I’m just going to come right out and say it: 2014 was one cruel mistress from a television standpoint as show after show found itself signing off permanently, either at its own artistic behest or at the mercy of a studio mandate. Maybe the number of series finales I encountered this year was not disproportionately larger than any other, but it sure felt like it. Then again, maybe I still haven’t recovered from losing Breaking Bad in 2013 because the wound is still totally fresh, man.
Below is a list of finales I watched this year that I have neither ranked nor arranged in any particular order. Some series hit the mark and ended on a high note, while others threatened to besmirch (#bringingitback) all that came before it.
One last thing: as of this writing, I still have not watched the final season of Boardwalk Empire, so its omission from this list is not an oversight but a reflection of my overcrowded viewing schedule. Oh, and spoilers below because duh.
How I Met Your Mother
This episode is contentious as all get-out, and if you were amongst those overwhelmed with such rage that you briefly flirted with the fantasy of cramming that blue French horn up Ted Mosby’s pooper, then nothing I’ll write here will dissuade you. Still, hear me out.
I, for one, had no real issue with Ted and Robin ending up together. There, I said it, and you know what? It feels good to unburden myself. Those who decried this (admit it) inevitable coupling as evidence that Ted never loved the Mother is complete malarky (#bringingitback). I mean, isn’t it possible to love more than one person over the course of your lifetime? I also didn’t mind–aside from the criminal shortchanging of Cristin Milioti–that the Mother died. At least it gave the overall story, as implausible as it became, some context.
Having said all that, I did take issue with how we arrived at those places. If Barney and Robin were doomed from the start, as we all assumed they would be, then why on earth torment us by staging the entire final season around this event? It felt like a waste of time for the characters but, more important, for us. What bugs me about this kind of recursive storytelling is that How I Met You Mother so desperately wanted Ted and Robin to end up together that they manipulated their story to arrive there, rather than letting the story dictate the ending.
We felt cheated, we felt manipulated, we felt betrayed, but that has less to do with Ted and Robin and more with how they got together; actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that a more nuanced touch would have made this whole thing a helluva lot easier to swallow.
So, wait. Sookie euthanizes Bill before the Hep V can claim him, and then winds up with some unknown dude that isn’t Alcide, Eric, or Sam? Setting aside the finale’s conflicted–not to mention irresponsible–handling of Bill’s suicidal ideations in its closing hour, I can’t think of an ender that left me more unsatisfied this year.
From the unrelenting insistence that Hoyt and Jessica were destined to be together to Lafayette’s wordless cameo-sized appearance, everything in this last episode seemed to distill showrunner Brian Buckner’s complete failure to understand these characters.
For a show about banging and blood-sucking, the grim tone of the final hour did little to energize the proceedings, and then the saccharine-sweet coda on Sookie’s front lawn felt like an injection of insulin to the eyeballs, and not in a good way. Really, this odd juxtaposition just proved that Buckner’s vision had no focus and, worse, no real purpose. Irredeemable tripe.
In opting to focus on Stuart’s acceptance of his feelings for Jessica, this feature-length finale wisely recognized that the most satisfying conclusions prioritize emotional payoff over plotting, and we received that in abundance here.
Stuart abandons his aspirations of living a playboy lifestyle when he realizes it’s time to grow up; Wade has a romantic future with a great new lady; Jessica questions the reality of her dreams. All of this worked so well as the episode capitalized on the expanded running time to explore the inner lives of these characters. In doing this, the comedy popped brilliantly, from Stuart’s awkward meet-and-greet with Nicole Kidman to his first time sleeping with Jessica.
I laughed; I cringed; I beamed; I even clapped when the credits rolled. This is Hello, Ladies after all, and Stephen Merchant wisely understood that, for all his pomposity and arrogance, Stuart is a character we rooted for. And, in giving our protagonist the ending he–and we–needed, Merchant validated and rewarded our emotional investment.
Hyperbole warning: my favorite series finale of the year.
Sons of Anarchy
Kurt Sutter gave us the only ending that would have made any sense in Jax’s death. But, dammit, did this thing have to feel all so…silly? As if the swooping crows (GET IT?) weren’t obvious enough, Jax actually let go of his motorcycle and spread his arms as if to hug the oncoming tractor trailer–driven, of course, by the same trucker Gemma (#vicmackeytruck) befriended earlier because it’s ALL CONNECTED, MAN! And then, to top it off, the shot of the wine-soaked bread lying on the ground as it sops up Jax’s pooling blood actually made me chuckle aloud.
Because here’s the problem: Jax’s decision to kill himself is in no way a heroic act, but the episode went out of its way to suggest just that. No, Jax is a coward, not a martyr. And it is because Sutter was hell-bent on leaving us with an image of heroism for a character that didn’t deserve it that this came off as bloated and silly. So, right destination but the wrong route to get there.
Hey, at least Nero made it out alive.
You and I both know that Californication ran its course two or three seasons ago, so I find it somewhat miraculous that I walked away from this finale moderately pleased.
The last episode couldn’t evade the central will-they-won’t-they tension between Hank and Karen, even if the fact that they would end up together–again–at least in a temporary sense felt like a foregone conclusion. I mean, sure, the final scene of Hank reading the letter to Karen on the plane essentially functions as a retread of the season one finale, except this time they’re flying off into the sunset instead of driving, but Duchovny, as always, played the scene so perfectly, we can almost forgive the rehash.
Other stuff happened throughout the episode, but who cares, really? This was Hank’s show, and Hank’s audience was and always will be Karen. In the end, the episode didn’t botch the landing, but it didn’t wow me either, so I’d classify this is staunchly average, which given the show’s steady decline in quality over the past several years, is far more than I expected.
After four seasons of psychologically warped comedy, Wilfred answered the only question that mattered: What is Wilfred? Sure, we all pretty much expected him to be a product of Ryan’s imagination at this point, but somehow that didn’t lessen the satisfaction felt upon discovering that was the case. Although this show thrived in the bizarre, it never really begged for a twist ending, so in the end, Wilfred‘s central friendship between man and imaginary dog evolved into a sort of brilliant character study and exploration of Ryan’s psyche.
This show never stood a chance with attracting a wide audience, but for those of us smitten by the strange tale, we found ourselves more than rewarded by its conclusion. We have hope for Ryan and, by extension, hope that we can one day grow into ourselves as comfortably and unapologetically as he has by the time the credits roll. Who could’ve possibly expected that from a show about a guy in a dog costume that humps a giant stuffed bear? Not me, that’s for sure, but I sure am glad I was along for the ride. #innuendo
Not much to say here, except that, always a sucker for this show, I found myself delighted by the finale’s closing image of the Chance family gathered around the kitchen table as hilariously dysfunctional as ever. Fortunately for us, the episode–which the showrunners thankfully shot as an expected series finale given the ratings decline and FOX’s episode burn-off–left nothing of note dangling. And yes, I imagine Burt bursting out laughing at that last sentence.
The Chances are going to be all right, and, for this huge fan at least, that’s enough.
After a brilliant pilot, Newsroom‘s wildly inconsistent run ranged from entertaining at best to damn near unwatchable at worst. Needless to say, I entered into this truncated final season with more than just a dollop of trepidation for what Sorkin had in store for us. Color me surprised to discover a reinvigorated show that pulsated with urgent narrative life. Sure, it wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but things seemed headed in the right direction, so that when Charlie died in the penultimate episode, that impacted me more than I expected. I was pleased that Newsroom opted to slow the tempo in its final introspective hour as it revealed Charlie as the grand puppeteer behind News Night.
Lambast Sorkin for his paper-thin characterizations all you want, but Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, and Sam Waterston almost made Sorkin’s didactic speechifying work over the years based on the sheer relentlessness of their performances, and Sorkin wisely put these three front and center. I suppose detailing Charlie’s plan to get the gang together seemed like a fitting enough send off, though I took exception to the inadvertent side effect of this story: Charlie Skinner comes across less like a journalistic visionary and more like a rapscallion of a matchmaker. This kind of reductive characterization just isn’t fair. Your bad, Sorkin!
Still, Will’s going to be a papa, Mac’s going to be the new Charlie after Leona works a PR angle with the douchy new CEO, and Neil’s going to get the website back on track now that he’s returned from his sabbatical/evasion of federal authorities. On the relationship side of things, Jim and Maggie are going to give long distance a try, and Sloane reveals she has had feeling for Don all along, so theirs is a destiny writ in the stars or some such. Aww. #toocute
In the end, this finale worked better than it had any right to. But the episode’s centerpiece scene, Will jamming out with Charlie’s grandsons and Jim to “That’s How I Got to Memphis,” encapsulated the experience of watching Newsroom for me: cool as it could be, it was never the unequivocal triumph that Sorkin so desperately tried to convince us it was.
The time between seasons served FX’s The Bridge quite well. After a freshman year of weirdness for weirdness’s sake and a serial killer plot that devolved into eye-rolling cliche, it finally delivered on its narrative promise as introduced in the pilot when, in season two, American-Mexican relations–and the ramifications of maintaining them–took center stage. Unfortunately, despite the uptick in quality, the viewership hit an all-time nadir, and FX had no choice but to take the plunge and cancel it. #punintended
Still, Marco Ruiz held onto his morality when he opted to turn his childhood friend/cartel leader Fausto into the authorities rather than killing him, so this provided enough closure for me. Sure, this ending felt more like the conclusion to one chapter in a much larger saga that The Bridge might have one day hoped to tell, but I’ll take what I can get.
And hey, at least Annabeth Gish’s Charlotte didn’t make it out alive. Seriously, she was #theworst.
Well, that’s it, folks. Everything comes to an end, even obligatory television lists, so enjoy ’em while you got ’em. #thefactsoflife Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an entire season of Boardwalk Empire to marathon…