On television, few moments hold as much anticipation and potential as a series finale. It culminates years of storytelling, character development, and emotional investment. Some falter, some eke it out, just barely wrapping up the storyline, but very few can deliver a finale that genuinely wows the audience and leaves them with a satisfying conclusion. These ten TV series serve as shining examples of how to conclude a successful TV series the right way.
1. Breaking Bad (2008-2013)
Breaking Bad follows the transformation of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer. In the series finale, titled ‘Felina,’ Walter returns to tie up loose ends and seek redemption. He orchestrates a plan to ensure the safety of his former partner, Jesse Pinkman, and confronts his enemies, ultimately meeting his demise.
The finale perfectly concludes Walter’s journey, offering closure while leaving a lasting impact on viewers. Walt’s actions have finally caught up to him, and a bittersweet final scene where Walter looks satisfied despite his meth empire ruining his life and causing his family to hate him. The choice to play the ‘Baby Blue’ track by Badfinger is pure creative brilliance.
2. Better Call Saul (2015-2022)
Better Call Saul serves as a prequel to Breaking Bad, focusing on the morally ambiguous lawyer, Jimmy McGill, who eventually becomes the sleazy Saul Goodman. While BCS was a slow burn, it slowly built up all the gripping tension and brilliant character development reminiscent of its predecessor. While this is a highly contested opinion, I would argue Better Call Saul delivers an even more impressive ending than Breaking Bad.
In the final episode titled ‘Saul Gone,’ a clever play on words as always, we finally see crooked Saul become morally redeemed in the eyes of Kim, and it costs him everything. A sacrifice of this size was the only way Saul could make up for all the destruction he’s caused. He will spend the rest of his life paying for it.
The finale also provided a satisfying romantic conclusion, despite being simultaneously heartbreaking. In Breaking Bad, though Skylar was a victim of Walt’s actions, the series set her up to be an annoying shrew with few admirable qualities. Kim Wexler’s character arc more than compensates for that, providing evidence that fans of these series aren’t against female characters per se. They simply prefer those with depth and substance over the ones who, unfortunately, come across as exasperating.
3. Mr. Robot (2015-2019)
Mr. Robot centers around Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity expert by day and vigilante hacker by night, embroiled in a vast conspiracy to bring down corrupt institutions. The series finale, titled ‘Whoami,’ reveals the true nature of Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder and unravels the intricate web of the series’ overarching plot. It delivers a mind-bending conclusion that subverts the viewers’ expectations.
The best part of this show is that the final season unravels many things you thought you understood and flips them on their heads. The revelation about Elliot and his father’s true identities makes for a remarkable re-watch, as you can finally understand all the previous events in their proper context.
4. The Americans (2013-2018)
Set during the Cold War, The Americans follows two Soviet intelligence agents living undercover as a married couple in the United States. In the final season’s culmination, the series finale titled ‘START,’ agents Elizabeth and Philip Jennings face the increasing threat of exposure by the FBI. Tensions rise as their daughter Paige grapples with their true identities, adding emotional depth to the finale.
The climax forces the family to make a pivotal choice that will shape their future and tests the complexities of love, duty, and sacrifice. The finale provides a satisfying conclusion to the suspenseful narrative, exploring the moral dilemmas of espionage and leaving room for contemplation.
5. 12 Monkeys (2015-2018)
Based on the film of the same name, 12 Monkeys follows a time traveler named James Cole who travels from a post-apocalyptic future to prevent the release of a deadly virus. In the series finale titled ‘The Beginning,’ James Cole and his allies confront the Army of the 12 Monkeys in a high-stakes battle to prevent the release of a deadly virus. The episode delves into the series’ complex mythology, exploring the virus’s origins and the consequences of altering the timeline.
It delivers thrilling revelations, heart-wrenching sacrifices, and thought-provoking explorations of fate and free will, providing a satisfying and impactful conclusion to the time-travel narrative. By far the most underrated series to ever grace our television screens, the series finale will bring you tears and leave you in awe as you immediately want to re-watch the entire series from the beginning. That, or you’ll spend hours online Googling various quantum mechanics concepts like ‘observer effect,’ ‘superposition,’ and ‘entanglement.’
6. Dark (2017-2020)
Dark, a German science fiction thriller, explores the interconnectedness of four interconnected families and the presence of time travel within their small town. In the finale, aptly titled ‘The Paradise,’ characters from different timelines converge to confront the mysteries of the time loop in Winden. The concept of the bootstrap paradox is explored as characters grapple with their roles in perpetuating the cycle. The finale exposes secrets and resolves the complex connections between characters.
It provides a satisfying conclusion, addressing the philosophical themes of time, determinism, and free will while offering closure to the intricate mysteries of the series. Countless audiences swear up and down that it’s one of the best science-fiction series of all time. As one viewer put it, ‘For a crazy science fiction story, it’s very well done. The fact that they started the tv show already knowing the end and how long it would be (similarly to Breaking Bad) definitely helps.’
7. The Sopranos (1997-2007)
The Sopranos revolves around Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mobster navigating the challenges of balancing his criminal life with his personal struggles. The series finale, ‘Made in America,’ famously ends with a controversial and ambiguous cut to black, leaving Tony’s fate unresolved. The finale sparks endless discussions and interpretations, cementing its status as one of television’s most memorable and debated endings.
One television enthusiast says, ‘Maybe an unpopular opinion, but I thought The Sopranos finale was brilliant.’ You either love or hate it, but from start to finish, The Sopranos series is nothing short of iconic storytelling that fundamentally transformed television as a storytelling format, ushering in the golden age of TV.
8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows the adventures of a young woman chosen to battle supernatural forces, including vampires and demons. In the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled ‘Chosen,’ Buffy and her friends unite to face the ultimate battle against evil at the Hellmouth. The episode explores empowerment, sacrifice, and friendship themes while showcasing Buffy’s growth as a leader. With dramatic confrontations and unexpected twists, the finale provides resolution to character arcs and concludes the series on a satisfying note, emphasizing the enduring legacy of the Slayer.
9. Mad Men (2007-2015)
Mad Men explores the advertising industry and societal changes of the 1960s through the eyes of ad executive Don Draper and his colleagues. In the Mad Men finale, ‘Person to Person,’ the characters navigate the changing landscape of the 1970s. Don Draper embarks on a journey of self-discovery, eventually finding himself at a retreat center on the California coast. The finale beautifully captures the essence of the series, delving into themes of identity, redemption, and the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
10. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
Parks and Recreation follows the hilarious and heartwarming antics of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation Department, led by the passionate and optimistic Leslie Knope. In the series finale, ‘One Last Ride,’ the show fast-forwards to the future to catch up with the beloved characters and their continued adventures. It provides a heartfelt and nostalgic conclusion, celebrating the power of friendship, community, and the enduring legacy of Leslie Knope. Many fans consider Parks and Recreation the gold standard of comedic television finales.
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