Thursday, February 27, 2014

What are the best season finales of all time?

Going back to watch older television is a fun endeavor.

Recently, I’ve been sucked back into Lost. You can argue about the series finale of Lost until you’re blue in the face, but the truth is – Lost had some of the best season finales in history.

What am I talking about?

A lot of shows have gone out with a whimper when their series finales ultimately disappoint fans. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, had three of the best season finales on record but that series finale was a travesty.

So, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the best season finales ever (series finales are not allowed).

So, what are they?

10. Gethsemane, The X-Files Season Four: The truth is out there and in the final episode of season
four, Fox Mulder was grappling with the certainty that he had been wrong, not right. All those aliens he’d been chasing? Well, it looked like the real government conspiracy was faking these alien altercations. Mulder didn’t handle the revelation well, and while Scully struggled to protect him from afar Mulder continued to chase the truth and it looked like that truth would end with Mulder’s death. Sure, fans know that Mulder didn’t really die – but those moments where he questioned himself on his life’s work were both powerful and terrifying.

9. The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock Season Two: It’s probably not fair to include Sherlock here – especially since each season is only three episodes – but The Reichenbach Fall is so phenomenal it would be criminal to leave it off the list. As Sherlock finally comes face to face with Moriarty, he realizes that he doesn’t have a choice but to kill himself – in spectacular fashion – if he wants to protect his friends. With John Watson watching from the ground, Sherlock appears to step from a building and fall to his death – his friend looking on in horror and grief. Sure, as Watson visits Sherlock’s grave several weeks later, fans are shown that Sherlock somehow survived his fall. Still, though, the moments leading up to that revelation – including Moriarty being deranged enough to shoot himself in the head just so he could "win"  – are so terrific that fans of the series are still chattering about it.

8. The Telling, Alias Season Two: I’m not going to lie, Alias was up and down. Each season had
dizzying highs and terrifying lows. The pinnacle for Alias, though, came at the end of the second season. The Alias crew was never happy for long but it looked like Sydney and Vaughn were at least going to get a few minutes of happiness when things completely fell apart. The second season saw the end of SD6, the disappearance of Sloan and the murder of Sydney’s roommate Francie. While I never got the appeal of Francie, once they “doubled” her and placed a spy in Sydney’s own home, the show really picked up some momentum. In the season two finale, Sydney finds out that she’s the woman at the heart of the Rambaldi prophecy (and then watches her mother jump off the top of a building) and then goes home and realizes that Francie is not really Francie. After a bloody battle – one that appears to end with Sydney shooting (and killing) the Francie double before passing out – we flash to Sydney waking up on a Hong Kong street. She has no memory of how or why she’s there. When Vaughn comes to pick Sydney up, we find out a terrible truth: She’s been missing for two years. And, oh yeah, Vaughn is married. What a punch in the gut that was.

7. The Best of Both Worlds, Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three: The first two seasons of the Star Trek spinoff weren’t great. Somewhere in season three, though, the show finally hit its stride. The season three finale found the Enterprise crew grappling with emotional and physical hardships. Riker found himself questioning his place on the Enterprise – while everyone else was just trying to survive. Once the Borg kidnap Picard, though, and turned him into a Borg things get really ugly. Riker has to take over as captain – something he doesn’t want to do – and fans are left wondering if Picard is truly lost. In the final moments of the season finale, Riker orders his shipmates to do the impossible: Fire on the Borg ship to destroy it – also destroying Picard at the same time. It’s a chilling order and fans were left with the summer to wait for the outcome.

6. Na Triobloidi, Sons of Anarchy Season Two: Translated into “The Troubles” (from Irish), Na
Triobloidi was a turning point in Sons of Anarchy lore. We found out that SAMCRO was going to keep getting bloodier (and that’s saying something) and that nothing was off limits. In season two, fans still had hope that Jax and Tara would get their happily ever after (everyone knows that’s not happening now), so just when it looked like Jax and Clay were about to win the day, viewers were socked in the gut with a kidnapping. The final scene, a beaten and despondent Jax falling to the ground and screaming at the loss of his son, is one that sticks with fans of the series even today.

5. Abyssinia, Henry, MASH Season 3: MASH was one of those rare shows that successfully managed to merge humor and drama – before it was popular. At its heart, MASH was about a group of military misfits – and Henry Blake was the head misfit. You can’t have a military show without some cast turnover, so it was no surprise when Henry Blake was due to rotate out of Korea and head back home. Fans thought Henry was getting a happy ending until Radar interrupted the doctors in the middle of surgery to say that Henry’s plane had gone down – and there were no survivors. The looks on the faces of every doctor and nurse in that operating room were heartbreaking and, yet, in the great tradition of television, they all continued to do their job. Henry Blake left a legacy of fun on MASH that was never quite captured again.

4. Swan Song, Supernatural Season Five: Supernatural only had a planned story arc for five seasons. And, the truth is, those five seasons are magic. The seasons since have been a rough road – and yet Supernatural is going into its 10th season next year. When it comes down to it, though, Supernatural’s greatest moment came in the angelic throwdown between Michael (who had taken over Adam’s body) and Lucifer (who had taken over Sam’s body). Even though he no longer had the strength to affect the outcome of the fight, Dean refused to abandon Sam to his fate. So, he arrived on the battlefield, received a bloody beating from Lucifer, and somehow managed to help Sam get control of Lucifer long enough to plunge into hell – taking Michael with him. Would it have been sad to see Sam go out that way? Yes, but it was a heroic death. From the opening strains of Wayward Son to the closing seconds of a lost Dean finding his way to the only place he had left to call home, the entire episode was perfection – even when we caught sight of a very much alive Sam watching Dean from afar in the closing seconds.

3. A House Divided, Dallas Season Three: Who shot JR? That was the biggest moment in television history for a very long time. Sure, the answer to the question was kind of a letdown, but watching the soap’s titular hero take one in the chest and drop down to what should have been certain death was a jarring moment for Dallas fans. Larry Hagman’s JR is one of those television characters that transcends the genre. Just last year, Hagman succumbed to cancer and JR – this time on the reboot – was finally killed off for real. While the reboot did a terrific job with Hagman’s send off, nothing will ever really topple JR’s gasp and chest clasp and viewers were forced to sit through several long months of doubt (remember, television reporting wasn’t as prevalent back in the day) about whether or not JR would survive.

2. The Gift, Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Five: This is another show that could have had
multiple entries. See the honorable mentions for another one, in fact. Picking the best finale of Buffy, though, is difficult. In the end, you have to go with Buffy’s sacrificial dive into a glowing chasm to save Dawn’s life. This really should have been the series finale, especially given how poor the final two seasons of the show were. As an ending, though, The Gift offered fans a self-fulfilling prophecy. The truth is, slayers never live long – and we had five seasons with Buffy. Slayers almost always got killed by vampires, but by sacrificing herself for Dawn – Buffy was choosing when and how she was going out. Her speech to Dawn played over her swan dive into death, which was truly a magical sequence. Watching Willow, Giles and Spike react to her broken body at the bottom of the abyss left viewers in tears. But it was Buffy’s final words that gave fans hope: “Be brave, live, for me.”

1. Through the Looking Glass, Lost Season Three: Two Lost season finales really could have made this list. The season five ender, The Incident, could have also made the list but I wanted to limit the top ten so one show couldn’t take more than one spot. Through the Looking Glass was a game-changer for Lost fans. Not only did we have a mysterious figure parachute onto the island, but we also had Charlie swim out to the Looking Glass station with the express purpose of dying. The writers gave us a small reprieve there at the end where there was a chance that Charlie would survive after all. But then they threw a bucket of cold water on us (literally) and let Charlie die – but not before he managed to convey the terrifying message that the boat that had made it to the island was not Penny’s boat and that the castaways were in mortal danger. Again. One of Lost’s strengths has always been the score and that haunting score as Charlie drowned sticks with viewers. When you couple that sad death with the shocking realization that the Jack we’ve been seeing – presumably in flashback – is really a flash-forward after he (and at least some of the other castaways) have escaped from the island. “We have to go back!” That’s great television folks.

Honorable mentions go to:

The Incident, Lost Season Five: While season three’s finale was the saddest, season five’s finale of

Lost had an emotional wallop, too. Between Juliet’s death and Jack’s certainty that, if they just blew everything up, time would reset itself. We all know that didn’t happen, but Sawyer and Juliet’s heartbreaking goodbye as he tried to save her from falling to her death is one of those indelible Lost moments that will stick with you forever.

 The Getaway, Dexter Season Four: Rooting for a serial killer is hard. Still, fans managed to do just that with Dexter. That’s why, at the end of season four, when Dexter returned home to find his infant son playing in the blood of his dead mother, fans knew that things were about to change.

Becoming, Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Two: Was there ever a more tragic television moment than Buffy shoving a sword through a suddenly reensouled Angel’s heart? The lovebirds were reunited for thirty seconds before Buffy had to make a choice and save the world. Sure, Angel returned next season (dropping from the ceiling naked), but the couple was never the same.

Death And All His Friends, Grey’s Anatomy Season Six: This show hasn’t been relevant for years, but there was a brief resurgence in the season six finale when a hospital shooter wiped out most of the Mercy West people and rejuvenated the series. It only lasted one episode, though.

The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding, Friends Season Seven: A wedding and a surprise pregnancy? Friends knew how to keep fans wanting more.

Bloody Harlan, Justified Season Two: There’s nothing better than watching Raylan win. This time,
though, Raylan is saved by Art and then has to go and save Loretta (from herself) before watching Mags drop dead of poison. It really was Justified’s finest moment.

How to Stop An Exploding Man, Heroes Season One:  This is  a show that had one good season and then fell into total chaos and crap. Still, that first season is so well done and the finale is so grand and fulfilling, that I often look back on Heroes with a certain fondness that it probably doesn’t deserve. As Peter takes on Sylar, Claire struggles with having to shoot her beloved uncle to save everyone and Nathan arrives in time to save the day – the entire thing is just masterful. “You saved the cheerleader so we could save the world.” The show really should have used the first season arc for its entire run.

What do you think? What are the best season finales of all time?


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