Series Finales: How Do They Measure Up?
When television shows last long enough to amass a group of fans that care enough to stick through until the series finale, usually the pressure is on for the writers and the creators. After Breaking Bad‘s recent phenomenal ending and seeing all the praise it garnered, I wanted to look at it among what I consider some other great finales (Twin Peaks not included, but definitely on my list). Spoiler warning, if you have yet to see these shows:
“Felina,” the finale of Breaking Bad, was incredible and equally hailed by critics and fans. All the loose ends were tied up and people that found themselves far on the anti-Walt side of the spectrum even gained some sympathy for him as he took his last breath and, fittingly, died among his true love in a meth lab. In AMC’s popular post-show blog, creator Vince Gilligan discussed his approach to the finale: “We wanted the right balance of Walt paying for his sins, and yet we wanted some sort of a note of triumph at the end of it all. He got a whole lot of money to his family; trouble is, he’s destroyed his family in the meantime.” Breaking Bad left viewers with the perfect mix of a story resolution but still an open-ended morality question to ourselves: where was the line crossed with Walter White and does he deserve forgiveness?
The highly-anticipated series finale “The End” premiered to mixed reviews. I loved it and had an incredible emotional catharsis during it, which another show has yet to do to me, but there are many who didn’t feel the same. With such a subjective ending, you could understand where this polarization lies. A show like Lost tricked us into thinking it was a plot-driven show, but actually was very character-driven, which is why season six (aside from the obvious sideways stories) looked an awful lot like season one. Creator Damon Lindelof gracefully accepted the criticism, but as he wrote recently in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter, he’s done with apologizing for the finale: “I stand by the Lost finale. It’s the story that we wanted to tell, and we told it. No excuses. No apologies. I look back on it as fondly as I look back on the process of writing the whole show. And while I’ll always care what you think, I can’t be a slave to it anymore. Here’s why: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really … I was alive.”
Hear, hear Damon, I agree (even if his explanation IS a Breaking Bad finale reference).
Probably one of the most controversial finales, as it had as polarizing effect on its audience as Lost did. After six seasons of living with the mob boss and both of his families, the finale, “Made in America,” ends with a smash cut to black in the middle of the scene. Not only mid-scene but mid-song during “Don’t Stop Believing”. This really messed with the audience, especially those who thought they had the terrible luck of their television cutting out at the most inopportune moment. Fans were super upset about this, but honestly, did a show like The Sopranos really need such a concrete ending? Can we take the cut to black mid-song during “Don’t Stop” as just representative of the cycle of Tony Soprano? In the final scene, in a local diner, the family is back together, with Tony and Carmela’s marriage still intact. Everyone is happy and nothing has really changed, especially not our ambivalent anti-hero Tony Soprano. Creator David Chase told the Huffington Post he was baffled by the strong reaction to the finale: “I think a lot of people thought they were being made a fool of, that I was being really meta – is that the word? – and postmodern or just showing my quote-unquote ‘contempt’ for the audience or going ‘Ha, ha, ha. It’s just a TV show.’ None of that was what was going on. That was the best ending I knew to come up with and I thought it said some things but people didn’t get it because they were angry. Or maybe it wasn’t executed well…I do wish that connection had been made better. To me the question is not whether Tony lived or died, and that’s all that people wanted to know: ‘Well, did he live or did he die? You didn’t finish the show. You didn’t answer the question.’ That’s preposterous. There was something else I was saying that was more important than whether Tony Soprano lived or died. About the fragility of all of it. The whole show had been about time in a way, and the time allotted on this Earth.”
Six Feet Under
What an amazing series about a family whose life and home are literally consumed by their funeral business. The show could affect even the most stubborn viewers’ view on morality and death. After five amazing seasons, the final season proved to have some of the heaviest material. Nate dies a few episodes before leaving both his child and a pregnant Brenda behind, and it is heartbreaking. But this is just warm-up for the ultimate heartbreak: the finale, “Everybody’s Waiting.” And in typical Six Feet Under fashion, we are subject to not just a few minutes of despair but an entire montage and how the Fisher family (including Brenda and Rico) live out the remainder of their lives and eventually die, with Claire outliving them all. Creator Alan Ball was very pleased at the ending and, in a 2005 article for New York magazine, explained the bluntness behind his choice of having Nate die in the last season: ““The message is that we die….And sometimes we die in the middle of messy things in our lives. Death doesn’t wait until you take care of all your issues.” “Everybody’s Waiting” was an extremely moving episode of television, very shocking, but was there really any other way for this black comedy about death to go out?
What do you think about television’s most talked-about series finales? Which ones did we miss? Sound off your thoughts in the comment section below!
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Images courtesy of AMC, ABC and HBO