Spoiler alert. If you're invested in the season's story, you should probably check out 'Ignition', if you haven't already, before reading on.
Feedback has been great and opinions mostly high, albeit mixed with a real sadness, apparently. I've yet to receive any death threats from viewers for going with the ending that I chose, which is nice. However, I've received a lot of e-mails from people feeling crushed in spite of their high opinion of the episode's execution, and numerous requests to release an alternative, happier ending.
That might actually make for a good gag, but creating a new ending solely as fan-service to be considered canon parallel to the original isn't an idea that sits well with me. That would be a bit like me e-mailing David Chase to create an alternative canon Sopranos ending in which Tony fends off an army of vampiric velociraptors with a chainsaw aboard an exploding space station. I'd give my left nut to see that shit, but as painfully abrupt as the true ending was, that was what Chase felt was most appropriate, I respect him as a writer, and I learned to love it.
"DO-ON'T STOP --"
Obviously I'm not comparing myself to David Chase. My point is that I think every artist deserves full control over the outcome of their work. There's a lot of debate about how the term 'art' is defined exactly, I'm not even sure myself, or if my show could possibly be considered as such, but I think it boils down to personal expression; and if that expression is influenced by the consumers of art, the work is no longer personal, and therefore ceases to be art.
'Ignition', while somewhat problematic in hindsight, felt overall appropriate to me, and I'm going to try and explain why.
After season six, ending it on a very high note, I felt like I had another story to tell. One that actually had something to say about confrontation with death and anonymity's effect on the human condition, and its heavy integration with society by the digital age -- but I told myself that if I was going to do one more season, I wanted it to be different in order to explore additional terrain in terms of my writing ability, and I wanted it to hit hard enough that it would be remembered. So instead of building to another happy-go-lucky ending, I decided to go the other way.
The decision seemed appropriate also due to the fact that the figures are so worn out, and incorporating that into the story seemed natural. The way I saw the story, the toys were gonna expire soon, one way or another. So I thought, what's the most intense way for them to go out? In a massive explosion. How would that occur? Gas leak, obviously. How does that happen? One of the toys rigs the oven to leak gas and strikes a flame. Who's the most appropriate character to do that? Chief, he's far more likely to make such a violent decision. Why? Make a list. Maybe he finally comes to realize how terrible he is. Maybe he's physically damaged. Maybe he's overwhelmed by guilt and can't go on. Maybe he's finally bored with trolling people on the internet. Okay, why would he be physically damaged? Maybe Arbiter beats the shit out of him. Why? Maybe he discovers something terrible about Chief. What would that be? It would need to be something big. Character death? Who? Well, who does Chief despise the most? Cortana. Wait, maybe this can be the thing that Chief feels guilty about.
And so on, and so forth. That was my basic thought process from the beginning of season seven's development. For the most part, I started with the very end of the story and worked my way backwards, and I suggest that writers seeking advice adopt a similar method.
Not out of ego, just faith in that the method works for me like a charm. Figure out what you want your work to say. Boil it down to a statement. Then ask yourself what the greatest possible way to reveal that statement visually is. Who's involved? What's happening? How does it happen? Where's it taking place? When? Why? Figure out your ending, then build up to it so it feels organic and plausible. That way you avoid that road block so many writers seem to hit of not knowing where to take your story half-way into act two. It also allows you to do cool shit like foreshadowing, which is a very powerful device.
Work your way backwards, building scenarios and images that complement and contrast that ending in meaningful ways. When you get stuck, start working forwards from the beginning of your story, with your ending in mind, until you get stuck again. Then start working backwards again. Keep switching until you finally have something cohesive you can then comb repeatedly to perfection. Those are my two cents.
Like I said, the toys were going to expire in a short amount of time, no matter which direction I headed in. Not only in the story, but in actuality. Every other conceivable outcome for the toys, to me, felt either too cheesy or weak sauce in comparison. I wanted the show to go out with a bang, so why not a literal one?
Plus, with death staring them in the face, it forced the characters to reveal their fondness of one another, in an appealing contrast, in my opinion, with their incessant and volatile conflict throughout the entire show.
Some people were turned off by the outrageousness of Tyler's appearance and demise. That scenario was actually inspired by a true-to-life scenario of a forty-something guy who decided to get on a plane and fly to the residence of a child who talked shit to him on an online video game and choke him out. Granted, Tyler's scenario was exaggerated for dramatic effect with the chainsaw and the conveniently placed police officer, but I'd already established Tyler as a psychopath, figured there's not much stopping him from walking out of a local hardware store with a chainsaw, and that it's not a stretch for a passer-by to have given an anonymous tip to the police over the phone of a suspicious looking young male waiting outside the front doors of an apartment building carrying a chainsaw.
The first image I ever had for season seven when starting its development was actually Arbiter sitting against the front door, riddled with bullet holes. Not long after, I thought about having blood drip onto his head from the holes, and then Chief spouting indecipherable gibberish from the bathroom simultaneously, in an effort to paint the most disturbing image possible and push Arbiter clear over the edge. That's what you should aim to do with your characters. Place them under pressure so extreme that they snap, and are forced to make extreme decisions, thereby thoroughly revealing character.
If the show stands for anything, I'd like it to be for what you can get away with purely through writing in spite of extremely limited resources. If you want to be a filmmaker, teach yourself how to write. I can't emphasize enough how crucial I've learned a good screenplay to be. You can have the best actors and most expensive cameras in the world, but a bad screenplay is still going to make for a bad movie.
I hope you can all learn to appreciate the show for what it is, and that you enjoyed the journey.
Thanks again for the tremendous support.
P.S. Here's a Facebook status update I wrote a while ago regarding sad movies that I think somewhat relates:
"I don't like sad movies." Eat a cock. Movies that have you leaving the theater feeling like a complete piece of shit don't get nearly enough credit. They have you re-entering reality with a marginally uplifting mentality along the lines of 'life sucks, but things could be worse'. The movies in which the lonely, sewer-dwelling orphaned hunchback with gargantuan heart and a microscopic dick slays the dragon (voiced by Morgan Freeman) and its deadly militia of vampire space bears, and ends up tit-fucking the princess on a tropical island for the rest of eternity have you leaving with an enormous smile on your face, which swiftly drops like a bag of bricks into an icy, coma-inducing grimace as life, the grotesque wall-to-wall shit-show, in which happiness was only ever intended to come in fleeting moments, in contrast, becomes painfully revealing of what it truly is. The same, of course, applies to the Hollywood system that produces them -- a dream fabricator, delivering you an endorphin rush in a room full of farts in exchange for hilarious, toe-curling fees which will only increase. I need to see more sad moves. I want sad movies occupying every single box office slot. Starting tomorrow.