Five By Friday: Top TV Finales

Tonight, after eight twisting, bloody seasons, The Vampire Diaries will take its final bow, and we have all our fingers and toes crossed that Damon, Caroline, Alaric, and all the rest get the satisfying send-off that they deserve. While, of the three of us, only Sarah and Lauren watch this show (with a level of fevered devotion we are probably twenty years too old for), we felt it was only fitting that we commemorate the occasion by looking back on some of our favorite series finales of all time.

Oh, and, uh, spoilers, obviously.

Five by Friday

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5. LOST, “The End”

I know the world is fairly polarized on the LOST finale, which decided to throw all its focus to its characters and away from the many mysteries they’d spent six seasons setting up — smoke monster! time travel! Jacob! polar bears! (although, guys, they really did explain the polar bears) — but even though we never got answers to some of the show’s more mind-bending plot elements, I always watched LOST for the characters, who I still maintain made up one of the best ensembles to have ever graced TV screens. So even though the flash-sideways was revealed to be the afterlife, which seemed a little like cheating, for me, getting to see all the characters we had loved and lost back together again, and happy, was immensely satisfying.

4. Parenthood, “May God Bless and Keep You Always”

Parenthood made a few major missteps in its last couple seasons (looking at you, Joel and Julia), but by the time it hit its finale, they were solidly back on track, and “May God Bless and Keep You Always” was a touching, fitting send-off for the Braverman clan. Yes, it was devastating to finally lose patriarch Zeek to the heart troubles that had been slowly wearing him down for a while, but it also felt real and earned. And we also got so many moments of happiness, both bittersweet (the Braverman baseball game after scattering Zeek’s ashes on the field) and just plain sweet (everything in the flash-forward). I loved this episode for honoring the family I’d come to love so much, and for letting me know that, whatever happened, they were going to be okay.

 3. Angel, “Not Fade Away”

While I think that both of Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse shows had really strong finales, it’s actual the Angel finale that I find myself coming back to and rewatching over and over again. It delivers everything a great finale for a supernatural action show should: excellent action sequences, the surprise return of previously departed characters (mid-fight scene, obvs), heroic yet cathartic character deaths, grand speeches and shocking twists. And while the episode concludes on a purposefully ambiguous note — with a depleted Angel & Co. facing off against a literal demon horde — I felt like the open ending was keeping perfectly in step with the overall theme of the show: though the battle may be impossible, keep fighting.

2. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “All Good Things…”

Star Trek: The Next Generation was my very first real fandom. I joined chatrooms, I collected the episode guides (there was once a time when I could rattle off all 178 episode titles from memory), I drew fan-art, I read the novelizations. I vividly remember circling the date on my wall calendar when its final episode was scheduled to air, because back in the days before DVR and online streaming, it was very important that you watch shows when they air. And when I watched the two-hour finale, I remember feeling such a sweeping sense of satisfaction. All Good Things… did a masterful job providing the crew of the Enterprise with one last, galaxy-spanning, time-jumping adventure that nodded back to the series very first episodes, brought back long-dead characters, and gave us a glimpse at a possible future. It played like a movie, and for both the characters and the fans, it felt like a very well-earned, very fitting goodbye.

1. Breaking Bad, “Felina”

Breaking Bad is simply the most well-written show I’ve ever seen. While many series taper off in quality toward the end as the writers scramble to tie up all their loose threads, with Breaking Bad, it only got stronger as it roared through its final season, wrapping up with a satisfying (and literal) bang in “Felina.” While I still think “Ozymandias,” the third episode from the end, is overall the show’s strongest, “Felina” is not far behind. Not a single plot thread is left dangling, not a single question is left unanswered, not a single character is forgotten. Breaking Bad is one of those shows where everything is deliberate and connected, and “Felina” is just an immensely gratifying series of watching one setup after another finally pay off. Plus it brings closure to its central relationship — Walter White and Jesse Pinkman — in a way that seems incredibly true to both characters, leaving fans yearning for just a bit more while being grateful for what we had. It was, in my opinion, exactly the way a perfect finale should make you feel, and I’m not sure if, for me, any other show can ever top it.


5. Hart of Dixie, “Bluebell”

I binged this show a few months back and never has a finale jumped so high on my list of favorites than this one. I have watched it at least three or four times since ending the show because I just could. Not. Get. Enough. This show is pure, delightful, cheesy goodness. It’s heartwarming and endearing and by the end of the (too short) four seasons I felt like I knew Zoe and Wade and Lavon Hayes and AnnaBeth and Lemon and George and I felt like a little part of me resided in Bluebell. This finale was the perfect send-off for this quirky, small town show and it left me with a grin on my face for hours.

4. Warehouse 13, “Endless”

In my opinion, Warehouse 13 is a totally underrated show with a well-earned finale. Over the course of the show, the Warehouse faced destruction from all sides, countless takeover attempts, over-enthusiastic agents, and now it’s finally reached the end of the line. Yet, before the Warehouse retires to wherever massive artifact buildings spend their twilight years, the team has to contribute to the Time Capsule. What follows is a highlight reel of everyone’s time with the team and the Warehouse, interspersed with moments between the characters in the here and now. It’s a beautiful, fitting ending for this show that even while it dashed us around the globe in a mad search for artifacts causing issues, it always came back to these people and their bond.

3. Friday Night Lights, “Always”

Dillon had it’s ups and downs, but the finale brought all of the emotion, intelligence, and football you expect from the show. The finale focuses on the two aspects that the show did best: marriage/family, and football/friendship, dealing with them in a more realistic manner than any other show I have seen. The finale showcases the drama of Coach and Tami dealing with conflicting job offers mashes up with the threat that East Dillon High School will close and be forced to form a “super football team” with West Dillon. Yet at the end, everyone ended up where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to do, and with who they were supposed to be with (well, with one GLARING exception).

2. ER, “And in the End…”

I watched this show for years, though by the latter seasons I was only popping in sporadically, mostly just to keep up with the main characters. But I made a point to watch the finale, to say goodbye to the characters I had known and loved for close to a decade and a half. The finale purposefully mirror the pilot at multiple points, tugging at your heart strings and reminding you of characters long gone. But those that were still around all managed to find their way back to County General for one last hurrah in the most fitting way possible. And when the show closes on yet another medical disaster, it’s not until the original theme music plays and the point of view pulls back to reveal  entire hospital for the first and only time that it really hit that it was all over.

1. Leverage, “The Long Goodbye Job”

Leverage is one of the few shows that I think had an almost perfect run and a perfect finale. They knew when it was time to bring it to an end and the episodes leading up to the finale ramped up beautifully, culminating in exactly the ending for this team you would expect after five years together. The finale job happens to be their riskiest con yet, with Nate taking on a case linked directly to his son’s death. The episode showcases some masterful storytelling, twisting and turning, and leaving you unsure of what is actually happening up until the very last minute.

This finale also does one of my favorite things a finale can do. Leave the viewers completely satisfied with how the story wraps up, but also leaves the characters in a place where you know they have more story. (hat tip to Angel above for doing the same thing).


5. Revenge, “Two Graves”

I will say right off the bat that Revenge was not a good show. It started out intriguing but very, very quickly veered off into ridiculous soap-opera territory. But by the time I realized what was happening, I was completely hooked, and I stayed with it through the end just to see that my favorite character (Nolan) survived the whole thing. The series finale is on my list of best finales in large part because it was exactly–exactly–what had to happen for this show to end. Everything that happened in that idyllic town was preordained by the TV gods and the finale was so predictable that I should have put money down on it, I’d have made a mint. But it was a mostly satisfying ending to a show that had me ensnared against my better judgment for a long four years. Most importantly, Nolan survived. The only thing that would have made this finale more perfect would have been Nolan literally sailing into the sunset on an overpriced yacht wearing sunglasses and sipping champagne.

4. Sex and the City, “An American Girl in Paris”

This show was just fun. I’m one of those folks that got sucked right into the whirlwind of this thing, and I have watched and re-watched all the seasons of this thing as comfort viewing multiple times. These four friends were fantastic–four women who couldn’t be more different, brought together by years of friendship and a shared love of oversharing over brunch. We’re shown their strengths alongside their faults, and the worst of them is arguably the main character, Carrie Bradshaw. But somehow you still wind up rooting for her to win over her on-again-off-again partner, the mysterious Mr. Big, and the finale delivers in spectacular style. The finale isn’t technically the end for these characters, but the movies… well, let’s not talk about the movies. It’s better that we don’t.

3. Friends, “The Last One”

I’m a sucker for shows about friendships, and this one is a classic. While parts of this show didn’t age well, and I spend rewatches hoping things will change and Rachel will realize she can do so much better than the clingy, obnoxious Ross, overall it is still an absolutely solid story. Watching these folks move through their early adulthood, from bad jobs and bad relationships to blossoming careers, marriages, and parenthood, was a delight. When it came time to say goodbye to them, the showrunners gave us a satisfying send-off. Watching them take one last look around that apartment, emptied of all their belongings, it felt like one of the most personal goodbyes I’ve ever seen on TV. Anyone who has ever left a beloved home and dear friends can relate, and watching them leave their keys and go downstairs for one more coffee together was a fitting end.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Chosen”

My feelings about this finale have aged like a fine wine since I first saw it. I’m still of the opinion that we honestly deserved a two-hour showstopper of a finale (without Tyra Banks popping up in corner ads for America’s Next Top Model throughout), but I genuinely feel that what we got was a fitting ending for this show. For the entirety of its run, Buffy’s goal was to feel normal–she wasn’t comfortable with her calling as the chosen one, and she often felt unfairly burdened by her duty, though she never failed to step up and do the job anyway. Watching her struggle with and accept her role as the Slayer was a major part of her growth through the show, and the finale gave her the opportunity to share the load with all the potentials of the world, finally releasing her from carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders alone. Surely that smile is a sign that she finally feels like she has achieved something resembling normalcy in her life. That she went through the entire journey with her “Scooby Gang” at her side and having them all come together to defeat the First Evil and close the Hellmouth was just icing on the cake.

1. Parks and Recreation, “One Last Ride”

Never in my life have I loved a show as much as I loved Parks and Recreation. Its finale was perfection. Checking in with every beloved character, major and minor (always watch the extended director’s cut), to see how their lives go and how they all succeed in their goals is just so rewarding. Not every show lets you take a peek into the future and see where your favorite characters end up, and Parks and Rec let us see as much as they possibly could. It’s packed full of little delights: April’s Halloween labor and delivery, Gary’s long and fulfilling life as the Mayor of Pawnee, the inclusion of either Ben or Leslie being the President of the United States in a flash-forward featuring the secret service standing around them at a funeral… everything is charming and uplifting. Best of all, in my opinion, is the job Leslie finds for her best friend, Ron. It’s a sequence that makes me cry like a baby every time, it’s just so perfect. It’s a phenomenal finale for a phenomenal show, and is hands down the greatest one I’ve ever seen.

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