The Best TV Finales I’ve Seen

In between having several books on the go, over the last year I’ve managed to finish watching and re-watching some TV shows that are favourites of mine. Most of these appear in my two “My Best TV shows of all time” pieces I’ve written. Since I like to judge and rank things, I thought I’d evaluate the endings of these shows and which are the “best” to me; that being the ones I found the most emotional, either depressing, upsetting, uplifting, inspiring, or all of the above. Also factors are how the episode actually did bring the story to a conclusion, and the methods used.

Of course, there are thousands of TV shows out there with possibly greater endings than I’ve ever seen. I know there are all-time classics that I’ve been told about, such as Black Adder etc. But I can only write about what I know and what has meaning for me. No doubt I’ll do an updated version of this list in the future. As can be expected most of these shows also appear on my “favourite shows of all time” list, for obvious reasons.

* SPOILER ALERT – I’ve tried to keep my comments as ambiguous as possible, but if you’re watching or planning to watch any of these shows, best to not read this. *

PRISON BREAK

First time I saw the end of Prison Break, I was really moved. I thought it was touching, even if I knew what was coming well before Sarah said “let’s go and see Michael” to their son. Yeah, I knew what was coming, and it still moved me.  I’m not saying that Prison Break was brilliant in its last two seasons. It had its faults. I think there are only so many realistic twists and turns and last minute surprises you can spring on the audience and still maintain credibility.

The fact the show really struggled to keep its own contrived and arguably daft plot-twists going is the reason is ranked below all the others. But it’s a sad ending; quite depressing actually and possibly uncalled for. But moving? No doubt.

STAR TREK: TNG

I could’ve chosen other Star Treks, (the Original never had a proper series finale) but Voyager’s was rushed and unsatisfying, and DS9’s felt hollow somehow. The ridiculous Vic Fontaine program (inexplicably introduced) was hit on our heads repeatedly throughout season 7 and I can’t help but feel it was someone’s hobbie smuggled lamely into the story. I chose TNG because its ending is the best of all the Treks. Makes you wonder why more of the last two seasons couldn’t have been written this way.

It was a fun ending to a TV show that, taken overall, was above average. You can’t deny it was a solid consistent series with some fantastic episodes. But you can’t deny the crap ones either, and there were quite a lot of them. If we’re taking a show at its best then we should discard the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th seasons, but then we’d have to throw away Scrubs seasons 5-8, Prison Break’s 3rd and 4th, Friends’ 5th to 10th, and so on. But this isn’t about TV shows it’s about finales.

The TNG finale was a great episode to wrap it up; in typical Star Trek fashion we bounce around from time to time, bringing our heroes together for a grand cause. And the lesson from Q is something the Exec Producers and writers of Trek didn’t actually take home: life isn’t about charting stars and mapping nebula (or treknobabble and warp core breaches), but discovering the unknown possibilities of existence. And that, my friends, is what Star Trek was originally all about. But like All Good Things…

FRIENDS

I can look back with hindsight and spot the many flaws with this show, but it’s hard to deny that for my generation, FRIENDS was a hugely popular show, and its humour, in-jokes and story have become pop culture icons in their own right. Could I be any more over the top? That is so not what I meant. You know what I mean: “we were on a break!!”

Hard to grow up with a show like that, with characters you get to know that well, to care for – and not feel something when it ended. It was a good wrap to a comedy that went on longer than it should have. (A lot longer). But it’s hard to keep quality of earlier seasons up; look at Scrubs. But it ended well; everyone got paired off; they went their own ways. In a sense, they (finally) grew up.

ANGEL

Totally different to the Buffy ending. Totally different to almost any TV ending you’ll ever see in fact! No smiles, no wrap-ups, no happy conclusions, in fact – no conclusions? Angel and his (surviving) allies stand alone in a dark alley pouring with rain, having knowingly set in motion a series of events that will strike a massive blow to the forces of evil – and almost certainly spell their own death. After five seasons of a show with many ups and downs, with some great stories and some weaker moments, the hoards of Wolfram and Hart descend on our heroes and we’re left with a dramatic and spine-tingling cut to black after Angel simply declares “I want the dragon!”

What a way to end a series!

(No good video clip available. (God damn fan art.))

SCRUBS

Yup, gonna moan about this one too. From seasons 1 – 4, the best sitcom I’ve seen, and I’d still give it that accolade. Pretentious and obvious with its “moral of the episode”? Perhaps, but what is good storytelling unless you take yourself seriously? Scrubs was so incredibly well-written in its early days that it deserved a quality ending. It got one: a beautiful montage of flashforwards to stunning music; our characters happy and living the lives they’ve deserved. The end of the show nicely brings everything together, ties up the loose ends, and gives a satisfying happy-sad sense of closure. It’s happy, but we’re sad it’s over.

24

Now, I had my gripes with this show too, partly because I totally loved it and think it lost its way somewhat. The return and then switch, double-switch, and switch-back from Tony was…urm…slightly forced in my opinion. And seriously, is anyone else amazed that at least three people that knew Jack were still alive by the end?? Writing tip: when you keep killing off people the audience cares about, the audience stops caring, thereby rendering the story device useless.

But hey, Jack in full body armour – taking out the bad guys and exposing another nasty secret, getting the US President to stop menstruating for one minute and realise she’d made a boo-boo: epic stuff. Grand and sweeping, and in typical Jack fashion he disappears once last time. This ending might have had more emotional resonance if Jack hadn’t already played scapegoat and run off into hiding no fewer than 421 times previously in the series. But maybe I’m being harsh and that was simply “foreshadowing”, as Jack can never seem to find happiness.

He thanks Chloe one last time, the clock for the only occasion in the entire show counts us up from three to zero, and that was that.

BUFFY

What would an ending to the best show of all time be without the best ending of all times? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a bit rushed; there’s too much to get through and a lot to cram in. I would’ve liked to savour more of the victory but that’s TV.

But after seven grand and epic seasons, after battling friends and foes – to face off against the power of the Biggest Baddest Bad of them all, and to win in such heroic manner and stand victorious – with everything wrapped up and all stories concluded in a meaningful and satisfying matter, the smile – the starting of a smile – of “what now?” is just class. An epic battle with fantastic music; the elevation of Willow to goddesshood; the elevation of Potentials everywhere to Actuals; the courage and gift of the newly-ensouled Spike; the end of Sunnydale.

Yeah, we lost a lot of people along the way. It was difficult and often painful – but you can’t help feeling that it all meant something. And hey, the good guys won the day – which is the entire point of Buffy. A great way to go out.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

Oh, Battlestar. What a sweet show you starting out as, and indeed finished as. Shame about all that Balter-Six crap in between. We get it, God exists and has a purpose! Where is Kirk when you need him…

Urm, I just like to ask a question? What does God need with a starship? And incidentally, why does God care so much about saving 50,000 humans to restart a new race, instead of…urm, I don’t know… preventing the frakking nuclear annihilation of them in the first place??

And then Kirk realises we’re talking about the god of the bible, and it all makes sense.

A great show, if taxing in some places – but a bittersweet ending. Slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of perfection – a perfect face, perfect lace. Find the perfect world for the end of Kara Thrace. End of line.

A courageous and suicidal assault on Cylon HQ itself gives us superb battles in space and on the ground. A last ditch breathless escape gives us our second (and our characters’ first) shot of the beautiful world we call home. Galactica sails off into the sun…literally. The human race begins, again. An Angel ascends, the President leaves us, Adama starts a lonely new existence, the war is over. The writers gave themselves a hell of a big job bringing all this together but you have to say they pulled it off, eventually. But all of this has happened before, and will happen again. Cracking stuff.

Counterpoint: read this for a superb deconstruction of BSG and why the ending was poor. And this.

BABYLON 5

No doubt in my mind before I started writing this which was gonna be number 1. B5 is a grand story of our heroes, and on either side lies a million years of history. We witness a small slice of the temporal cosmic pie, and in the last episode jump forward 20 years to see how it ends. In a way, I think this episode is moving not because we don’t know what’s coming, but because we do. We knew what was going to happen, just like you might know that a loved one is destined to die soon from an illness, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it comes – and of course that analogy wasn’t chosen lightly.

It ends with a love story. I always find goodbyes hard, and Sleeping in Light is full of them. Our characters say goodbye to others and we say goodbye to the station. The hardest of all is Sheridan’s and Delenn’s – you can see the pain in their faces, almost horror – as the emotion finally pours out.

J. Michael Straczynski said that the episode “put him away” for a good hour, and kept doing so every time he watched it. I have to confess to the same thing: no matter how many times I watch it, and it’s not often, I find it really hard to get through. It’s a raw and primal feeling: seeing these characters older, the story over, their age past, and time to go; it does feel like coming in when the last battle really is over and many have died and been lost, and it’s quiet and still and there isn’t much left to say; a cloud hangs over the episode, very much like a funeral. Perhaps its tough because there are a lot of unnaturally early goodbyes, which are the worst kind. (Let’s also remember that Andreas Katsulas and the much younger Richard Biggs are no longer alive – the latter dying so shortly after JMS recorded his commentary for this very episode.)

Is it Christopher Franke’s heart-breaking music, majestic and harrowing – yet inspiring? It is Ivanova’s voice-over at the end, “even for people like us”? Is it the sight of the station slowly dying? Is it the sense of emptiness, of leaving things behind? Is it two lovers ripped apart before their time? Is it the sense of hope that somehow we’re left with? It must be all of this.

If the purpose of drama and story is to move the audience – then B5 must get the “best ever ending” accolade from me.  Such a sense of finality and dramatic conclusion. It’s the hardest last episode I’ve had to sit through. And I think that says it all.

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