It’s been over a week since the Breaking Bad finale, and somehow we’re all managing to move on. Thankfully, the series ended with a loud bang that conveniently tied up loose ends without seeming contrived, which is a massive accomplishment for a show as hyped and revered as Breaking Bad. Not all series make their mark, though, and audiences are sometimes left angry or confused (who can really make up their mind about Lost?!).
Here’s a spoiler-filled look at some of the best and worst television series finales.
The Wire: “-30-“
How do you end a show that’s more realistic than reality? The Wire took audiences on a 5 season rollercoaster ride into the politics of Baltimore, whether they were in the streets or in the senate. Throughout the series, Jimmy McNulty’s soul had been slowly deteriorating to the point that in the final season, he literally manufactured a serial killer in a desperate attempt to get the police department off its ass. In the series finale, McNulty redeems the little of his soul that he can by bringing the homeless man that he basically kidnapped for his own agenda back to Baltimore. As he stops to stare at the Baltimore skyline, a montage of characters’ futures play out against the original Blind Boys theme song, and all the futures point to one thing: nothing has changed. The finale was perfect for a show that was determined to show the perpetuation of crime and corruption of a city and the bravery of those who try to fight it.
M*A*S*H: “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen”
Thirty years later, the M*A*S*H* series finale still stands as the most-watched television series finale of all time. Hawkeye goes cray, Klinger stays in Korea, Pierce and Hunnicutt give that famous salute, and a literally written-in-stone “Goodbye” made millions of people cry like babies. Almost 125 million people watched the finale, and at the time of its airing, commercial slots during the show were going for $4,500 per 30-second block (which is equal to over $1 million in today’s standards), more than the price for ad slots during 1983’s Superbowl. The finale also created the totally awesome urban legend that it caused New York City’s public plumbing system to break down at the end of the episode, due to everyone waiting until the end of the show to use the bathroom.
The Sopranos: “Made In America”
One of the most controversial series finales in television history, The Sopranos’ “Made In America” is still sparking debates about whether it was a total copout or a stroke of genius. Yours truly is putting it in the latter category. Many fans initially didn’t understand the finale and TV service providers were hilariously inundated with calls about people’s screens going black after the episode ended. There were at least 2 hints to the finale’s ending earlier on in the season, both involving Tony Soprano’s conversation about death with his brother-in-law, Bobby. Bobby mentioned that in being a gangster, death creeps up on you when you least expect it and it must feel like everything cutting to black. There was also a flashback to this conversation in the penultimate episode of the series. So what’s the confusion? Tony’s dead, y’all. The finale was realistic through Tony’s eyes, and the fact that it’s been talked about for so long makes it truly legendary.
Six Feet Under: “Everyone’s Waiting”
Six Feet Under is one of the most poignant television series ever, and its ending was one of the most creative and satisfying endings in the medium. While the precocious Claire Fisher drives off in her now-iconic green hearse to start a new life, flash-forwards of all the characters’ lives play out against Sia’s “Breathe Me.” Careers, marriages, tragedies, and happiness are depicted for all the characters, with the famous white screen epitaphs coming up for even the beloved Fishers. We find out that Claire manages to outlive everyone (and marries hot Republican Ted!), just as the screen cuts back to present-day Claire driving down the proverbial and literal road of life. Giving the audience a glimpse of the characters’ futures was the perfect ending to the series, and if you weren’t bawling your eyes out by the last 5 minutes, your name is probably Margaret Chenowith.
Honorable mentions: Freaks and Geeks, Angel
Seinfeld: “The Finale”
Anyone know what the hell happened with Seinfeld’s finale? The episode was strangely off-mark in relation to the rest of the sitcom, and finds the cast having to finally pay for their self-serving ways. After failing to help out a fat dude getting held up at gunpoint, the gang ends up in court for a rather underwhelming cameo marathon. The random confessions added to the corniness and were also strangely off-mark. Overall, the episode felt as though some Seinfeld-haters took over the writers’ studio and wrote the episode themselves. If there was a joke in “The Finale,” it must’ve been an inside one.
Dexter: “Remember the Monsters?”
Oh, Dexter. What happened? Everyone’s favorite sociopath ended up not only getting away with it all at the end, but he also offed his sister, put on an invisibility cloak to steal her body in plain view, and dumped her body in the ocean. Actually, if the series had ended with Dexter riding off into the storm after disposing of Deb, maybe the response would’ve been different – at least there would’ve been some kind of ambiguity, as opposed to the total certainty of Dexter becoming a lumberjack. Dexter’s finale was so disappointing because the series started off as a truly killer show (no pun intended). It started to lose its clout after season 3, and even though season 8 was underwhelming, fans still held their breaths for a mind-blowing finale, only to have the series end with a whimper. There was just too much wasted potential in how the show could’ve ended. “Remember the Monsters?” was more than a copout – it was straight up blasphemy.
St. Elsewhere: “The Last One”
St. Elsewhere gave us many things – great stories, great characters, and, most importantly, Denzel Washington. “The Last One” could’ve gone in many directions, but writers instead decide to go Copout Route #2 – instead of doing the #1 “everybody dies!” routine, St. Elsewhere copped out with a lame deus ex machina. In this case, the series was all in the mind (and snowglobe) of Tommy Westphall, Dr. Westphall’s autistic son. The ending disappointed many viewers, since it’s painfully obvious that the best ending would’ve been a simple 1 hour montage of Denzel Washington pics.
Roseanne: “Into That Good Night”
The whole “Oops, this was just a dream, tee hee!” routine that St. Elsewhere pulled was surprisingly recycled for the series finale for Roseanne. The groundbreaking series ended up being nothing but a story that Roseanne was writing. Oh, and Dan was dead! How rude! The finale was so disappointing because the entire last season was almost embarrassing in how far-fetched it was, and the final episode only reaffirmed audiences’ suspicions that the writers really had no idea what they were doing.
Honorable mentions: Battlestar Galactica, Entourage