Warning: This list will, naturally, include spoiler information for the shows listed here.
The humble television show. We invite it into our houses each week with the intent to be entertained by it. But in this multi-channel minefield we now live in, it can sometimes be hard to find real gems. And when we do, it can almost be heart breaking when they come to an end. After all, as loyal viewers, we have been captivated and drawn in by the story and characters and we can get so wrapped up in this, it can almost be forgotten that it is just a television show. It has, in fact, become a bit of your life.
However, all good things must come to an end, and it seems final episodes fall into two camps, fantastic or downright awful. So, I thought I would take a look back through the archives and see what were TV’s best endings…
10. Dawson’s Creek
All Good Things… (and) …Must Come To An End (first broadcast 14th May 2003)
Now, before everybody goes crazy in the comment box below, let me make my case here. Dawson’s Creek was a megahit of a show when it came out in the late 90s. Although it wasn’t as realistic as the brilliant My So-Called Life, it filled the void that was left by it, and along with Buffy The Vampire Slayer became a cultural phenomenon of its time.
By the end of its run, it was lagging somewhat, but the final double episode brought together everything, for a brilliant tear jerker of an episode.
Flashing forward five years, the gang was reunited at the wedding of Dawson’s mother and old feelings come to a boil between Pacey, Dawson and Joey. Although considered the heart of the show what made the ending so great was another heart problem all together, the one that kills Jen off. It was a bold move to kill one of your main characters off and vanquish a totally happy ending, but the finale was all the better for having this happen, and if you didn’t cry, you have a heart of stone.
One For The Road (first broadcast 20th May 1993)
The place where everybody knows your name and where, for eleven seasons, we watched the comings and goings of our favourite Bostonians. Like all good final episodes, there are plenty of big events: a wedding, job opportunities and the return of that one great love that got away. All these events tied into what, essentially, was a love letter to this hugely successful show and a happy and honest ending for its characters.
When Diane comes back into Sam’s life, he has to make a decision as to whether to leave the bar and his friends or to move to California with her. With everything on the line, he makes the right decision and returns home to his first and true love, the bar.
This really summed up what was so great about this show. It was funny, it was sometimes ridiculous, but it was always heartfelt and honest, which is what is missing in a lot of sitcoms today.
The clincher of the episode, though? The bittersweet “Sorry, we’re closed.”And, with that, millions of fans’ hearts broke.
8. Twin Peaks
Beyond Life And Death (first broadcast 10th June 1991)
You either loved it or hated it, got it or didn’t, but there is surely no denying that Twin Peaks is a masterpiece of television in its own right.
With an amazing first season under its belt, season two jumped the shark a bit, by solving the mystery that was the essence of the show. After that, it descended into a muddling mess, viewing figures dropped fast and the show was cancelled, but not before David Lynch gave us the creepiest TV endings of all time. T
he final act of Cooper in the Black Lodge is insane and complicated and wonderful. It screams of Lynch’s visual style and narrative and doesn’t even let you in on the biggest twist of all, that Cooper had been fully taken over by BOB, who had been the evil lurking in the dark for the entire show.
The final scene, with Cooper looking in the mirror to BOB’s reflection and then smashing his head into it, is one that will stay burned in your mind forever.
Goodbye, Farewell And Amen (first broadcast 28th February 1983)
“It wasn’t a chicken.” That line signalled the final emotional downfall of one of TV’s most loved characters, Hawkeye Pierce, when he finally admits to himself and the audience that, although M*A*S*H made us laugh throughout its eleven seasons, its heart was about the war, the people who were lost in it, and the horrors that lurked underneath.
It was a brave move to make Hawkeye’s breakdown the main focus of the story, giving a rather bittersweet ending than an all-out happy one. But it summed up exactly what the show was all about.
6. Life On Mars
Episode 8 (first broadcast 10th April 2007)
When Life On Mars was first shown on the BBC, it was like a breath of fresh air on our screens. Original and engaging writing with a stellar cast and sci-fi twist? Yes,please! And for two magnificent seasons we were all left scratching our head as to what exactly had happened to Sam Tyler? Was it just a dream or something deeper?
So, when the final episode rolled around, there was no final answer, so to speak, (which then lead into the amazing Ashes To Ashes, but more on that later), but a decision by Sam as to whether his old modern life was worth going back to.
As we all know now, he decided the 70s were much better than the noughties and flung himself off a building to ensure he would never have to leave his colleagues again, becoming the first suicide in television history to actually make you feel happy.
5. Doctor Who
The End Of Time (first Broadcast 25th December 2009 and 1st January 2010)
Although not technically an ending (after all, can Doctor Who ever really end?), this really is more the end of an era, and thus deserves a place on this list.
When David Tennant announced he was going to leave the show, there was a wave of horror and disbelief among fans. He had won a place in their hearts and was well placed as being many people’s favourite Doctor. Tthankfully, his storyline wrapped up with a bang, rather than a whimper, and we were treated to an amazing two part episode that summed up exactly what made Tennant so beloved.
With The Master returning and The Time Lords attempting a comeback, only the Doctor (with a little help from Wilf) can save the world from ultimate disaster. Of course, we all knew it was coming, but when Wilf became the key to the Doctor’s death, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat, which grew when he went back and saw the places and people who had made him who he was.
Some people still just push Doctor Who into the kids TV category. These episodes are more than proof it is far more than that.
4. The Shield
Family Meeting (first broadcast 25th November 2008)
If ever I were to make a list of the best television characters ever created, then Vic Mackey would have to be in the top five. A shady cop you seem to always root for, even when he is doing such twisted, awful things, he always reminded me of a more slippery Tony Soprano, albeit one who actually had the law on his side.
However, it eventually would have to be that Vic paid for everything he had done, and the final season of The Shield slowly worked up to this moment, the moment the walls came crashing down, and they fell in spectacular fashion.
Vic ended up losing his friends, his family and the respect of everybody who had ever known him. He plea bargained his way out of prosecution and was sentenced to a fate worse than death or prison, a desk job where nobody wants anything to do with him.
But Mackey was not the type to go down without a fight, and the final scene, where he follows the sound of sirens, proves that he wasn’t quite finished yet.
3. Ashes To Ashes
Episode 8 (first broadcast 21st May 2010)
There are lots of reasons why I’ll remember the final episode of Ashes To Ashes, not least that it was shown the day before I got married. (Thanks for the early wedding gift, Beeb.) It was also one of the best hours of British television that I have watched, in recent memory, and that is all down to the genius that was Gene Hunt.
Big, brash Gene, who looks like he could take on the world and not give a hoot about anything else was, in fact, the guardian of all these police officers whose lives were cut short doing the job they loved.
When Alex finds the young Gene Hunt’s body, and with the realisation of what happened to him and their colleagues, your heart just breaks. It was truly moving, emotional and gut wrenching drama as its best, and although you sort of knew what was coming, when it hits you in face like that, you’re just left speechless.
A more than fitting end to one of the best television shows ever produced.
2. Blackadder Goes Forth
Goodbyeee (first broadcast 2nd November 1989)
I have a strong memory, growing up, of Blackadder. On a Sunday, my mum and I would go to the little shop attached to the local pub and buy some sweets and a real bottle (glass and everything) of Coke, and later that evening sit and watch Blackadder.
As a child, I loved it because of all the silliness, and as I got older, I feel in love with the sly comedy as much as the daftness.
The last episode, however, although completely over the top, with Blackadder pretending to go mad and put underpants on his head and pencils up his nose, has to be one of the greatest interpretations of the madness of war that has ever been put on film.
These mismatched bands of characters that we’ve seen through the ages are suddenly scared of the fate that awaits them. There are no more jokes, no more smiles, and we all know what’s going to happen as soon as they leave their trench.
That moment was done with such respect and class you completely forget that you’re watching a comedy programme, and when the final scene fades into the field of poppies, you’re struck by the immense sadness and pointlessness of it all.
Plenty of shows about wars have been on before and after this episode, but none of them really managed to sum it up so simply as this.
1. Six Feet Under
Everyone’s Waiting (first broadcast 21st August 2005)
Probably the most final of TV endings, the last episode of Six Feet Under started with a birth, rather than a death, but ended with the fate of the main characters of the show being revealed to the audience in the most amazing, touching way, and showed to the world how to end a show with dignity and class.
The episodes leading up to this finale were pretty heavy going, with the death of a lead character and the fallout that entailed. But this was just a step toward what the future was to hold for these characters. Those events were a lead up to how they would spend the rest of their lives, and rather than the audience just imaging what would happen to these characters after the credits rolled, we were shown.
The death of each character really summed up who they were, and although it always brings me to a blubbering wreck, there is comfort in the finality of it all. These people, whom we had followed and invested in, were getting full, sometimes tragic, sometimes wonderful lives, and we were allowed to witness this.
Stunningly shot, beautifully written and lovingly put onto the screen, this final episode sums up exactly why television shows deserve to be respected in the same way as movies.
So, that’s my top ten. Looking forward to seeing yours below!
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