This past Saturday, the series finale of “Orphan Black,” the woefully under appreciated clone show where Tatiana Maslany has played like at least 12-15 different people flawlessly, aired. (I feel like I describe things as “woefully under appreciated” a lot. People need to appreciate things that deserve appreciation more!) It was a very satisfying finale, and it got me thinking about what makes a great series finale and what can cause a series finale to fail.
(Obligatory warning that there will probably be some series finale spoilers for various shows in the coming paragraphs. Proceed with caution.)
What made the “Orphan Black” series finale work is that it tied up some key loose ends (like killing off all of the baddies trying to make the lives of Tatiana Maslany’s many characters difficult) but left a few things open, so that we’d all have something to think about once the show had ended. How will Helena be as a mother? Will Cosima and Delphine be able to find all 270-something clones and inoculate them from the illness that plagues their kind? We don’t know! And that’s fine. (Although, it seems like the show’s creators might be on board for a movie continuation down the line. Not sure how I feel about that.) We don’t need to know everything. We just need to know enough to feel comfortable that the characters we love will be okay.
The same could be said about the perfect series finale of “Parks and Recreation,” although that one literally went into the future to show us most of the key moments of each main character’s life. Even though they did do a lot to wrap up not just current plot lines but future plot lines as well, they still left us with a big, fun question: Does Ben or Leslie become President? It seems like one of them may have taken the most powerful position in the country (at least, other than being one of Beyonce’s children), but it’s unclear who. That leaves room for fun speculation. Everyone can have their own idea of what happened, just like at the end of a great book. A finale obviously needs to have elements that are clearly final, but a good finale also has elements that can be up to the interpretation or imagination of the viewer.
But not all finales are good. Take, for example, the end of “Gilmore Girls.” (For the record, I consider “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” the end of “Gilmore Girls.” Unless, of course, they end up doing more. I doubt they will though.) Never before had I seen a finale end with such a cliffhanger. Rory is pregnant? Who’s the father? (Logan, probably. Although it could be someone else!) How is all of that going to go down? That’s not a small loose end or a question that can be left to the interpretation of the viewer. That’s question that needs to be answered…like, now. And the craziest part of it all is that those final four words, that big reveal, was reportedly part of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s plan all along.
That’s where I think series finales can veer into dangerous territory. Deciding down to the most specific details how you will end your show when you’re just starting it seems to set yourself (and, as a result, the viewers) up for disappointment. Even if you have every single moment of the series mapped out from beginning to end, things can still change and mutate based on current culture and the views of a show’s fans. Series creators and writers shouldn’t be beholden to the views of fans, of course, but it feels like a disservice to completely ignore their hopes and wishes for the end of a series they’ve been watching for years and just focus on some idea you had a long time ago.
And that brings me to what I consider the worst series finale I’ve ever seen. So bad that I haven’t watched a single frame of the show since the finale aired and have gone so far as to only refer to it as “the awful show I will not name.” It rhymes with “Shmow Shmi Shmet Shmour Shmother.” The final moments of the series completely eschewed every thing leading up to it, the whole premise of the show really, to service an ending that had been thought of many years prior. While some people (insane people, if you ask me) were fine with it, many others were horrified and upset. It’s hard to find a list of “Worst TV Series Finales” without this one being prominently featured. Sure, it ties up just about every loose end (in the worst ways possible), but the only questions it left its viewers with were Why? and How could you? and What was the point of anything that led up to this? It proved that just because you have an ending in mind from the beginning doesn’t mean you should stick to that ending when all is said and done. Much like “Gilmore Girls,” this show got too far in, and the ending they had imagined didn’t make sense anymore.
Making a good series finale is challenging. Stuck between maintaining a creative vision and at least somewhat catering to the fans, shows can either find the balance and succeed (like “Orphan Black” and “Parks and Rec”) or fail (like “Gilmore Girls” or that…other one). At least we can all agree on the fact that shows largely benefit from having a set finale that they can prepare for, not one that just happens because a show was cancelled. Like “Pitch.” Did you think I forgot about “Pitch”? I’ll never forget about “Pitch.” Bring back “Pitch”!
What do you think makes a good series finale? Have any other finales that you loved (or hated)? Did you also attempt to watch the Teen Choice Awards last night but gave up after the 5th tween you didn’t recognize? We can figure it out together in the comments. And of course…