will help people realize the humanity of drug addicts, they all hope that people will see that they were just doing their best. But even this interview ends, and the credits run. There are times when curiosity leads us to explore what happened to the people who are the basis of TV shows and movies, but our engagement and understanding largely ends as the last credits scroll.
The strangeness of continuing to live your life after the dramatization of your life is ended appears repeatedly in follow-ups of the characters. The two cases I included at the beginning of the post are the most poignant. In one, DeAndre expresses his frustration with the audience’s impulse to close the curtain on his life, insisting that it’s not over, and that he still has a chance to escape. He would struggle with addiction throughout his life, but as the characters did in ‘The Corner’, I’m sure he always had hope that one day he’d get out of it. David Simon has a more optimistic bend when he speaks at Fran’s wedding, building on that “end of the story” metaphor, and saying that everybody gets to write their own ending, and every life has a second and third act. Whether or not the first act determines the outcome of the whole play, and whether having your first act close its curtains on national television changes the stakes, is something to consider.
David Simon statement after DeAndre’s death
Fran’s wedding announcement