The Best Series Finales of the Past 10 Years: 5-10

22 Jun

I listed my five favorite series finales of the past 10 years here. Here’s a little bonus coverage of entries 6-10. These are less revelatory than the first batch; these mostly consist of very good shows that wrapped up with very good episodes that weren’t mind-blowingly brilliant but managed to wrap up all the loose ends in a satisfying way which is less exciting but still quite difficult. Still, I wanted to get these down on the record with a few notes so I can look back at how crazily I changed my mind in a few years. A more fun list of the worst finales coming soon.

6. Breaking Bad

Mad Men and Breaking Bad occupy the same exact rung and I could have easily flipped them and might have if I did this tomorrow.. Both were all-time great shows whose finales were satisfying if not spectacular, which sounds like faint praise, but considering the bars set by their respective series and the expectations and hype surrounding the finale, it was no small thing to come away smiling and not disappointed. Breaking Bad managed to hit the bullet points on the finale checklist nicely. Breaking Bad did a great job over the run of the series of leaving questions that could later be returned to, or could be forgotten about entirely, with either result being equally plausible, but the one question that did feel like it needed to be dealt with was the use of the ricin, which presumably is used on Lydia. There are final moments for supporting characters as important as Skyler along with nice goodbye nodes to fan favorites Badger and Skinny Pete. The dying Walt doesn’t quite get redemption, but he does get a chance to make a baby step in that direction that makes sense within the show, and he most importantly gets to share a final scene with Jesse, and the two of them were the core of the show. Walt dying was no surprise; him living would have been, but there was still suspense in merely seeing how his plan was carried out. The finale only suffers due to some lack of surprise and the fact that it was simply always impossible to recreate the Walt-Gus dynamic that ended with the brilliant season 4 finale with the Neo Nazis, who didn’t have the same charisma or the same sense of rivalry. (The otherwise excellent and enjoyable final season suffers from that as well). But overall, it hits all the notes it has to and left me feeling as great about the series as I had when I came into the episode.

7. Mad Men

See the Breaking Bad entry.  The Mad Men slowly wrapped up storylines to all of the most important characters, giving everyone (except Pete and Betty, who. got their time in the penultimate episode) to a satisfying point of ending. This is exactly what I mean when I say closure – character arcs can recieve endings, like poor dying Betty, relationship milestones, like Roger, new beginnings, like Joan, or something in the middle like Don. There’s no one way to finish out with a beloved character, other than leave the viewer in a place that we feel comfortable and feels appropriate for the character giving the developments over the seasons; like Potter Stewart’s famous pronouncement on obscenity, I know it when I see it. There wasn’t that feeling of absolute breathtaking perfection that The Shield or Six Feet Under left with but spreading the screentime around and feeling like everyone got the ending they deserved without being shafted is still an impressive achievement (with the possible exception of the Stan/Peggy ending, which I didn’t super love but have come around on a little over time.) The ending montage could feel trite, but didn’t, and the last moment in particular is inspired; the choice of an iconic campaign which so seamlessly blended marketing with depth of emotional appeal wasn’t a bad way to end the story of Don Draper.

8, Justified

Another on the Mad Men/Breaking Bad tier. I’m hopefully not making these out to be lesser achievements than they are, rather that should just demonstrate the difficulty of constructing memorable finales. This wasn’t the best episode of Justified, but it wrapped up nicely every story line and hit on worthy resolutions for the primary characters. Like Breaking Bad, the otherwise excellent final season suffered just a very little bit by the last bad guy because one that we had relatively less investment with. Like Mad Men, the season ended with a particularly satisfying moment, Raylan staring at Boyd, the protagonist and his foil, wtith Boyd reminding Raylan of the connection that binds them and each of them to this setting that was so important to Justified; “We dug coal together,” Earlier in this season I might have thought that ending without a major character death would have seemed like a cop out, but it didn’t play out that way. Eva’s last two season arc which had some serious ups and downs paid off well with her finally escaping the cycle of shit that surrounds Boyd, and getting away from the very location which seems to encourage it, Raylan, likewise, physically moves on as he seems to finally move forward while Boyd, fittingly ends up back where he started at the beginning of the show.

9. Friday Night Lights

This shamefully took me too long to get to as I finished the fourth season and then took long break before getting to the fifth. Friday Night Lights is an extremely sentimental show, so much so, that it can overdo it at times, and while it’s a great show, that’s probably one of the issues I don’t quite like it as much as some people. In the finale, though, the sentimentality is unleashed perfectly for a thoroughly moving finale in which every character gets his chance to shine, and the heart of the show, the relationship between Connie and Eric, maybe the best marriage in television history, is at the forefront. Part of what made Friday Night Lights excellent, was its constant emphasis on the ideas that people fight, people disagree, but they come to solutions and decisions and make them work. Eric Taylor knows it’s time for his wife to take the lead, and his hesitation due to the enormity of his offer from Dillon only makes the final decision that much more powerful; the decision at the heart of the final episode is emblematic of the kind of show Friday Night Lights is. The final game is played as well as any game on the show, and leaving the final outcome up in the air until we discover it later in the episode could be infuriating but instead is inspired. Friday Night Lights ended with me remembering the best parts of the show, which is a high compliment to any finale.

10. Hannibal

I’m honestly still not sure if this was a great or terrible finale or something in between or most importantly even a finale, but I have room for one what-the-fuck finale here which could only fit for such a what-the-fuck show. For a show that lived season to season, the finale was one that wsa intended to potentially serve as an ending and potentially not, and for ninety percent of shows on TV this would have been considered an utterly unsatisfiying ending but it was so in tune with the spirit of Hannibal that it was surprisingly easy to make my peace with it. Not one, but two Hannibal season finales end with the great question of who survived, and the finale is an ultimate demonstration of the show’s filming style, where style matters, or maybe more accurately, is, substance. The fight scene between Graham, Lecter, and Dolarhyde is equally intense, bizarre, and at times hard to follow, yet the beautiful violence is one of Hannibal’s hallmarks. This is the one finale that could potentially be on the list of worst finales, depending on your bent, and it’s possible I’ll feel that way when I come back to it with time, but at the moment I appreciate just how insane the show was willing to be in a world where shows don’t do that.

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