One of the most upsetting things a human person can go through is a bad series finale. It's the ultimate betrayal. You stick with a TV show for years, seasons on end, sometimes ignoring weird transitions and changing characters, hoping they'll tie up loose ends eventually, only to receive a half-hearted farewell.
It's hard enough to say goodbye to a TV show you've stuck with. The characters become friends and the comfort of being immersed in the plot is like nothing else (am I too antisocial?). For some reason, series finales are something that often go horribly wrong. The rage I felt upon watching the last episode (entire last season, actually) of Lost was indescribable. I'd stuck around while one plot point after another went unresolved, and gimmicky mysteries turned out to be just that — gimmicks. I thought I'd get a payoff after six seasons. Not so.
So what, then, makes a good TV show finale? The first thing that has to be done is to tie up loose ends, of course. Another big part is that the show can't have been suddenly cancelled. This happened to me after faithfully watching and loving Veronica Mars and never getting an ending at all, let alone a good one (thank the TV gods for the movie). Shows that have good finales also generally maintain their tone, unlike The Office, which, after Michael Scott left, gradually lost its tone and, by the final season, was nothing like the show I'd fallen in love with.
Here are some TV shows that actually brought us satisfying series finales. (SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY.)
Probably until the day I die (my poor grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren — I plan to live forever), I will go on and on and on about how perfect of a show 30 Rock was. Although it was zany to the point where you were often left wondering why and how and what?????, it stayed true to its vision, never losing its tone.
This was especially important in the seventh and final season, when they could have easily gone sappy with it, like The Office did (although it still offered a good amount of emotion). Even in "Hogcock!/Last Lunch," the very last episode, when Jenna Maroney was encouraged to be emotional and sing a song for the show-within-a-show's final episode, they could have done it, but they didn't. She sang a ballad for her unintelligible movie-turned-Broadway-hit The Rural Juror (a recurring joke). Her last line? "These were the best days of my...flerm." Jenna also delivered many golden goodbye quotes to the writers, like "Goodbye forever, you factory reject dildos."
The show also tied up any and all loose ends, by giving the characters what they'd been looking for for seven years (not in a cheesy way — Liz Lemon wore a Princess Leia costume to her own wedding, which lasted for a couple of minutes and ended when someone yelled that a baby had gotten hold of a gun), and transported us to the future, where non-aging Kenneth the Page is still the head of NBC.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sometimes, all you want from a finale is for it to feel like a finale. I don't want to spend years and years invested in a show only to have it sort of fizzle out or be tonally the same as any other episode. Joss Whedon, as usual, delivered in "Chosen," the all-out, this is a finale, people! ending of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The whole season focused on the biggest, baddest Big Bad they'd ever encountered: The First Evil. Only, like, an evil entity that's a culmination of every evil entity in existence, so no big deal. Since it would be impossible to fight, Buffy and the rest of the Scoobies had to activate all the other potential slayers to help them fight. The series finale saw the Hellmouth open up and all the slayers and Scoobies all fighting together, but there are still moments with the original Scoobies and throwbacks to previous seasons to tie it all together.
The epic battle in the Hellmouth, love confession (ish) between Buffy and Spike, and entire town of Sunnydale exploding all make for a fitting finale for a superlative show.
The only way that it's acceptable for a character to be completely different in a series finale than when the show started is through gradual, complex character development. This is definitely the case with Breaking Bad and its main antihero, Walter White. Throughout the series, we saw this character go from desperate and dying to a ruthless, coldhearted killer. Every passing season saw our hope for his redemption fade. The only means to an end would be his death — justice could only be served that way.
In the last episode, "Felina," the writers gave us what we needed, even if it wasn't necessarily what we wanted. There was no copping out or fan-servicing that we often see with somewhat unlikeable characters and their empty redemption arcs (Mad Men, anyone?). Walter White tied up all his loose ends by making sure his family would see his money, killing off his enemies, admitting that everything he did was for his own gain and finally dying in a blaze of gunfire glory.
Six Feet Under
Although Six Feet Under, in its five seasons, was a little all over the place, it managed to really pull together and deliver in its widely acclaimed finale.
The final episode, "Everyone's Waiting," does all its best work in the last few minutes. Claire finally leaves the family and funeral home and drives to New York. On the way, a heart-wrenching montage set to Sia's "Breathe Me" flashes by. In the montage? Oh, only every single character's future deaths, ending with Claire's. All the deaths end with the show's usual fade-to-white with the character's name and date of death. Not only does it speak to the themes of the show (duh — death), it also leaves no room for any future Netflix pick-ups and spin-offs. If ever a show was able to redeem itself through a finale alone, this is it.
Parks and Recreation
For a show that got better and better as the seasons passed, I felt that it failed a little bit to deliver on that in its seventh and final season. The jump to the future was a bit jarring and unnecessary. However, this smile-inducing show did manage to deliver a great season finale with "One Last Ride" that stayed true to the previous seasons and characters. There were happy endings all around (we didn't expect any less from a happy show), and Leslie got everything she always wanted and deserved.
Chris and Ann came back to reunite all the characters (except Mark Brendanawicz, who, let's face it, nobody cared to see anyway) and allow us to send them off in a finale befitting the show as they complete their last ever Parks project: fixing a park swing. We get flash-forwards to see what happens to our beloved onscreen friends, where everybody is happy and Leslie is finally (probably) the President. I mean, I definitely didn't cry or anything.