“Endings are hard. […] The fans are always gonna bitch. There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something. I’m telling you, they’re a raging pain in the ass.”–Chuck Shurley, Supernatural
This quote might have been more fitting had the aforementioned show had its own series finale, but it’s still so very relevant for every TV show. There’s no doubt that wrapping up a TV series, usually after so many years, is a difficult task. As is often true, many shows end without getting a proper goodbye. Sometimes they’re cancelled too soon or not given enough of a heads up to wrap things up. And then there are finales that get it just right.
But what makes a series finale stand out and resonate with fans long after? There’s no right way to end a series, but each of the finales listed below left an impression on our writers and signified the end of the respective series in a way that provided both emotional closure and satisfaction.
The list below, while not in any particular order, are our picks for the best TV series finales up until now.
Six Feet Under
Watching Six Feet Under at such a young age was a terrible idea. Not because of the adult themes, especially since Michael C. Hall’s character was one of the first openly gay characters I was exposed to as a young gay pre-teen. It was because the entirety of the show set a high standard for all of my future TV viewing experiences. Very few shows give us an ending worthy of all the seasons worth of time we put in, but Six Feet Under ended with a bang, and really the only way it should have ended.
The entire show isn’t only about death, but also the importance of life. Alan Ball (writer/director/creator) gives us what few series finales ever deliver, and that’s closure. The same closure we look for when we lose a loved one is what we get at the end of this show, but on a completely different level. Aside from concluding several important storylines, the show then gives us closure for every character we have come to love. In a montage scored by Sia’s “Breathe Me,” they deliver a six-minute sob-apalooza that chronologically highlights major life moments alongside the death of our beloved characters. I can’t listen to the song without getting tearful, so if you’re going to watch the last episode, make sure to have a box of tissues handy. —Jon Espino
Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation got off to a slow start during the first season, but it was all tears by the time the series finale aired on February 24, 2015. After starting the season following a time jump, the series finally and beautifully executed another time jump that depicted the future of our favorite members of the Parks and Recreation family. Whether it was April and Andy Dwyer opening their door on Halloween to see Star-Lord or Ron Swanson paddling his own canoe, there were Easter eggs galore.
The series gave us the final emotional moments with the return of Chris Traeger and Ann Perkins and it was the final time we saw Ron Swanson, Donna Meagle, April Ludgate, And Dwyer, Tommy Haverford, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry Gergich, Craig Middlebrooks.
We’ll never truly know whether it was Leslie Knope or Ben Wyatt elected as the President of the United States. But for the fans of this series, the finale was executed in perfection and that’s all we could ask from series creator Michael Schur. —Danielle Solzman
Avatar: The Last Airbender
While Avatar: The Last Airbender is now one in a much longer line in cartoons capable of communicating more mature themes, the series still stands tall over the medium, thanks to the delivery of the series finale. Despite having expanded into a dense mythology with various disparate characters, “Sozin’s Comet” manages to bring them all together with a single purpose and resolution. Every major character gets their moment to show exactly how far they’ve come, all while bringing the central conflict to its climatic end. The entire episode hinges on whether or not Aang is able to stay true to his merciful nature while fulfilling the duties hoisted on him and reconciling the two; with every other character’s showdown mirroring the main battle. Some might argue that the actual conclusion is a cop-out; but it is a perfect culmination of the journey that Aang undertook and fits the balance of youthful passion and adult morality that Avatar navigates with expert skill. Every show that’s tried to follow in Avatar’s wake still chases the dream of “Sozin’s Comet.” —Travis Hymas
After only two seasons spent with these spectacularly rich and honest characters, it was really difficult to say goodbye to Daisy, Tim and co. by the time that Spaced had reached its end. Created by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes, the series finale was so remarkable because it both metaphorically and figuratively in that last, closing shot shuts the door on the characters’ lives, it more than anything it feels like the end of a chapter. Our time with the characters may have come to an end, but they’ll continue to exist and grow and co-exist while being dysfunctional. And it’s that palpable chemistry and inherent relatability to the ensemble – but two leads especially – that make this low-key finale feel all the more poignant. Nothing drastic has happened, but pieces of the puzzle of their lives have begun to shift, which as is close to real life as television can get. —Allyson Johnson
Breaking Bad was constantly about the next step. How will Walter White (Bryan Cranston) get out of this situation? How will Skylar White (Anna Gunn) react to this newfound revelation? What’s going to happen now that Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) knows the truth? It was a dramatic series that perpetually seemed to be in a constant state of forward motion. Though the show was known for its long pauses and meditative moments, it was the its persistent adrenaline that came to define Vince Gilligan’s acclaimed five-season AMC program. Which makes the inevitable task of ending it all the more challenging. How do you put Walter White’s story to rest?
More importantly, how do you close the tale of a good man turned evil in a way that’s both narratively satisfying and morally right? Shows with anti-heroes at the forefront have a long legacy of unsatisfactory conclusions. While Breaking Bad probably didn’t end the way everyone expected (for reasons that make no good sense, there were reportedly legions of fans who thought Walter White would live to see the end of his story AND ride away into the sunset to boot), it nevertheless provided a rich, invigorating, thoughtful and fitting conclusion. It was filled with action and high-wire suspense, but it was also filled with lofty moments of contemplation, reflection, and sorrow — and, surprisingly, these shifts in tones never contradicted one another. The magic of Breaking Bad came from its power to surprise and thrill us, to reel us in even during the most extreme circumstances, particularly with characters we might otherwise not enjoy.
Breaking Bad’s final hour, “Felina,” needed to let us go while still providing us with an hour of television that made the intense suspense ride of grandiose television all worth it in the end. Despite numerous challenges before them, much like Walter White in the toughest of situations, it prevailed — unlike Walter himself. It proved triumphant, even to the very end. —Will Ashton
30 Rock wasn’t about to go changing to try and please us just because it was ending. The fact that the show even got to end on its own terms was remarkable in itself. Even though it made brilliant use of its premise, cast, and humor, 30 Rock was constantly on the verge of being cancelled throughout its run. But because it lasted through seven whole seasons, it gave us one of the best finales in the history of television. Bizarre, meta, seamlessly integrating subplots involving minor and major characters with brilliant use of banter and its trademark whimsy, 30 Rock ended on the perfect note as it said goodbye to everything it had carefully built. Along with major arcs like Liz finding true happiness in her personal and work life, Jack finding out what happens after your dream comes true, Tracy trying to let go of the cast that’s become his family, Jenna trying to find the next step in her career, smaller things had to be resolved for the last show to go on, like the writers ordering their last lunch. Oh, and we get to find out whether Kenneth really is immortal. Spoiler: yes, and we probably won’t get to see those flying cars the government’s been promising us. But Liz Lemon’s great granddaughter will at least. —Andrea Thompson
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I watch maybe one anime series every two years. Not for a lack of interest but rather there’s just so much of it that if you aren’t knowledgeable of the genre, it overwhelms you. Like most, I stumbled upon Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (bypassing the original completely) and was instantaneously hooked. It was exciting and action packed and no slouch in terms of character building, with everyone from our heroes, Edward and Al, to villains such as Envy getting defining moments of characterization. I was so hooked that I pushed off watching the last season for nearly a year, belligerent in my attempt to prolong the end which ended up being as thrilling and emotionally satisfying as anything the series had done before. The show had always been about the equilibrium of the universe and what happens when you try to take without giving in return. The finale ties these themes together while also offering up one last selfless act of sacrifice that leaves the series on an incredible high note. —Allyson Johnson
Halt and Catch Fire
The story of aspiring tech innovators in the 1980s and early 1990s managed to eke out four seasons despite consistently low viewership, and their appreciation of that time is evident in how little was wasted in their three best seasons. The final season, which was just ten episodes, spends every moment getting the four leads to “ends” that make sense for them. The finale, “Ten of Swords,” with its nod to the Tarot card, is equally focused on the future but no more informed about specifics than a Tarot reading would be. All we know is that Joe is out of the tech world, Donna has an idea she wants to share with Cameron, and the next generation might go farther than their parents did. On top of managing to give its audience emotional closure and catharsis for every character, as well as a hint that this, of course, isn’t the end, the Halt & Catch Fire series finale features a successfully earnest use of Peter Gabriels’ “Solsbury Hill,” which is no easy feat at all. —Beth Winchester
Boy Meets World
A series finale wouldn’t be worthy of that title without the proper dose of nostalgia and the right amount of tearful goodbyes. The series finale of the beloved ’90s sitcom, Boy Meets World, delivered that in one of the most heartwarming endings of its time. As the show did best, the last episode of Boy Meets World demonstrated how past generations can influence the future, giving us some of the best life lessons along the way. The episode centers on Topanga’s struggle with deciding to stay home in the comfort of the life she’s always known or taking the leap and taking a job in New York City.
Throughout the finale, we see flashbacks of how the various relationships on the show came to be, how they flourished and how they struggled, but ultimately, how the people in them became better because of them. At the end of the episode we get one of the most memorable scenes from the show. The friends head over to John Adams High to say goodbye to the teacher who had guided them and prepared them for the world they were about to enter. Mr. Feeny gives his last and most important lesson to his students and to the audience that continues to live by those very words, “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.” —Melissa Linares
The concluding chapter in a decade-long narrative, Mad Men’s “Person to Person” is rich, resonant, and oh-so right. It’s resilient, too, remaining glistening even after naysayers lobbed their rotten tomatoes and rancid insults at it, frustrated over the episode’s enduring closing shot: Jon Hamm’s Don Draper sitting cross-legged atop a hill, eyes shut and mouth humming, the corners of his mouth rubber band-snapping into a smile before the camera cuts to Coca-Cola’s famous 1971 “Hilltop” ad.
That moment is what made the Mad Men series finale memorable, but it isn’t the only thing that made the ending so special: there’s Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) falling over the edge of fear and into love with one another; Roger (John Slattery) diving deep into his sure-to-be-doomed romance with Marie (Julia Ormond); Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) finally getting his longed-for “good things, all at once” in his reunion with Trudy (Alison Brie); Joan (Christina Hendricks) standing tall on her own, running her thriving Holloway Harris Productions; and Betty Draper (January Jones), little but mighty Birdie, sitting in silence, smoking a cigarette, knowing her end is near.
Just as Kiernan Shipka’s Sally Draper once waxed philosophic by declaring herself “so many people,” the very last episode of Mad Men is so many things — all rippling with wonder, redolent of warm emotion, all real, all right. —AJ Caulfield
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights was always a show more than just about football. It was an affectionate portrait of both life on and off the Dillon/East Dillon High gridiron, in addition to being an extremely down-to-earth portrayal of the rural Texas lifestyle. The show’s final two seasons saw a dramatic transition in Coach Eric Taylor’s coaching career, and the same went for his wife Tami in her future as a student counselor. The series finale, “Alway,” is a fully layered climax of the impending futures of all its main characters ranging from the Taylors to the coach’s potential state-champion East Dillon Lions. Although there are multiple scenes that play upon well-known tropes, they produce a more lasting impression because of the incredible acting and tight attachment to the characters. Don’t get too attached though, that is if you try and fail to resist tearing up in the final fifteen minutes, which are capped by a stirring montage that gives splendid sendoffs to the series’ many unforgettable residents of Dillon, Texas. —Tyler Christian
For a series that started so dark and dour, this finale is even more remarkable for showing the distance writing, directing and acting can go in just three short seasons. The finale, “The Book of Nora,” just the twenty-eighth episode of the series overall, drops most of the cosmic, surreal, or violent major plots of the past couple seasons, leaving us with only the central relationship of Kevin and Nora—decades after they last saw each other in a fiery Australian hotel room. After finding the reclusive Nora, Kevin’s odd decision to act like a stranger puts her, and us, off-center and on-edge. Is this really the future? Are we somewhere else? We spend most of the episode in a strange suspense, but when the truth finally pours it we see he’s just a man trying desperately to reconnect with someone dear to him. The final monologue, delivered by the show’s ace, Carrie Coon, tells a fantastic story that we have to choose to believe or not. Kevin chooses to believe her, and it becomes clear that that choice is what The Leftovers had always been leading to. —Beth Winchester
The essence of Cheers was always its sense of comfort and familiarity. Although the show lasted for 11 years, it was simply a snapshot of these characters’ lives, many of whom ended the series in the same position they’d begun it. In the memorable finale, everyone’s favorite barflies are all given life-altering opportunities to change their course and follow higher ambitions. However, unlike most sitcoms, Cheers opts for the realistic approach, with each character finding their way back into that neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name. 94 million viewers huddled in front of their television sets to watch Sam face the decision of a lifetime, forced to choose between Diane, the woman he’d carried a torch for all these years, and Cheers, the enduring community he’d helped cultivate. In the end, he was always going to be drawn to his one true love. In a clever and endearing send-off, we left our characters much the way we found them. Their stories would surely continue off camera. Everything they needed was right there in the bar. —Brian Thompson
Even after all this time, I still rave about The Office finale. The Office is not only a show that is entertaining and quite enjoyable but was accompanied with a finale that (if you’re a big fan of the show like myself) definitely makes your eyes watery.
The finale originally aired on May 16, 2013 on NBC. The finale fast forwarded us a year from when the previous episode was taped. It kept the same familiar documentary style that we know and love and gave us the needed glimpse into what happened to our beloved characters. The final episode gave viewers a final round of interviews (talking head) as they said their final goodbyes to the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.
Also, if you loved the finale as much as I did, you should head over to YouTube where they have a video of the cast having the table read of the final episode. You may need your tissues for it.
Overall, what I loved about the finale was that fans weren’t left with what if questions. We got to see what happened to each of our characters and the writing of the episode was just so beautiful. There were so many profound quotes you could’ve taken away from the episode that I simply can’t pick one. There will always be a soft spot for Dunder Mifflin in my heart. —Camille Espiritu
The Game is the same, but the players change. That best describes the deeply layered, novelistic journey of The Wire, which echoes that saying not just for the drug trade, but also port unions, politics, inner-city schools, and the dying print media industry. For those five incredible seasons, you often forget you’re watching a TV show and rather the real daily life of a large American city. And like any one of those cities, Baltimore in this case, not everyone was likeable. Like every institution portrayed in the series, there’s rarely a single protagonist, because even the “good” guys pull blindsides on others to further their advancement on a specific mission. In the series finale, “–30–,” there’s a lot of conflict in how character arcs conclude, but it sticks to the theme of brutal honesty that carried the show through its five extraordinary seasons. The final montage is telling as it leaves you warm, angry, and teary, because just like real life, there aren’t happy endings for everyone in societal institutions, and there are many more souls to follow in succession. —Tyler Christian
“Did she get off the plane, did she get off the plane?!” Readers, she got off the plane. If you didn’t think Ross and Rachel—the will-they-won’t-they couple of Friends—would finally end up with each other at finale’s end, were you really watching Friends? Of course, while Ross’ chase to stop Rachel from getting on a plane to Paris initially fails due to airport confusion, the first part of the finale gives us Monica and Chandler’s sudden parenthood, after many years of trying and waiting. While each of the two major couples come to a pivotal, transitional moment of their adult lives the remaining, and always sidelined, friends, Phoebe and Joey spend the finale floating along the edges of the primary stories, making sure we laugh and that their friends can get their act together for one day. It’s a classic, heartwarming finale that gives you what you want with just as many laughs as you could want. It ends with a classic Chandler joke as the friends leave their big, purple apartment for the last time. It’s not the end, just the end of an era. —Beth Winchester
When the screen cut to black on the Angel series finale, with Angel’s last words (“Let’s go to work”) still echoing across the airwaves, this little spin-off show made a huge statement – we’re not done, but the story ends here. As a show focused heavily on its main character’s redemptive arc, Angel was ripe with themes of existentialism, heroism, and the reward that exists when all the work is done. But Angel’s journey quickly devolved from earning that reward to merely doing his job – helping the helpless. With a huge demon army converging on their heads, the remaining cast of characters in Angel are staring straight into apocalyptic waters. It’s a last episode that feels like it’s gearing up for another season. But that’s the point. The work is never done. All that matters is what you do. A swing of a broadsword as a dragon descends may be the start of an epic, world-ending battle, but for Angel and company, it’s just another day on the job. And the end result – who wins, who loses – remains a moot point. —Katey Stoetzel