Spencer: A good ending can make or break a story. While there are many stories that are beloved due to endings that managed to respect its themes, satisfactorily tie-up loose ends, or even just provide a thought-provoking twist, there are just as many rotten endings that manage to ruin everything that came before; look at the controversy over the recent finale of How I Met Your Mother?, for example. Going into the final issue of Jeff Lemire’s Trillum, we’re left with more questions than ever and almost no idea how things might wrap up or what a satisfying ending to this series would even entail; will the ending make or break Trillium?
Alright, I won’t keep you in suspense: it makes it. This is one of the best finales I’ve ever experienced.
A ship infected by the sentient virus, the Caul, is heading right for our heroes. William’s brother, Clay, sacrifices himself to destroy the vessel and give William and Nika enough time to pilot the ark — carrying the last of the human race, cryogenically frozen — off the planet. Unfortunately, some shrapnel from the explosion of Clay’s ship hits the ark, and William and Nika are forced to sacrifice themselves so that Essie the A.I. can pilot the ark to safety. Left alone in space, Nika realizes that the nearby black hole may be the secret behind the time-twisting temples they’ve experienced, and rather than face a certain death, they risk it all together and float into the black hole.
That’s where things get weird (yet wonderful), but I’ll get to that in a minute. The events I outlined above takes about the first 2/3rds of the issue, and is a thrilling conclusion to one of Trillium’s most prominent plots. The tension is constantly ramped up — every time our heroes think they’ve made it, something else goes wrong — and even the other sacrifices leading up to William and Nika’s are emotional. Clay gets to discover that his brother was right, but only a second later he dies; no matter what issues exist between the brothers, the look on William’s face as it happens is absolutely heartbreaking. Even the departure of Essie the A.I. is surprisingly somber and heartfelt.
Still, I’m sure that the romance and time-hopping is why we all read Trillium, and that’s where this issue really wows. Most of us have probably noticed by now that Nika and William have spent hardly any actual time together throughout the course of the series, but in just two pages Lemire shows us why that doesn’t matter, why the connection between these two is so strong.
William and Nika have both been broken by trauma, and they’ve both lived through the other’s life and trauma as well; they’re the only ones who understand what they’ve both gone through. The romance between these two is the heart of the series in many ways, but I think one of the most important is that it shows us exactly what we stand to lose if the human race is wiped out. Most of the people we’ve seen in this series have been cruel — either hardened by a life of fighting for survival or simply baffled by the issues of the protagonists — and we don’t get a chance to see the final survivors of the human race in this issue until the last page. Instead, William and Nika show us the kind of kindness, connection, and closeness that the human race is capable of — and, importantly, that the Caul isn’t. William and Nika are sacrificing it all so that love like theirs can continue to exist, even if it means that they can’t.
Like I said, though, inside the black hole things get weird, but in a good way! William and Nika are stretched and rocketed through all of time and space, only to end up exactly where they’re needed most:
This is where the waterworks started flowing for me. Nika and William each get to visit the other at their darkest, lowest moment: Nika when she just lost her mother and William in the midst of the carnage of WWI. Time travel is tricky, so I don’t know if this rewrote their past, if Nika and William’s instant connection comes from remembering this moment in their past; even if it doesn’t, it just goes to further entwine their fates and worldviews. At this point, Nika and William have a shared experience of the world; no matter what they go through from now on, they’ll go through it together.
And that’s exactly what happens as they blast through the black hole. We don’t know what exactly has happened to them — the drawing on the teepee in the next image implies that they emerge from the black hole as a star, but they could just as easily be blasting away from the star — but we do know that wherever or whatever they are, they’re together and always will be, and that’s more than enough to give Trillium a happy ending. Moreover, the human race survives thanks to these two, and in one way or another, their efforts will always be remembered.
We’ve speculated a lot about this series’ tagline — “the last love story” — and it’s appropriate, seeing as Nika and William’s story is the last romance of an entire era of humanity. In that sense, though, they’re also “the first love story”, the love that restarted the human race, gave it a second chance, and we can see that their story will be passed down for generations.
It’s not just the plot, but the imagery that sells this ending; Lemire and Jose Villarrubia’s work on those last few pages is unforgettable, and the image of William and Nika blasting off through the black hole together in blissful embrace will forever be imbedded in my brain as a quintessential comic book ending, right alongside Calvin and Hobbes sledding off into the woods one last time or Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers leaping through one last Subspace Door, hand-in-hand, ready to face the unknown. Trillium didn’t answer every question or tie-up every loose end, but this ending hits every emotional beat to make it work for me.
How about you, Shelby; were you as affected by this ending as I was? What do you make of William and Nika’s message to each other — “It’s time” — when they meet in their pasts?
Shelby: There is a big part of me that doesn’t want to write this reply. I don’t want to analyze this issue, I don’t want to drill down into it, I just want to let it be. That’s how perfect this ending was for me. I don’t know how he does it, Lemire just has a way of cutting through all the bullshit to get to the core of his characters. This story exists on two levels: the small, personal level of William and Nika alone, and the much larger level of the entire human race. Somehow, William and Nika’s relationship seems to exist on a grander scale than that of the rest of humanity. We’ve said it before, but their love story is so much bigger than your standard storybook romance; I don’t think they ever even kissed. This isn’t a love story with awkward first dates, silly fights over nothing, and trying to consolidate your furniture when you move in together. This is a love story that gets to the core of what we seek in a relationship; these are two people who were broken, and together they weren’t broken anymore. We’re all a little bit broken in one way or another, and there’s a lot of comfort in the idea that, when it’s time to be whole again, there’s nothing (not even TIME and SPACE) that can keep you apart. It’s not the first love story, nor the last love story: it’s every love story.
Spencer, I really like your comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The ambiguity of what actually happened at the end of the story is key, because the end of the story is really the beginning. It’s the new beginning for the human race. It’s the beginning of William and Nika’s eternity together. Logically, I understand that they definitely did not survive the black hole; spaghettification is probably not a survivable experience. But fuck logic: what I know happened is that these two souls are going to be together for all time, literally. Their destiny to be together was so strong, it had a ripple affect on their own histories. I can’t imagine finding someone who is so perfect for me, he actually shared my past (literally) and picked me up when I was at my lowest. It’s heart-achingly beautiful; I can’t even feel sad at their sacrifice because I’m so happy for them being whole and together. It’s the perfect ending for these characters and this story; I never would have guessed it, and I can’t imagine it ending any other way.
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