If you’re like me and you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’re feeling nothing short of complete satisfaction after having witnessed the epic and emotional conclusion of the critically-acclaimed, ground-breaking series. Maybe it ended exactly how you thought it would. Maybe you didn’t see it coming. Either way, you can’t get those final scenes out of your head. To me, that’s the mark of a truly great series finale. It’s the feeling you get when it all comes together. It’s the perfect culmination of everything that has happened before and leaves you to imagine what happens after. For writers, this is no small task.
That got me thinking back to some of my other favorite television shows, to their finales and what it was that made them so great. Each one is great in different ways, but each leaves with you (or at least left me) with that same awe-inspiring feeling. Here is my list of the greatest television finales:
Six Feet Under (“Everyone’s Waiting)
I’ll admit, there is a sprinkling of episodes from this series that I have not seen, mainly due in part to Comcast’s shoddy on-demand listings. Nevertheless, the finale is one for the books. Just as every episode of SFU begins with someone dying, the final episode is capped by a glimpse-into-the-future montage of the moments leading up to each character’s death, beginning with Ruth (the mother) whom, for last time, sees her late husband Nathaniel and recently deceased son Nate smiling down at her. She dies surrounded by her family. Each subsequent scene is masterfully intercut with shots of Claire (the daughter) driving down the highway listening to the closing song as she moves away from home to start a new job, concurrently ending a chapter with the start of a new one. Guaranteed to make your eyes water, this finale ranks high on my personal list and critically amongst the best in television history.
The Sopranos (“Made in America”)
Arguably one of the greatest show in television history, The Sopranos finishes at the top of it’s game with a final scene so perfectly executed, it left viewers confused as to what happened. Well, if you don’t know by now, Tony dies. David Chase (the Director) uses a very cleverly designed sequence of shots to set this up. Without going into a shot-by-shot breakdown of the scene, I will discuss how this achieved. Chase devises a pattern of shots wherein the ringing of the diner door opening is immediately followed by Tony’s POV. This means the abrupt cut to black that most people, including myself, mistook for an interruption in their cable service, is actually Tony’s perspective – dead. There are so many hidden clues in the scene to indicate this but the most significant is the man in the Member’s Only style jacket who walks in ahead of A.J. As he sits at the bar he glances back in Tony’s direction, not once, but twice! Then, as he gets up to walk to the bathroom, Chase uses a tracking show to follow him thus establishing to things: 1. This guy is important! Let’s watch him as he walks passed Tony and into the bathroom. 2. Upon exiting said bathroom, he will have clean shot at Tony, out of Tony’s line of sight. It’s sad, but most definitely true. And the genius behind it’s craft makes it one of the most cinematically brilliant finales of all-time.
Star Trek – The Next Generation (“All Good Things…”)
The Next Generation finale is among my favorites for a couple reasons. 1. It’s Star Trek, the greatest franchise in television history and it’s awesome. 2. The finale ties directly to the series premiere wherein Q, an omnipotent being, puts humanity on trial for being a savage race. In the finale we find out the trial never ended and Picard and crew must once again prove mankind’s worth. To do this, Q shifts Picard through time in order to determine the origin of an anomaly that is threatening the universe. The viewer follows Picard as he revisits his first days on the Enterprise where they first encounter Q, and gets a glimpse into a future where the Federation is at war with the Klingons and the Enterprise is tricked out with three warp nacelles and a crap-ton of firepower. Picard is able to determine that the anomaly is expanding as it moves backwards in time and that his future-self is responsible for the formation of said anomaly. The solution is all very technical, but by the end of the episode, all three times converge in an explosion of time and anti-time as each Enterprise fights to save the universe. Once again, Picard and crew save the day and mankind. But the trial never ends.
The episode concludes with Picard sitting down, for the first time, at Riker’s poker game, joining the his senior officers for a “sky’s the limit” game of 5-card stud. It’s epic, it’s nostalgic; it’s everything a Trek fan could ask for.
Breaking Bad (“Felina”)
Now seems as good a time as any to throw this one in there, seeing as how it’s the inspiration for the entire blog. Of all the finales I’ve ever seen, none are more satisfying than this one. We find Walter seemingly defeated. Having lost his family and his empire, his legacy will be one built on destruction and greed. But all of that is ok, so long as he can succeed at his final mission, which has ultimately been his goal all along: to ensure his family is financially secure after he’s gone. Since Skyler refuses to accept his drug money willingly, he coerces his old ‘friends’, Gretchen and Elliot, under the pretense that they’re being watched by snipers, (actually Badger and Skinny Pete with laser pointers… brilliant) into establishing a trust fund for Walt Jr. Mission accomplished. But wait! What about Jesse and the group of Neo-Nazi’s producing Walt’s meth. Oh yeah, Walt’s got them covered too…in a fiery blaze of machine gun rounds remotely triggered to open fire from the trunk of Walt’s car. So killer! Walt manages to save Jesse by jumping on him, effectively removing him from the line of fire, and taking a bullet in the process. The only other to survive the slaughter is Todd, though his surprise is short-lived as Jesse quickly tackles him an chokes him to death. That leaves only Lydia, Walt’s former business partner who conspired to have Walt killed. Shame Walt gets to her first slipping ricin into her the stevia she uses in her tea. Yum. Jesse drives off a free man as Walt’s life ends where it essentially began – on the floor of a meth lab. That’s damned poetic! Now…say my name.
So what are some of your favorite finales? We want to know!