Coming to the end of a show that's been built up for years can be an emotional thing—how could a writers' room ruin it?
Think back to when you came to the end of your favorite television series. Recall the feelings of satisfaction, or perhaps disappointment. There’s a reason why series finales have the power to emit such a strong emotional response from us. No two final episodes are the same, but the common denominator is us—the viewers.
The relationship between viewers and television shows used to be seen as mindless media consumption.
Turns out, a connection between the audience and a television show can be identified as a parasocial relationship. This type of bond is classified by a one-sided connection to a celebrity or a certain type of media. When we are let down by the ending of a series, it can make us feel like we are going through something known as a parasocial breakup. Naturally, no one wants to go through a breakup. But there is something that may ease the hurt of a breakup, and that is closure.
Check out this interesting video from Wisecrack that explores the aspects of what makes a horrible (or successful) television finale.
Exploring endings that worked and flopped
With a television series, viewers get to know the characters as if they were friends. This is what creates the parasocial bond, and is why we feel so betrayed when the ending isn’t anything like we expected it to be. More specifically, if a show ends on an ambiguous note rather than one that makes sense. We want to see where our character friends end up. So when it feels like we have to guess, there’s a certain emptiness in our hearts—much like when someone breaks up with us but doesn’t give an explanation that we feel is viable. Ambiguity in finales has sparked controversy on the internet many times.
From Breaking Bad to The Sopranos, fans of the show took to their computers to express their opinions, and it wasn’t necessarily uplifting for the writers of the shows. The main reason for such an uproar was the element of uncertainty surrounding their protagonists.
On the flip side, one show that is said to have gotten it right was Six Feet Under. Fans got to see their beloved characters’ fate in the end. How satisfying.
Aside from not providing closure, another way to ruin a series finale is an unexpected twist. One of the most notorious twists that ruined a show for many fans was in Game of Thrones, where Daenerys’ character completely diverged from the person everyone knew and loved.
Audiences want to watch a finale that confirms that everything leading up to this point wasn’t for nothing. If viewers feel like what they invested in for years did not matter, the satisfaction goes out the window. Consistency in the writing and in the characters really is key.
How to craft a solid ending
So, what makes an acceptable ending? Try looking back on why we fell in love with a show in the first place.
When writers know their viewers want to feel that same happiness they experienced when they originally started, good finales happen. A prime testament to that is The Good Place. Being brought back to the first model of the original good place and seeing characters reconnect with their first season interests was cathartic.
And regardless of how you feel about Tony Soprano's last moments on screen, they are consistent with the rest of his life. He is with his family, trying to balance the life of a mobster with the life of a father and husband. And that life is filled with uncertainty and danger, just like those tense seconds leading up to that famous cut to black. What came next for Tony Soprano? No one can say for sure. This ending was memorable and tonally consistent with the rest of the show.
Stepping back, try to think of it like this—why focus on the bad parts of a breakup when you can recollect the good times? Fans don’t want to depart with their favorite shows with unexpected plot twists or a feeling of unfinished business between characters. They want to revel in the fact that the end of something is bittersweet. Especially if they formed a special bond to a show for multiple years.
What are your favorite or least favorite series finales and why? Share with us down in the comments.
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