Sticking the Landing: A Study of TV Finales
Will Thornton looks over an assortment of TV endings and argues for the importance of the final episode.
In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, the finale of a TV series literally makes or breaks the show. It is the final piece of a puzzle that has invested audiences all across the globe for often years at a time, and it’s for this reason that the entire legacy of a series can rest upon that sole episode, no matter how long or how perfect the previous seasons are.
Take the aforementioned Seinfeld, for example: the series was a worldwide phenomenon, and its final episode was the fifth most-viewed television finale of all time. Yet when discussed today, all that seems to be talked about is how bad of a finale the show had, and how much Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David dropped the ball on the finale of their near-perfect run with the show (not that either of the writers agree with that opinion). Did the ending of Seinfeld completely ruin the rest of the show, however? No, of course not. But there’s no doubt that it had a huge effect on how the show’s perceived by the public, and no matter how exceptional the rest of the series is, its legacy will always be somewhat overshadowed by the show’s finale, and how much of a disappointment many considered it to be.
Every aspect of the episode…is expertly written and directed to create a satisfying ending to a show that will go no doubt go down in history as one of, if not the greatest TV show ever made.
But that’s not to say that all writers succumb to the impossible task of creating a great finale, and certain TV endings go above and beyond the task of merely wrapping up the show. I’m speaking, of course, of Breaking Bad and its finale ‘Felina’, an episode that I (as well as many other people judging by its impressive score of 9.9/10 on IMdB) consider to be a perfect ending to the exceptional drama. With ‘Felina’, writer-director Vince Gilligan manages to wrap up every single plotline woven throughout the five-season series, and every aspect of the episode (from Walt’s final confession to Skyler, to his confrontation with the Nazis and farewell to Jesse) is expertly written and directed to create a satisfying ending to a show that will go no doubt go down in history as one of, if not the greatest TV show ever made. Even five years after the airing of ‘Felina’, Gilligan made a return to the world of Breaking Bad with El Camino, a film that once again shows how great of a writer Gilligan is, as he managed to create a second ending to the show that’s just as good as the original was, and offers even more closure to an audience that really had no need for an extension to the original show’s perfect finale.
I still like to wonder sometimes about what a true season three of the original Twin Peaks would have been like…
So if a bad ending can soil a TV show’s legacy and a great ending can do the opposite, what about shows that simply don’t have a proper finale? With the way networks produce TV shows, there’s always a chance that audiences will never be able to see the finale to their favourite show. Take David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surrealist masterpiece Twin Peaks, for example, the American thriller series that, by the end of its first season, had taken America and the rest of the world by storm. However, thanks to dropping ratings and interference by the studio that forced Lynch and Frost to solve the central mystery of the show that was never intended to be solved, Twin Peaks was cancelled after its second season, but only after closing the incredible finale with a cliffhanger that wouldn’t be resolved.
Despite this, Lynch returned to the world of Twin Peaks with the extremely controversial film Fire Walk with Me, and, more importantly, the show’s seminal third season The Return, released in 2017. However, despite The Return being labelled as a so-called third season to the show, there’s no denying that the mini-series vastly differs from the original series, particularly in its themes, tone, and subject matter. Yes, The Return is technically a conclusion to that infamous twenty-five year old cliffhanger, but I still like to wonder sometimes about what a true season three of the original Twin Peaks would have been like, as The Return (whilst being absolutely incredible in its own right) feels like a very separate entity to the original show in the Twin Peaks canon, and totally different to what the writers presumably planned for the show’s original third season.
Ultimately, however, the finale of a TV show is only a single episode. Whilst there’s no denying the impact a good, bad, or ugly ending has on a series, it doesn’t really change the value or quality of the rest of the show, and sometimes we may just have to come to terms with the fact that it’s impossible to please everyone with any one finale. Or, in the case of Game of Thrones, impossible to please anyone at all.