Glass: An Ending Unappreciated

In 2019 I saw the culmination of my favourite cinematic universe, years in the making, heroes and villains alike from different films together starring in an exciting finale with some very tense stakes. Then I watched Avengers Endgame a few months after.

The Eastrail 177 Trilogy is not one I would blame you for being unaware of. 3 films released over 19 years, this was M. Night Shyamalan’s project to put together a series shaped around the concept of comic book super-heroes. Just as the X-Men had started school, and when the MCU was merely an idea on a napkin somewhere, Unbreakable was examing the genre that had yet to be in a sadly underrated fashion. Unbreakable introduced David Dunn and Elijah Price, later known as The Overseer and Mr Glass respectively. Over a decade later the stealth sequel Split brought in Kevin Wendell Crumb, who’s DID leads him to develop a monstrous personality called The Beast, before Glass pitted them all against each other earlier this year. It…didn’t go too well.

Sure, it wasn’t panned, but as I read through the reception I found a lot of disappointment. Glass was viewed by many as a poor followup to its predecessors, most notably due to its ending which was considered incredibly rushed and unbelievable. I feel like this feedback misses a key point of Shyamalan’s trilogy: to illustrate both the good and bad tropes of the comic book world.

Let’s step back in time to the end of Unbreakable. David has come to the terms with the fact that he has extraordinary abilities. He visits Elijah, who up to this point had served almost as a mentor to the fledgling super-hero, and discovers that he was responsible for the accident that made David’s powers apparent in the first place. David was the hero, and Elijah was the villain: now both knew their place in the world.

Glass merges the world of these two characters and their supporting cast with that of Split. David, electrics store owner by day, crime-fighter by night, hunts down the menace he knows only as The Beast and before long both are detained by SWAT forces and taken to the Raven Hill Memorial Institution under the supervision of one Dr. Ellie Staple. It’s hear that David is brought face to face once again with Elijah, who he had incarcerated for his crimes back in the first film, as Dr. Staple tries to convince the three supers that they are not in fact super at all, but merely delusional. Elijah and The Beast form an unlikely alliance, and plan to break out of the institution and commit a major act of terrorism if David doesn’t stop them. Safe to say, they don’t make it any further than the front yard. The film sets us up for a climactic finale: The Overseer vs. The Beast, with Mr Glass watching his master plan unfold from the side. Instead, Mr Glass is dispatched of early on and the other two are once again taken out unceremoniously by surrounding SWAT forces, only this time fatally. Here is where the Rotten Tomatoes ratings begin to drop.

The SWAT forces are really members of the ‘Clover’ group, under the command of Dr. Staple, that have been suppressing evidence of super-powered beings for over 10,000 years. No previous mentions, not even a single indication of their existence, but all of a sudden they’ve killed the entire main cast of the series. But isn’t this the perfect way to end a series that has served as a commentary on super-hero comics throughout? Before he dies, Elijah tells his mother that this skirmish wasn’t an ending, it was ‘an origin story’. Not just of super-heroes and super-villains, but of the human-led institutions that attempt to police them. These groups are a staple of comics, and they emerge just as suddenly and unprecedented as Glass depicts.

Take the Court of Owls from Batman. I’m not the most up to scratch with the caped crusader on paper, but as a huge fan of Gotham I was caught off-guard by the appearance of this organisation just two episodes before the season finale, later to learn that they popped up just as unexpectedly in the comics. Before I knew it they were the show’s underlying antagonists, who had secretly been shaping the city’s history since colonial times. On the Marvel side, we have the Great Wheel of Zodiac: that’s right, your favourite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury was working with the Nazi Baron Zemo amongst others to achieve world domination back in the sixties.

The point is that these kinds of twists sell in the comic industry, and establishing underground organisations and conspiracies is one of the easiest ways to make them even if they retcon years of existing work. This has become a characteristic element of comics, and the controversy generated by them only helps sales. The cheapness of the Clover group’s eleventh hour intervention reflects the cheapness of written stories in warping existing canon for the sake of a quick shock (Captain ‘Hail Hydra’ America comes to mind).

The conclusion of the Eastrail 177 Trilogy is an excellent image of the modern comic book scene, one which is unfairly overshadowed by what the majority expect from a ‘super-hero’ film. An action-packed final fight would never have served the ‘origin story’ theme of Glass. Besides, that’s what Endgame is for.


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