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What Makes A Fine Farewell to Favorite Shows?

After yesterday’s Fringe finale, I’ve found myself thinking of what a good final episode needs in order to fully satisfy the expectations of its viewers (and especially the long-term fans). Surely it’s something more than just tying up all the loose ends, right…?

For some reason, whenever I think of final episodes of long-running television series nowadays, I find myself thinking back to the finales of both Lost and Battlestar Galactica, two examples that are at best controversial in terms of how they wrapped everything up. I’m one of those who actually liked the BSG finale – Yes, there are some of us – at least at first, because it felt emotionally satisfying for the most part; while I’ll admit that it fell apart somewhat (Read: A lot) the more I thought about it, when I was watching it, felt fulfilling, and as if all of the things that I wanted from it were at least being addressed, if not actually happening. Compare to that, the finale for Lost, which… just failed to live up to almost any of the promises that the series had made up until that point, I’d argue. Perhaps it’s because Lost was even more predicated on the mysteries of its own mythology, and therefore had more to lose from actually trying to answer its own questions, but even before the “Hey, they are all dead and now we’re in a church” climax, I was finding myself frustrated and annoyed with how Lost chose to wrap up.

That said, I would have hated it so much more if it had left its major questions unanswered. Closure is, of course, the one ingredient that we desperately want from a series finale – the one that we need, I’d argue – and so that means we need answers in some form or another, some form of plot resolution to give us the impression that the story (stories) we’ve been following have come to some form of conclusion and we won’t miss out on what happens next. But as BSG demonstrated, we also need some kind of emotional resolution as well. That doesn’t have to come in the form of a happy ending – although that’d be nice – but some acknowledgment of the commitment and time the viewer has spent with the show, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous. The viewer wants to feel appreciated in the finale of a series in a way that is somehow stronger than a regular episode, I’d argue.

A series that did it right – perhaps surprisingly, considering the circumstances (knowing that the cast would be reunited months later for a movie, the episode coming at the end of a lackluster season, etc.) – was Star Trek: The Next Generation. “All Good Things,” that show’s finale, managed to be a story complete in and of itself that (literally) took its lead character back through the show’s history, offering the viewer a chance to revisit some favorite moments and characters, as well as to the future of the crew of the Enterprise, as a way of telling the viewers that everything and everyone would turn out fine even though we wouldn’t be seeing them every week. It also looped back into the show’s very first episode, setting up an unexpected symmetry and giving the series as a whole a purpose that it had lacked previously in the process. In other words, it was a finale that didn’t just work as a summation of the series, it elevated the series in the process.

Maybe that’s what a final episode should be: A celebration of the show that tries, one final time, to raise the game and show everyone just what they’ll be missing from that point on. Perhaps series finales should have as much of a “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone” as a polite fond farewell to fans… Just to ensure that they remember the episode, if nothing else. But what do you think? What ingredients are necessary to make a series finale just right for you?

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Comments

  • Lyle

    I have not read your article because I still have not seen the finale of Fringe, but thought I would respond to your question.
    For me, there are three endings I like: 1) The show that ties up all the loose ends and makes it apparent that this show can not continue (like M*A*S*H), 2) The show gives you an idea what the characters’ futures are (like in Six Feet Under), 3) The show gives you a feel that things will change but ‘the adventure continues’. (like in Eureka, where we think the town of Eureka is going to be demolished, but discover at the last minute that someone saved it, though it will be changed).
    I’ve often hated when shows end with a cliffhanger, even shows that pretty much had every right to end that way like with Soap. I recall not liking how Chuck ended, for example, where we saw Chuck and Sarah begin to kiss without knowing what the outcome was of that. Still, I have friends who thought the ending of Chuck was perfect, so, it is all really a matter of opinion. 

  • Yanks5179

    I loved the Fringe finale, even if I predicted EXACTLY the ending.  To me, it was the ONLY way it could end, given how they were talking about it (I thought it would actually end in the first part of the coda; when I saw there was a second part, I made the prediction for how that scene would end).  That didn’t ruin it for me in an way; it made total sense for the end. It wrapped up a lot of things, gave great nods to the entire series and worked well.  Yes, I’m being intentionally vague because some people haven’t watched and I don’t want to ruin it.

  • Washismyhero

    Blackadder had a pretty good ending. They changed the tone from more silly humor and added in some gallows humor and pathos. It was a funny and surprisingly moving finale.

  • http://twitter.com/PaulPennaWriter Paul Penna

    I found the Lost finale a lot more satisfying after watching ‘The New Man In Charge’ on DVD. What they really needed to do in the final series was have more information revealed and to tie up Walt’s story, which all could’ve been done in the series but they chose to do it in an epilogue instead.

    Once you’ve had the questions answered, then you’re ready for that emotional send off. I definetly still enjoyed the finale but it was frustrating that we still had to wait for the DVD to find that information out.

  • Intrepidimaginings

    What about the series finale to Babylon 5? If you are a fan of the show, it hits very hard but is very satisfying.

  • Bob

    I thought the Fringe finally was utterly unsatisfying, the entire series seemed pointless. The whole premise for the entire final series was a McGuffin hunt, and in the end they didn’t even use it… what was the point then except to waste time, after 5 years that pissed me off. Such an inconsequential anticlimax of a finale.

    The BEST finale ever for my money, and it certainly ties back to your comment about how the audience wants to feel appreciated, was Quantum Leap. Not only was it a great story, not only was everything tied up nicely, not only did it give a second chance to Dean Stockwell’s char Al, but the best bit, lol, was Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell standing, with a slight smile of acknowledgement, looking at the audience during the end credits as if to say “Thank You”.. it stuck with me, and probably always will.

  • http://twitter.com/Starleafgirl Starleafgirl

    Same here! I loved it, but darn if those so-called “plot twists” at the end (and the ending scene itself) weren’t obvious coming from a mile away. I found myself going “And here’s the part where this happens, which necessitates this, which is a great way to end it, considering how the series began” a lot (I won’t go into specifics so I don’t ruin it for someone, too). It was really lovely and didn’t have to be shocking or unpredictable to be good.

  • http://twitter.com/Starleafgirl Starleafgirl

    Actually, the “McGuffin” hunt (with the mcguffin being “the plan”) came together completely in the series finale. They did use it (with a few last-minute tweaks due to unfortunate circumstances). And it saved the day. I’m not sure how you missed that.

  • Bob

     Rubbish.

    They spent an entire series looking for pieces to build a time machine and in the end couldn’t get it to work so went with plan B, the shipping lane… In what way shape or form is that “coming together at the end” 

    That entire ‘hunt’ proved pointless and a total waste of 12 eisodes. They were no better off than if they had never had the ‘plan’ in the first place. The writing staff should have been kicked in the balls.. a more involved story of consequences, and the shipping lane as the plan would have been far better. The way it worked out was entire waste of time, for both the writers and the viewer.

  • Tall Robert 1955

    Not exactly science fiction, but the ending of Newhart, “The Last Newhart”, is still the best…..ever.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McVWkGWMHKI

  • Tenormadness365

    Agreed on the “Star Trek” finale, even though I thought season 7 rocked.

    All I ask is if you build a show around a mystery in Season 1, you should know how it will be resolved in the last episode.  I do not believe for a second that when we heard “The boy must live” from September, that it was planned that they would be talking about the plot point from a one-off episode a season ago.  He was obviously referring to Peter.  If you are going to have characters make mysterious, weighty statements like that, know what Peter is going to do in the future, so you can be consistent, and not look like you are just making stuff up.  There were great things from last night, but the plot wasn’t one of them.

  • Dan Duran

    Yes!  Totally agreed re: QL.  Did it complete Sam’s Journey?  No.  But did it give us a good emotional sendoff that tied in nearly everything that came before?  Absolutely.  And I defy ANY fan of the show not to tear up a bit when the last text of the epilogue scrolls across the screen.

  • sediarsago

    Actually, everything was used in the finale except for 1. The rocks and 2. The power cells.

    Everything else was used in the finale in order to hold the shipping lane open.

    It seems that you didn’t have any emotional attachments to the series. That was a large part of the finale. Doing tons and tons of callbacks, closing up themes, and providing a happy ending to the characters we spent half a decade and 100 episodes with. And I loved it.

  • sediarsago

    Well Peter WAS important, along with Michael. You took it as a direct answer that it was Peter, but it was a red herring. He was being ambiguous. Plus, September making sure Peter is a okay and has Etta was all apart of the plan to have Walter be able to have a reason to give up his life. Walter loves Peter and Etta and Olivia and wanted them to all be happy.

  • Yanks5179

     Did you WATCH the finale?  The plan came together; the machine was built, Walter’s tapes were revisited including his farewell tape to Peter, and the plan was for Walter to take Michael into the future and rewrite things so the Observers wouldn’t invade and Peter and Olivia would have Etta back…which is EXACTLY what happened.  Almost every piece of the machine was used and needed to keep the shipping lane open in the first place.

  • http://twitter.com/EliasAlgorithm Elias Algorithm

    I was never into Lost but I saw the backlash and saw enough episodes I got where the complaint was. I was very into Battlestar and, like Doctor Who, got my girlfriend who had been into both as a kid to give a try (I also got her into Buffy. She calls it a point against me that I can do that to her) and she fell in love. And the ending of BSG was just confusing enough we didn’t even START arguing. It wasn’t worth it (I’m from a Christian background turned agnostic, her parents are Christian turned bastards. Not just atheist. Actual jerks). We’re both pretty interested in science fiction and the concept of what counts as sentient intelligence.

    With Fringe it was just melancholy. We regret that it’s over but there’s no questions. She pegged the big deaths early on. It’s a habit of hers. I think it’s why we get along so well. I was terrified enough that I went online the second hour (we live in California so spoiler warnings had to be all over the right places and I hate being caught with my pants down*). But it worked out. And we both understood it perfectly, even with all the Brane-theory arguments **we were having all week since Continuum started on SyFy.

    I’m sad to see it go. But after years of seeing my shows die off one by one and being forced into weird cop shows Fox did good on this one. I’ll give them that. I’ll still never trust them, but I’ll give them Fringe.

    *She broke down crying during THAT scene. I managed to deflect long enough to compose myself a bit more but occupied myself in the last five minutes.
    **It’s an elevating thing. One of us HAS to have the upper hand in that, when constructing a narrative. I grew up reading comics so alternate timelines and the effect of time travel is second nature to me without having to say. So when she brought up Brane, I finally just said “you’re thinking in three dimensions” like I wasn’t anyway.

    Point being we saw every episode together and it’s one of those things where I’m gonna see a scene or a gif or something and I’m going to remember exactly where I was the first time.

  • steverogers5

    Angel hit hard with a very fine final episode. And having it all about Wolfram and Hart kind of felt like the series coming full circle. (Like the use of Q in TNG..) Though part of me gets annoyed at Angel’s finale now since the comic book follow ups don’t really get to use Wesley much due to his final scenes. But obviously they weren’t thinking there would be follow up stories at the time.

    Quantum Leap’s final 5 minutes though, with it’s quiet incredibly moving follow up to the tragic events of their best episode (M.I.A) felt like the perfect ending to a show. In that it showed just how much the lead character had changed, and grown over it’s 5 years. As Sam put aside all his previous ideals about not changing time to help the one friend who had stuck by him throughout the series, even if it meant that they would never see each other again. Very moving..

  • Bob

     There was ONLY three things from the plan that was used. The boy, who was the only story based necessity and the magnet and the missile/warhead looking things, neither of which were even necessary from a story point of view.. they were just shoved in to give them something to write a hunt story for.. They even had to go on a last minute raid (which was actually pretty damned easy considering where it was they were going) for the cube. Not even the generators or the synchotron dohickey had to be looked for they just happened to kicking around.. and as another point, there are 2, not one but 2, massive spare generators kicking around in such ‘oppressive regime’.. really? power sources like that aren’t prohibited when virtually everything else is???

    The plan should have been two eps at most.. the fetching of the boy with an insert about the resistance getting a couple of generators (if they are that easy to come by) and another ep where walter decides to use the shipping lane and builds the equivalent of an anchor that would have done the job of the missile things (surely Walter could have thrown something together considering everything else he invented.. and don’t say “but it was future tech”, walter has dreamed up better)..even the generators weren’t necessary because all that ‘precise angle’ garbage was just gobbledygook..The rest of the season should have been consequence stuff and wrapping up.. or an explanation or continuation of what was happening to Peter when he had that tech in his head.. yes, he was losing his emotional balance but that wouldn’t have had an effect on what he knew he had to do (kill the observers, if he could), the only thing a lack of emotions would have meant was a different motive.. logic (it HAD to be done, at the very least out of self-preservation) against sorrow and rage at losing a daughter… He WOULD NOT have suddenly turned in to an observer, or agreed with them about taking over and polluting the world (and WHY exactly did they want to pollute the world when they were taking Peter’s time BECAUSE they had ruined their own?. No. they couldn’t breathe our air, but at the same time the only thing they would have ended up with was a world as polluted as their own time, necessitating taking over yet another, earlier time, ad nausium.. surely that is counter productive… anyway surely taking over Peter’s time would have changed the timeline anyway.. with an occupied world, would the scientist who discovered the intelligence booster really have been motivated, or even have been a scientist, to do the research when the world was already controlled by these greater intelligent beings?.. and if the discovery/research wasn’t done then the observers would never have been, in order for them to take over in the first place).

    Stupid finale was stupid.

    Season 5 was a pointless waste of time, The McGuffin hunt served NO PURPOSE WHATSOEVER except to pad episodes.. think of what could have been done with that time.. It’s not even worth my time arguing about this any further. If you can HONESTLY excuse the finale and/or enjoyed it as a fitting end, then we have vastly differing opinions on what good storytelling is..

  • Bob

     Dude, I wept like a baby.

  • Bob

     ………even the *magnets* weren’t necessary because all that ‘precise angle’ garbage was just gobbledygook.

  • Neil feigeles

    I think BUFFY nailed the perfect series ending

  • sediarsago

    Not really. If they didn’t have that, I bet you would argue that why didn’t they end up in 2609 when they stepped through. I agree that the plan could have been trimmed down, but overall, Fringe wasn’t always about answers and things, it was about the relationships,how far you would go to save those you love, forgiveness, fate vs free will and etc. 

    Also, Peter put the tech in because he wanted to launch an ATTACK on the Observers! He didn’t agree with them at all! Did you miss episodes 6-8?

    Also, it’s obvious it’s more than just carbon dioxide that ruined the enviornment. Plus, their main goal was actually to make sure their possible future happened in the 3rd dimension. The Observers are from the 4th dimension, where you have the possible futures, and the 3rd, where you have the future that comes to pass. The Observers wanted to make sure their future comes to pass. Walter and September were never told of the Observers true intentions.

    The plan came together. They needed the things in the plan otherwise they would end up in 2609. The magnet send the beacon into the timestream at an angle where it would pop out of it in 2147 and then cause a lock, changing the way the shipping lane went. Everything but the rocks were used! 

    It boggles my mind that you think this season was worthless and that the finale was bad. I really think you didn’t understand the beautiful themes it had. In fact, I think you seemed to have only watched the final 10 minutes from the way you are talking.

  • Kwendland73

    Definitely the best. I would also add season 8 of Scrubs. Technically, there was a season 9, but it was subtitled med-school…and it sucked.

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  • Jorel07960

    If the observers failed to exist then how is Peter still alive? His life was saved when he was a boy by observing so how is he still alive

  • Voice of Reason

    Shhhhh . . . . .

  • bairdduvessa

    “cheers”

  • Bob

     OK.. I’m going to stop discussing this with you now.. If you are so lost on a fundimental issue there’s no point to further discussion.

    The observers ARE NOT from a different dimension (granted this was inferred earlier in the series, but it has been thoroughly retconned) they are from the future, plane and simple.. they have access to other timelines. but they are from the future… the 26 hundreds I believe.

  • Bob

    You’ve just raised the best point in support that this program went absolutely nowhere.. and you did it in far less words than I managed.

    Stupid finale, was infact DEMONSTRABLY stupid.

    I hope this puts an end to any discussions from here out.

    Seasons 1-4 absolutely brilliant. Season 5 pointless padded crap and a shitty ending.

  • Bob

     Actually I can’t let this lie. I can see why you think I said what you think I said, but that is down to my poor wording.

    If you re-read my post I didn’t say that he DID agree with/become an observer. The point I was trying to make was that there was a danger to Peter having the tech in his head, the observers even said that he didn’t know what he was becoming.. I was saying that he wouldn’t have become or started to agree with the observers in such a case and that the only thing that would have happened to him was the loss of emotional balance… however that wouldn’t have mattered either as it was shown that emotions were ‘contagious’ and he would have regained at least a portion of his emotional balance all the while having suped up intelect and being on an even footing (or better?) with the observers.

    TBH though.. I’m trying to explain the logic in a show that doesn’t have any.

    The original storyline was obviously scrapped somewhere around season 3 or 4 and it all just went to hell, in a cohesive narrative sense… trying to tie together the fundimentally different storylines in the series is as pointless as arguing about it in the first place.

    Anyway.. I’m glad you misunderstood it all enough to be entertained all the way through as opposed to myself who was thoroughly letdown by the final season and because of which ruined the show for me. I like a consistent, cohesive, logical storyline and for it to be all bastardized at the end post was very disappointing.

  • http://shuabert.tumblr.com/ Josh

    It was explained clearly that going into the future with Michael would not cause the Observers to cease to exist, but that seeing him they would realise that emotion did not have to be scrificed for logic, and would not become THE Observers that they initially became, meaning they wouldn’t invade in 2015. They would still evolve and would still send scirentidts back to observe history, so September would still exist and so would Peter.

  • http://twitter.com/twincast2005 twincast

     Agree on what it did well, but it wasn’t satisfactory to me at all. Maybe I was simply too young, though.

  • http://twitter.com/twincast2005 twincast

    The other month-named Observer flat out told Donald that all of them would cease to exist. A member of a future Michael-based race doing exactly the same what the Observers we know did (including September and his key mistake), so nothing (significant) changes until the day of the invasion, is too much of a stretch not to be called a giant plot-hole.

  • demoncat_4

    one ingredient is the show needs to at least end with most of the unanswered questions it started with when it begun. or at least let some of its characters after going through the wringer get some taste of happiness. which lost failed to do with number one. and at least fringe and shows before it never tried and ended like the classic show the prisoner

  • Maxslope

    Well of course it tends to help when the writers know that the show is coming to an end when they make the final season. This allows them to prepare for the end. 

    To me it always depends on the show. 

    I dislike shows where they end it like Chuck. I liked the finale but I disliked that Sarah lost her memories. It seems kinda a big downer. Though you can hope(and they lay seeds) that she will get it back. 

    I enjoyed the BSG ending. I enjoyed the Lost ending. 

    A finale should always be rewarding. So you avoid what Smallville did. Who the hell thought it was a good idea not to put Welling in the suit? They could have easily budgeted the final season to create a suit for him to wear.As opposed to stall tactics or some stupid mandate started back in season 1. They could have thrown out the rules. I would have put Welling in the final suit  at the start of the season and explored the reaction to Superman. It was the finale, your supposed to go for broke. But of course they stalled and let the fans down. There was no reward. They can’t doing stories people didn’t want and focused on characters that just were that important. It hit the right notes here and there but the final composition was bad. 

    Angel seemed abrupt but we are rewarded with reaffirmation of the point of the show. The fight still goes on. Buffy we are rewarded with her defeating Sunnydale. X-files we were repeatedly not rewarded with the big ol alien invasion. 

    For Fringe I feel that this last season was an epilogue. And maybe this should be explored more. The storylines were mostly closed last season. This final season a “their lives will be a lot less eventful from now on but all is well”. 

  • http://squidoo.com/retroblogs Atomic Kommie Comics

    I had heard that, had Michael O’Hare (Sinclair) remained on the show, “War Without End” would’ve been the final two-parter, with Sinclair revealed as Valen, bookending the series with answers to questions presented during the first season, and largely abandoned when O’Hare left.
    But personnel changes had caused changes in plotlines before. For example, tn the pilot “The Gathering”,
    Laurel Takashima was a Psi-Corps sleeper agent who aided in the attempt to kill Ambasador Kosh.
    Since actress Tamlyn Tomita was replaced by Claudia Christian as Ivanova, that plot was modified to make new telepath Talia Winters the sleeper agent.
    The series finale “Sleeping in Light” was actually shot at the end of the 4th year, then bounced to the end of Year 5.