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8 of the best final scenes from TV series finales

By / 09.26.13
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With the series finale of Breaking Bad set to destroy worlds and change lives, we thought now would be a good time to reminisce about other notable TV series finales. Of course, the best series finales are those with final scenes that resonate through the years. It doesn’t even really matter what happened during the rest of the episode, because when it’s all done, the only thing anyone will be talking about are those last few precious moments, when their favorite show is either thematically tied up in a perfect little package, or it unravels in a haze of maudlin gibberish. When it’s done well, and everything falls into place almost like it had been planned all along, it’s like magic. And in celebration of that magic we bring you these, eight of the best final scenes from TV series finales.

Just a man alone in his bar realizing that life is pretty much perfect – it doesn’t get much better than that. From the scene’s quiet wistfulness, which gives it a weighty sense of nostalgia before the show is even over, to the final words, “Sorry, we’re closed,” it would have been damn near impossible for Cheers to go out any better. Interesting note: that picture of Geronimo that Sam adjusts at the end belonged to actor Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach in the show’s early years before he died, which was a nice, subtle way of honoring someone who helped make the show back in the day.

Is it a little corny? Sure, but that was kind of the appeal of the show. It’s wistful, longing, and tinged with an air of sad disappointment for what could have been, which means that the show pretty much nailed the spirit of a generation. The Wonder Years was always a show that tried to gently reveal both what it meant to grow up, and what it meant to live through America’s own growing pains, and the finale pays perfect homage to that gentle sort of wistful longing and remembrance. And finally, this scene gives us definitive proof that Paul grew up to go to Harvard and didn’t become Marilyn Manson.

The finale itself was one of the most disappointing finales in TV history. It just didn’t work, from the cornball music to the ridiculous premise. But the final scene itself, with the gang locked together in jail, bickering over meaningless bullshit, was somehow perfect. It managed to do what the finale up to that point had failed to do – it encapsulated perfectly what the show was about: four assholes, miserable together, yammering about nothing. Even the little tag at the end, with Jerry doing standup for his fellow prisoners while Kramer laughed his ass off and everyone else planned to shank him, was better than everything else that happened in the finale.

Reserved beacon of dignity and authority Picard finally sits down with his crew for a nice game of cards, and in the process finally crosses that invisible bridge separating himself from the people he loves. There is nothing particularly sci-fi about this scene – well, other than the fact that the whole thing takes place in a giant spaceship or that Worf, you know, exists, or that one of them is a robot, or… okay, I’ll stop now – and that works too, largely because it captures what made the show work: its humanity. This is all about Picard’s relationship with his crew. The scene could have very easily taken place on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century. It’s not about space, it’s about people.

Maybe this is a little too precious and clever, but it was so good that nobody cared. Bob gets knocked out, only to wake up in the bed next to his wife from his old sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show, realizing that the whole show had been just a weird dream. This is tough to pull off, and if you do it wrong you end up feeling ripped-off, like the final scene of St. Elsewhere. But Newhart did it, probably because it was the perfect show to do it with – it never took itself that seriously to begin with and was always just weird enough that it was easy to buy that it could all be a dream. And hey, let’s face it, in both sitcoms, Bob basically was just playing himself. It worked here, and it will probably never, ever work again.

There is something hauntingly perfect about human lion Vic Mackey reduced to a lousy desk job. There is no more perfect way for him to answer for his many sins than that – even prison would have been easier for him to handle. To see him stifled, broken, and ultimately incapable of accepting that he’s now just another Joe Jerkoff, pushing papers and drinking cheap coffee all day, was the perfect ending for the show. It made it tragic and operatic, fitting for a cop show that was never just another cop show.

The first time I saw this, like many my immediate reaction was WTF? It just wasn’t what I wanted, and for a long time I’d tell anyone who listened that they blew it. But as time has gone by, I’ve realized how perfect this scene really is. It’s beautifully crafted, and far from a cop-out, it fits the show amazingly. After all, The Sopranos was one of the first shows that refused to take the easy way out, and so it should make sense that its final scene would reflect that. The ambiguity was tough to take at the time, but I think people weren’t just ready for that when it first aired, and if it aired today, in this new Breaking Bad and Mad Men led golden age of television in which TV has been elevated to the level of literature, people would probably be much more accepting of it. No matter what you think happened to Tony here – or didn’t happen – the show refused to give you easy – or easily dismissible – answers. It made you think, and feel, and it made you do those two things together.

It’s a show about two things: family, and death. How else could it possibly have ended? This is probably the most beautiful ending in TV history, poignant and perfect, and Sia’s haunting and beautiful “Breathe Me” playing over scenes of the family’s respective final moments pushes it over the edge to “If it’s not getting dusty in your house right now, you’re a robot” territory. Now this is closure.

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Neil Bulson
About Neil Bulson... Neil Bulson writes words for money. Some of them are even funny. Hey, that rhymed! As you can see, it is probably best not to encourage him.
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