I first published this in 2015. I’m updating it to add Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Justified, Battlestar Galactica, and The Shield.
Game of Thrones: I gave the finale a B-. Neither great nor awful, just logical & inevitable. Basically, once they killed Littlefinger there were no more wildcards in play, no more unpredictability in the plot. Everything after that had to play out the way it did, because of what we knew about the characters.
The storytelling in the final season would have been better if they’d had twice the number of episodes to work with, but the story they told would have been the same.
If the ending has you bummed out, check out the John Hughes ending. That will make it all better, I promise. Seriously, you gotta watch this with the sound on.
Mad Men: B. I’m supposed to be inspired by the fact that Draper narcissistes came up with the iconic moment of America’s most narcissistic generation while sitting in the lotus chanting “Ommmm”? Nah.
Justified: A-. Pure Elmore Leonard to the end, plus potential for a miniseries or reboot. The perfect Aristotelean ending: all the events led the characters to where they were at the end, and all the events felt foreordained.
EXCEPT: the thing that didn’t ring true was Raylan wearing Boone’s stupid hat at the end, repeating the “I tried it on and it fit” line from the pilot.
Battlestar Galactica: B. Like Lost; beautiful & emotionally resonant, an illogical mess. Plus 3 points for confirming that God is a Dylan fan.
The Shield: B. Minus 3 points (from a B+) for nihilistic bleakness. Logical and necessary. Vic Mackey turns out to be a bigger monster, sociopath, and malignant narcissist than any of the crooks he was protecting LA from.
So here are the rankings OF THE FINALES (not the final seasons, etc.):
- Breaking Bad: A+
- Fringe: A-
- The Sopranos: A-
- Justified: A-
- NYPD Blue: B+
- Lost: B
- The Shield: B
- Battlestar Galactica: B
- Game of Thrones: B-
- The Wire: C-
- Boardwalk Empire: C-
- The Bridge: D
- The others are F’s
Here is the original post from 2015, with a few updates. 2019 additions are in red. My feelings on a few of these have changed, as the grades above will show.
JUSTIFIED, which I love, is heading into its final stretch. This brings to mind the series finales of other TV dramas that I have been hooked on, over the years.
1. I was never a DEXTER watcher, so it’s not here. Same with SIX FEET UNDER and THE AMERIKANS. Athough we are now watching Six Feet Under, so …
2. I’m limiting my list to series that had a true final chapter, true finales. LAW & ORDER, for example, did NOT. Neither did DALLAS.
3. I’m a fifty-something white guy. I’ve spent my life as a TV watcher watching fifty-something (and forty-something, and thirty-…) white guy shows. I don’t give a rip about DeGRASSI, or MY SO CALLED LIFE, or whatever.
Of the shows I’ve watched religiously since 28 Feb 1983 (the series finale of M*A*S*H, the first TV show I truly loved in an adult way), what were the best series finales?
LOVED OR ABSOLUTELY LOVED:
• BREAKING BAD. Walter White looked upon all his works and died. Perfect show, perfect finale, from the best storyteller in Hollywood.
Remember how Galligan opened every season with the same shot that closed the season? The finale was THAT perfectly plotted, too. Important for what it showed and what it didn’t show (leaving us to assume, e.g., LRQ’s painful death, …)
• LOST. Illogical, emotionally resonant, sweet and satisfying. I like it less now than I did in 2015. But I still like it.
• FRINGE. Like LOST, but not quite so much.
• THE SOPRANOS. The last few episodes were a bloodbath, until Leotardo got what was coming to him. (Think: watermelon.) You think Tony will emerge, unscathed and unchanged, and then … nothing.
(I accept the explanation for the final frames that David Chase has supposedly confirmed off the record; the guy in the nylon jacket came out of the restroom and splattered Tony’s brain all over the onion rings. The blacked out screen was Tony’s perspective as he died, like a light switch being turned off.)
• NYPD BLUE. After Jimmy Smits left, the show never really recovered. But the finale was surprisingly strong, and Sipowicz come full circle.
• THE WIRE. Should’ve ended a season earlier.
• BOARDWALK EMPIRE. Should’ve ended a season earlier.
• THE BRIDGE. Never lived up to its promise; too complicated, too many twisting plot lines.
• THE X-FILES. They should have ended the series two years earlier, and spun off Dogget and Reyes. The reboot is not canonical.
• St ELSEWHERE. Absolutely ripped off the viewers who’d devoted so many years (and so much vocal support) for the show.
• CHEERS. Not a drama, but a great show. Final season was a total mess. Final episode even more so.
Ok, so what did I miss?