It’s hard to pinpoint what goes into making a great TV finale. You’ve got to wrap up all major storylines in a satisfying way, and point each of the characters in the right direction, as if their fictional lives will continue on, even though no one’s there to watch it. Some TV shows pull this off masterfully, giving the audience a poignant, bittersweet sendoff. Sometimes, the conclusion isn’t quite what audiences are expecting. 25 years ago today, the Twin Peaks finale fell into the latter category, with an unsatisfying resolution that failed to satisfy the viewing public. That show certainly is not alone, as we take a look at other TV finales that didn’t quite leave fans cheering.
Why It Was Divisive: By the time The Sopranos‘ was in the midst of their sixth and final season, it had already divided audiences. It was split into two parts, and slowly built up tension over several episodes, and everyone was looking for a major payoff in those last few episodes. Then, that historic Sunday night, The Sopranos abruptly cut to black, and those that didn’t like let the world know. By the following morning, the internet was flooded with theories about what it all meant, and while most critics viewed it favorably, reaction was not overwhelmingly positive.
In Hindsight: Since then, The Sopranos finale has gone down as one of the most beloved and divisive TV events of all time. In recent years, showrunner David Chase, who initially insisted that if viewers “look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there,” had even started discussing it again in recent years. The fact that it’s been nearly ten years since it first aired and is still a hotly contested moment in TV history shows that Chase probably knew what he was doing.
How I Met Your Mother
Why It Was Divisive: A show where the entire premise was right there in the title, How I Met Your Mother‘s pilot starts with future Ted (Josh Radnor) telling his kids a long story on how their parents met. It’s a long story, it turns out: Nine seasons went by teasing a romance between Ted and Robin (Colbie Smulders), whom we’re told from the start is not the mother. The final finally does reveal the titular mother (Cristin Milioti), a woman who steals Ted’s heart, marries him, then later dies off screen from an unspecified disease. When Ted’s kids end up telling future Ted that he should go ahead and pursue Aunt Robin anyway, viewers and critics were not happy with the resolution.
In Hindsight: It’s one of the more recent finales on this list, so the reveal is still raw for some die-hard fans. Others, however, have come around, calling the big reveal (or lack thereof) a work of misunderstood genius.
Why It Was Divisive: For nine seasons, Seinfeld dominated the television landscape, following the lives of four New Yorkers in their show about nothing. Then, for its finale, those four characters are taken out of their typical New York City setting (even though the show was filmed in L.A.), and dropped in the middle of Latham, MA, where they end up arrested for violating a Good Samaritan law and brought to trial. In an incredibly ambitious move, the show then brought back scores of minor characters for a cameo appearance in the courtroom. Suddenly, it had become a show about something, and the story painted the four leads as self-centered, and deserving of their fate.
In Hindsight: The finale is still a pretty polarizing episode, though it certainly hasn’t hurt the popularity of the show, which has seen massive success in syndication, and led Hulu to fork over $160 million for the rights to stream the series last year. Larry David, along with the four cast members, would later play off those criticisms as a major story arc on David’s HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Why It Was Divisive: The final episode of Dexter saw its title character (Michael C. Hall) have one last showdown with that season’s big bad, Oliver Saxon (Darri Ingolfsson). It also saw Dexter’s sister, Deborah (Jennifer Carpenter), critically injured, in a coma, and on life support. That is, until her brother shuts off the machines keeping her alive, which kills her. He then carries her body out of the hospital completely unnoticed, to the dock where his boat was waiting for them. With a hurricane brewing in the background of the episode Dexter heads off nobly into the storm after dumping Deborah’s body overboard. The hurricane destroys his boat and lands his obituary front page of in the paper.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the show tacks on one more scene where he’s inexplicably working as a lumberjack, beard and all. Dexter gets away with everything he’s ever done, and audiences were left without any sense of real closure.
Why It Was Divisive: True Blood started as a thoughtful, supernatural soap opera/gay rights parable but slowly built itself up around the promise of a human vs. vampire war. The final season fell short of that, as it aimed to go back to the smaller stories of its earlier days, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Key characters were unceremoniously killed off, and the show came barreling toward a finale that tried its best to put a bow on everything, though the episode was not well-received overall.