Pistol Ending, Explained: Why Did the Sex Pistols Break Up?

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/FX

‘Pistol’ delves into the English punk rock scene of the 1970s and follows the rise and fall of one of its most iconic bands — Sex Pistols. Based on the memoirs of the band’s guitarist and founder, Steve Jones, the FX miniseries narrates in gritty detail what went on behind the scenes of the explosive and short-lived music group. Eclectic characters, like the band’s eccentric and smooth-talking manager, Malcolm, and the mysterious Pauline, make the story all the more intriguing. Near the end, the band struggles to stay together because of its members’ differing personalities and rebellious attitudes. So how do things turn out? Let’s take a closer look and the ending of ‘Pistol’ and see what happens to the iconic punk rock band. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Pistol Recap

The narrative opens with Steve Jones, the street smart lead singer of a band called The Swankers. Inspired by the likes of David Bowie and constantly arguing about whether The Beatles are any good, the band plays with its identity while trying to get noticed in the British rock scene. Steve also has a habit of nicking musical equipment from music venues and proudly claims to have stolen a microphone with Bowie’s lipstick still on it.

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/FX

While trying to steal some clothes for an upcoming gig, Steve runs into Malcolm, who runs an avant-garde fashion shop called SEX with his partner. Malcolm is highly vocal about his anti-establishment beliefs, and Steve realizes that the smooth-talking store owner would make for a good manager. Once onboard, Malcolm quickly makes changes to the band and introduces Johnny Lydon (later renamed Johnny Rotten on account of his teeth and attitude) as the lead singer. Steve then spends a few days in a haze of drugs and sleep deprivation as he struggles to learn the guitar. The name of the band is also changed to Sex Pistols.

As the band gets popular in the underground scene, we get glimpses of Steve’s troubled childhood, where he was abused by his father. Various characters join the Sex Pistols’ widening circle, including the controversial fashion icon Jordan and the troubled Pauline. Soon, arguments between Johnny and the bassist, Glen, result in the latter getting fired from the band. Malcolm also subtly manipulates Steve into firing Glen. The replacement bassist, Sid Vicious, is a friend of Johnny’s and brings an entirely new form of chaos into the band.

Pistol Ending: Why Did Sex Pistols Break Up?

Sid Vicious soon becomes obsessed with a woman named Nancy, who is a diagnosed schizophrenic. With her, his use of heroin increases, and his erratic behavior leads to arguments with Steve. In these circumstances, the band embarks on a turbulent US tour, with Sid overdosing on the flight back to London. He survives but is soon devastated by the gruesome death of Nancy.

Image Credit: Miya Mizuno/FX

Sid is arrested for Nancy’s murder and subsequently dies of an overdose. When Malcolm attempts to use Sid and Nancy’s deaths as a marketing ploy, Steve realizes just how self-centered the manager is. He subsequently leaves Malcolm and shares one last conversation with Johnny, telling the latter how he was right not to trust Malcolm. The series closes with glimpses of the band in a happier time when they performed at a Christmas party.

The ending sees the band undergo a sudden and steep downward spiral. It is especially tragic that the group begins breaking up even as they become increasingly popular. In fact, the show’s final episode opens with Malcolm saying that he must destroy the Sex Pistols. According to the manager, they have become too famous, making the band inaccessible and going against Malcolm’s philosophy of unfiltered inclusion.

However, it is not because of the manager that the band falls apart. Instead, the group implodes because of its fiery members. Despite Malcolm’s self-righteous claims about the band becoming too famous, he is more than happy to encash their fame and profit from it. However, this also leads to Steve finally realizing just how self-serving Malcolm’s actions are. Steve is unable to stand up to Malcolm ever since the latter speaks on his behalf in court and helps him avoid imprisonment. Seeing the manager trying to use a band member and his girlfriend’s death as a marketing ploy is the last straw, and Steve finally parts ways with Malcolm.

In a way, Steve and Malcolm form the foundation of the band, and their going separate ways spells the end of the Sex Pistols. Earlier, Johnny also gives Steve an ultimatum, asking the latter to choose between him and Malcolm. When Steve picks Malcolm over Johnny, the singer leaves the band. Thus, by the time Steve and Malcolm part ways, Johnny is already out of the picture. Since Steve and Johnny only collaborate because Malcolm constantly pushes them together, without the manager, there is no hope of the singer and guitarist carrying on the band together.

When Johnny meets Steve in the final moments of the series, he starts their conversation by saying that this is the last time they’re talking. Though they share (a rare) memory of the band sharing happier times, it is clear that neither of them plans on carrying on the Sex Pistols.

What Happened to Malcolm McLaren and the Members of Sex Pistols?

The series, just like the band it centers on, ends quite abruptly, leaving the fates of the band’s members and its manager unclear. As various members walk away or are fired, the story stops following them. Even in the final scene, where Steve and Johnny share memories of their times together, it remains unclear what either of them plans to do next. However, the real-life band members on which the show’s central characters are based actually continued playing music or became involved in various projects after the Sex Pistols disbanded.

Image Credit: Rebecca Brenneman/FX

Steve Jones ultimately moved to Los Angeles and even played in a couple of Sex Pistols reunion tours in 1996 and the 2000s. He also features in shows like ‘Californication’ and hosts his own radio talk show called ‘Jonesy’s Jukebox.’

Meanwhile, Johnny Rotten changed his name back to John Lydon and formed the post-punk band Public Image Ltd. The band’s debut single appeared on the UK Top Ten list, and PiL has since released multiple studio albums. Lydon also sued Malcolm McLaren’s company, Glitterbest, for a number of claims, including non-payment of royalties, unfair contractual obligations, and damages.

The drummer, Paul Cook, continued his musical career with a punk rock band called The Professionals. He still lives in England with his wife and daughter. Meanwhile, Glen Matlock, who was fired from the band, rejoined the group in later years between 1996–2001, 2002–2003, and 2007–2008. He also continued his career as a solo musician and still collaborates with other musicians. In 2022, he played with Blondie on her UK and US tours.

After parting ways with Steve and the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren actually performed as a solo artist himself, focussing on hip hop and world music, and later, funk and disco. McLaren was quite successful as a musician, and his first album, Duck Rock, was certified silver in the UK. After breaking up with Vivienne Westwood, he spent a number of years living in Hollywood. He passed away in 2010 in a hospital in Switzerland after battling peritoneal mesothelioma.

Read More: Is Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones Bisexual or Straight?