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Downer Ending
"What's here? A cup, closed in my true love's hand? Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end. [...] O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.

"Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."
— "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer

"Empire had the better ending... Luke gets his hand cut off, finds out Vader's his father, Han gets frozen and taken away by Boba Fett! It ends on such a down note! That's what life is... a series of down endings."
Dante Hicks, Clerks

1. A finale to a movie, a TV series, a video game, or some other form of media that ends things in a way that varies from sad to tragic. These tend to be rare, as there is overwhelming pressure to tie loose ends up in a "happy" way. Sometimes done as a way to assure that the show, once canceled, cannot be revived later (similar to the Grand Finale), but sometimes leaves the show on a cliffhanger.

2. A similarly low-key or unhappy ending to an episode of a normally "happy" series. Also rare, due to the same reasons as above. Sometimes used in an attempt to get Emmy nominations, or to at least surprise the viewer. When the series finale of an otherwise "happy" series is one of these, it's a Sudden Downer Ending.

Downer endings have effectively been used to drive home an episode's Aesop. For some issues, it's the only effective way to deliver the message.

Sometimes, a downer ending can conclude the character arcs in a very satisfying way, despite (or because of) being dark. Other times, it can be overused to the point it feels like a Mandatory Twist Ending. If it comes out of nowhere or is the result of an Ass Pull, then it may be the result of the writers summoning Diabolus ex Machina. If enough people consider it fundamentally unjust, it may acquire the Fanon Discontinuity and Snicket Warning Labels.

Kill 'em All and The Bad Guy Wins are particularly cruel variations of this. A Prequel may require one, or both; the Happy Ending was Doomed by Canon.

If the ending mixes elements of happiness and Downer Ending, then it's a Bittersweet Ending. If the whole adventure leading up to it turned out to be meaningless, then it's Shoot the Shaggy Dog. The Cliff Hanger is often a Downer Ending, but one implicitly not final; tune in next time to see how they retrieve this one.

See also Gainax Ending, Last Breath Bullet, Crapsack World, Yank the Dog's Chain, and It's a Wonderful Failure. Occasionally, part of a Tragedy or an Utsuge. Sometimes a Foregone Conclusion, either because of a historical setting or if the work is a Prequel. The hero may or may not die. Realization of an Inferred Holocaust may turn even the most Tastes Like Diabetes "happy ending" into one. Downer Endings easily lead to Tear Jerkers or Nightmare Fuel. Compare Downer Beginning.

Naturally, every single example is a spoiler.

Examples


Do Not Spoil This EndingSpoilered RottenThe Ending Changes Everything
Does This Remind You of Anything?JustForFun/Tropes of LegendThe Dragon
Downer BeginningSadness TropesDramatic Drop
Rage Against the HeavensSliding Scale of Villain EffectivenessShoot the Shaggy Dog
Door Closes EndingEnding TropesKill 'em All
Gainax EndingSliding Scale of EndingsThe Bad Guy Wins
Double StandardOlder Than FeudalismDraft Dodging
Disproportionate RetributionTragedyDramatic Irony
Romeo and JulietImageSource/OtherSignature Scene
Do Unto Others Before They Do Unto UsCynicism TropesDude, Where's My Respect?
Break the CutieOverdosed TropesHumongous Mecha

alternative title(s): Downer Endings
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