What If…?

So, I haven’t seen the Marvel animated series, “What If,” simply because I don’t have Disney Plus, but I do appreciate the idea of exploring the concept as a storytelling tool. We’ve all been reading a particular book, watching a specific show or movie, and about halfway through exclaimed, “That’s it! I know just what’s going to happen!” …and then nothing of the sort occurs later in the story. And you either like the twist better, or you’re so surprised you don’t know what to think, or the worst case scenario did indeed take place, and you’re beyond disappointed (or throwing things, sobbing in a corner, plotting revenge against certain characters…). We’ve all been there. And because overthinking how some of the biggest franchises of the past decade could/should have ended is one of this moth’s ongoing hobbies, I figured the “What If” moment in popular entertainment could be a good way to start the discussion here.

What if…Blue kissed Gansey and he didn’t die? Fans of The Raven Cycle waited 4 books to receive the answer to the ultimate question: if Blue kissed Gansey, would he actually go kaput? Or was it a misunderstood prophecy, an incorrectly translated psychic reading, or something else entirely? Now, since we all know Maggie Stiefvater was, unfortunately, very ill during the writing of the fourth and final book in this series, it’s totally possible the poor lady just couldn’t come up with a way to get Blue and Gansey out of this quandary. But, from the audience POV, because so many of us were convinced the “prophecy” that Blue would kill her true love was just a red herring, it was pretty anti-climatic that when they finally took the chance and locked lips, yup, Gansey passed from this life. It made the whole ending of the other characters finding a way to bring him back much less satisfying than them being able to prevent it to begin with — considering that this was, really, as much of the quest as attempting to locate Glendower. Seriously, if the last chapter of The Raven King was, “And at last they kissed, and Gansey went, oh, wow, I’m fine, and everybody said, YAY! BOLLOCKS to this stupid dead Welsh king!, and then they all got gelato,” I would’ve been very happy.

What if…Harry Potter turned out to be the bad guy? I know we could all be here until the cows come home, debating what did and didn’t work in the last few HP books, but based on the massive twist given early in #7, that the all-good, all-benevolent Dumbledore was in fact once into some very dark magic indeed, this could have turned the entire story on its head. With this twist, the author — whether she meant to or not — proves that even her “heroes” may not be completely heroic. In #6, after the loss of Sirius, Harry definitely could have faced a pivotal moment — perhaps the beginning of his villain origin tale? I mean, “playing by the rules” to defeat Voldemort had got the poor kid nowhere, and there were plenty of people who already suspected he actually was turning evil (the Parseltongue, the mind-connection to the Dark Lord, the fact the Sorting Hat told Harry he would have done well in Slytherin). And when you consider that many of the “good” wizards (the entire fricking Ministry of Magic, for crying out loud!) were so morally gray and so ambivalent about stopping an actual, credible threat from the Deatheaters, the almost-formulaic “and in the end, all the bad wizards were killed and the nice ones prevailed” wrap-up to the series still doesn’t sit quite right with me. Watching Harry go towards the dark side could’ve been more interesting, less frustrating to read, and certainly not as predictable.

What if…Clary and Jace actually were brother and sister? Yes, I’m going there! I loved City of Bones, I liked both these characters, BUT the whole star-crossed-Romeo-and-Juliet tangent that they’re set on WILL FOREVER DRIVE ME CRAZY. If the “lie” Valentine told them was NOT a lie, that the reason they felt such a strong connection to each other so early on was NOT romantic, but was because they were long-lost siblings, that would’ve been a great direction to take the story. Not only would it have made other things much easier from the start (no love triangles, for example!), it could have created a great way for Clary and Jocelyn to bond after Jocelyn’s kidnapping, and for Jocelyn to have more of a redemption arc by not only being able to apologize to Clary but to her son as well, and get the chance to know him without all the stupid baggage of whether he was decent boyfriend material. (In case you couldn’t tell, I hate the way Jocelyn was written, and will die on the hill that she became a TERRIBLE parent and should never have woken from that coma if turning into a total bitch would be the result.)

What if…Bella chose Jacob? Yes, I’ll pause a moment to let you scream out all your grievances about Twilight. I would be utterly remiss if I skipped this most burning question, however, and we all know it. While none of us can really know what went through Stephenie Meyer’s mind when it comes to the true weirdness that is Breaking Dawn, we do have the previous books to indicate the audience got robbed of an ending that made sense. Book #1 definitely portrayed Bella and Edward’s forbidden love in a cautionary tale way, and #2 absolutely showed Bella could seriously consider not going back to Edward and the Cullens. I wholeheartedly believe that #3 took the path of love triangle because a) everyone was writing love triangles in YA then, and b) the publishers felt riling up the fandom was good for sales. However, before the end of Eclipse, there’s a very strong indication Bella is, in fact, finally, properly scared about being around vampires so much, and that she feels guilty about putting the townspeople and the werewolves in danger. So, if Eclipse had ended not with a marriage proposal, but a breakup, and Bella and the wolves telling the Cullens to leave Forks, then either that would’ve been the last lines of the series, or book 4 would’ve been Bella and Jacob’s happy ever after (from which a child would certainly have been possible, and much more likable!!!)

What if…the premise for The Hunger Games had been a fakeout? One of the biggest mistakes publishing made in the early aughts was allowing a sequel to The Hunger Games. I will stand on this soapbox until I take my final breath. This series is one of the most ridiculous, unsatisfying, unpleasant, unnecessary, unrelatable and just plain icky things stuck in YA libraries. Not only does the trilogy end with a number of important questions totally unanswered, the whole journey our protagonist goes on just stops abruptly, and the audience is supposed to simply accept “and then the war was over and there were no more Hunger Games, the end.” Because there are a MILLION things about this story that MAKE! NO! SENSE!, I would’ve greatly preferred that the title competition is just a smoke screen for something bigger, something more interesting than a cardboard dystopian tyranny, and a plot that presented Katniss with actual healing, rather not nonstop PTSD. In The Maze Runner, when it’s revealed there’s a world beyond the maze, and the kids are being trained/observed for a whole different thing, this is pretty satisfying, and logical. In Divergent, the reveal that the city was a social experiment comes out of left field and feels like a cop-out. So, to avoid that, The Hunger Games could’ve taken the route of, the kids don’t actually die in the tournament, it’s all faked, and they’re actually being stolen away to build an army or prepare to defeat some nefarious thing — for example, the zombie apocalypse in The Maze Runner. Yes, it’s been done before, but for the love of Buttercup (Prim’s cat), can’t we all agree that this would have given Katniss a solid goal to fight for, and probably meant SHE GOT TO SAVE HER SISTER IN THE END?!?! No, we’re not still salty about that…

What if…Day had been able to keep his memories of June? This is a series I don’t believe I’ve ever discussed on the blog before, and it’s because it just — Cuts. So. Deep. Marie Lu’s Legend was my YA novel of 2012; I loved the worldbuilding and the characters, I laughed, cried, shipped, cheered on our heroes and their loved ones. I couldn’t wait for the sequel. While not as good as the first book, Prodigy was fine, I enjoyed it. Then the trilogy finale, Champion, made us ride the will-they-won’t-they-survive rollercoaster all the way to the last few pages — and literally STOLE a happily ever after out from under us with a cliche of last minute amnesia. Then the bloody EPILOGUE ended on a COMPLETE CLIFFHANGER, and to say I was SCREAMING in agony is intensely under-representing betrayal of a bookdragon. Yes, that was how I felt: betrayed. If Day died, I could’ve handled it. It would’ve been sad, but acceptable. But for him to survive, and then…he…just…doesn’t…rememberJune… AAAARRGGHHH!!! This legit ruined the author for me. She’s published several other titles since then, and I can’t finish any of them; I can’t help but think of the way she screwed me over with Champion. The fact that years later a fourth book came out, Rebel, told from Day’s younger brother’s POV, and supposedly wraps up the whole do-they-get-together-after-all question, just makes me furious, and I refuse to read it. It’s a waste of paper and ink, because WE SHOULD HAVE HAD THE ANSWER ALREADY. Rebel being published in 2021 DOES NOT EVEN BEGIN to make up for what we were forced to endure with Champion, period.

Okay, deep breath.

Hmm, maybe playing “what if” isn’t such a good idea, after all…

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