With hit US crime drama Breaking Bad coming to a dramatic finale this week (don’t worry, no spoilers here), the creative team behind the show demonstrated how to perform the tricky task of bringing a much-loved serial to a satisfying conclusion.
But how does the ending of the Albuquerque-set show compare to the last moments of other acclaimed television dramas? Nick Mitchell and Mark Butler look back at some of the most memorable endings in TV history.
Needless to say, if you’re only just catching up with some of these shows via box-sets or Netflix, this article contains spoilers.
Has there ever been more forensic analysis of one scene in the history of entertainment, let alone TV history? ‘Made in America’, the last episode of the final, sixth season of David Chase’s gangster epic spawned hundreds of essays and sparked furious debate over the key question: did Tony Soprano just die? Did I just miss something? Those who prefer a neat, explanatory ending were left angered when the screen suddenly cuts to black for 10 seconds after we’ve seen the New Jersey mobster and his family gather in a diner to the tune of Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’. The consensus is that Tony is assassinated, and we the audience are finally seeing the world through his eyes, at the very moment of his execution. [NM]
Despite the long second series of David Lynch’s wonderfully surreal masterpiece losing its way (and its ratings), it delivered a typically chilling, dramatic denouement. Kyle MacLachlan’s Special Agent Cooper enters the mysterious Black Lodge in his ongoing effort to hunt down his evil nemesis Windom Earl, who has kidnapped his love interest Annie Blackburn (played by a young Heather Graham). When he’s forced to trade his soul for Annie’s life with Earl, Killer Bob appears and throws a spanner in the works. Just when we think Cooper has escaped and is recuperating, it emerges that it’s actually the demented ‘Evil Cooper’ who has escaped into the real world, in a truly disturbing scene. [NM]
The uproarious comedy from Richard Curtis reached the trenches of World War One for its final series, Blackadder Goes Forth. While the quips from Rowan Atkinson’s ever-bitter Captain Blackadder and the inspired interplay between Stephen Fry’s General Melchett and his assistant Captain Darling are as laugh-out-loud funny as ever, the last episode stands out in television history as one of the most extraordinarily heartfelt moments in a comedy. In slow motion, the main characters charge into the smoke and gunfire of battle to a minor-key, piano version of the theme music. Their fate seems inevitable, and it’s a fitting tribute to the terrible historical setting. [NM]
While some shows go for the shock factor or the emotional punch before the curtain goes down, Friends, the sitcom that a whole generation grew up with, went for something more straightforward. In ‘The Last One’, the stereotypical chums simply move out of New York and get on with the next chapter of their lives, but not before Ross and Rachel get it together, Monica and Chandler get their surrogate child(ren), Joey gets his duck, and they all have one last coffee. Awww. [NM]
The Office (UK)
Throughout the duration of The Office (the original version that is), Ricky Gervais mercilessly refused to bestow an ounce of dignity upon his own hideously self-centred creation, the cringe-worthy branch manager David Brent. That is until the Christmas special in 2003 restored the character’s pride in a finale which sees him triumph over evil (Finchy) and get the girl. But it was the will-they-won’t-they conclusion to the Tim and Dawn storyline that really tugged at the heartstrings. The American version could have learned a thing or two from the way the original wrapped things up in a fine, festive (and succinct) manner. [NM]
David Simon’s extraordinary exploration of contemporary Baltimore grew from a gripping crime drama into a genuinely great portrait of power-structures and connections across the entire city; taking in drug dealers, cops, teachers, journalists and politicians alike. The eventual climax was a perfectly fitting bittersweet summary of the key themes: that history repeats itself, and the cycle continues. So one stick-up guy replaced another; one addict got clean but another took his place; and the innocent and vicious suffered and triumphed in equal measure. The closing montage showed us character conclusions that were uplifting, tragic, funny and thought-provoking in equal measure. Simply incredible. [MB]
After six seasons of mind-bending twists, surreal reveals and constant mystery, the fate of the survivors of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 was finally revealed in a denouement that left some satisfied – and others seething with rage. The quasi-religious ending proved hugely divisive, while dozens of enticing questions and plot-points raised throughout were never fully answered at all. Was it an appropriately dream-like end to a consistently surprising saga, or a soul-destroying cop-out rushed by writers tangled in their own bloated web of nonsense? The debate seems set to rage on and on. [MB]
What’s your favourite TV ending? Did any of these leave you satisfied or disappointed?
Have your say on Twitter with #wow247 or on our Facebook page.