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What are the BEST TV series finales of all time?

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What are the BEST TV series finales of all time?

#1

Post by outdoorcats »

(Inspired by me finally finishing The Americans)

People complain about TV series having disappointing finales all the time, but don't talk as much about what finales they actually love. Which TV series, for you, stuck the landing and ended on just the right note?

Some of my faves, ranked:

1. Cowboy Bebop: "The Real Folk Blues (Parts 1 & 2)" (Episode 25)
-> "Bang."

2. The Americans: "START" (Season 6, Episode 10)
->Without spoiling the final trajectory of this slow-burning, psychologically rich Reagan-era spy thriller, the finale delivered on all the show's greatest strengths, amplified tenfold, and is a great show's greatest chapter. Alternately nail-biting and heartbreaking, eerie and elegiac, surprising yet satisfying.

3. The Sopranos: "Made in America" (Season 6, Episode 21)
->I was never the biggest fan of The Sopranos. Perhaps because of that, I had enough emotional distance to not be infuriated with this infamous ending, and appreciate the final episode for the work of art that it is. Abrupt endings and open-ended stories are common nowadays, so it's also easier in hindsight to see past the gimmick and appreciate all the finely-tuned moments that sum up each character perfectly in this seemingly uneventful final chapter, which alternates between existential absurdity and paranoia. The final scene, once seemingly universally hated, now seems iconic, both widely parodied and obsessively analyzed over, and the last word I can say about it is

4. The Leftovers: "The Book of Nora" (Season 3, Episode 8)
->After spending its final season being one of the most batshit crazy shows to ever exist, The Leftovers abruptly settled down for a quiet, unhurried, and perfectly constructed epilogue which both stands on its own as a self-contained story about love and lies, and a perfect final chapter which, like a magician, somehow ties all the impossibly disparate threads of the story neatly into one thematic whole.

5. Angel: "Not Fade Away" (Season 5, Episode 22)
->An unusual case in which an abrupt cancellation helped craft the perfect ending for this Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff which trafficked in uncomfortable moral ambiguity and sudden beloved character deaths before it was cool. From beginning to end, this is probably the most exciting finale on this list.

6. Hannibal: "The Wrath of the Lamb" (Season 3, Episode 13)
->Bryan Fuller's masterful psychological art horror was cancelled before its time (though, to be fair, it's unbelievable this show ever aired on NBC, was ever greenlit even--let alone renewed for two additional seasons). Series finales that aren't sure if they'll be series finales or not have an impossible task, but somehow this haunting and epic climax forms a perfect conclusion.

7. Person of Interest: "Return 0" (Season 5, Episode 13)
->The bittersweet and explosive culmination of years worth of story from the most philosophical dystopian action/thriller on network TV had a lot to live up to. The final season in particular is noteworthy in that all but 2 episodes have a 9.0 rating or higher on IMDb. It didn't seem possible that the final episode could seem appropriately climactic in a series which kept setting a higher and higher bar for itself, but Person of Interest somehow delivered.

8. LOST: "The End" (Season 6, Episode 16)
->Haters be damned. This is, and remains after many viewings, the most moving finale of all time. If we're parsing degrees of perfection, I only put it this low on the list because the on-island story wasn't quite as exciting as previous season finales, which has more to do with what a crazily high bar the show set for itself than anything.

9. Parks and Recreation: "One Last Ride" (Season 7, Episode 12)
->Sitcom finales get a lot of hate, so it's special to see one as universally loved as this one. Incredibly moving and, in tune with the rest of the show, proudly idealistic in a way that gets even cynics like me wondering why we give naivete a bad name.

10. Monster: "The Real Monster" (Episode 74)
->74 episodes worth of dense story came to a surprising conclusion--as surprising for what it didn't do as for what it did. While one part of the story is left ambiguous, the culmination of the show's philosophical themes of the nature of evil was not. The final haunting image is burned into my brain.
Last edited by outdoorcats on August 18th, 2022, 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#2

Post by mightysparks »

Didn't actually like the ending of Bebop that much. I do love the Lost finale though. Some of the other shows there I haven't finished (and others I haven't started). Others I'd put up there would be Breaking Bad, Six Feet Under, Extras (if the 'special' counts as the finale).
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#3

Post by outdoorcats »

Extras and The Office [UK] both had great finales, yeah. I was disappointed in the end to Breaking Bad though (but the final season as a whole is amazing).

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#4

Post by Traveller »

The Leftovers, LOST and Person of Interest finals would be on my list, too. Six Feet Under's was emotional as well. The series finale of Carnivale, even though not completely concluding, was phenomenal. There are probably more, but out of my head I can't remember much of the finals of some favorite shows. The best series finale is that of The Shield, though, and while the show wouldn't make my top 10, the finale was just gut wrenching.
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#5

Post by brokenface »

Six Feet Under. And Twin Peaks (both of them)
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#6

Post by AdamH »

Breaking Bad, The Office (original) and Six Feet Under.
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#7

Post by tazz_85 »

I used to watch a lot of series from 2005 tot 2015, but i'm more into movies since then :p
altough i watched a lot of series there are still some popular series from that period i have never seen

Some of the best i can remember:
- Battlestar Galactica (2003 remake)
The final jump from Starbuck, still remember that scene :wub:
- Breaking Bad
- Carnivale
Been a while now, but the whole series was awesome
- Fringe
- Lost
The final season was 'different', i liked the whole Dharma initiative mystery back then. Still remember after every episode the endless discussions and hours of analysis that was done after every episode
- Mr.Robot
This one is more recent, that last season was one of the best i've ever seen
- The Man In The High Castle
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#8

Post by Torgo »

I'm one of the typical IMDb guys who'll 10/10 Breaking Bad to heavens and back, but the very series finale (Felina) played it a little too safe for me. Hard to hate, hard to become completely amazed by. To imagine a grim conclusion to everything, phew ..!
But that's just me :)

I see no mention of the very last episode of The Wire here - that was a poetic, tonally perfect conclusion to the series that felt like amplifying everything you've seen in the 5 seasons. If I'll not join the "greatest TV work of all time" camp for the series overall, I'll definitely give it that.

Bonus nomination for
Spoiler
the day The Simpsons finally will be freed from its misery :ph43r:
Last edited by Torgo on August 20th, 2022, 2:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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#9

Post by outdoorcats »

Torgo wrote: August 18th, 2022, 6:57 pm I'm one of the typical IMDb guys who'll 10/10 Breaking Bad to heavens and back, but the very series finale (Felina) played it a little too safe for me. Hard to hate, hard to become completely amazed by. To imagine a grim conclusion to everything, phew ..!
But that's just me :)

I see no mention of the very last episode of The Wire here - that was a poetic, tonally perfect conclusion to the series that felt like amplifying everything you've seen in the 5 series. If I'll not the "greatest TV work of all time" camp for the series overall, I'll definitely give it that.

Bonus nomination for
Spoiler
the day The Simpsons finally will be freed from its misery :ph43r:
No mention of Better Call Saul? ;)

I rewatched The Wire earlier this year and it does indeed have a fantastic series finale, much better than I remember.

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#10

Post by xianjiro »

The only three that have left a very significant impact are Six Feet Under -- simply awesome and as others have said, quite emotional -- The Sopranos, and can't believe no one's mentioned M*A*S*H yet. There might even have been a Stargate or Star Trek universe finale that I really liked, but the problem there is they were always setting up something else, usually a 'stand alone' movie. So nothing there comes to mind.

But this is also a difficult area. 1) I've watched lots of series in 20+ years, some of which I only watched the one time so things like LOST and Fringe are pretty distant memories now though I do remember LOST being pretty good. Just not sure I thought it great. 2) Besides the star operas non-ending endings, there are plenty of series that got cancelled and didn't really end, at least not as the creator/show runner intended. Carnivale and Deadwood are good examples. 3) Up until the rethinking of series TV at the end of the last century, shows rarely had a real finale -- it's just the last of a string of episodes and clearly many shows don't have season arcs ( ST:TOS and ST:TNG are good examples where Roddenberry was vehemently opposed to anything really spanning multiple episodes though characters and situations might have been returned to ).

I'm sure that if I revisited some series I really liked, I could probably find others that I'd add to my list, but even for shows I liked and now own like Sex and the City and Rome, I'm not sure I thought the finales as spectacular as the three I mentioned above. I know a couple of the British detective series had thoughtful finales, Touch of Frost and Morse come to mind with Morse probably worth being on my list, I'm just not certain since it's been a very long time since watching it.
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#11

Post by 72aicm »

1. The Sopranos
2. Boston Legal
3. Better Call Saul.

^ facts.
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#12

Post by gunnar »

xianjiro wrote: August 19th, 2022, 5:46 am The only three that have left a very significant impact are Six Feet Under -- simply awesome and as others have said, quite emotional -- The Sopranos, and can't believe no one's mentioned M*A*S*H yet. There might even have been a Stargate or Star Trek universe finale that I really liked, but the problem there is they were always setting up something else, usually a 'stand alone' movie. So nothing there comes to mind.
I definitely agree with you on the Six Feet Under finale. That is an excellent show with a great finale. I couldn't get into The Sopranos so I can't comment on that one.

I had been watching M*A*S*H for around 5 years when the finale aired. With a local independent station airing reruns twice daily, I had seen many of the episodes of the series multiple times in addition to watching the new episodes as they aired. The night of the finale was a pretty big event with the independent station airing the first episode and a retrospective on the series. I was a bit disappointed with the finale after all of the hype, probably because it was different than what I was expecting. I enjoyed the finale quite a bit more when I rewatched it years later, but that disappointment still sticks a little in the back of my mind.
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#13

Post by OldAle1 »

Haven't really ever been a big TV watcher - I got serious about film back in the 80s, and before that I was more a reader than viewer (of anything). So I don't have a lot of choices for this kind of question, because I think you have to actually care enough about a series to have seen most or all of it to really be affected by a last episode. But I've gotten a bit more into TV in the past decade and have gone through some shows complete in that time, so I do have a few favorites now, though given that much of my viewing is of older shows that don't really have sustained story arcs, there are a great many that just end with more or less normal episodes. These ones don't:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I don't read a lot of online chat about this show, but I've read a bit, and it seems to be popular to diss on the last two seasons of the show to a certain extent (a few individual episodes like "Once More With Feeling" being exception). I don't agree and I love the last three seasons pretty much equally, and "Chosen" to me is about as perfect an ending as could be imagined, and tonally in keeping with the show's themes overall. And I'm a sucker for last shots like the one in this episode.

Frasier - the last, 2-part episode is part of a story arc that encompasses the last 7 episodes, wherein Frasier finally meets a woman who he seemingly could be happy with - and doesn't fuck it up right away - while his brother and sister-in-law are poised to become parents, his father to get remarried, and his producer to get a new job. It's a nice ending for everybody, but Frasier's own is left just a bit up in the air - which is entirely appropriate to the show I think.

Newhart - the success of the ending of this is really predicated on some foreknowledge that a lot of fans of Bob Newhart will have, but random viewers wouldn't - so I think this would be a much, much less impressive viewing for anyone not "in the know". But if you are it's pretty incredible. St. Elsewhere had an ending that is similar in some respects but I was never an even semi-regular viewer of that show and so it doesn't really do anything for me.

Mary Tyler Moore - one of those everything-ends endings, where the entire newsroom crew that we've watched for 7 years gets fired - except for the most incompetent and ignorant member of the group. Heavy foreshadowing of the American future, as it turns out.


I tend to think of short-running series in a different light - in part because in many cases they weren't intended to end as quickly as they did - but a couple come to mind as having great endings anyway: The Prisoner and Twin Peaks (season 2 - I think it counts, given how long it was the final episode).
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#14

Post by Torgo »

72aicm wrote: August 19th, 2022, 5:56 am 3. Better Call Saul.

^ facts.
:cheers:
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#15

Post by outdoorcats »

OldAle1 wrote: August 19th, 2022, 2:19 pm Haven't really ever been a big TV watcher - I got serious about film back in the 80s, and before that I was more a reader than viewer (of anything). So I don't have a lot of choices for this kind of question, because I think you have to actually care enough about a series to have seen most or all of it to really be affected by a last episode. But I've gotten a bit more into TV in the past decade and have gone through some shows complete in that time, so I do have a few favorites now, though given that much of my viewing is of older shows that don't really have sustained story arcs, there are a great many that just end with more or less normal episodes. These ones don't:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - I don't read a lot of online chat about this show, but I've read a bit, and it seems to be popular to diss on the last two seasons of the show to a certain extent (a few individual episodes like "Once More With Feeling" being exception). I don't agree and I love the last three seasons pretty much equally, and "Chosen" to me is about as perfect an ending as could be imagined, and tonally in keeping with the show's themes overall. And I'm a sucker for last shots like the one in this episode.
:cheers: Coincidentally, I just finished a full rewatch of Buffy and I'll have more to say about it later. But indeed, an underrated final season that was better than I remembered it - except for that one inexplicable episode where
Spoiler
they kick Buffy out of her own house.
A fantastic series finale, action-packed, a satisfying ending and final shot. If it doesn't quite crack my top 10, it's only because there's 10 that are even better, and the ones on my list tend to be their series' finest hour (or one of), where I would rank "Chosen" around #9 or #10 or so among Buffy episodes.

Given your love for the endings of The Prisoner and Twin Peaks, I have a feeling you'll be a fan of the finale of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I'm pretty sure those three complete a holy trinity of experimental freak-outs with abrupt endings.

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#16

Post by Torgo »

outdoorcats wrote: August 19th, 2022, 8:28 pm the finale of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I'm pretty sure those three complete a holy trinity of experimental freak-outs with abrupt endings.
We need to be accurate there: you mean E25+E26, the regular series finale - not End of Evangelion, right?
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#17

Post by xianjiro »

OldAle1 wrote: August 19th, 2022, 2:19 pm Mary Tyler Moore - one of those everything-ends endings, where the entire newsroom crew that we've watched for 7 years gets fired - except for the most incompetent and ignorant member of the group. Heavy foreshadowing of the American future, as it turns out.
Yeah, good call on this one. I rather enjoyed rewatching MTM episode-by-episode. Alas, haven't done it with Frasier yet.
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#18

Post by outdoorcats »

Torgo wrote: August 20th, 2022, 2:14 am
outdoorcats wrote: August 19th, 2022, 8:28 pm the finale of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I'm pretty sure those three complete a holy trinity of experimental freak-outs with abrupt endings.
We need to be accurate there: you mean E25+E26, the regular series finale - not End of Evangelion, right?
Yes. End of Evangelion is a movie which was made, reluctantly by Anno, because of outrage over the way NGE ended.

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#19

Post by xianjiro »

Also Prime Suspect had a pretty good finale. Not sure I'd put it on my top shelf, but maybe second tier.
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#20

Post by St. Gloede »

Saw this thread for the first time now it seems, Outdoorcats.

I'm very happy you listed The Sopranos. It is one of my favourite final episodes as well, and it could indeed be that emotional distance helps you appreciate what it is doing. Fitting that you picked Angel as well, which ends on a similar note and I love that finale as well.

I do disagree on Lost, but that's largely because I disliked the overall idea and reveal of the S8 flash-sideays/flash forwards adding in a new mythological element completely unrelated to anything else. Essentially, Friends, or any show, could have ended the same way.

Parks and Rec had a strong/great final, but it didn't really stand out that strongly to me. The same goes for Cowboy Bebop. It was a great episode, but it really just threw all its bags into Spike's story when it was a show with 3(-4) equal leads.

Not seen the other shows you mention.

Of the other shows brought up in this thread, I strongly agree on Six Feet Under. The Shirld's finale was also really strong.
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#21

Post by outdoorcats »

St. Gloede wrote: August 22nd, 2022, 2:19 pm Saw this thread for the first time now it seems, Outdoorcats.

I'm very happy you listed The Sopranos. It is one of my favourite final episodes as well, and it could indeed be that emotional distance helps you appreciate what it is doing. Fitting that you picked Angel as well, which ends on a similar note and I love that finale as well.

I do disagree on Lost, but that's largely because I disliked the overall idea and reveal of the S8 flash-sideays/flash forwards adding in a new mythological element completely unrelated to anything else. Essentially, Friends, or any show, could have ended the same way.

Parks and Rec had a strong/great final, but it didn't really stand out that strongly to me. The same goes for Cowboy Bebop. It was a great episode, but it really just threw all its bags into Spike's story when it was a show with 3(-4) equal leads.

Not seen the other shows you mention.

Of the other shows brought up in this thread, I strongly agree on Six Feet Under. The Shirld's finale was also really strong.
Cowboy Bebop prepped that, though, by giving
Spoiler
Faye, Ed, and Ein their own finale a couple episodes early. There's a symmetry to that; remember the first episode starts with just Spike and Jet and all the other characters are introduced in later episodes.
LOST on the surface was a mystery box show / island adventure / sci-fi, but underneath all that it was a character-based show about the journey about a group of broken people (themes Lindelof would explore more explicitly in The Leftovers and Watchmen). The show plays with all sorts of allegories but one recurring one is the island being life itself, or perhaps better, the state of life we want to escape from. Where the final season goes is very much necessary to conclude their emotional arcs and it connects very well to the philosophical and theological themes of the show. And sure, Friends could end the same way, but that would be pretty silly for Friends. It fits right in with the tone of LOST.

The Sopranos and Angel. :cheers: Like OldAle, you seem to appreciate an abrupt ending. (When it's done well - really well - it's pretty hard to beat!)

I can definitely see you being a big fan of The Americans. Just keep in mind the first season, while perfectly *good*, is not a strong indicator of the show's greatness. Same goes for The Leftovers, though those two shows are tonal polar opposites. The Americans is a bit like Mad Men stylistically; impeccably crafted down to the smallest details. The Leftovers is more surreal and gonzo, and competes with The Wire for my "Best Show of All Time" spot.

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#22

Post by xianjiro »

Think Sopranos' and Six Feet Under's respective endings are rather polar opposites.
Spoiler
The one lets us decide the future with an interesting provocation reminiscent of the critical restaurant scene in The Godfather. The other tells us about the endings of all the characters -- something I don't believe I've quite ever encountered before.
It takes a while to become comfortable with those open endings. I know I hated them initially when I first started encountering them in my 20s, but for a lot of thoughtful movies, I find them quite satisfying. It's much less of beating us over the head with whatever message (a la some Steven Segal films).

Watched Nefes: Vatan Sagolsun yesterday and the only thing that saved it from being an all out nationalistic piece what what I saw to be a much more open ending. Even with the few comments on iCM, it's clear that such a movie can be 'read' in different ways and largely depends on the views/biases of the viewer.

I find more open endings allow for great thought and reflection.

BTW, I tend to get really emotional when I know I'm coming to the end of a series. After spending so much time getting to know the characters and growing invested in their 'lives', I'm often said to say "good-bye". But then again, I also really appreciate when shows aren't dragged out well past the usefulness of their basic theme. Sure, The Sopranos could have gone on for another X seasons with new characters, Tony, Carmela, etc doing their thing. Would AJ join the family firm? There would have been plenty more they could have done, but thankfully chose not to do.

BTW 2, has anyone mentioned GoT? Someday I'd really like to clear the calendar and just try to go through the whole thing from start to finish to see if I could get a better handle on the whole picture. It was a bit too complex for me and honestly, I barely remember the ending. No the Red Wedding -- that has stuck with me.
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#23

Post by St. Gloede »

outdoorcats wrote: August 22nd, 2022, 9:42 pm Cowboy Bebop prepped that, though, by giving
Spoiler
Faye, Ed, and Ein their own finale a couple episodes early. There's a symmetry to that; remember the first episode starts with just Spike and Jet and all the other characters are introduced in later episodes.
Very good point indeed, and I'll agree that structurally it makes sense.
LOST on the surface was a mystery box show / island adventure / sci-fi, but underneath all that it was a character-based show about the journey about a group of broken people (themes Lindelof would explore more explicitly in The Leftovers and Watchmen). The show plays with all sorts of allegories but one recurring one is the island being life itself, or perhaps better, the state of life we want to escape from. Where the final season goes is very much necessary to conclude their emotional arcs and it connects very well to the philosophical and theological themes of the show. And sure, Friends could end the same way, but that would be pretty silly for Friends. It fits right in with the tone of LOST.
Spoiler
Good point re: theological ties, etc. but I still think that introducing the separate mythology of the afterlife, which is in no way connected to the mystery/island, but a way to tie up the characters after they died still feels off - though it is certainly unique.
The Sopranos and Angel. :cheers: Like OldAle, you seem to appreciate an abrupt ending. (When it's done well - really well - it's pretty hard to beat!)
Yes, very true. In general TV shows and films are often better if they don't tie up every end as they leave something to the imagination and it is more powerful to live in uncertainty, either to fill in the blanks with our imagination, imagine the possible outcomes/Schroedinger's ending or just be left there with the blunt cut. In Angel's case in particular it also fits the show's theme of a consistent battle, so win or lose that's where we leave them.
I can definitely see you being a big fan of The Americans. Just keep in mind the first season, while perfectly *good*, is not a strong indicator of the show's greatness. Same goes for The Leftovers, though those two shows are tonal polar opposites. The Americans is a bit like Mad Men stylistically; impeccably crafted down to the smallest details. The Leftovers is more surreal and gonzo, and competes with The Wire for my "Best Show of All Time" spot.
Very high praise for The Leftovers, it was not high on my series watchlist to be honest but moving up now.
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#24

Post by outdoorcats »

St. Gloede wrote: August 23rd, 2022, 8:08 am...
Re: LOST
Spoiler
I'd argue the use of whispers going back to the first season somewhat foreshadows the importance of an afterlife in the island's mythology. (Accidentally, of course - they had no idea what they were doing in the first season!) But even back then the whispers were saying things that seemed to echo the words of the dead, for instance in that "Sawyer hunts a boar" episode (Outlaws). Plus you have Hurley who can speak to dead people starting in Season 4.
As for The Leftovers, it had a small audience, but a seemingly unusually high percentage of its viewers consider it to be one of the best shows ever made. The third season is ranked on Metacritic as one of the 10 highest rated TV seasons ever. And with just three short seasons, quite digestible!

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#25

Post by outdoorcats »

xianjiro wrote: August 23rd, 2022, 1:23 am
BTW 2, has anyone mentioned GoT? Someday I'd really like to clear the calendar and just try to go through the whole thing from start to finish to see if I could get a better handle on the whole picture. It was a bit too complex for me and honestly, I barely remember the ending. No the Red Wedding -- that has stuck with me.
I thought GoT had a solid and very satisfying ending. My only real complaint was
Spoiler
we needed to see Grey Worm make the decision to spare Jon Snow (and have a stronger indication as to exactly why, rather than leaving it up to speculation) which would have seemed to me the natural conclusion of Grey Worm's story.
If I extended my list to 20, Game of Thrones makes it.

When I checked in the next day, seemingly 99% of the world disagreed. :circle: :shrug:

I feel bad for the showrunners, who clearly put a ton of effort into creating what they thought was a great finale, only to become the two most absurdly hated people on the internet.

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#26

Post by St. Gloede »

I would not list the Game of Thrones finale amongst my favourites, but it was far, far from bad. I'm honestly partially surprised by the negative reaction as to me the downgrade in quality started more or less as soon as they ran out of source material, and the final was, quality-wise, perfectly on par with the quality of the last few seasons. It seems like a large portion of the hatred came from people who had somehow missed all of the mass murder and cruelty of Daenerys over, well, essentially every season. I thought the finale was a perfectly good-tie-up. It struggled with the same issue as much of the last couple of seasons in feeling a little rushed and needing to get from A to B to C without the slower suspense building of the early seasons, but I had gotten very accustomed to this by that point and if anything it brought some political elements back which had been sorely missed.

-

This topic does serve as a reminder that I have been watching far too few serious TV shows lately - I mainly watch comedy shows with my wife these days. While I won't say any of these endings are amonst the best of all time, I really liked the finaleof Moone Boy, ending it on a note of family and managing to do a special guest star focus with Paul Rudd that felt very in touch with the rest of the show/theme (as they mirrored Martin's relationship with his imaginary friend with his grandfather's).

One ending I do not see mentioned is the ending of one of my favourite shows, The Shield, which while by no means ending abruptly and essentially tied up every characther's faith, still had a great sense of utter melancholy. I know many, much like with The Sopranos, hate how Vic ended, but without spoiling too much, it hit very well with me.
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#27

Post by xianjiro »

outdoorcats wrote: August 23rd, 2022, 10:41 pm I feel bad for the showrunners, who clearly put a ton of effort into creating what they thought was a great finale, only to become the two most absurdly hated people on the internet.
for what? :think: fifteen minutes? okay, maybe an hour tops.
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#28

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outdoorcats wrote: July 4th, 2020, 1:17 am 3. The Sopranos: "Made in America" (Season 6, Episode 21)
The final scene, once seemingly universally hated, now seems iconic, both widely parodied and obsessively analyzed over, and the last word I can say about it is
Oi! Meta humour not allowed 'ere guvnor.

I've been watching a lot of Sammy Gravano podcasts, and a real flavour of mafia life seems to be that at any moment you can be murdered or arrested, completely out of the blue. With the murders, you may not even be aware that you broke a rule, or you may even not have broken a rule, or you may not have realized someone else knew you broke a rule. They just have the constant anxiety of knowing that any day could be their last. Ofc any of us could have a sudden death, but it's so unlikely we don't tend to think about it, whereas with those lot, it's pretty likely to actually happen at some point, Gravano was one of the few to stay alive, and he was pretty lucky. I think at the time I saw Sopranos when it was initially aired I kind of was aware of that reality, but I didn't feel it viscerally. Maybe if I watched that episode again I would feel less like I got bilked and more like it was elegantly displaying that reality.

Getting down to brass tacks, I think that the show was not well planned out, as the writer's strike showed, it was being written on the fly. They had no idea how to end it so they ended it like that. The ending does have a feeling of Emperor's New Clothes to it despite what I said in the last paragraph. I also felt the show was trying to hook people in because mafia stories are so popular and then try and teach some moral lessons (for example Melfi chooses not to get Tony to murder her rapist, and Carmela has to accept her complicity in Tony's life, there's a schnorrer pirest held up as a bad moral example etc), but actually the Mafia families themselves absolutely loved watching the show and idolised the characters, so in general I feel the series was a failure. It's one of the reasons I stopped watching tv series. I will now quote from Babylon 5 of all sources, recognising the irony that it's tv, but there's a random extra on the show that one day says: "I don't watch TV. It's a cultural wasteland filled with inappropriate metaphors and an unrealistic portrayal of life created by the liberal media elite." I nearly fell off my chair when I heard that line!
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#29

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On the moral side, it is interesting that essentially all major films and series depicting the mafia seem to be embraced by the mafia, implying that they either:

1. Have a very good sense of humour about themselves :turned:
2. These films are in no real way insulting to their internal culture and criminal enterprise and may even make them look good - perhaps even complete with the idolization of the creators :whistling:
3. The points fly over their heads :mw_confused:

All 3 and other alternatives can also be true, but it is certainly the case that most films and shows depicting the mafia tend to do it with a degree of awe for the general mythology, exploring their sense of honour and often looking quite sexy. Even trying back to the best films, like Goodfellas, the ending implies getting out of the mafia/normalcy is a pretty big loss. I suppose most crime films, even those made during the Hays years, where everyone had to be arrested or killed, still took joy and excitement in the life of crime, only really showing that it could end badly.

This is also a common complaint for war films, i.e. essentially all of them will idolize war in some way, be it hero worship, and just making the battle sequences suspenseful, exciting and fun. This ties back to Truffaut's classic quote: “There's no such thing as an anti-war film.” and probably earlier examples as well. Of course, that is not entirely true. I'd argue Fires on the Plain, Come and See and others show the horror and terror of war - but most war films certainly do not fall into this fairly small camp.

As we have discussed before I don't really judge films morally on these merits, and if I do, it is usually a small piece of the puzzle, but I can certainly see how off-putting it can be.

On the note o:f "I don't watch TV. It's a cultural wasteland filled with inappropriate metaphors and an unrealistic portrayal of life created by the liberal media elite." - I don't really think this is so much a condemnation, as the liberal media elite is certainly still capable of creating exciting narratives, and realistic portrayals of life are just one approach - but culturally (rather than in terms of the greatness of any given show or movie) this can (and probably does) have a fairly dangerous impact.

I'm watching Modern Family with my wife at the moment - a really fun show - but at the moment (we are in season 6) this "normal" modern family consists of one hugely successful business owner + stay at home wife, their son-in-law, who is also a successful business owner and his at first stay-at-home wife, later top executive at her father's company - and her brother, a hugely successful lawyer + at first stay at home partner/husband, later music teacher/football coach (the only one with a "normal job", though he doesn't need it with his husband's money) - oh, and their kids. Hell, when one of them runs for politics they are a great candidate because they will listen to both sides. It's about as extremely liberal as it can possibly get (perhaps with the exception of social values, as they really touted the value of having all 3 couples with a stay-at-home parent).

Unlike shows like Friends or even Fraisier (the show-runner was also a producer on Frasier) there are not even any real main characters closer to being working class or even just regular middle class in the American meaning. I suppose the Dunphy's are the stand-in as they do live in a more traditional suburban middle-class home, but that was bought long before Phil became co-owner of a real estate firm some seasons ago and when they were on a single income. Additionally, the Tucker-Pritchet's were revealed to only have one floor of their two-floor villa, oh the shame they saw in their friend's eyes when they told him.

This is a little more of an extreme example than most of the other big US sit-coms where they tend to be successful/comfortable rather than downright rich without it ever really being approached as a subject (with the exception of the patriarch who essentially lives in a mansion) but my mind immediately went to it. There are of course examples of bigger US shows looking at more working-class characters as well. Superstore was a big one that ended recently, and that even tackled unionism fairly seriously - which came as a big surprise to me.

With UK in particular I do get the sense that there are a lot more shows set in the lives of working-class characters, but I'm not sure the angle/framing it is coming from. I know shows like Bread are criticized for just mocking people on benefits.

Edit: Another show we're watching that is still on the air is Workin' Moms (mind you, its Canadian, not American), which started with everyone having more regular, though very comfortable jobs (realtor, two office workers in advertising and IT respectively and psychiatrist), but now two of them own sizable businesses, and when one character left she was replaced by a media mogul. Another got a big promotion and the psychiatrist is, well, still a successful psychiatrist. Obviously, we see this on shows all the time, i.e. characters succeed, etc. but interesting just how many characters seem to become business owners in these shows. Maybe it is just selection bias though.
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#30

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matthewscott8 wrote: August 24th, 2022, 11:56 am Oi! Meta humour not allowed 'ere guvnor.
It took so many months for someone to notice... :cheers:

I will add to your criticisms of The Sopranos, the overall show, that it's an unhealthily misanthropic and nihilistic show about all humans (not just the mafia ones), which seems to cherry pick random things in order to make it's point that everyone is corrupt. There are probably some interesting philosophical debates to be had there, but the show doesn't make them, it just makes every side character deeply awful in a way that feels like the writers don't know people very well.

re: Gloede - as big sitcoms go, have you heard of Abbott Elementary? I believe it was the most popular show to debut early this year, and it's about Philadelphia public school teachers (which of course is near and dear to my heart).

Of course, there's some great indie/cable TV not made by coastal elites - Reservation Dogs, for example.

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#31

Post by xianjiro »

I disagree with your assessment of The Sopranos. The whole point of the show, according to an interview with David Chase I read or heard, his point was about a group of individuals choosing bad or even worst possible options and where that leads. I don't believe he considers his work an indictment of society though clearly others interpret it that way. One reason for picking the "family business" as a setting is precisely because it's atypical of society at large and operates by a different code than "average" people.
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Post by matthewscott8 »

xianjiro wrote: August 29th, 2022, 3:39 am I disagree with your assessment of The Sopranos. The whole point of the show, according to an interview with David Chase I read or heard, his point was about a group of individuals choosing bad or even worst possible options and where that leads. I don't believe he considers his work an indictment of society though clearly others interpret it that way. One reason for picking the "family business" as a setting is precisely because it's atypical of society at large and operates by a different code than "average" people.
A major theme is how normal people have their basest instincts revealed by contact with the mafia, there are also major non-mafia characters, Artie Bucco in addition to others already mentioned. Going by David Chase is the intentional fallacy.
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#33

Post by matthewscott8 »

St. Gloede wrote: August 24th, 2022, 12:42 pm On the moral side, it is interesting that essentially all major films and series depicting the mafia seem to be embraced by the mafia
There's a very good article in the New Yorker about depictions of the mafia. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria ... e-mobsters
It started with Prohibition. Prohibition was very unpopular so the people supplying booze could be mythologized, and this coincides with the movies going to talkies.

I can't think of a depiction that hasn't fallen into the mythologization trap. The Godfather seems to have cemented this mode of presentation. There also seems to be a contractual consideration, most people consider themselves safe from organized criminals, involvement with then is seen as something people choose.

Sammy Gravano talks about manliness a lot, how being a amico nostro is about being a model of masculinity. There is something of a vacuum waiting to be filled with mafia takes on the subject. I remember being brought up in a time and place where masculinity was only ever discussed in a negative way, and I had an absent father who when he was present, was violent. A lot of men will listen to anyone who has anything positive to say about their sex and gender. Mafiosi live by the sword and die by the sword but along the way they get laid a lot, women were queuing up to sleep with them, and they emphasise family a lot (even though there is a certain perversity to this), they live in an environment of "respect" (again perverse). In a modern world where masculinity, family and respect have all been degraded, mafia stories have a siren quality.

Notably Italian mafia movies seem almost universally to portray mafia in a negative light, the heroes are the cops and prosecutors.

I'd love to see someone like Farocki tackle the subject with objectivity.
Last edited by matthewscott8 on August 29th, 2022, 10:56 am, edited 2 times in total.
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#34

Post by St. Gloede »

matthewscott8 wrote: August 29th, 2022, 7:47 am
St. Gloede wrote: August 24th, 2022, 12:42 pm On the moral side, it is interesting that essentially all major films and series depicting the mafia seem to be embraced by the mafia
There's a very good article in the New Yorker about depictions of the mafia. https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria ... e-mobsters
It started with Prohibition. Prohibition was very unpopular so the people supplying booze could be mythologized, and this coincides with the movies going to talkies.
Thanks, will give this a read.
I can't think of a depiction that hasn't fallen into the mythologization trap. The Godfather seems to have cemented this mode of presentation. There also seems to be a contractual consideration, most peoplw cobaidee themselves safe from organized criminals, involvement with then is seen as something people choose.

Sammy Gravano talks about manliness a lot, how being a amico nostro is about being a model of masculinity. There is something of a vacuum waiting to be filled with mafia takes on the subject. I remember being brought up in a time and place where masculinity was only ever discussed in a negative way, and I had an absent father who when he was present, was violent. A lot of men will listen to anyone who has anything positive to say about their sex and gender. Mafiosi live by the sword and die by the sword but along the way they get laid a lot, women were queuing up to sleep with them, and they emphasise family a lot (even though there is a certain perversity to this), they live in an environment of "respect" (again perverse). In a modern world where masculinity, family and respect have all been degraded, mafia stories have a siren quality.
Very interesting read of seeing mafia films as a kind of wish-fulfillment for men looking for more traditional expressions of being a man. That could certainly be part of it, though the majority of the biggest mafia films did come out when America was still a much more Conservative and patriarchal country, and they did not exactly lack machismo wish fulfillment films in the 30s-90s, or really later, though things did change over the last 2-3 decades.
Notably Italian mafia movies seem to almost universally to portray mafia in a negative light, the heroes are the cops and prosecutors.
That's a great and interesting note I had not considered, and it is very broadly true, including within the gritty and often sleazy crime films of the 70s, very fascinating. My quick guess would be that it is because about the greater extent to which the mafia is seen to be impacting their lives - or, if we follow your famuly/gender role idea, because Italy is still a fairly patriarchal country with similar notions of family and gender to those you describe as idolised in the American mafia films.

It is also interesting that in Japan it is very different, with a long stream of Yakuza films with a similar focus on honor.
I'd love to see someone like Farocki tackle the subject with objectivity.
Now this I would love to see!
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#35

Post by St. Gloede »

outdoorcats wrote: August 28th, 2022, 9:45 pm re: Gloede - as big sitcoms go, have you heard of Abbott Elementary? I believe it was the most popular show to debut early this year, and it's about Philadelphia public school teachers (which of course is near and dear to my heart).
Had not heard of this one, will add it to our watchlist.
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