Why do series finales have to be so final?
Last week another terrific cable drama, The Shield, took its final bow in a series finale that still has fans talking. The talk is mostly about the last three minutes, which featured Vic Mackey's silent contemplation of the life he now leads after losing his friends, family and, some say, his freedom. Right before the screen went dark we saw Vic stride out of the cubicle that is now his home -- unsure of what his fate would be from now on.
Some fans of the series were unhappy with this ending, saying that there was no closure to the life that Vic had led over the last seven seasons. Some hearken the ending to the now-famous series finale of The Sopranos, which featured several seconds of nothingness before the credits rolled. This concept of not giving finality to a series finale is a new one for viewers to grasp onto. But, when you look at it further, it makes complete sense. Why should the lives of our favorite characters come to a complete ending when our own lives don't?
Well, in most cases our lives don't end until we die. And, even then, many believe that we continue on a different plane of existence. If anything, when one chapter of our life ends a new one usually begins, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. it's just that when this happens in our life it isn't followed by credits and a closing theme (at least mine isn't). We just move along the path of life as best as we can.
This is why the current crop of series finales that we've seen on The Shield or The Sopranos works better in many cases than those that tie everything up in a neat little bow. Like us, the lives of our beloved characters continue in some way (though, in the case of The Sopranos, those continuations may have been short-lived). What goes on after the credits roll is up to interpretation. The result: the viewer gets a sense that these characters are just as real as we are.
Everybody Love Raymond is a good example of this type of movement. Rather than have a series finale that changed the circumstances of the show's characters, the creators of the program decided to end the show with a typical day at the Barone household. No one died, no one left. It was just a scene of a family that, despite all their bickering, loved and cared for each other. While nothing earth-shattering occurred it left most viewers with a feeling of satisfaction. Star Trek: The Next Generation was another good example. Though the ongoing story between Picard and Q seemed to have come full circle, the very last scene implied that there were many more adventures for the crew of the Enterprise.
Oh, there are exceptions to this case. For example, the series finales for M*A*S*H, The West Wing and Star Trek: Voyager, to name a few, had logical endings that tied up as many loose ends as possible. Yet, looking into these further, there was still a sense of non-finality for the characters in these programs. Though the stories ended, there was an open-endedness as to what their lives would be after Korea, the White House and the Alpha Quadrant. With the characters on Voyager, their adventures continued in other forms. For the characters on West Wing and most of the characters on M*A*S*H, their futures were left up to peoples imaginations.
The open-ended finale will not work for some shows. When Lost comes to an end I'm sure there will be a riot at the show's production studios if there isn't some closure to the adventures of the castaways. Same thing for shows like Chuck or Life. Whenever those shows end (and, here's hoping it's not too soon) people will look for something near complete closure because the circumstances of the characters demand it.
While some viewers may not like it, the open-ended series finale is probably here to stay. Not only does it give viewers a sense of real-life to the characters, but it also leaves open potential TV, cinematical, or direct-to-DVD releases that carry on the story. It will have to be used carefully, though. Overindulgence of this finale method could lead to dissatisfaction from a wide range of viewers. And, with television struggling as it is, it needs all the help it can get.