'In the Dark's Controversial Series Finale Was Actually the Right Way to End Things (2023)

By Nicholas Sisti

The final episode of the CW crime thriller gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "a stab in the dark."

'In the Dark's Controversial Series Finale Was Actually the Right Way to End Things (1)

Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers for the series finale of the CW series, In the Dark.

After the quirky crime thriller In the Dark fell victim to the CW's uncharacteristic Spring 2022 ax-swing, the producers of the series announced that they had filmed two possible endings to Season 4. One would function as a typical cliffhanger, while the other would attempt to bring a sense of closure to the fast-paced, maximal tension show. Regardless of the events that preceded it, few viewers could have predicted the series' shocking conclusion. In what essentially amounts to a straightforward revenge thriller, Murphy (Perry Mattfeld) vows vengeance at Max (Casey Deidrick)'s funeral. She finds out that it was Josh (Theodore Bhat) who called off the deal and caused Max’s death. Then, she convinces Felix (Morgan Krantz) to drive her to Josh’s hideaway cabin in Missouri and brutally murders Josh with a butcher knife. The sheer absurdity of this finale is reminiscent to that of St. Elsewhere, Roseanne, and Newhart, although there is no evidence that this is all just a dream. A more accurate comparison can be made to the ending of Thelma and Louise, as Murphy and Felix drive off into the sunset, blissfully uncaring of their probable demise.



Is the Fan Outrage Warranted?

'In the Dark's Controversial Series Finale Was Actually the Right Way to End Things (2)

The fan response to In the Dark's series finale seems to transcend the bounds of the "polarizing" and "divisive" nature of, say, the infamous Lost finale. In fact, In the Dark's gruesome stab-fest invited a near-universal (from what can be gleamed on the internet) disgust, the series’ subreddit awash with declarations that the finale essentially retconned the entire series. However, such an analysis is based on a subjective, emotional response to the series. In the Dark's unique place in primetime canon has always lied with its apparent disregard for the viewer's expectations, truly giving the troubled Guiding Hope fugitives a mind of their own. Despite its abrupt and disturbing nature, it can be argued that In the Dark's series finale is, tragically, the perfect way to end the series, and to trace why, one must look to the show's consistently irreverent nature.

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Though it spent its four-season run on the CW and shared a similar visual style and editing pace to other shows on the network, In the Dark eventually came to resemble the irreverent nature of Ozark and Better Call Saul in both its subject matter and characters’ decisions. The Guiding Hope crew's arc in Seasons 1 and 2 might simply come across as a bunch of 20-somethings embroiled in the hottest of hot messes. Yet Season 3 sees the group descending into a total downward spiral, past the point of no return. Many viewers likely became further dissociated from the show as time went on, progressively losing empathy for these initially endearing characters. However, much like her friends who are eternally roped into her messes, Murphy has managed to hook a sizable portion of the audience in the same manner.

In essence, the narrative "trick" that In the Dark has pulled off is to make the audience feel for Murphy in the same way that her friends feel compelled to stick by her even when she consistently leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. The limits of unconditional love are tested when Jess has her final encounter with Murphy at the end of Season 3. The truly unconditional love felt toward Murphy by Max and Felix is what allows Murphy to feel something beyond herself, if only for a split second. This unconditional love is also felt by the audience as they faithfully root for Murphy to have a redemption arc and not murder Josh. It’s felt because it’s simply human nature. Yet the finale proves that Murphy will act on her own volition when her soul demands it, with a complete disregard for the people who support her (as well as the audience who keeps her show going).

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Josh vs. Murphy

'In the Dark's Controversial Series Finale Was Actually the Right Way to End Things (3)

As Season 4 descends into the Bolt saga, Josh’s obsession grows dangerously pervasive, to the point where his sole M.O. is to make sure Murphy “rots in prison for the rest of her life.” His insanity is even shared by Chelsea (Lindsey Broad), and a mid-season arc has both reveling in their Murphy obsession. The utter absurdity of Josh’s fixation necessitates an equivalent ending to his story. Josh has sent Murphy to prison, ruined her life and now killed the one man who had the ability to break through the cracks of her severely fractured ego. At this point, it can be argued the only way for Murphy, and the show itself, to truly "win" is to kill Josh.

When Felix suggests to Josh that he fake sympathy for Murphy, the content of Josh's speech, no matter how faked, is not technically wrong. Of course, Murphy would be no better than him if she chose murder. These are the same words that the emotionally invested audience is likely screaming at Murphy. She doesn't care, and the fact that it's coming out of Josh's mouth (and that it's just a Felix-assisted survival ploy) underscores how much the finale needed to shirk the trope of the troubled protagonist/antihero taking the better path in the end.

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Much ire has been directed at the show's producers for their promise of a "satisfying ending." It's certainly not a very satisfying ending if the viewer has been consistently rooting for Murphy to “do the right thing.” Yet when viewing the series from a backed-out, analytical point of view, one can view it as a fascinating character study of narcissism and relationship exploitation brought on by internal and external trauma. Murphy's entire personality from the get-go was characterized by her self-destructive responses to various circumstances in her life: her progressive blindness, as well as her feelings of abandonment by her birth parents. Josh’s murder is simply an insane response to an insane situation: a twisted coping mechanism. The proof is in the episode's synopsis: "Murphy copes by distracting herself with a new motivation: getting even."

A 'Thelma and Louise' Moment

'In the Dark's Controversial Series Finale Was Actually the Right Way to End Things (4)

A final season declaration in the middle of such a wild storyline affords the possibility of a truly off the rails ending without ramifications. This brings to mind the classic ending of Thelma and Louise, in which the titular duo drive off straight into the Grand Canyon. There is a tongue in cheek sense of humor to this type of ending, in which the viewer is asked to suspend all disbelief and freeze-frame the last shot in their mind for eternity. Yet In the Dark’s finale provides an interesting twist on this concept, with the final scene serving as a whimsical epilogue of sorts. Murphy’s Thelma and Louise moment is the stabbing itself, and as she and Felix ride off into the Missouri farmland to the smooth twang of Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood,” there is a sense of pseudo-closure in which one might let out an exasperated yet cathartic sigh. It is the realization that in this brief moment, now forever etched in stone, everything is just fine.

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In the grand scheme of things, In the Dark’s series finale is likely one of the most genuinely shocking final episodes to ever grace the television set. Regardless of how the ending might have structurally “worked” in the writer’s room, in reality it plays out like a surreal, dream-like ending sequence from a Darren Aronofsky film, with the viewer wondering if what they’re witnessing is even real. Slowly, the viewer realizes that yes, it is real. It’s a bold, bizarre, canonically dangerous, possibly brilliant choice that can only be afforded with the certainty of a series finale order.


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