So if you're like me, you've spent way too many 3 am's in a diner booth (substitute your stomping grounds here) in a "heightened sense of perception" and getting into one of a thousand possible geek debates. The one that always gets me going? Series finales: the ones that worked, the ones that sucked, the ones that flew too high, and the ones that were just a wee bit over-rated. Much to the chagrin of friends I've debated in the past (and with the understanding that this was in no way, shape, or form run by the rest of the BCTV team), I get to use my lofty title as "Television Editor" to throw out some lofty proclamations on the series-enders for Six Feet Under, How I Met Your Mother, Power, Lost, The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Shield, St. Elsewhere, Newhart, and Quantum Leap.
To accomplish this, I'll be unleashing the BCTV Finale-O-Meter, which runs on the Breaking Bad/Dexter engine. So the way this works is that each of the following series finales is assigned a score of Dexter (1) to Breaking Bad (10). On this scale, Dexter exemplifies the worst because, well, it is the worst. The series finale appeared to have taken everything it learned from the series' entire run and wiped its butt with it. As far as I'm concerned, the finale was a fever dream of Deb's (Jennifer Carpenter) and we were left with a righteously huge cliffhanger. Walking out of the hospital with Deb's body and no one says anything? Getting that close to a storm without getting torn apart? Dexter (Michael C. Hall) as a lumberjack. It still makes me sick thinking about it.
On the opposite end, we have Breaking Bad: a series that ended so well that Vince Gilligan decided to end it twice. I was more than content with where "Felina" left things, but then El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie found a way to add an additional "extended episode" that not only enhanced the original finale but also left viewers rethinking a number of assumptions they had about the Bryan Cranston/Aaron Paul-starring series. So here it is, the final word on the following series finale so you can go back to debating the best seasons of Supernatural:
"Lost" (8.5): Written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, "The End" was everything the series needed and kept the series creators' promise that it wouldn't be written off as a dream or aliens. It's simple: each of them is connected by these moments and all meet at the "limbo" fixed point when their lives are over. When the last one arrives, they all move on to the next "thing" together. There you go. What's the problem? Beautiful.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (8): "Chosen" worked because it set up the future nicely by forcing our heroes to have to move on (destroying the Hellmouth and Sunnydale will tend to do that), while blowing open the franchise for future spinoff possibilities. A world filled with "woke" Slayers? How have we not had a series spinoff yet?
"The Shield" (8): The perfect moral comeuppance for Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey wasn't going to jail or our in a blaze of glory. It was how viewers found him in the series finale: riding a desk and shuffling papers, with the threat of jail for all of his sins hanging over his head if he gets out of line. How long can a man out of control be kept on a leash? About as long as it takes for him to grab his gun and head out.
"The Sopranos" (7.5): Okay, artistically the ending to "Made in America" was brilliant. That said, I'm not buying into the "big mystery" about what happened to Tony (James Gandolfini) after the screen went black. For me, it was obvious: he lived but his life will be constant paranoia. Unless I buy into the "random shooting" theory, there's nothing about what had transpired leading up to that scene that had me feeling Tony was in danger.
"Six Feet Under" (7.5): For no other reason, this beautiful moving painting of a series finale earns high marks for the use of Sia's "Breathe Me" and the heartbreaking scenes where we saw what he future had in store for David (Hall) and Keith (Mathew St. Patrick). Lauren Ambrose's can tell an entire story with her face, truly amazing.
"Power" (7/Incomplete): Much like Walter White aka Heisenberg (Cranston), James "Ghost" St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) may have shuffled off our mortal coil by the time the credit rolled on "Exactly How We Planned," but he did it on his terms. The reason why we're listing an "Incomplete" is that his impressive final moves have actually set the foundation for four spinoff series. While that can be a risk to the original series' long-term rep, even two successful spinoffs would cement Power as a franchise player.
"Quantum Leap" (6): They almost had me with "Mirror Image," because it was on pace to be an impressive series finale that answered just enough questions to be satisfying while leaving enough on the plate for a future return. I mean, how can you go wrong with Bruce McGill as "God" and learning that Sam (Scott Bakula) can actually control his leaps. Great, right? So why the "f**k you" at the end to tell us he never went home? Had a bad day? It felt like a cheap, last-minute play at the heartstrings. The series deserved better and needs a streaming series restart (no reboot, we want more Bakula).
"Newhart" (5.5): I'm not a big fan of stories (and especially finales) that pretty much wipe clean anything a viewer may have liked about a series, which is exactly what "The Last Newhart" did by making the entire series nothing but a dream. It earns the ".5" because of the person who was doing the dreaming: Dr. Bob Hartley from The Bob Newhart Show, along with his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). So making it a pseudo-sequel to the other Newhart classic sitcom was a nice touch.
"St. Elsewhere" (5): Having the entire hospital drama end up being the dreams and imagination of Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen) was another bold move, but just like Newhart? That's a ton of emotional investment on the viewers' parts over the course of six seasons only to be told that it's all been nothing more than a fictional story within a fictional story. Again, I respect the artistic choice and consider the move a "beautiful disaster," but I can appreciate the pushback.
"How I Met Your Mother" (3): "Last Forever" was an ironic title considering how the "Mother" from the title was pretty much relay-raced through an entire storyline life. Plus, who didn't want Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) together? And Ted (Josh Radnor) was still a tool. It felt like an at-gunpoint course correction to make someone happy, but I'm not sure who those people are since the reaction was (at best) lukewarm.
Special Mention: "Loving" (9.5): This was a series that embraced it's daytime soap opera cheesiness and dove head-first into camp land. While the backstory is typically soap opera-convoluted, "The Loving Murders" was a serial killer storyline meant to kill off all the characters not making the move to the new series, The City. So for weeks, ABC promoted "The Corinth Killer's" kills like they were big family events. It was twisted, bizarre, tasteless, and truly, truly awesome. RIP Loving, you went out in a blaze of cheese and blood.