WARNING: I will spoil the endings of How I Met Your Mother, Dexter, Veronica Mars, The X-Files, The Office, Seinfeld, Friends, Breaking Bad, and Six Feet Under in this post.
So I was one of many people outraged at the How I Met Your Mother finale- let me rant for a minute.
The writers went with an ending that would have been satisfying in Season 2, but didn’t fit in at all with what the show had built up to. After all that, the mother (Tracy) was basically just a sidenote in the story of how Ted and Robin got together after all- even after the entire show lead us to believe in Barney and Robin as a couple and that Ted would get his happy ending. And I guess he did, but in the end he only was with Tracy for eleven years. They hit us over the head so many times with how Ted had to get over Robin before he met the mother- but this ending made me think he never got over Robin at all, and worse, maybe he was pining for her the whole time he was with Tracy. And it kind of cheapened his relationships with both women. Also, I really liked Tracy herself, and Cristin Milioti was great in this role. (I think she may have been too good—she was adorable and likeable without being Mary Sue-ish and seemed perfect for Ted, so people may have ended up rooting for her more than the writers intended.) So I wanted to know so much about her that we never found out- like, what exactly was she doing to try to end poverty? Why was that her passion? What was her book about? Where was she from? What was her family like? How did Max die? How did she die, for that matter (I mean, we know she was sick, but they glossed over her death so quickly that we never got any details)? Having kids before getting married seems very...un-Ted-like to me, too. I didn't like how Ted and Tracy's wedding eventually happened.
I feel like Robin really got the shaft, too. I mean, I'm sure she loved her work and all the travel she was doing, but it was literally what cost her her husband and friends for several years. Who did she even talk to during all that time she was estranged from the group? Patrice? I hope she made new friends or dated someone else or...something.
And then there's Barney. I wondered, going into this season, if Barney and Robin would actually get married. Eventually it became clear that they would, and the show had really gotten us to invest and believe in the idea of them as a couple- so it pisses me off that they got divorced only three years later. They made such a big deal of him finally growing up and settling down with Robin- and the second they divorce, he just reverts back to being an immature slut, until he knocks some girl up and his daughter magically changes his life. The whole thing just pisses me off. I read some speculation that maybe "Number Thirty-One" will be the main character on How I Met Your Dad, which makes sense, but I hate that he referred to his daughter's mother only as "Number Thirty-One." Not to mention—what did Lily end up doing after she got back from Italy besides having a third kid whose name and sex we never learn?
It got me thinking, though, about how to end a show. There are other series finales that have gotten me almost as mad as HIMYM’s did, but there have also been some great ones. So here’s a look at the best and the worst of series finales:
There are a handful of people who did like the HIMYM finale (my mother is among them), but absolutely no one liked the Dexter finale. I didn’t for a minute buy into his rekindling of his relationship with Hannah after she tried to kill Deb, so I hated how the show tried to get us to believe that she was his one true love. And then when Deb dies and Dexter decides that he’s caused people too much pain, his solution is to…cause even more pain by faking his own death and going off somewhere to be a silent lumberjack? Which is especially nonsensical because he no longer had the urge to kill? UGH. This finale made me wonder why I wasted so much time watching the show.
Another terrible ending. I’ve blocked out a lot of the specifics, but basically, at the end everyone was miserable and the world really was going to end in 2012. And the Smoking Man finally died for real. The movie that came out several years later didn’t do much to redeem it, either.
But this recent movie, thankfully, did redeem the series finale. To be fair, it was bad largely because it was written as a season and not series finale, but there were still things that bothered me about it—namely that Veronica’s actions over something that wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things and where the damage had already been done ended up getting her father in trouble. Like I said, though, the movie was so good it undid the unsatisfying series finale.
At the time I hated this finale, as did most people, but it’s actually grown on me since then. Seinfeld was not a show that dealt with feelings or happy endings, but aside from “nothing,” it was about four hilarious but still really horrible people. So putting them in jail for, basically, years of being awful was kind of fitting.
This was one show that went on way too long, and I didn’t watch the last two or three seasons. However, I’m really glad I tuned in for the finale. They’d announced that Steve Carell wouldn’t be coming back, but I was really glad when he did, even if it was only for five minutes (presumably so he wouldn’t take the focus off everyone else) in which we learn that Michael finally has kids like he always wanted. Dwight and Angela get married in a predictably weird ceremony at the beet farm. Jim and Pam start a new life in Austin. Kelly and Ryan return to hook up again, and abandon Ryan’s baby in the process. Stanley retires. Creed gets arrested for…whatever he’s done in the past. And Andy utters this oddly poignant bit of wisdom: "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.” The other great quote was the last line, which came from Pam and basically summed up the whole show: “There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?”
This show was never going to have a happy ending, but it pulled off a pretty satisfying one. Aside from a few lingering questions (i.e. how does one get ricin into a sealed-up stevia packet? And how, exactly, did Walt poison Brock?), they resolved everything, killed all the bad guys, and had Walt tie up all his loose ends before dying. Best of all, Jesse Pinkman lives! We last see him driving away laughing ecstatically, and I hope he found a new life somewhere else. But the moment of the finale that really stands out to me is Walt’s final meeting with Skyler. When she wearily says, “If I have to hear you say one more time that you did it for the family…” he surprises her, and us, by finally admitting, “I did it for me.” And strangely, it feels like the nicest thing he could say—probably because it’s the truth.
My memories of this finale are a bit tainted—I watched it with a bunch of friends in college, but as it happened, two of my friends who’d been dating went through a rather dramatic breakup that night, so that’s actually what I think of first when I remember this finale. But while this episode, on its own, isn’t one of the show’s best, it does wrap things up pretty nicely—Rachel gets off the plane and she and Ross are back together at last, Chandler and Monica end up adopting two babies instead of one after their birth mother realizes during labor that she’s having twins, and Joey…got his own short-lived show soon afterwards. In the end, they leave the big purple apartment behind and go get coffee.
Sex and the City
After the show ended, there were two movies- the first of which was fun at first watch but didn't hold up upon rewatch and the second of which was just awful. If you forget about those, though, the last episode of Sex and the City was actually pretty great. For that matter, the whole last season was- SatC is that rare show where the ultimate season was its best one. Samantha is finally in real love, Charlotte gets a baby, Miranda is married with a kid and committed to her new family (even Steve's ailing mom), and Carrie and Big (ugh) end up together, and his name is John. It worked, everyone was happy at the end, and they should have just left it here.
Six Feet Under
It’s weird that this is my favorite TV finale because the show overall is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It was about a family who ran a funeral home, and someone died in the cold open of each episode, often in a very strange way. (My near-death by falling vodka bottle would have fit right in on this show.) It starred Peter Krause, Michael C. Hall, Frances Conroy, Lauren Ambrose, and Rachel Griffiths, and the acting was superb. I wish I could say the same for the characters, who frequently became annoying. Peter Krause’s character, Nate, was awesome in Season 1, while his girlfriend Brenda (Griffiths), was not, and I thought Nate was way too good for Brenda. Well, by the last season, Nate had become unbearably obnoxious and selfish while Brenda had made strides toward redeeming herself, and by the end of the show I thought Brenda was too good for Nate. On the other hand, Federico, the one non-family employee of the funeral home, started off obnoxious and just got more and more so as the show went on. Michael C. Hall’s character, David, and his long-term boyfriend Keith were a couple you rooted for, but they had multiple variations on the same fight throughout the whole show. Season 4 had a really dumb plotline where David was kidnapped. Sometimes the fantasy sequences were overdone and got confusing. And I feel like whenever the writers got stuck for ideas, they pulled a character and a drug out of a hat and dedicated a subplot to seeing fill-in-the-blank character high on fill-in-the-blank drug. Seriously, way too much reliance on drugs as plot points.
And yet— the finale was excellent. It resurrected the touching moments that sometimes penetrated the weirdness and, fittingly, wrapped things up in the most final of ways—by flashing forward to the deaths of each of the main characters during a montage to Sia’s “Breathe Me.” It sounds morbid, but it was very fitting and left absolutely nothing unresolved. And rather than beginning the episode with a death, as all other episodes did, this one began with a birth—that of Nate and Brenda’s daughter Willa.