In Honor of the Series Finale of “Fringe,” Counting Down the 5 Best Final Episodes of Television

By | January 17, 2013

So tomorrow night will see the series finale of the sporadically great, occasionally frustrating Fox sci-fi show Fringe, which somehow managed to stay on the air for five seasons despite always being on the ratings bubble, and really struggling in its last couple seasons on Friday nights. [No real surprise though, since Friday is where otherwise good shows go to die.]

But that’s a topic for another article, as I will be reviewing the series finale, and also writing about the show’s past seasons, later on.

For now, let’s countdown what I consider to be the 5 best series endings for TV shows I’ve watched. [Although you might as well call it the best ever, since I watch everything.] Because it’s sad that (all too often) a great show’s worst episode is its last one. For every show that nailed the landing, there have been 10 that really botched it in the home stretch (Seinfeld, well, the list is endless really…). Great shows create a satisfying ending that ties up all the loose ends (Rome, The Wire). But I consider these five endings to do a little better than just tying things up. These are shows that I think got something really, really right…

5. The Sopranos…I know, I know, David Chase’s singular, genre-busting drama supposedly peaked in its second season, and supposedly had a bad final one. Of course, that final season was also capped off by one of the most polarizing endings in TV history: the infamous cut-to-black shot that left many fans scratching their heads, calling their cable providers, and asking each other “what the hell just happened?” It frustrated the hell out of them, but I thought the ending was really gutsy and brilliant, leaving it up to the fans to decide Tony Soprano’s ultimate fate.

4. King of the Hill…The only non-drama on the list. “Well, what’s so special about it?” Fox’s undervalued animated comedy felt more real than most sitcoms. [Nothing that happened on this show was something that couldn’t have happened in real life.] And what better way to celebrate the end of that? How about just a regular episode where the gang got together and had a barbecue? This episode actually was just a regular episode since the creators had no idea that Fox was canceling the show, but they got to go back and do a final scene where long-running mysteries are solved (Boomhauer’s job is being a Texas Ranger), new characters finally fit properly into the fold, and Hank passes the barbecue baton to Bobby, finally showing his son some acceptance. A perfect, plain-spoken ending to a low-key gem of a show, and a nice representation of the show’s atmosphere too. I think even Hank Hill would approve.

3. Brotherhood…Before Homeland came along and started sucking up all the critical praise, Showtime’s best drama ever was this underrated gem, about two brothers (one in the state house of representatives, one in the Irish mob) on a collision course in Providence, Rhode Island. This ending is immensely satisfying, bringing everything back full-circle and to a proper close. We feel like everything has changed, yet some of the core characters are in very similar situations to when we met them. This is even more impressive considering Showtime didn’t tell the Brotherhood team they were canceling the series, and they didn’t know this would be their final episode. So many great shows get cancelled prematurely, and never get a final episode (Deadwood) or are left with an inappropriate cliffhanger that forever leaves the audience wanting more (24, Awake, Flash Forward, Bent, hell, you could name a hundred shows here). And it’s astounding that one show managed to create the perfect final episode, while still having their fate up in the air.

2. Lost…Speaking of polarizing endings, this one still inspires a ferocious debate. And I think that alone should qualify it for the list. [Who even remembers how Friends or Mad About You ended? Who even cares? If people are still debating it years later, that alone qualifies as a success.] But unlike other shows where the debate seems to range around whether a show’s twist ending sucked (St. Elmo’s Fire) or really sucked (Roseanne), Lost’s surprise filled finale hour was excellent. It was emotional, action-packed, did resolve some of the show’s mysteries (although not all the ones the fans wanted…I’m still not sure what show they were watching for 6 years, because Lost was never going to answer everything), and provided a fitting conclusion for the characters we had come to know and love. Lost was never really about the island, or the mysteries, it was a character drama that had the occasional fantasy element to it, and the ending got that point across beautifully. The final shot (a mirror image of the show’s first shot) juuuuuust nearly got this cynical blogger to cry. I can’t say it enough: moving and beautiful.

1. The Shield…A knockout from beginning to end. The beginning being iconic corrupt cop Vic Mackey cruising to his latest encounter, riding badass into the abyss, and the ending being the greatest final scene in TV history. Along the way, we get fitting endings to most of the supporting characters, a devastating betrayal delivered to Vic’s righthand man Ronnie (who Vic delivered to the Feds to save himself), and a heartbreaking ending for Shane and his family that still makes me shiver. Then we get treated to a few great shots of Vic being made to suffer as an office drone stripped of the adrenaline of the street (his real hell), but the final shot is nearly redemptive, as our favorite anti-hero goes out as a man of action. As Michael Chiklis put it in an interview afterwards, “The Shield may be done, but Vic Mackey isn’t.”

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