The Problem with Series Finales in the Digital Age

                Why are series finales so divisive? They’re sad, disappointing, too much, too little, and obviously, the end. Once a viewer has seen the last episode of a series, that’s the end of the story for the characters they have spent years of their life with (barring some post-series movie [Veronica Mars], resurrection by another channel/service [Scrubs, Arrested Development], or “limited series event” because the network decided it could still make money off of nostalgia [24, Heroes]). For the most part, however, the story is over… for the viewer. It may sound immature, idiotic, or insane to say that the characters’ stories are not over since we won’t see any more of them, but their fictional minds are still developing and evolving like any other person. And to me, that’s just as important to the story, if not more so, than any part the viewer sees. But in the age of the internet, theories abound and evidence racks up for an ending to come true. The longer one has to think about it, the more they don’t want it to happen because they want it to happen their way. You can find flaws in any finale. None of them are perfect. Not The Sopranos, not Breaking Bad, not Seinfeld, not Friends, not M*A*S*H. When it’s over-analyzed before it even airs, which seems to happen with every series now, it drags down every bit of satisfaction it would have otherwise. Let it be what it is. Don’t complain that it didn’t end the way you wanted it to end. It’s not your ending. If you want that ending then go create your own series. As long as it was executed well and leaves you feeling some kind connection with the characters, whether you love them, envy them, hate them, or pity them, the ending doesn’t have to be happy or perfect because life isn’t always happy or perfect.

                The end of one thing is the beginning of another. Look at the recently concluded How I Met Your Mother. Sure, everyone seems to kind of hate the finale, “Last Forever,” but hear me out. HIMYM was never about the mother. The mother gave Ted the happiness he always wanted, which is all he ever wanted. The problem with that, though, is that he wanted that happiness with someone else: Robin. He knew it was possible. He knew they had potential and chemistry, and it was always going to be with him no matter what else happened in his life. Robin is not the mother, but she was never meant to be the mother. From the end of the pilot, Ted called her Aunt Robin to his kids. Just because she didn’t give birth to his children (she was physically unable to anyway) doesn’t mean they wouldn’t end up together. If the show had been called How I Met My Lover, it would have been much more straightforward. But HIMYM was never straightforward. It meandered along the back roads of sitcom territory, venturing into dramatic character development not usually seen on network television, especially CBS.

That’s not to say the show is flawless. The show would have succeeded in being only five or six season of great television instead of nine seasons of back and forth mediocrity for much of its later years. It got so far from the premise of the title at some points that it would go several episodes without even mentioning the titular mother. And then when it regurgitated the will they/won’t they tension between Ted and Robin time after time, after Ted admits they won’t end up together and Robin ends up with Barney, even I was getting sick of it. But the twist was that the first twist was wrong. Everyone thought up to the end of the pilot that Robin was the mother. Nope. She’s not the mother, so she’s not ending up with Ted, right? Let’s move on and find someone else. Nope again. Ted found the love of his life, and then he found another love of his life. When Tracy (the mother) gets sick, whether from cancer or some other disease doesn’t matter, Ted knows he will be alone again, but it’s okay. He got to experience true love and happiness, and he got to have children with someone he loved. For the audience to ask of Ted to remain alone after she passes away is to ask that of a real person as well. If the love of someone’s life leaves, whether from death, divorce, or something else, it would be selfish to ask that person not to keep living. Even his kids know it. They’re rooting for Ted to be with Robin because they know they care about each other. Robin isn’t replacing their mother; she’s making Ted happy again. If you can’t be happy for Ted, you’re not allowing yourself to be happy with letting him and the rest of the gang to be a part of your life for the past nine years.

Let’s look at other series with controversial finales. Lost ended with them being dead, yes, but not the whole time. I cannot stress this enough. The “purgatory” that everyone hated and said they knew about the whole time was nothing more than a place to meet up together before moving on to the afterlife. They didn’t all die in the crash. Boone, Shannon, Jack, Sun, Jin, and more died on the island from events after the crash. Locke died off the island when Ben strangled him. Hurley and the rest died at some point after the events of the rest of the series. It’s hard to picture all the timelines at once, but some waited in the church longer than others. Jack was the last to arrive emotionally and understand what was happening to them, and we saw all of this through his perspective. Others lived longer physically, but Jack’s disbelief finally died when he entered the church. Now, if everyone had understood the metaphysical connotations of what the “The End” meant instead of just saying, “I don’t get it. That’s stupid,” then the finale would not have gotten the mixed reviews that it did. To anyone who says they disagree with me, I say that you could tell how spiritual and destiny-based the series was going to become from the first season, so to go through the end of the sixth and say it shouldn’t have been that way is outlandish. If someone tried to tell me the events of Lost were a true story, I’d tell them to get the hell out of here. Fortunately, this is a fictional show set in a fictional universe where islands move, time travel is possible, and black smoke monsters exist. You should have known it wouldn’t be rooted in science. In this universe, the battle between the man of science and the man of faith ends in the nonbeliever finally admitting defeat. “We have to go back,” is right, Jack. We have to go back to when we could hold a suspension of disbelief and keep it at bay for an entire story, not just when it pleases us. There is no other way Lost could have ended without becoming an entirely different story, and I’m just fine with that.

The Sopranos ended in the most infamous blank screen in the history of television. People thought their cable cut out when it happened. In reality, creator David Chase and Co. did it on purpose. “How could they?!” “Who do they think they are?!” “What happens to Tony?!” You know what? It doesn’t matter. Look at any mob story. Tony’s gonna get whacked eventually, it doesn’t matter when or by whom. What matters is the story you saw up until that point. Did you enjoy it? Then you liked The Sopranos. Did you hate it? Then why did you keep watching for six long seasons? If you don’t like violence, sex, drugs, and language you probably shouldn’t have HBO to begin with.

Battlestar Galactica ended… in the past? Yes. This sci-fi series about exploring the depths of the universe and the consequences of artificial intelligence is set when humanity on earth is just beginning. They finally make it home to earth, but it’s a new home inhabited by primitive man. Didn’t like it? Tough. That’s what Ronald D. Moore wrote, so accept it for what it is. It’s his series, so he gets to decide how it ends. Just because viewers watch it doesn’t mean they should dictate how it progresses. I’m not going to tell my doctor how to treat me, and I’m not going to tell a television series creator how to end his or her show. Viewers may have wanted another ending – any ending – than this one, but this is how it ended. No amount of complaining is going to change it. If you’ve got a pen and paper, you can write your own science fiction opus that ends in a battle to the death of one species against another. The series ends with the Cylons still possibly out there somewhere and flashes forward to modern day with the beginnings of robotics and artificial intelligence, warning us of what is to come… or may have already happened.

Long story short: get over it. I’m not asking everyone to like every series finale because some are truly awful (although, that might be because the series was truly awful). All I’m asking is that you give it a real shot. Let it be. Don’t go into it thinking or wishing it to be something that it’s not, or else you’re going to resent spending time with the characters you loved. Don’t pay attention to what anybody else thinks about it, whether on the internet or in person. Feel free to disagree and argue points, but don’t tell me that I’m wrong. Liking or disliking something is mainly an emotional and subjective idea. You may or may not have an interest in the facts, say whether you like the science fiction aspects of Battlestar Galactica or not, and that may be what pulls you in, but it’s the characters that keep you watching every week. (Even if you don’t like sci-fi, it’s a stunning series.) As long as I’m interested in the characters, I’ll follow them anywhere they go.


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