The late and great James Gandolfini in the final episode of HBO’s The Sopranos
Why are series finales so hard to do in the right way? It seems like a weird question. A show can run at a near perfect level of quality for several years; but then it can piss fans off beyond belief with their final episodes. Why does that happen? This entire post is happening because of a series of conversations I have had with several people over the last few weeks. I’ve asked them what some of their favorite finales were and why they liked or hated specific ones. Shows like The Sopranos can leave fans with a bitter taste in their mouths after the final few minutes and Dexter can make the entire series feel like a waste of time to other fans. It is actually quite funny in a way. These shows become landmarks for what the quality of television should be. Yet they still manage to make fans angry.
But why is it so difficult to please the fans? Obviously, there are numerous series finales that fans are very pleased with. Six Feet Under, Fringe, Smallville, Friday Night Lights, and M.A.S.H. come to mind. Most fans loved these finales because they felt that they tied up all of the loose ends that needed to be tied up and that the final moments fit the series that came before it. It is no secret that fans hate controversial endings or even different endings. They don’t like open-ended or ambiguous endings either. Most fans have been watching this story unfold over several seasons. They want the storyteller to write the ending, not to have the fans write it themselves. I feel that is why fans hate finales in shows like Lost, Chuck, and Battlestar Galactica. They weren’t what they wanted and questions were left for the fans to answer. And they HATED it.
I never quite understood why fans hated on the Lost ending so much. I was a huge fan of that show. I watched every single episode up until that series finale. And when it ended, there was a giant smile on my face. Because I understood it. I knew what the writers wanted to do and they did it in a great way. To this day, I still talk to people that think “they were dead the whole time.” I don’t know where they got confused along the way, but it was clear cut that it wasn’t the case. No matter what questions were left unanswered, that shouldn’t be a reason to hate a finale. With Lost, the answers weren’t the point. From episode one, the focus was on these characters and their development. They wanted to show growth or lack thereof in these characters. Lost had some of the most interesting characters on television, and that was the point of their ending. It was about the journey of the characters, not the stories that happened to them prior that weren’t fully explained. And there may be a high percentage of readers that disagree with me completely and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
And the same goes for Chuck and Battlestar Galactica. I was among the few that loved both of those finales. I like endings that make you think for days or even weeks afterwards. I like having to determine my own ending. I love that kind of stuff. I love it in movies too. Fans can get pissed all they want to because they didn’t get what they wanted, but don’t call an entire series terrible because you disagreed with the ending. Chuck may have had a so-so final season, but that last episode was fantastic. And the ending, to me, was beautiful. Battlestar Galactica never had a weakness in my eyes. To this day, that is one of my favorite television shows of all-time and I loved the ending. I get that there are mythologies to shows like this and fans want their questions answered. But sometimes, less is more.
But then there are the shows that provide us with a finale that isn’t anywhere near the intelligence or quality that the series started with. How I Met Your Mother’s series finale wasn’t bad to say the least. But the last four minutes kind of spits in the face of the very idea that the show spent 9 seasons building up. I understand the idea behind the final ending and why it makes sense. But, had it been done better and not as rushed (oh my god, it was so rushed!); then I would have probably loved it. But a season’s worth of events crammed into one hour? Doesn’t compare to the quality of where the show started. And we all know that show had gone downhill in its later seasons, running out of comedic steam. But, they still had their moments of greatness and realness that made it one of the most unique sitcoms to ever air on television. But, the ending just wasn’t done right. The same can be said for Dexter. That show really made me mad. They made us say goodbye to a favorite character in one of the worst ways possible, while giving us a cheat ending that didn’t even fit the tone of the rest of the show. To quote Tom Wilkinson as Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins: “Sometimes…sometimes things just go bad.”
I have been surrounded by people that hate all of the finales that I love. Even The Sopranos was hated on for many years by my friends and family. I saw that final episode in high school, having only seen the very first episode before that. I loved it. I knew what was going on and I loved what the creators were trying to do. I knew and was smart enough to understand it. I was stunned when at least half of the fans were disgusted by the ending. I think it was the only way to end that series. To this day, that is still a perfect ending to me. And shows like Friday Night Lights and Smallville were pretty much loved by their fan-bases. Friday Night Lights had a perfect first season (which is still one of the best seasons of a television show…ever) and then went downhill afterwards. But new life was breathed into the show and it was allowed to end on its own terms. The final season wasn’t even close to as good as the first season, but man that final episode was perfect in every way. It focused on the things that were important to the show. The characters and the values of those characters. Football was always a big set-piece for the show; but it was always about more than that. It was about family. And as cheesy and corny as Smallville was, it’s final episode soared (no pun intended). It broke the mold of the image of shows on the CW network. It had good writing and mostly good acting, but on a limited budget. And as bad as the CGI in the final episode may have been, the things that were important to fans, were done extremely well.
This wasn’t about me airing my thoughts about certain shows and their finales. My opinion is just that; an opinion. It doesn’t really matter to anyone but me. But the point of this was to show why certain finales didn’t hit so well with fans. Even if I will never understand it (with most finales), I had to try to explain it. Sometimes fans just want more than they were given. Sometimes they want the ending to be spelled out for them, rather than deciding on an ending themselves. I personally love endings like that. But, some of these shows deserve to be given a break. Damon Lindelof shouldn’t have to quit Twitter because he still gets mauled by fans who hated the Lost finale. If it isn’t clear yet, it is nearly impossible to satisfy every fan out there. The best thing writers can do is create a show and end a show in the way they envisioned it. Don’t change things and get rid of things because fans complain. Even though I hated the ending to How I Met Your Mother, I understand that is was the vision of the writers’ from the very beginning. I don’t agree with how it was done, but I get why they wanted it the way they wanted it. But shows shouldn’t have to change endings to please their networks in case they want to create a horrible spin-off (*cough* Dexter).
At the end of the day, the writers know what they are doing most of the time and I love seeing what vision they have for their shows. It may not always be what we all want, but it their vision; not ours. But don’t worry, television viewers. If they haven’t given you enough endings to bitch about, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, and Mad Men all end within the next year. I’m sure you will find something to complain about in at least one of them. I, on the other hand, will be enjoying them for what they are, what they have been, and for the vision the creators and writers had in mind all along. But, go ahead, do your thing. It’s inevitable at this point.