Every now and again, pop-culture moments should be examined, discussed, and debated. For this important purpose, We Minored in Film presents this semi-regular (aka whenever we find the time to pull ourselves away from crazy busy schedules) segment known as We Debate. Below this point – there be spoilers. Caution to all who enter.
The history of television is littered with shows whose series finales notoriously failed to deliver closure (see: The Sopranos), originality (see: Seinfeld‘s clip-show finale), or wildly drew into question the reliability of what we thought we knew (see: Battlestar Galactica, Roseanne, St. Elsewhere). As Damon Lindelof can tell you from the reaction to the Lost finale, such endings, or non-endings, can forever flavor the popular memory of what might have otherwise been a beloved show. However, for every notorious failure to know how to end a story there are also those shows whose endings, while possibly brilliant, seemed to uproot and discard the show’s very premise or saw fit to kill most if not all of the characters. What follows is a conversation between Kelly and I about five less-known series finales that seem designed to infuriate the viewer rather than enrapture. Below this point – there be spoilers. Caution to all who enter.
1) “Not Fade Away” (Angel)
Julianne: Starring everyone’s favorite, gypsy-cursed vampire with a soul, Angel revolves around the attempts of a 250-year old vampire to atone for the many human lives he took prior to being cursed with a soul and thus a conscience. Though never quite as well-respected as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the show from which it was spun off, Angel was the male-point-of-view alternative to Buffy and produced some astounding hours of television in its five years on the air. I may now regard its’ devastatingly sad, though oddly triumphant series finale as equally astounding, but at the time it aired I was yelling at the screen.
Kelly: Just to play devil’s advocate since I know your answer, but why, Juli, were you yelling at the screen?
Julianne: Angel = Pinocchio. All he wants to do is become a real human. End story? Make him human. This is not rocket science. The first season ended on the cliffhanger that at some point if Angel proved worthy he would be made human again. This might indicate to the typical viewer that this might happen in- oh, I don’t know- the series finale. Yeah, not so much. Not only did this not happen, but the finale ends before (again let me say, BEFORE) an epic battle against a massive army of demons and an angry-looking dragon is set to commence. The show’s final season already killed off two if its four human characters, and the finale succeeds in killing off the other two (okay, technically Gunn is still alive, but dialogue indicates he has minutes to live). For our supernatural characters (Spike, Angel, Illyria), the entire cast will be nothing but greasy, bloody splotches on the pavement, or maybe they will triumph against insurmountable odds. We simply do not know, because WE DON’T GET TO SEE IT! The battle is about to start, and the credits roll. As much as I love this now, I was furious when I watched this in 2004. All I could think was, “I’ve spent five years of my life watching this show, and the ending I get is NO ending? I’m gonna yell at my TV for a while now.”
Kelly: A logical reaction, I think. The backstory to the finale, at least as told by show writer David Fury, is that the WB Network typically waited until the last minute to renew the show for each season of its run. With the fifth season doing well in the ratings, show creator Joss Whedon felt comfortable in requesting an early renewal from the network. Silly, Joss. Put on the spot, the WB cancelled the show but with sufficient lead time to plan a proper finale. Whedon and Fury have claimed the series finale differs very little from what they were going to do when they were confident a sixth season was guaranteed. So, those who read the finale featuring one last heroic stand against the man as an embodiment of standing up to the network may be off base.
Julianne: So what you’re telling me is that the F-you nature of this finale comes straight from Joss Whedon? Lovely.
Kelly: Yes. Heartbreak. . .100%, unfiltered Whedon. As you might recall, after I first viewed this episode via DVD I immediately sought you out while you were at work in the hopes that you might comfort me by lying and saying there were in fact more episodes.
Julianne: Alas, I could not. Remember, I had at least warned you about the finale whereas I had to watch it cold.
Kelly: That’s right. In response to the ending, did you also wander out into the city streets seeking the arms of those who might comfort you. Wait. That kind of makes you sound like a prostitute.
Julianne: [hangs her head in shame] Those were dark, surprisingly lucrative times. Please note, dear readers, I am kidding.
Kelly: Please note, I’m not sure she’s kidding. [Julianne smack Kelly in the back of the head] Never mind. She’s kidding. The finale is somewhat similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s in that it ends on an ambiguous, what’s going to happen next note. The difference here being that Buffy ends with our lead character having finally attained her dream of being able to do whatever she wants with her life, thus making the uncertainty triumphant. Angel ends more existentially, arguing that it does not so much matter who wins the fight between good and evil but that good continues fighting. It is a finale worthy of academic analysis. However, upon first viewing it is an incredibly frustrating watch. Angel’s penultimate line is that he desires to “slay the dragon”, and boy howdy do you want to see how that fight goes.
Julianne: And speaking of brooding, guilt-ridden vampires seeking redemption. . .
2) “Last Knight” Forever Knight
Julianne: Think of Forever Knight as a kind of Angel-prototype, a Canadian series centered on a vampire named Nick Knight, working as a night shift police detective and hoping to find redemption for his past killings and become human again. (Sound familiar?) Like Angel, it had a clear end point. In fact, it had the same endpoint, and like Angel, it ultimately dismisses that ending as “too upbeat.” The show wanted to make certain any fans watching the finale would need to go on suicide watch. The show’s final season had already killed off three of the show’s five regular cast member and introduced three new vampires only to kill them off as well. In memorium, the fallen three:
But it turns out, this was just a warm-up to the finale. First, Nick’s new partner (you know, the one that replaced one of those original dead characters), is killed in a shootout. Then, Nick and his human girlfriend, Natalie, decide to consummate their relationship. Instead of only having to endure post-coital awkward small talk over breakfast and providing her with cab fare while avoiding eye contact, he loses control and drains her to the point of death.
La Croix, the vampire who “turned” Nick and the villain of the show, arrives and taunts him about the mess he has made of his life. Nick begs La Croix to stake him (with the most beautifully carved, ornately created stake ever seen), and put him out of his misery.
The final shot implies La Croix does just that, though not necessarily with as much glee as you might have expected. So, the series ends with the deaths of the entire cast, except for the villain, and Nick’s quest for redemption? Yeah, that brought nothing but the deaths of everyone he loved and his own eventual destruction. So what message does the show give to those who want to redeem themselves? Stay a terrible human being. Trying to be a better person only brings misfortune to everyone, including you. Kelly, I know you haven’t seen all of this, but I did show you the ending. Why do we keep going back to these vampires that hurt us?
Kelly: Because we can change them, and eventually be changed by them, and drained of our blood so that they might request their “frenemy” euthanize them over our quickly decaying corpse.
Julianne: Yes, but with this next vampire it will be different because I’m special. He only bites me because he loves me, y’know. But back to Forever Knight. What are your thoughts on this ending?
Kelly: It’s both surprising and not surprising. The show had previously established that if there were such a thing as vampire school (and a high school in which most everyone is a vampire doesn’t count – sorry Vampire Diaries) Nick clearly skipped class the day they learned how to feed on humans and/or attempt to turn humans into vampires without killing them. This was not the first loved one he had attempted to turn and killed through incompetence. The show decided this, however, would be his last.
Julianne: I marathoned this show, but I think I would have been horrified if I’d been watching it over the course of three years.
Kelly: Other shows have certainly ended by implying the death of their entire cast (see: Black Adder, Angel, to a lesser degree). However, why imply when you can simply show, and thus you have the soul-crushing “Everybody dies!” finale of Forever Knight.
3) “Mirror Image” Quantum Leap
Julianne: This episode wasn’t meant to be a series finale, but it feels so much like an ending to the series that it’s difficult to fathom the show coming back from it. Quantum Leap gave us Samuel Beckett, the singing, dancing, guitar and piano playing, medical doctor, quantum physicist who travels back in time, leaping into people’s lives, changing whatever sent their lives on an unfortunate path, and leaping out again. The problem was all Sam wanted to do was get back into his own body in his own time, and he couldn’t control when and where he traveled Each episode opened with Sam trying to figure who he was (often by looking into a mirror and seeing the person into who he’d leapt). In the series finale, Sam finds himself in a limbo-type bar run by a bartender who may or may not be God, with his own reflection looking back at him from a mirror.
The show’s entire premise was based on the idea that Sam Beckett would eventually leap back to his own time, but the series decided to end with . . . Sam not getting back to his own time, and I don’t mean the show just ends before he can get back. The last line of the show is the typed script, “Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.”
So, after five seasons of hearing that Sam just wants to be done with time travelling and be back at home with this wife, family, and friends, the audience is left with the knowledge that Sam probably had a heart attack and died while trapped in the body of a fifteen year old. Thanks for watching, folks.
Kelly: Very few shows have as clearly stated an endpoint as Quantum Leap. The saga sell, i.e., opening credits, ended with the narrator informing the audience, “Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong, and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home.” With the other shows on our list, you’d have to actually watch entire episodes to pick up where they might be going with it. Not QL. It’s right there in the first minute of every episode. Granted, Sam did leap into the teenage version of himself back on his childhood farm in the third season premiere. I guess that was the fine print in his quantum leaping contract. He was not specific enough. So, God leapt him into himself as a teenager and that qualifies as his leap home.
The finale hurts slightly less when you read about the plans they had for a sixth season, which would have seen wisecracking sidekick Al (Dean Stockwell) become a leaper searching for the awol Sam. They were also going to start leaping into the future whereas the show had previously only leapt Sam into the past. Given the level of neon the show thought was going to be a fixture in our near future, I don’t completely trust that the show’s futuristic episodes would have been anything other than hilariously awkward.
Julianne: I know we both really like this finale, but we can also agree it’s a pretty dark end to the show.
Kelly: It’s similar to Angel in a way in that Sam seems to be presented with a choice in the end. Angel chooses to no longer pursue becoming human, and Sam chooses the selfless route in performing one final leap to put right the greatest wrong to have ever occurred to his best friend, Al. However, it is not made entirely clear that Sam has basically agreed to spin-off into a weird Touched By An Angel existence until bluntly stated white text on a black screen stabs your soul and tells the saga sell to suck it – Sam ain’t ever leaping home. You hear me? Never!
4) “These are the Voyages. . . ” Enterprise
Julianne: Enterprise presented the early days of Starfleet Academy– you know, before Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were involved (aka before the Star Trek universe was interesting). Usually Trekkers spend their times debating whether Enterprise or Voyager is the weaker installment in the franchise (see Kelly’s previous blog post), but I think the last season of Enterprise works especially well. The series had an episode that functioned as a series finale. Unfortunately, this episode featured entirely too much of the show’s actual cast. So, they decided that the real finale should focus on Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) (with no explanation as to why they seem to be twenty years older that they should be at this point in time) from the Next Generation, who use the holodeck to observe the final days of the original starship named Enterprise. They do this because Riker is looking for inspiration to help him solve a moral quandry facing him at this point in his career.
What we get to see of the actual cast of the show Enterprise is fleetingly little (not even an obligatory Jolene Blalock bare midriff shot), but we do see one of the show’s best characters, Trip, killed off seemingly only because the show realized it had yet to kill off any of its primary cast members. The whole scenario seems to imply the characters themselves are not interesting enough to carry their own series finale.
Kelly: Kind of implies?! It flat out states that. It would have been like if the Angel series finale had featured Buffy and her scooby gang showing up and pulling focus away from Angel and his gang. Moreover, for those willing to accept one last story centered around the Next Generation crew…
Julianne: Since Nemesis has left them so much good will amongst fans…
Kelly: We are presented with a story line in which the presence of Captain Picard is teased, but never shown. Clearly, Patrick Stewart had better things to do. It is a “F-you” finale for Enterprise, but it might be easier to swallow as a finale to the Star Trek television and film universe as reintroduced with Next Generation and continued through Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. The animated series Justice League Unlimited almost did something similar with the finale to its second season, in which a penultimate episode functioned as the real conclusion of the season’s story and a epilogue chapter closed the book on a universe larger than just the individual show. In that example, their epilogue was the conclusion to the story of the entire DC Animated Universe, which started with Batman: The Animated Adventures in 1992 and thus was going to conclude with a story solely about Batman. However, the show was then renewed for a third season at the last second.
Julianne: Speaking of shows which received last-second reprieves…
5) “Victoria’s Secret” (Due South)
Julianne: At this point, we are kind of cheating. “Victoria’s Secret” was only meant to serve as the series finale, but the show was afforded an additional episode on the season on the way to a four season run due to a last minute reprieve. So, we are discussing it here as an honorable mention.
Due South is a good-natured, buddy-cop show centering on Benton Fraser, a Canadian Mountie living in Chicago and Ray, the cynical, Police Officer with whom he partners. Its principle character, Mountie Benton Fraser (Paul Gross), is exceedingly polite, nauseatingly honest, and emotionally reserved to the extreme. In this season one finale, a woman (played by Melina Kanakaredes) with whom Fraser had once loved but turned into the authorities for robbery is out of jail and ingratiates herself into Fraser’s life.
In the second half of the finale, it is revealed that Victoria is back because she both loves Fraser and wants to frame him as an accomplice in the robbery she committed, ruining his life and forcing him to leave town with her. At the episode’s conclusion, Fraser catches up with Victoria as she’s about to escape on a train. He pulls a gun on her, an act in and of itself out of character for the normally non-gun carrying Fraser. She defies his demands that she stop, instead begging him to instead come with her. Surprisingly, he does decide to go with her, his love for her having corrupted his prior strict adherence to the law, but just as he is about to grab her hand to be lifted into the slow-moving train his partner Ray arrives and thinks Victoria has a gun so he shoots at her but misses and instead hits Fraser in the back. As Fraser lies, bleeding out on the train platform, he sees the recurring spirit of his late father, seemingly beckoning him into the afterlife. Cut to white and end episode…and series?
Granted, since the show was picked up for another season, Fraser does recover, but Victoria is never seen again, apparently too busy in Providence doing providency things in a providency way [yeah, we’ve never seen Providence]. Think about the ending this would have been for a feel-good, buddy cop TV series. The noble central character tries to leave with the woman who ruined his life (and shot his dog, by the way), abandoning his principles, but is shot in the back by his best friend and dies.
Kelly: Suck it, Lethal Weapon, and your non-Mel Gibson killing sequels! Due South was going to go there.
Julianne: This would have been an incredibly soul-crushing end to a series whose tone fluctuated between light-hearted comic fare and sentimental drama.
Kelly: We love this show. Alas,we shall never know enough people to whom we can tell of this episode’s brilliance. If you’ve read our “about us” (which, by the way, “thank you”), you’ll know the idea for this blog came from wanting to have more people to tell about this episode.
Julianne: So true. This episode is perfect. Alas, it is so perfect, the rest of episodes kind of pale by comparison.
Kelly: Looking at you seasons 3 & 4 (and, if we’re honest, parts of season 2)!
Julianne: I think we’re now slightly discouraging people from watching this show. It’s good. It really is.
Kelly: Agreed. The tragic thing to me with this finale is that earlier in the season it had been established that maybe Fraser’s emotional reservation and blindness to the seemingly endless number of women throwing themselves at him was due to his prior emotional trauma with Victoria. Then, she returns into his life, with the magical ability to have Sarah McLachlin songs begin playing whenever she appears, and he experiences his absolute “best case scenario” – they catch up, hang out, she admits to still being angry, she forgives him, and they make sweet, slow-motion, pan to the window love. As you described above, this all comes crashing down in quick succession – dog shot, she’s framed him, his friend Ray is implicated, he’s arrested by his co-workers who can’t prove he didn’t do the crime. It’s absolutely brutal. But with him ending by rejecting a return to his previous seemingly-fun-but-truly-sad life and attempting to runaway with her only to be shot in the back by his only friend other than his dog?
This was a Canadian television show, co-produced during its first season with CBS in America. Canadians are notoriously nice, always a fun source of humor on the show. But Forever Knight was Canadian, and we saw how that went down. They were going to end Due South by ripping out our hearts. Maybe Canadians are secretly ruthless.
Julianne: What more is there to say?
Kelly: Can we just go watch “Victoria’s Secret” now?
Julianne: Is that why you have the DVD in your hand? Shouldn’t we address how Angel has been continued as a comic book, or acknowledge the possibility of us being too critical since most of these were shows who’s f-you finales happened in response to unexpected cancellations? But, you’re right. That DVD just looks too good.
[Julianne and Kelly both abruptly sign off. Where are they headed? Due South, of course.]
So what do you think, guys? Have I left out any other finales that commit particularly egregious offences? Did you even remember these shows existed? Leave us a comment and let us know.