Welcome to The Other Five Count, a non-wrestling version of Ben Morse’s monthly masterpiece. Each month, the staff will come together to count down their favorite movie, TV, music and sports topics, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
It is May, a time usually reserved for season finales of our favorite TV shows. Over the last ten years, TV seasons have become a bit less rigid and flow year round, but for the most part, many still follow the traditional September to May schedule. In this edition of The Other Five Count, some PTBN staff members share memories of their favorite season and series finales!
Justin Rozzero (Season Finales)
5. “Who Shot Mr. Burns (Part One)” – Simpsons
Still in the midst of their hottest streak of greatness, The Simpsons closed out season six with one of their most infamous episodes, a story that basically a spoof of the old Dallas finale about who shot JR Ewing. Mr. Burns was his douchebag self, tapping into an oil well that the elementary school had discovered, stealing all of the precious material and robbing the school of a windfall. Due to his absurd rigging system, Burns ended up wrecking a majority of the town, angering many of its citizens. The episode ended with a mysterious assailant shooing Burns and Marge Simpson claiming it could have been anybody as Burns had pissed off a lot of people since the oil fiasco had started. This was a great cliffhanger and used Burns in his best role: selfish prick and also showed off the deep roster of backup characters that existed in the town. Season seven would open with a resolution of the case, identifying little Maggie Simpson as the shooter.
4. “Seinfeld” – Curb Your Enthusiasm
I had to ensure Curb was included somewhere in this list and narrowed it down to two options. My runner-up appears later in this column. Coming off arguably its best season, many wondered where Larry David would take the show in season seven. Then, the news broke: the entire Seinfeld cast would be reunited during a season long storyline of Curb. Basically, Larry was trying to win back his estranged wife Cheryl and wanted to show his ambition by delivering a long awaited Seinfeld reunion…with Cheryl in the cast. Early in the season, Larry met quite a few challenges: breaking up with his cancer patient girlfriend, convincing the cranky Seinfeld cast to join the reunion and keep in contact with Cheryl to ensure she would stick around long enough for the payoff. After all the usual twists and turns, we arrived at the finale, where Larry found himself in the role of George Costanza after he had yet another issue with Jason Alexander, this time after changing the script out of jealousy. That bombed and Larry was removed from the project, which ended up being a smash success…without him, of course. The episode ends with Larry and Cheryl reuniting and happy before Larry finds out that Cheryl doesn’t “respect wood”, leading to another trivial argument that would lead to their official divorce. This season was a dream come true for Seinfeld diehards and it was paid off with a mini Seinfeld reunion episode within the finale, finally giving us a little bit of closure all these years later.
3. “The Opposite” – Seinfeld
Again, one of my goals here was to get my favorite all time sitcom represented and I decided to go with the one that best encapsulated what the show was all about: tying together various running storylines and delivering a laugh per minute throughout. After years of being the loser of the gang, George Costanza decides to start acting against all of his instincts, since they have always been wrong. As a result, he becomes quite successful, picking up girls and landing a dream job with the New York Yankees. On the flip side, Elaine Benes hits a rough streak of luck, starting with getting dumped by her boyfriend because she stopped for candy before rushing to the hospital after hearing he was in an accident. The candy was her downfall again later, as due to a mouthful of Jujyfruits, she was unable to remind her sick boss to take his handkerchief to a big merger meeting with a Japanese firm. As a result, he couldn’t shake hands, offending the investors and blowing the merger, which led to Elaine losing her cushy job. It was clear that Elaine and George had swapped roles and throughout all this Jerry was coined “Even Steven” because things always even out for him, including his friends seesawing between success and failure. And oh by the way…the D plot of this episode was also fantastic, as Kramer goes on a book tour for coffee table book about coffee tables, ending with him spilling hot coffee all over Kathy Lee Gifford. This episode was Seinfeld at its very best and an iconic show in a very impressive catalog.
2. “Casino Night” – The Office (US)
Hands down, this was easily the best season finale in the illustrious run of the US installment of The Office. After a short, rough first season, the show followed up with one of the greatest seasons in TV history and at the forefront was the relationship of Jim and Pam. For 27 episodes, we have watched Jim pine for the receptionist, and we were fairly confident that she felt the same way at her core. The episode ends with Jim finally making his move and kissing Pam. The two would stand and stare at each other as we faded out for a summer of angst, waiting to see what would happen to them. The rest of the episode was fantastic as well, with Michael trying to juggle two dates while also peacocking around as a stud, natch. It was fun to see the rest of the cast let loose and show off their chops as well, mainly Kevin working the poker table before ultimately losing to Phyllis in embarrassing fashion. This episode was at the very core of what the US Office was all about and if you had to pick one episode to show a novice as to why this show was so awesome at its peak, this is at the very top of the list.
1. “Always” – Friday Night Lights
The GOAT. Hands down. The greatest series finale to ever exist, it had it all. We got full closure in a very realistic way. Everything was paid off, everyone moved on to a believable future and we were left feeling like life in Dillon still goes on to this day. The closing montage was epic and beautiful all at once and left you wanting nothing more (other than infinity more seasons, of course). If you watched it, you already know. If you haven’t watched this series from beginning to end, you should be embarrassed to have robbed yourself from such great television. Sign up for Netflix or order the DVDs through Amazon (via the link on the right hand side of this page) and enjoy the ride. Clear eyes, full hearts…can’t lose.
Ben Morse (Series Finales)
5. “One for the Road” – Cheers
I barely remember Cheers as a non-syndicated show given that it ended before I turned 12, but being from Boston, I had it ingrained somehow in my upbringing and definitely recall the 90-minute series finale from 1993. It didn’t break ground or anything, but the episode revisited—and wrapped up—the long-running Sam and Diane relationship satisfactorily then gave short but sweet send-offs to all the other characters, whom even as a relative neophyte I knew I’d miss. The true beauty of the thing though lies for me in the final minutes, when Norm notes to Sam that Boston and the bar will always be his one true love, and then Sam gives the nice nod to the picture of Coach and turns out all the lights.
4. “Not Fade Away” – Angel
I will always put this one on these lists because it took a huge risk and dared to be different. Angel never got the ratings love that Buffy the Vampire Slayer did—and Buffy never pulled in huge ratings itself—so Joss Whedon and his crew knew that every season finale could be their final episode (and in fact Whedon has said he has treated every finale for every show he’s ever done this way). By the time the show reached the end of season five, it had become pretty unrecognizable from what it started out as, partly due to natural evolution, but partly as a result of trying to switch things up for the network. In the last moments, with key characters already having died, the survivors make their way back to the alley where it all began and stand poised for an epic battle with a demon horde. With the seconds ticking away, I wondered how they would pull this off, but instead, Angel responds to his crew’s questions of what they do next by calling dibs on the dragon, saying “Let’s got to work”—and then we fade to black, never seeing what happens next.
Ending a show on a cliffhanger takes serious balls, and nine times out of 10 might not work, but I loved it here and thought it worked perfectly with the message that Angel would never get a happily ever after.
3. “Our Thanks” – Scrubs
This could be construed as a controversial pick, since Scrubs ended up shambling through a ninth-pseudo season after it had been thought to be cancelled, but to me, the wrap of season eight represents the true conclusion to the show, and stands right up there in the pantheon of great series finales.
The finale of Scrubs did everything the series at its best did so well: mixing humor with serious subject matter, giving nice nods to fans who had watched the entire thing without being overwhelming, and sitting on the strength of its ensemble. J.D. has near-perfect moments with every other member of the cast, ranging from heartfelt to hilarious based on their history, and then you’ve got the one-two punch of over 40 past guest stars and supporting cast members saying their cameo goodbyes and a beautiful “what could be” montage—one of my favorite storytelling devices on TV finales—set to Peter Gabriel covering “The Book of Love.”
2. “The Last One” – Friends
Objectively, I have no problem ranking Friends this high; it’s the rare sitcom that evolved over time both in terms of characters and humor, never got stale, and managed to go out on top despite being a decade into its run. However, I don’t have a tremendous personal attachment to the show…but my wife does. Here’s why Megan puts Friends as her all-time favorite series finale:
“I like that everything was wrapped up very nicely with a little bow. I liked that the couple you wanted to get together got together—spoiler alert: it was Ross and Rachel. For me it felt very full circle; it was finished and it was done. Some people will talk about making a movie, but I’m like, ‘Eh.’ It ended and so did its moment in time. Everybody’s arcs ended up where they should have. You’re welcome.”
1. “Always” – Friday Night Lights
One of my favorite television shows of all-time, definitely my favorite series finale of all-time; it’s rare to find a single arc or even episode in FNL’s five-season run that doesn’t prove satisfying in some way, so the expectations on the big finish seemed near impossible, but like a Matt Saracen end zone bomb, it connected perfectly.
At the center of it all, as it should be, you’ve got Coach Taylor and Mrs. Coach Tami, the rock around which the series has revolved no matter who’s taking the field, and whether she’ll finally get to put her professional ambitions before his or if TV’s most supportive couple will finally rupture keeps you guessing right up until the sweetest possible resolution in the mall. Over on the side, you’ve got the series-long romance between Julie and Matt poised to reach a head one way or the other, Riggins attempting to figure out his future and—oh by the way—a possible state championship for the Lions.
In a wonderfully-written, perfectly-directed hour and change of television, just about every major character from over the course of the series gets at least one great moment and some sense of conclusion to their story, as the final brilliantly shot championship game segues perfectly into a montage of where everybody ends up that will have you on your feet applauding by the end.
I miss Friday Night Lights every single time I find myself without anything good on the DVR, but when talk came around of a movie that would continue it, I honestly rooted against because there’s no possible way I can see they could have ended the story of Dillon, Texas and its residents any better than they did.
Aaron George (Series Finales)
While sitting down to make this list I realized that many of my favorite shows had less than stellar series finales. But for every Dexter and Rome, there’s shows from this list which I hope will make you feel uneasy on the inside. That’s the goal here right?
5. “Exeunt Omnes” – Oz
THAT MOTHERFUCKER’S DEAD! And with that one of the most intense, bitter feuds in television came to an end. The Beecher/Schillinger story, that was set up in the very first episode of this groundbreaking series, ends in spectacular fashion here, and while season six fell short for many viewers, few could claim that the finale wasn’t shocking and on many levels (not all) satisfying. As a Shakespeare buff (not Bagwell) I loved that the inmates were performing Macbeth throughout the final season and the end product is the best Shakespeare play on TV until Dr.Tobias Funke’s Much Ado About Nothing on Arrested Development (boy they didn’t leave that one alone…). The cyclical aspects of the final episode may have annoyed some, but I found it fit right in with the overall theme that prison just goes on. The impossibility of change and rehabilitation permeates until the very end of Oz, and it would have been a major cop out to deviate from that and give anyone a “Happy Ending.”I think people forget about Oz as it’s really the grandfather in the long lineage that continued with The Sopranos and lives to this day with shows like Breaking Bad. It also is the only show to give us a full frontal view of Dylan McKay’s junk (I hate the word penis). Oz was the granddaddy of them all, and if you can get past all the religion and the rape (and boy was there a lot of that) Oz still stands up to this day. Side note: is it wrong that I’m more bothered with the religion than the rape? At least I can laugh as a guy like Simon Adebisi puts on headphones as he dominates a young Italian man. Is it wrong to laugh? Am I a sociopath? Are you still reading?
4. “Finale” – Smallville
They put him in the suit. He flew. They played the damn music. I cried. My ex-girlfriend was an extra. Let’s move on.
3. “Felina” – Breaking Bad
I contemplated leaving this one off as I figured everyone would have it and it’s kind of a cliché at this point, but fuck it, this one is all kinds of awesome. I love shows that make me feel scared for the characters at every moment of the show. As much of a bastard as Walter White was I still wanted him to succeed right until the very end. I think from the moment that Hank Shreader hit the deck a few weeks earlier my heart was permanently racing and I’m not even upset about the potential years taken off my life from an overactive heart. The payoff was that good. I’m not sure I can add anything that hasn’t already been said about this one. I will say that, as a father myself, the scene where Walter says goodbye to a daughter that will never know or remember him is beautifully heartbreaking. They even managed to change my mind about Jesse, who up until the finale I wanted to be horribly raped by Simon Adebisi (or maybe Clark Kent…or Danny DeVito), but I smiled as he drove to freedom and hopefully a new life. What sets Breaking Bad apart, for me, is that it’s a world where there are real and true consequences, and if something has to happen, it does. If someone has no way out of a situation, they don’t get out of the situation. It’s a show with balls (I hate the word testicles). The finale lived up to the show’s legacy, which in many ways was impossible and completed the study of change that was foreshadowed in Walter White’s first chemistry class.
2. “Christmas Specials” – The Office (UK)
Oh look at this asshole who thinks he’s better than us because he likes the UK version of The Office. What a wanker! Oh look he used a British colloquialism he clearly thinks he’s better than us. I think when you’re comparing the UK and US versions of the show you generally tend to prefer the one that you saw first. For me that will always be the Ricky Gervais led Wenham Hogg Office (Although I do rather enjoy the American version as well). For me, one of the huge advantages of the British version of the Office is that they were trying to tell a very concise story and instead of being a marathon series of 201 episodes, they managed to tell their story in seven. That seventh and final episode (dubbed a special) is perfect in every way. It’s as hard to watch as it’s ever been (seeing David Brent cling to his “celebrity” makes me put my head under the blankets in shame) it also provides some great laughs (Nellie Mandela the dog) and gives us one of the greatest music videos known to man. The heart of the episode is what makes it truly stand out. Watching David Brent finally become a man and be able to stand up and not worry about his friends not liking him is a beautiful moment. Never has a “fuck off” resonated so hard and been so earned. The culmination of the Tim and Dawn story will force even the strongest of men to sniffle and claim they have something in their eyes (Yes even Brutus The Barber Beefcake). It’s just a great example of less is more and the stunning simplicity with which they told this story should be taught in TV school. That’s a thing right?
1. “Everyone’s Waiting” – Six Feet Under
It took me forever to sit down and watch this show. Everyone talked and talked about how great it was but I couldn’t see how some creepy ass show about dead people could be entertaining. So when I finally did it I was amazed by how much it sucked me in and in actuality how uplifting this little show about a funeral home was. There’s so much good stuff throughout the series, the acting and writing are top notch (you would never believe Michael C. Hall could carry a show about being a serial killer) but it’s the series’ balls (Again?) that never failed to impress. Case in point what happens in the third to last episode of the series (Pen pen penultimate? Also why do we need another word for second to last?)#pretentious. But any other show would hold off until the series finale to hit their viewers with such a blow. Instead over the last few episodes we have no choice but to DEAL with what’s happened. Which I guess is kind of the point of the entire show. It leads us to a finale which succeeds in every way possible and gives us more closure than any other series ever has. The final five minutes are maybe the most beautiful moments of television I’ve ever watched and gives you a level of catharsis that will move and awe the most jaded of viewers. There’s something to be said about a show that makes you want to go and hug your family. And it’s amazing to me to this day that show about death can truly reveal how brief but precious our own lives can be.
Glenn Butler (Season Finales)
Honorable Mention: “The Spa Who Loved Me” — Sledge Hammer!, Season One
The first season finale of the parody police procedural is memorable for one blessedly fantastic gag. Throughout the episode, Hammer is pursuing a stolen nuclear warhead that turns out to be hidden in a hot tub in an LA fitness center. As the timer is ticking down and Hammer has to try to deactivate it, he turns to the camera and delivers his trademark catchphrase: “Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” Smash cut to a mushroom cloud engulfing the city of Los Angeles. See you next fall!
5. “Z’Ha’Dum” – Babylon 5, Season Three
Babylon 5 has the distinction among sci-fi shows of its time of having had most of its major plot points (and many of its minor ones) mapped out years in advance by the show’s creator (and by the third season its sole writer) J. Michael Straczynski. We’re used to prestige shows of any genre with heavily serialized story arcs these days, but Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine were two of the biggest shows on US broadcast TV to pave the way during the 1990s. Within the structure of the show are what he called WHAM episodes, when the arc of the show looms particularly heavily on the proceedings, and by the end of the third season there was a WHAM episode coming almost every week. “Z’Ha’Dum” is also a season finale in the oft-used “everything going to hell” genre; by the end of the hour, the Shadows have declared their intent to spread war between the galactic civilizations and made their appeal to human xenophobia, the White Star has been destroyed, Londo’s ambitions have attracted the attention of his superiors, Captain Sheridan is missing and presumed dead, and Mister Garibaldi is just plain missing.
Babylon 5 was also very good at providing denouement to its episodes and particularly its seasons; in the season-ending monologue here, G’Kar reminds us that all of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams; against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain. Ponder that for a while, folks.
4. “Safe Home” – NYPD Blue, Season Six
As NYPD Blue developed from its early seasons to the institution it would prove to be, it became the story of Detective Sipowicz’s journey through a ludicrous list of Job-like afflictions (For a brief overview of some of The Trials of Sipowicz, see PTBN’s look at our favorite TV dads). He lost a son, he lost fellow detectives who’d come to be his closest friends, and his alcoholism was a constant part of his story. At the time of the sixth season finale he had just lost his wife, an assistant DA gunned down in court.
When the episode begins, things are Significantly Wrong because of the recent tragedy. Danny (Ricky Schroeder, finishing his first season on the show and still not really fitting in) isn’t on stakeout investigating a crime, he’s on stakeout following Sipowicz around while he takes his son Theo to school and isolates himself from all other contact with the outside world. There’s no secretary in the precinct office, because John was also shot and isn’t out of the hospital yet. The case of the week is connected to the shooting that put all of this in motion, but even that takes a backseat to the character drama and the sense that the show simply can’t operate the way it’s meant to until Sipowicz can get back to work. After he drops Theo off at school, he returns to his apartment and, it seems, just sits on his couch stewing until he has an opportunity to brusquely turn away offers of support or it’s time to pick Theo up again, whichever comes first. When Danny does convince Sipowicz to come to the precinct and help question a suspect – much like the show itself, Danny can’t fulfill his function in the show without his partner there – Sipowicz extracts a confession from the unsuspecting guy mostly with the power of his glares. Sipowicz can glare with the best of them any time in this show, since Dennis Franz honed his “barely-concealed rage” skills to a fine point in the role, but his glare game gets a particular showcase here.
The next scene is even more important. John, who was shot trying to talk the gunman down, is extremely hesitant to come back to work because he blames himself for Sipowicz losing his wife. He and Sipowicz have had what you might call a rocky history anyway, considering Sipowicz’ standoffish ways combined with a raft of homophobic references tossed John’s way over the last few years. When he agrees to go by the precinct after getting out of the hospital, Sipowicz unexpectedly appears and, rather than directing his rage over losing his wife and fear of having to raise his son alone toward John, embraces him instead. He’s not “Gay John,” he’s John, and you can’t carry survivor’s guilt.
3. “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” – Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Three
You had to know this would show up, since it’s one of the classic TV cliffhangers, and the ur-cliffhanger in Star Trek, often imitated (and I mean often) but never replicated. There’s a sense of dread hanging over the proceedings from the opening of the episode: the Borg, only seen in one previous episode (if you can still imagine what that was like) and presented as an absolutely powerful and uncaring enemy in that appearance. This episode turns on visceral visual moments: the sight of the colony literally carved out of a planet; the sight of the Borg invading the Enterprise bridge and going right for Captain Picard; the sight of Picard’s empty uniform on the Borg ship when an away team tries to find him; the fleeting glimpse of Picard in the same scene. Finally there’s one of the most iconic moments of the series, the reveal of Picard as a fully assimilated Borg, skin grey, voice monotone, insisting that resistance is futile.
2. “Two Cathedrals” – The West Wing, Season Two
This episode is so often hailed as one of the finest hours in television that to sing its praises again here almost seems redundant.
The ongoing story of President Bartlet keeping his MS diagnosis a secret from most of the show’s ensemble (as well as the American people) has been the dominant throughline in the latter half of season two, but for the end of the season is interrupted by the emotional gut punch that is the death of Mrs. Landingham, one of the more beloved minor characters on the show, in the last moments of the penultimate episode of the season (Sorry if this is a spoiler. It really was something.) In many episodes previous to this, we’ve seen staffers brought in on the secret one by one to debate and strategize how to go public and manage the scandal, not to mention that they’re not sure whether the President is going to run for re-election, but for the finale that plot just about takes a back seat to mourning for Mrs. Landingham. After the ceremony at the National Cathedral, President Bartlet gets a moment alone and vents the frustrations that have been mounting with his god, a vindictive, feckless thug — and caps it off in Latin, because he’s a learned man.
This episode is also a nominal cliffhanger that finds ways to build incredible drama with stakes that are already well known by anyone with an ounce of media literacy. Will the President run again? The show is about him; of course he’s going to run again. (The third season premiere treats this aspect well by embedding the exact answer Bartlet gives at his press conference mid-way through the episode.) Will the ensemble make it through the rounds of investigations and depositions sure to follow from the announcement that the President committed huge lies of omission? The show is about them; it’ll be one of the dominant plot threads going forward, but Our Heroes must eventually prevail. Yet by this point the different ways the characters approach these difficulties and the witty dialogue inherent in the signature style of the show are the main attraction – these are characters we want to see, want to root for, want to see struggle with the obstacles of the plot.
If you don’t love this episode, I say to you: Eas in crucem.
1. “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” – Doctor Who, Series Five
I almost don’t even know what to say about this. Matt Smith isn’t really my favorite Doctor, Amy & Rory aren’t really my favorite Team TARDIS, but this pair of episodes that together cap off Steven Moffat’s first year as showrunner & head writer is just about the perfect Doctor Who two-parter. It’s a fantastic balance between the two sides of Moffat – the side that’s completely whacked and the side that makes some semblance of sense – before production difficulties tipped him over into whacked territory the next season and he set up shop. As always, Smith handles his exposition dumps with aplomb and Doctor-y quips (“Earth, Britain, 1:02 AM…no, PM…no, AD.” “Me from the future. I’ve got a future, that’s nice.” “Never underestimate a Celt.”) with great timing. Alex Kingston appears as River to mark these as Big Episodes and add the wit & panache she always brings to the table.
If this were a US show, the season would’ve ended with “The Pandorica Opens” in another Everything Going to Hell cliffhanger — and what a cliffhanger it would be, with the Doctor trapped (in a scheme that reasserts his centrality to the narrative while subverting his agency throughout the episode), Amy dying, the TARDIS exploding, history cracking, and every star in a universe going nova – but because this is Doctor Who and the BBC, “The Big Bang” is the true cap to the season, spinning off in a completely different direction from part one while resolving the various threats to the universe and/or history and/or Doctor Who functioning in the way in which it functions. Every viewer knows which of those things is the most important.
NOTE: If you toss in series finales as well, the Babylon 5 and Next Generation finales have to go onto the top of this list. Each brought its series around to a masterful end, one with a maturity & finality that tied up the series in a neat bow and hastened the diminishing returns in the various sequels, the other with a sense of circularity that emphasized how far the characters had come while returning to the “ongoing mission” part of its mandate.
Andrew Flanagan (Season Finales)
5. “11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.” – 24
The season one finale starts off strong with Jack’s showdown with the Drazens, but its the ending that makes it memorable. In a truly ballsy move, the writers went with the downer ending and closed the season with Jack discovering his wife’s dead body. That moment would have repercussions throughout the subsequent seasons, and was the first of many bad endings to a bad day.
4. “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” – Futurama
Futurama’s final episode of season four of was a great example of the pseudo-series-finale; the show wasn’t officially cancelled when this episode was produced, but the writers could see the writing on the wall, and provided a fitting ending to the series (although it would return years later). In addition to being one of the funniest episodes, it ends on a sweet and hopeful note.
3. “Always” – Friday Night Lights
I tried to avoid series finales on this list, partly for the sake of variety, and partly because they so rarely live up to expectations. But it’s worth mentioning one of the few that got it right. This one was just about perfect.
2. “The Bat Mitzvah” – Curb Your Enthusiasm
Simply the funniest ending to television season I’ve ever seen, as Larry falls for Loretta Black and we are treated to a montage of him joining their family. Pretty, pretty, pretty great.
1. “Face Off” – Breaking Bad
This is the platonic ideal of the season finale; it provides a satisfying conclusion to the season’s major storyline, while leaving the viewer simultaneously excited and terrified to find out what comes next. Even the double entendre in the title is great. Other finales can only try to be this good.
Jordan Duncan (Season Finales)
5. “Casino Night” – The Office (US)
In what I consider the peak of this show’s run, this finale gives us everything that made the show great: The Jim and Pam story takes a huge step forward but then a huge step back, Michael stumbles and bumbles his way through the unique situation of two dates and gives us a great quote: “Two queens on casino night…I’m going to drop a deuce on everybody.” And of course great moments from the supporting cast.
Seemingly everyone has a “moment” – Dwight excitedly kissing Angela only to be slapped, but Angela not being able to contain her smile as she storms off. Kevin being a poker “expert” only to get beaten by a clueless Phyllis. Darryl sharing some phrases he taught Michael. Toby making Michael look like a fool in No Limit Hold ‘Em. Creed stealing chips from every table.
All in all, an episode full of laughs, character development and a nice cliffhanger. What more can a season finale ask for?
4. “The Final Four” – Survivor (Season 1)
Not your typical show to put on a list like this, but I add it for a few reasons:
First, I’m STILL an unashamed Survivor fan. Season 28 just finished and, in my opinion, the show is as good as it’s ever been.
Second, this was a HUGE deal when it happened. Over 50 million people watched this episode when it aired, and Nielsen reported that 125 million people watched at least SOME part of the finale. Nothing else on this list comes close to that in terms of viewership.
Third, and the biggest reason, it set the tone for what the show would become. To many people, including quite a few people playing the game, Survivor was to be a show about surviving the elements. Make your own fire, build your own camp, get your own food and water. And to this day, that is still a major part of the show. But as the inaugural season progressed, the show quickly went from surviving elements to surviving the game itself, with the finale proving that point with emphasis.
The four Tagi members who formed an alliance (Richard, Sue, Rudy and Kelly) were all that remained, and in a game with one winner, four people who had worked together now had to eliminate each other. It’s interesting to look back at this season and see the alliance standing tall, because in Borneo, the thought of an alliance was something looked upon with disgust and akin to cheating in the game. Now? One would be a fool to play without an alliance.
The episode itself does not stand out in a huge way from other Survivor finales, with the format not changing all that much. A couple of immunity challenges, a couple of votes and the Final Tribal Council. But it all happened for the FIRST time and we saw the game for what it was: Strategy (Richard removing himself from the final immunity challenge because he knew that whoever won would take him to the finals) and emotion (Sue’s “rats and snakes” final tribal speech). And the best part? THE VILLAIN WINS!
3. “Through The Looking Glass” – Lost
HOLY CRAP IT WAS A FLASH FORWARD!
Flashbacks were a staple for the show from the very first episode, helping us learn who these characters were by showing us their life before the plane crash and giving us insight into how they wound up on Oceanic Flight 815. It really was a clever way to establish character depth, and of course keep fans guessing as we would see them interact and have brushes with other character before they ever came together as survivors.
So it seemed normal when the Season 3 finale gave us flashbacks of Jack and Kate throughout the episode, even if Jack’s beard was a little ridiculous. Little did we know we were no longer watching things that happened PRE-island, but in the closing moments of the show, we learned that the whole time, we’d been seeing POST-island Jack and Kate, as they met up and Jack pleaded, “WE HAVE TO GO BACK KATE!” I was watching this episode with a room full of people and there was an audible gasp when that scene went down. A terrific way to revitalize a show.
Oh yeah, and who can forget: NOT PENNY’S BOAT.
2. “Face Off” – Breaking Bad
In case you’ve been living under a rock, “Breaking Bad” is a show about a man named Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with cancer. With his death in sight, he realizes that his wife and children will struggle financially when he is gone, so he does what any loving husband and father would do: Begins cooking near perfect meth and selling it to provide for his family when he’s gone.
Through the first three seasons, Walt, despite doing awful things, kind of comes off as the good guy. Yes, he’s breaking the law by selling drugs and even killing people, but they’re all bad guys, and he’s JUST doing it for his family. His motives are pure even if his actions are not. But as the show progresses, Walt changes. Is it the money? The power? The thrill? The notoriety? Probably a bit of everything, but Walt is no longer content to simply cook meth and make a handsome profit. He wants MORE.
Throughout the season, the relationship between Walt and Gus Fring, his “boss”, deteriorates to the point where both men know that the other one wants them dead. After several failed attempts to take out Gus, Walt finally comes up with a plan, and Gus goes out with a bang!
1.“11:00 P.M.-12:00 A.M.” – 24
The best moments in television are often the ones that stun us. In the first season of 24, the finale left the viewers completely and utterly shocked. How? By not giving us the happy ending we had come to expect from TV shows.
Throughout the season, we knew there was a “mole” in CTU, but we didn’t know who. We also knew that Jack’s wife Teri and his daughter Kim were targeted by Victor Drazen, but were safe and sound in CTU offices near the end of the day.
As things wind down, the mole is still unknown, but everything else seems to be getting cleared up. Teri and Kim are safe, Jack is closing in on Victor Drazen, and he succeeds in taking him out. The threat is neutralized and the mole is FINALLY exposed…as NINA MYERS?!?!?! But she has been Jack’s right hand woman this whole time, and has helped him escape so many times!
Simply having THAT as the big twist would have been enough to make for a great finale, but it doesn’t end there. As Jack returns to CTU, we learn that 24 is not the typical show. The day doesn’t end with a pretty bow on top as the hero and his family celebrate. Instead, Jack learns that while fleeing, Nina has shot and killed his wife Teri. Where most shows end a season with the hero hugging his wife, 24’s first season ends with the hero cradling his dead wife in his arms. And from that moment, we KNEW that in the world 24, anything could happen.