The final episode aired on a Sunday night at 9, following months of public commemoration. There were spontaneous parades in twelve cities. The New York Times published a profile that literally glowed (each copy was hand-brushed in strontium aluminate). In a ceremony livestreamed from Central Park, two former US Presidents jointly unveiled a towering statue of the TV show’s creator looking both difficult and visionary, an effect achieved by sculpting him with one finger pointed accusingly (at an inept PA? a network executive resistant to his dark, anti-heroic vision? who could tell) and eyes that weren’t eyes at all, but were instead fire.
Watercooler conversations about the final episode stretched for days, months. Projects went neglected; ignored spreadsheets languished in overheating hard-drives; office phones rang unanswered for years before families finally gave up, started new lives with fans of different television shows. Thousands died of water intoxication.
“Like being willingly hogtied and tortured by a beautiful sadist named Unbearable Tension (middle name: Yet Exquisite) who, every now and then, will lay down their assorted whips and tweezers and kiss you deeply on the mouth, inducing an ecstasy somehow amplified by the knowledge, ever-present, that at any moment their infernal prodding will resume with an intensity unrivaled in the annals of extremely sensuous pain” was somehow the most succinct, least florid description of the final episode published in any major magazine or website.
In a Wisconsin dive bar a young man called the final episode “Dickensian,” dazzling everyone in earshot.
The hundreds of recaps generated by the final episode were collected into a 1,213 page Library of America anthology, which became a sort of Millenial Catcher in the Rye (or a Baby Boomer Berlin Alexanderplatz, depending on the age and intellectual temperament of whoever you were discussing it with). Despite protests that it was “unfilmable,” the beloved compendium of middlebrow critical thought was adapted into a long-running pseudo-reality show about ten ambitious and implausibly well-sculpted TV critics who each week would read their summaries/opinions live to a stadium of cheering L.A. teens. The winner, as decided by an online poll, received a plaque designating them “The Most Insightful Viewer of Serialized Television in the Whole World,” and seventy-five dollars.
Twenty-six perished (and five were conceived) in the riots that erupted when bribery, ballot tampering and misguided contrarianism caused the final episode to lose the Best Sound Design Emmy. (To placate the raving masses, the final episode was awarded perfect 10s in alpine skiing, curling, and ice hockey at that year’s Winter Olympics.)
High schoolers of the 2400s strained to comprehend the final episode’s complicated English, wondered what exactly was the point of a story where you couldn’t even simulate murdering the characters. Teachers–one of the last groups on earth still passionately committed to watching television–tried showing how, once you got past the archaic language and quaint lack of graphic android sex, it was really a lot like one of your more modern interactive robot porn shoot-‘em-ups. But you just couldn’t reach these kids, with their hormones, and holographic full-body pleasure suits.
The grunting, nomadic tribes that sprung from the wreckage of the mid-millennium nuclear attacks found copies of the final episode in the rubble of what was once a Texas Best Buy and used it as the Biblical-type basis for their evolving society, a dour and ultra-violent wasteland which–subsequently, tragically, and to the eventual bewilderment of a conquering foreign nation reared on old Parks & Recreation Blu-Rays–ended up looking a lot like our dour and ultra-violent wasteland.
Daniel Kolitz is the Printed Internet.