In light of the recent egg Lost laid, I thought it worthwhile to look at some series finales that actually worked. This is by no means a “Top Five,” just a list of finales that actually managed to encapsulate what their show’s were about and provide some closure to those ideas. Come on Lost defenders, is that really setting the bar too high?
The granddaddy of all series finales still reigns as the most watched of all time, and with just cause. Those displeased with its heavy-handed moralizing and group hugs clearly aren’t fans of the last seven seasons. A mother smothering her child is enough to effect even the most desensitize individual, driving Hawkeye nuts and confronting the audience with the most horrific death in eleven seasons of war. And that, in a nutshell, is what the series was about; the horrors of war and how people cope with them, most notably through wry humour and friends that are closer than family. This episode gave us an epic-length dose of that with the added sweet sorrow of saying goodbye.
Yes, we’ve now been treated to the show’s resurrection but, at the time, we all thought this was the swan song for the Planet Express crew. And what a song it was as the series delivered its finest musical numbers and, wisely, chose to focus on Fry and Leila’s relationship rather than yet another strange new world. Since the premiere, Futurama gave us plenty of funny hijinx from Bender & co (and he/they are at their best here too) but this unrequited love is the closest thing the show ever had to running plot. In a masterful piece of restraint, the series ends not with “I love yous” and a passionate embrace but with hand holding and the mere suggestion that these two might have a future.
Anyone pissed off by the “cliffhanger” ending wasn’t watching the rest of the episode. What happened in that alley was irrelevant. How and why the characters ended up there is what really matters. The episode embraced the existential angst the series had flirted with for most of its run with what virtue that exists in the world being found in the act of fighting evil and not in winning or losing. Each character coped with this brand of fatalism in their own way with Angel himself embodying its best and worst qualities as it (finally) allowed him to connect with his son and rationalized the sacrifice of his friends (I’m thinking about Lorne in particular).
A four-part “F-U” to the suits responsible for the show’s cancellation? Yes please. Arrested Development took self-referential humour and running gags to new heights throughout its run and the closing proved just how far that could be taken with an endless supply of jokes that no one but a fan could love. Looking at the last episode itself, the writers hit on a brilliant solution to resolving the the craziness of the Bluth family; don’t. Michael finally realizes that keeping his family together is a less worthy goal than raising his son and decides to focus his attention on the one relative who both needs and deserves it.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Many fans felt the combination of Q and excessive schmaltz was a sour note to end on but, for my money, this finale encapsulated what makes Trek “Trek.” We got a heady sci-fi conceit in an episode that revelled in the show’s mythology as Picard’s consciousness moved back and forth through time to save humanity. In the end, the day is saved through the crew’s loyalty to each other and the Captain’s ingenuity in recognizing that linear cause and effect may not be the only way to understand the universe; strange new worlds indeed. (Okay, so then Q steps in and undoes everything, but Godlike beings snapping their fingers is also pretty standard Trek).