Disenchantment’s Ending Shows The Simpsons What It’s Missing

Matt Groening’s opportunity for closure and finality in Disenchantment opens the door for how The Simpsons may one day end.

Disenchantment Season 5 Ending
Photo: Netflix

This article contains spoilers for the Disenchantment series finale.

A new animated series from Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, should have been a clear winner and modern cartoon classic. Oddly enough, Bean’s misadventures through Dreamland and its constant fantasy genre subversions in Disenchantment have barely left a mark on the medium. It initially seemed like Disenchantment had somehow learned the worst lessons from The Simpsons and Futurama through a focus on dense lore and heavy serialized stories. Disenchantment, while fun, would struggle with its growing scope and undergo a perpetual identity crisis on the type of series it wanted to be and what it does best. 

It’s been a bumpy journey, but Disenchantment impressively pulls everything together for its final season. This last batch of episodes finally figures out how to use this big world and its many supporting characters after seasons of awkward attempts to connect these dots. Disenchantment’s disparate ideas, themes, and worlds don’t work on their own or when delivered through a drip-feed seasonal approach. However, this bold long-form storytelling helps Disenchantment finally flourish and get out of its own way. The machinations of Dreamland, Steamland, the Enchanted Forest, and beyond all make sense when Disenchantment’s entire story can be digested and appreciated as a whole.

It should be quite interesting to see how Disenchantment will do in the following years now that its story is finished and that audiences can experience it without compromise. Like many Netflix series, Disenchantment could be completely forgotten in a year or two (especially now that Futurama is back), but its strong concluding season and finale will hopefully mean that the show catches a second wind and goes on to find more viewers. Disenchantment has been a mixed bag throughout its run. However, the best thing about this series is that it has an ending and that it completes its story, which is an area where The Simpsons–and even Futurama in some ways–have seriously struggled for years. Disenchantment’s successful series finale set up a promising path for The Simpsons’ and Futurama’s inevitable endings. 

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The Simpsons Could Have Ended Several Times Before

The Simpsons has produced 750 episodes across 34 seasons and it’s been renewed to at least a 36th season. The Simpsons writers are the first ones to poke fun at how they’ve likely overstayed their welcome, but they’ve reached a point where it’s more and more likely that they’ll clear 1000 episodes by the time that they’re done. This staggering amount of content has even left some audiences wondering if The Simpsons will ever end and what such a finish would even look like after saying and doing everything for nearly four decades. There have been a handful of Simpsons installments that were at one point considered for possible endings before it evolved into such an unstoppable piece of pop culture. 

The Simpsons’ season 11 finale, “Behind the Laughter,” is a fan favorite episode that many general viewers cite as the end of the show’s golden years. “Behind the Laughter” adopts a faux-documentary approach that’s styled like an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. Written by Tim Long, George Meyer, Mike Scully, and Matt Selman, “Behind the Laughter” is extremely dense in jokes and even won that year’s Emmy for Outstanding Animated Series. However, the finale’s sarcastic tone provides little closure or genuine emotional moments for the Simpsons or any Springfield residents. 

It’s one of the series’ funniest installments, but it’s distant, detached, and lacks the vulnerable moments that helped The Simpsons make a name for themselves in the first place. The Simpsons Movie, which also would have been a suitable time to end the series, also leans into spectacle over sentimentality when Springfield gets encased in a gigantic dome. A cinematic event justifies a grandiose narrative and the film has lots of heart and it underscores the importance of family. The Simpsons Movie harkens back to the series’ strongest and sharpest seasons, but it still lacks the catharsis that one craves in a series finale. Springfield is divided, but it’s still all business as usual, return to start, once the movie is over.

Season 23’s “Holidays of Future Passed,” written by J. Stewart Burns, is the closest that The Simpsons has gotten to a true series finale and the episode was even written to initially serve that purpose before production’s plans changed and it just became a regular episode, like any other. “Holidays of Future Passed” is far from the first time that The Simpsons has explored these characters’ future, but this seasonal installment turns the clock forward three decades when Bart and Lisa have children of their own and can lament over parenting. Maggie even has a daughter of her own and the Simpson clan has never been bigger.

 “Holidays of Future Passed” revolves around the perfect Christmas photo, which has been a running trope throughout the series. It’d be fitting for The Simpsons to end with a Christmas episode when that’s how the animated series started in 1989’s pilot, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” In fact, former Simpsons showrunner, Al Jean, has voiced his opinion on the perfect Simpsons ending, which would bring the series full-circle and conclude with the very Christmas pageant that begins the series. These are promising ideas, but neither are necessarily as fulfilling as the angle that Disenchantment adopts where everything gets put on a pedestal.

Futurama Repeatedly Nailed Its Endings, But Continually Reversed Course

The Simpsons might indefinitely languish, but Groening’s sci-fi successor, Futurama, has faced multiple cancellations and revivals that have forced the series to face the opposite issue. It’s not that Futurama doesn’t know how to end its story. It’s that it’s done so almost flawlessly four times over now–”The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and “Meanwhile”–with each homerun making it increasingly difficult to hit the same heights with any new ending. There are diminishing returns to how many times Fry and Leela can poignantly embrace themselves and the unknown. 

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Alternatively, Futurama’s finales, effective as they are, were always fashioned as precautionary measures in case of cancellation. Disenchantment’s fifth season is well aware that it’s the end of this story and there’s a greater sense of finality in “Goodbye Bean” as a result. This is not some temporary goodbye until another streaming service gives Disenchantment another chance. This is, for all intents and purposes, the end of Disenchantment and its series finale solidifies this. 

Futurama’s four finales all showcase different aspects of what makes the series so special and unique from other animated sci-fi comedies. Despite their differences in scope and tone, the common throughline in Futurama’s four “series finales” is that they narrow in on Fry and Leela’s love as the best way to provide emotional closure. Granted, Disenchantment’s series finale concludes with Bean and Mora’s wedding, but this is only after every other character receives closure rather than it being the catalyst for all of these changes. Fry and Leela are the heart of Futurama, so it’s appropriate to celebrate them in these multiple finales. Disenchantment, much like The Simpsons, is more about world-building and the entire ecosystem, whether that’s Dreamland or Springfield. It’s the collective whole that’s more important than any individuals, which is what Disenchantment’s finale beautifully taps into where previous Simpsons finales have fallen short. 

“Holidays of Future Passed” achieves genuine sincerity during a time when many people had already written off The Simpsons as phoning it in (even if that was still more than a decade ago in 2011). It’s bittersweet that this episode wasn’t held onto for the eventual series finale. The over-franchised state of the entertainment industry means that  it’s more likely that this episode will become the springboard for a future-set Simpsons spin-off instead of it gracefully ending this totemic franchise. 

It’s hard to imagine what else a Simpsons series finale could do if it’s not to take the “Holidays of Future Passed” approach, but Disenchantment’s finale at least sets up a strong framework that The Simpsons would be wise to follow. Disenchantment’s series finale might actually offer some genuine hints towards The Simpsons’ finish since it’s the first full episode of television that Groening has scripted in decades. Groening’s sentimental structure in “Goodbye Bean” feels even more appropriate in a series like The Simpsons where audiences have spent hundreds upon hundreds of episodes with these characters rather than just five short seasons.

Disenchantment’s Extended Epilogue Sets The Framework For The Simpsons’ End

Groening’s previous writing credits on Disenchantment are extremely sparse. Groening co-wrote the series’ pilot with Josh Weinstein and he’s one of the four listed writers on season four’s finale, “Bean Falls Apart,” which sets up many of season five’s ongoing drama. “Goodbye Bean” is the most pure, unadulterated Groening that audiences have gotten in years and so it’s important to take note of how he chooses to say goodbye here.

Disenchantment’s “Goodbye Bean” is a super-sized 44-minute-long series finale that uses its extra time to sufficiently say goodbye to every character and realm that’s been explored over these past five seasons. “Goodbye Bean” is ostensibly a prolonged epilogue that functions like a collection of vignettes for each character and their major relationships. This extended farewell distills each character to their most important traits and provides a goodbye that feels fitting for everyone. “Goodbye Bean” provides one last visit to Dreamland, Darkmire, Bentwood, the Enchanted Forest, Maru, Cremorrah, Twinkletown, Steamland, and even Disinechantment’s own versions of Heaven and Hell before it closes the book on this fairy tale. 

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On some level, it feels a little repetitive and formulaic to pop into these copious locales one final time and that Disenchantment is just running down a checklist of its important people and places. This strategy certainly lacks creative flair, but it’s seemingly the only way to deliver a Simpsons series finale that makes time for every single character. Groening’s necessity to turn Disenchantment’s final episode into a double-sized event means that it’s more likely that The Simpsons’ farewell will be at least this long. 

The Simpsons and its larger audience are even more deserving of a leisurely goodbye where everyone from Moe Szyslak to Professor Frink to Snake gets one final hurrah. The Simpsons may not be a fairy tale or part of the fantasy genre, but its characters still deserve to live happily ever after rather than some unceremonious standalone stop.

All five seasons of Disenchantment are now available to stream on Netflix