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July 30, 2014

Why do series finales have to be so final?

by Richard Keller, posted Dec 1st 2008 5:02PM

The series finale for 'The Shield' was not a finale for Vic Mackey's lifeLast 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.

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Adam

Best final episode I have ever seen was Angel. No real closure (except for a few characters), but it was just so great to see a great siege followed by the characters walking into the inevitable battle as the credits roll.

It left you satisfied, but still wishing you could see more.

December 04 2008 at 9:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike Doran

Boy, do you guys make me feel like an old, old, really old man... at age 58. I actually go back long enough ago to remember when series didn't have finales. The war shows of the '60s, like Combat and 12 O'clock High went off with their wars still going on, even as the shows had a longer duration than the actual event. The Westerns didn't know from "closure" - the cowboys just kept ridin' on indefinitely. THe cops kept on busting the crooks, the doctors kept on treating their patients, the lawyers kept going to court... the world just went on, business as usual. The closest to a finale was the last original Perry Mason. Check it out and see what I mean.

December 02 2008 at 4:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Thom

...Or you could have the best of both worlds. ;)

Buffy which "ended" on the WB with Season 5 resulted in a pretty final event (and it was not 100 percent certain it would be picked up by another station). Then on UPN its final end was rather open ended...leading to the comic series and whatnot.

December 02 2008 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lleon596

Despite being long time fan of this show, I must admit the 7th season is very disappointing with many plot holes in it.
I can live with whatever (open/closed) ending but what happened here is just complete turning of main character from being smart and loyal to some gutless dumb.

IMO

December 02 2008 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
theJohnnyspot

Or how about NO ending and yes I am STILL talking about "Pushing Daisies," "Eli Stone" and "DSM!" If i could erase ABC off my cable package I would!

December 02 2008 at 11:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
seph

I wish after the finale to M*A*S*H the exploits of the characters were left to our imagination but unfortunately there was "After-M*A*S*H".

December 02 2008 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

The finale of The Sopranos was a total cop-out -- utter crap. To compare it and The Shield is a disservice to Shawn Ryan and his show's brilliant cast and crew. My only complaint is that it had to end at all.

December 02 2008 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jim's comment
Harold Love

Just my opinion but there wasn't very much wrong with The Sopranos or The Shield finales. They can't do it all.

December 02 2008 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Janus

as for great endings to tv shows i heard somewhere there was a tv show that ended by having all of its characters blown up in a plane or something..anyone know the name of the show cause its really bugging me that i dont remember it

December 02 2008 at 9:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dtpollitt

THE WIRE ended pretty open-ended, but that's how everything in THE WIRE goes. It just starts over, and the institution wins.

December 02 2008 at 2:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill

I may be late to the party with this but I wonder if anybody as read this essay about the finale of The Sopranos.

It's a brilliant piece of writing and only proves that David Chase is a genius.

http://masterofsopranos.wordpress.com/the-sopranos-definitive-explanation-of-the-end/

December 01 2008 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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