At the end of any whodunnit — whether it be on the page, on the stage, or on the large or small screen — your investment of time and interest requires a payoff in the form of the answer to a central question.
It’s the quid for the quo, the equal and opposite reaction to every action, the corny punchline on the other side of the door to a knock-knock joke.
Sometimes, however ... well, life has this nasty habit of getting in the way.
Say, for instance, you’re watching an episode of a television show (in this example, let’s pick something at random ... oh, we’ll use “NCIS: Los Angeles”). It’s a rerun from a previous season, one you hadn’t seen, and the NCIS agents are determined to head to Vietnam and rescue Hetty, who’s being held captive.
And, then, oh no ... you fall asleep minutes before the end.
Not that any of us are married to someone — theoretically, of course — who might have done that ... but it is the sleeper’s own fault. Is that any reason to make her husband SCOUR THE INTERNET TO DISCOVER HOW IT TURNS OUT?
I’m speaking theoretically ... of course.
Southern Oregon Public Television oopsied itself into just such a dilemma earlier this month.
On Jan. 4, SOPTV aired “Maigret: Maigret Sets A Trap,” a two-part film version of one of the mysteries featuring Georges Simenon’s famed detective Jules Maigret ... when the unimaginable happened.
The concluding installment ended early ... just before the identity of the murderer was to be revealed.
“We apologize for any frustration this may have caused,” SOPTV posted on its website, before saying it will be re-airing the entire story “in a few months.”
This unfortunate circumstance for SOPTV and its viewers like you brings to mind a trio of unusual suspects ... Joe Namath, Abigail Porterfield and Tony Soprano.
Namath was the mink coat and silk stocking wearing quarterback of the New York Jets, who on Nov. 17, 1968, held a 32-29 lead on the Oakland Raiders with one minute and one second remaining in the game.
What happened next was — depending on how you look at it — one of the most memorable, frustrating, hilarious, or unthinkably stupid moments in the history of live television.
NBC decided to leave the telecast, so that the scheduled presentation of “Heidi” would begin on time.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Raiders scored 14 points in those final 61 seconds and won the game 43-32. The network, inundated by outraged sports fans and the discombobulation of its own executives, displayed the message “SPORTS BULLETIN: RAIDERS DEFEAT JETS 43-32” during the movie — just as (SPOILER ALERT) Heidi’s paralyzed cousin Clara began to take her first steps.
Whodunnit? ... NBC, and Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica.
Abigail Porterfield, on the other hand, was not a pro football player. She was a famous (if decidedly fictional) mystery writer whose tale “The Rooster Crowed At Midnight” becomes a source of fascination and frustration for those serving at the (also fictional) 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
“The Light That Failed” was an episode of the TV series “M*A*S*H” wherein the doctors and nurses become obsessed with determining who killed “Old Man” Cheevers and several others at stately Huntley Manor.
Chapters of the book are torn from the binder and passed among the Army unit, until they get to the end and ... with the camp hanging on every word and all the still-living suspects gathered in the country house ... it’s discovered that the final page is missing.
Several theories are proffered as to the identity of the killer, and each is determined to be impossible based on evidence in the book. Finally, B.J. calls the 97-year-old Porterfield in Australia — and she reveals that the killer was the inheritance-seeking Avery Updike.
Only Updike (who according to Klinger — and mashfandom.com — would have to kill 35 people for his murderous scheme to succeed) was locked in a linen closet during one of the murders ... so, perhaps, even Abigail Porterfield was mistaken.
Whodunnit? ... No one ever finds out.
And then there’s Tony Soprano, the conflicted New Jersey mobster and central character in the landmark HBO series “The Sopranos.”
Through 86 episodes, Tony’s hold on his family, his “family” and his sanity is in constant turmoil until — in the final moments of the final episode — the screen goes black as Tony sits in a diner listening to “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Does Tony get 86’ed in the 86th hour ... or did they just run out of film?
The ambiguity of the finale set off a firestorm of public opinion over the unspoken contract (pun intended) between an audience and an artist — in this case the creators of “The Sopranos,” who have refused to give a definitive answer as to what the sudden ending means.
Whodunnit? ... Either a guy in a Members Only jacket or, well, nobody. Who knows for sure whether it was even done?
Maybe we shouldn’t always have it all spelled out for us. There’s a certain joy, for instance, in seeing a production of “The Mousetrap,” then acceding to the wishes of the theater troupe to not reveal the identity of the killer to any who ask.
Or, you can find yourself reading Italo Calvino’s “If on a winter’s night a traveler,” and gradually come to appreciate (I’m speaking theoretically, of course) that you’re never going to know the denouement of any of the stories woven together within the adventures of you, the Reader.
As for “Maigret: Maigret Sets A Trap,” you can wait “a few months” to watch it again on SOPTV, or just head to the station’s website, click on the link and discover that the murderer is ...
If you know how the NCIS team got Hetty out of her Vietnam imprisonment, please tell Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin at email@example.com.