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On Television Finales (May Contain Spoilers)

I watch a shitload of television. And since watching last night’s series finale of LOST, I’ve been thinking about series finales of the shows I loved. Unless I’m missing one, every single show that ended on its own terms presented me with a finale that I appreciated and, in most situations, loved.

By specifying shows that ended on their own terms, I am eliminating shows that were canceled or changed without a chance to properly finish the story they told, like Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, Veronica Mars, Gilmore Girls, Firefly, and The 4400.

Let’s examine a few of these series finales:

Seinfeld: What better way to end a show about four narcissistic, selfish assholes than to have them spend a year in prison for violating a Good Samaritan law? It brought back nine years worth of characters, revisited favorite episodes and moments, and demonstrated the foursome’s complete inability to learn a lesson from anything, remaining focused on the minutiae even to the end.
Rating: A-

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Defeat the First Evil, close the Sunnydale Hellmouth, lose a few friends, make some new ones, and empower thousands of women worldwide with slayer abilities, all while infusing humor with tear-inducing drama.
Rating: A+

The Sopranos: The fade to black in an episode filled with deaths of many of the major characters, right as the Soprano family enjoyed what may be the last meal they ever ate, was not the most popular finale, although I found it pretty satisfying. Who cares if they were about to be gunned down. This show was not a glorification of the mob – in my opinion, it showed that even monsters have worries and dreams and concerns, but it doesn’t stop them from still being monsters.
Rating: B

LOST: Last night, after the finale aired, I saw someone tweet “What, so I just spent six years watching dead people?” No, you didn’t. They did not die when the plane crashed. You apparently missed the entire point of the show and the finale. These were people who were lost in their own lives, and they were brought together by this mystical island to grow, heal, and mature. It was the most important time in their lives. Granted, some of their lives ended on the island, but many of them found their purpose first. The “sideways world”, which should now be considered more of a “purgatory world”, was not taking place simultaneously with the real world. It was a post-mortem utopia that drew all of them back together one last time before they moved on, because they needed each other in order to continue into the light. I loved it.
Rating: A+

When you watch characters for several years, I think it’s natural to have this sense of personal investment, which leads to a feeling that the creators owe you something. They don’t. They have their own story to tell, and it’s important to trust them to tell you the story the way that they want to. LOST is a good example of this – this last season answered all of the major questions, but lingering questions don’t matter to the story that the creators want to tell. It’s likely that if crafted well enough, the story itself gave you enough context to answer any question you want if you think about it enough. In the end, though, be entertained and enjoy what they’ve created for you.

37 thoughts on “On Television Finales (May Contain Spoilers)”

  1. I felt the same way about the Lost finale. Loved it. Sure it had flaws, but I think it brought just the right amount of closure for all of us who loved the characters.

    What did you think about the Angel finale? I didn’t love the show as much as Buffy (mostly to do with the main character), but I thought the finale rivaled Buffy’s.

  2. Oh I definitely “get” the ending of Lost. It was pretty clearly spelled out. I just think it’s a boatload of crap. As I said on my blog, I don’t think it’s critical that every little thing be wrapped up, but the fact that the “final answer” did nothing to explain… well… ANYTHING… about the freaky stuff going on with all the characters… well, it just confirmed I made the right decision to dump the show after Season 2. I remember the mysteries going on with Walt’s psychic powers… the dire warnings about Claire’s baby… etc. etc. etc. – WHAT THE HELL?? The show’s writers decided to JETTISON all the stuff people obsessed over and tried to figure out so they could focus on “love” and “redemption” or whatever?!? WTF?!? Who gives a crap? THE NUMBERS ARE BAD! THE NUMBERS ARE BAD!

    Believe me, I’m thrilled that you liked the ending and it was worth six years of dedication to the show… but I’m just not seeing it.

    1. @Dave2, I can understand people not liking it – that’s all a matter of opinion, so no big deal. Walt’s powers and Miles’s abilities and Hurley’s powers were all a function of the real world – what needed to be explained? Claire’s baby was completely explained. You missed a lot in four seasons that you didn’t watch.

  3. Lost lost me at the polar bear. For some reason, that just offended me and I never watched it again. I watched the last few minutes of the finale and made a joke about it on my blog, but I’m glad to know it really wasn’t a Bob Newhart-esque ending. Also, no one explained the island itself better than you just did. So thanks. But what about the fucking polar bear????

  4. The last time I got excited about a “last episode” was The Wonder Years on May 12, 1993. It was good, though sad. Maybe you should dedicate a post to how great a show that was–I can help.

  5. How about instead of “May contain spoilers” you change the header to “Absolutely contains lots of spoilers and you will regret reading this post”

    Asshole. I was looking forward to watching the LOST finale. Now, I’m looking forward to pooping in your kitchen sink.

  6. I agree with your grades here except for Buffy. I never watched it so I cannot agree or disagree. I loved the Lost finale, it was everything I’d hoped for. Seinfeld left me wanting more but only because I wasn’t ready for that show to go away. That was a great summation of Lost though, exactly right on.

  7. I never watched Lost, but I feel like I know all about the show from everyone discussing it all the time.

    I think the networks are really screwing up when they cancel shows without giving them the chance to do a series finale. Even if the show has only been on for a year or two, a big finale will allow it to wrap everything up for their fans and even if the show wasn’t getting good ratings, a series finale will do well.

  8. Maybe I don’t read enough online, but I am SO, SO glad to find other who loved the Lost finale. It was lovely, emotional without becoming overly sentimental, and wrapped up everything I wanted to know. I cried like a baby all the way through it, and when Vincent laid down next to Jack, forget it, I just let it all go. I’m thankful it had such a spiritual completion, since to me it was always about lost souls finding their way home, where ever that home may be.

  9. I wish they had resolved a few more things about the Island itself, since it was sort of the main character. But I LOVED the finale. It rocked me. I still feel all emotional about it.

  10. re: LOST, thank you! This SOOOO annoys me. The writers went out of their way to explicitly answer this… when Christian Shephard (sp) was all (something like), “No, they were all real and everything you experienced on the island was real. Some died before you and some long after you.” Something like that. How the hell can you misinterpret that?! They’re spelling it out for you, jeez. I watched Kimmel and he said he thought Jack died on the airplane before they even landed, and the character playing Jack just kind of went along with that, and I’m like, no, don’t be polite, tell him what the real deal is, because this is only going to confuse thousands of people!

  11. I loved the Lost finale as well, I knew a lot of people would hate it before the episode even started, hell people were going to hate it from the first fucking episode ever. People expected so much from the show, they had so many theories that if the end wasn’t their exact theory they would call it shit. Learn to let go of your theories, so we didn’t discover in the show that Widmore is Charlie’s dad, you don’t see me crying about it.

  12. I think my favorite finale ever was from Newhart. I didn’t always watch the shows but loved the finale crossover.

    A Japanese firm buys up all the land in the town where Newhart is set to build a golf course. Everyone sells out and moves away wealthy… except Dick. Dick will not sell and they build the course around his Inn. Years pass and the old town residents return for a reunion at the Inn. They all regret moving and decide they are all moving back and will live at the Inn. Things are getting very bizarre and Dick, furiously yelling at everyone at how nuts they are steps out onto the Inn’s porch where he is knocked out by a stray golf ball. Cut to a darkened bedroom. Bob Newhart wakes up and turns on a light. Its Bob Hartley’s bedroom from The Bob Newhart Show. Bob reaches over and shakes the person sleeping next to him awake. It’s Emily, Bob’s wife from The Bob Newhart Show. Newhart, now clearly Dr. Bob Hartley, starts to tell Emily about the strange dream he has just had – where he was an Inn Keeper in Vermont. The entire run of Newhart was nothing but Bob Hartley’s dream. Emily warns him to watch what he eats before going to bed. It was brilliant!

    Unfortunately, I never got into Lost because I would keep missing episodes and couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I’m going to put the series DVDs on my Christmas wish list.

    Fade to black ….

  13. I really enjoyed the Lost finale. I cheered when Boone and Shannon came back! Oh wait…should I have put a *spoiler alert* before that? Oh well, fuck it.
    I also enjoyed the Buffy finale. Full of ass-kickery!
    The finale that makes me laugh is the Sopranos. I never watched the show so I don’t really care but it’s the reaction of the fans that got pissed beyond belief at how it ended. Seeing Soprano fans froth at the mouth in absolute rage is a true joy. HAHAHA!

  14. quite possibly one of the best recaps i’ve read yet. i thought the finale was fanfuckintastic and i’ve never been so grateful for my bachelors degree in english literature before sunday night, so of course i called my parents to tell them thanks for paying the out of state tuition.

    this may mean that i *may* be developing a crush on you…

  15. I felt dumb after watching the LOST finale, like I didn’t quite get it. But now I’m feeling better about it. It seems like a lot of people had the same reaction as me – right afterwards they were not sure, but as time went on they decided it was good. There were still a lot of questions left unanswered, like what WAS all of that stuff on the island anyway? But, I guess in the end it doesn’t really matter because that isn’t the point.

  16. I missed the last two seasons and the ending tells me I need to go watch them to fully understand better what happened. I’m kind of pissed that Kate and Sawyer were the ones who made it. And I’d love to see a spinoff series with Hurley and Ben’s adventures while being Number One and Number Two, and what happened during those years that made Ben feel he didn’t belong in the church with the rest of them.

    In my opinion you are spot on in your A+ rating of the Buffy final episode. As far as I’m concerned that was one of the best series ever. In conception, character development, storylines and continuity, perfect in nearly every way, with the only exceptions being the departure of Oz and the inclusion of Tara. I have nothing against lesbians, and the thought of Willow getting down with a girl is tasty, but I felt Oz’s snappy geek humor was much better suited to Willow’s personality.

    I thought Angel sucked the last couple of seasons, but I watched it anyway. Mostly. I thought it jumped the shark when they took the law firm over, and they completely fucked up how they handled Cordelia’s death.

    But I’m not opinionated or anything.

  17. I didn’t get into Lost they way everyone else did..and yes, I also missed the finale…but you make a good point. From all accounts, it sounds like Lost ended they way it was supposed to. And now, I kinda want to go back and watch it.

  18. I just recently watched Firefly and loved it. The abruptness of the ending was sad, even though Serenity resolved a lot of it.

    I never watched Lost, so I can’t say anything about that. Actually the last series finale I saw that I remember was MASH. Now that was an awesome show.

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