Television

Bad TV Finales

All things must come to an end, including, unfortunately, your favourite TV show.

Finales can be momentous things. They are the culmination of all the plot threads, all the character development, all the love that the cast and the crew and the writers have put into the show and each other after so many years of work.

Or at least, they should be.

It’s not always the case, however. It’s a lot of pressure, after all, to distill the essence of a show down to one perfect apex. It needs to be memorable. Maybe there’s a plot twist. It’s a hard thing to do, and some shows miss the mark. Here are just three, from different genres, whose endings I take grievance with. Spoilers and opinions ahead.

Side note: I’m not going to talk about How I Met Your Mother because it’s been utterly eviscerated at this point, but just know that I agree.

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Will & Grace (1998-2006)

As a fan of Will & Grace, I was thrilled when the reboot was announced, but it had an advantage other than just providing new content: the original ending was expunged.

There are parts of the original ending which I really enjoy. I always liked Will’s relationship with Vince, so seeing them being domestic with a son was really sweet. It would’ve been nice to see Jack end up with someone as well, especially after the ongoing sub-plot about his feelings for Will, but equally I could see him remaining single, so I can get over it. Grace getting back together with her cheating husband and becoming estranged from Will only for their kids to later marry, less so.

I probably don’t need to elaborate on why Grace going back to Leo was unsatisfying for me (even if completely in-character). Disliking Will and Grace’s break up is also understandable. The show was about the strength of their friendship, eight years of arguing and making up, only to be told that they went years without even speaking to each other. Twice. It’s more than a little upsetting.

But, these things happen. Friends drift apart. What irks me most, then, is the climax, the union of their children.

Will & Grace was an explicitly gay show, one that was absolutely ground-breaking, and yet, like so many sitcoms before it, it culminated in a heterosexual wedding. One of the executive producers once said that the show was framed around the main pair’s relationship because the only way that straight audiences would watch a show where half the main characters were gay men was if there was a chance that Will and Grace would end up together. The marriage of Ben and Lila feels like an apology to these straight audiences; sorry, Will and Grace can’t get married, but look, their children can. It’s the next best thing. Will’s son looks just like him, Grace’s daughter looks just like her, it’s Will and Grace 2.0 except they’re both straight so it’s fine! In a show celebrating love between men, it feels almost disrespectful.

And I know, I know why they did it. I get what they were going for in a thematic and literary sense. There was no malice. It’s not like there weren’t any gay people involved in making it. But I personally am glad that it all turned out to be just one of Karen’s drug-induced dreams.

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Merlin (2008-2012)

Airing this on Christmas Eve was so cruel. That’s not a criticism, I just wanted to say that first and foremost. They knew what they were doing.

Now, I’m not someone who calls ‘bad writing’ just because a character I like dies. Arthur was my favourite character in Merlin, and I don’t mind that he died. I think unhappy endings are interesting and worthwhile. But I do not like how the last episode, or last season, of Merlin turned out.

The thing to remember about Merlin is that, at the end of the day, it was a kid’s show. The first season was colourful and campy. There was a lot of toilet humour and other juvenile jokes. Sure, it matured as time went on and developed deeper plotlines, doing as many other children’s series do and choosing to mature with the audience, but it was still recognisable the same show. Until season five, that is.

I suppose, if they were planning to do the ending they did, I prefer that they made the whole season with that in mind rather than the last episode coming out of nowhere, but it was still such a heel-point turn. I actually started watching the show while the fourth season was still airing (and so was lucky to not have the childhood investment other viewers might have), so the sudden change in the first episodes I watched live was particularly noticeable. Even the colours were washed out, so everything looked as grey and dark as the writing. All leading up to half the main characters dying on-screen. In a kids’ show. On Christmas Eve.

Having said that, the last episode did a pretty good job at concluding the story of the last season and even of the whole show, even if the tonal dissonance from the earlier seasons was deafening. And, as I say, I don’t mind an unhappy ending, or one where the hero fails. So long as it is earned.

To me, Merlin’s dismal conclusion does not feel particularly earned, and not just because it isn’t set up by its cheerful beginnings. One of the main themes running through the show is that of Destiny, with a capital D. It’s Merlin’s destiny to help Arthur bring about the golden age and restore magic to Camelot. This barely happened. The parts of it that did happened before the fifth season began. Which, fine, maybe the destiny thing wasn’t real. Except, of course, all the bad predictions did come to pass. Bad things are fated to happen, but good things, maybe not. Heartening.

The fate of the titular character is what stings most. Every other character, including those who died, had an ending which seemed fair and complete, a logical conclusion to their story. Merlin’s story has no ending. Through the whole show, he remained unappreciated and alone, unable to tell people about his magic and so having to save the world by himself. It looked like we might finally get some closure in the finale, but no. Arthur died soon after thanking Merlin, and Merlin apparently never returned to Camelot to the rest of his friends, instead waiting for Arthur while… continuing to be alone and unappreciated. Great. Happy Christmas, kids.

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White Collar (2009-2014)

White Collar is one of my favourite shows of all time. It has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I honestly think it deserves it. And yet I cannot think of it without seething with rage over the ending.

For the most part, the final episode is a standard one, or at least, a standard season finale, where everyone tries to take down the current main villain. I don’t remember the finer details, since I haven’t cared to rewatch it. In summary, it all goes pretty well, until Neal is betrayed and shot.

I swear, I would prefer this finale if Neal actually died. I could understand that. People die. It’s hardly surprising that Neal’s luck and wit would run out eventually, and it would be fittingly tragic that he should die from treachery when so much of his arc was learning to trust other people.

But no, ha ha, it was just a con, like always. Neal is still smarter than everyone else, he planned everything, he’s actually fine and living in Paris. It feels like a waste of a final episode. There’s no real reason why Neal couldn’t have died for real, which would’ve been an interesting ending in itself. Instead, the writers chose to trick the audience one last time.

And it is a trick. It’s lofty. It’s showy. It’s a little mean. It’s returning to the show’s roots, to the initial concept of the arrogant, cocky conman. Therein lies the problem. Season one Neal would’ve done this. Season six Neal would not.

The scene that elevates this episode from mediocre to rage-inducing is the one in the morgue. The acting from Tim DeKay and Willie Garson is superb, and another reason why I would’ve been fine with Neal’s death. But their acting is too good for the actual ending. The image of Peter sobbing in the hallway is one of the most heart-breaking moments in television. And yet, we are told that Neal, even after all his character development, would willingly inflict this on the people he considers his family. It’s not realistic.

Though these shows were each dissatisfying for different reasons, I’d say the most common reason for a finale failing is the writers not applying the earned character development, as is the case of White Collar and HIMYM.

Do you disagree with any of these opinions? Did I miss the show whose ending makes you shake with fury? Let me know down below.

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