As with yesterday's season finale list, I have decided to confine this list to shows within my lifetime. Like I said yesterday, this is a purely subjective list, and hopefully it will spur some of you to comment with your own picks that I missed.
In retracing all the TV finales I've watched over the years, I've realized there are a lot of final episodes that range from "meh" to "okay." Most shows manage to turn out a sendoff that is at least passable. In the cases where there's greater pressure on a finale to wrap up a major epic, or a more demanding premise, that's usually where you'll see shows fall on their face.
With that in mind, it's not surprising that there are few sitcoms on this list. In a lot of ways the bar is lower for them. Most of the episodes on this list are ones that provoked epic amounts of "Fan rage" upon their original airings.
5) Quantum Leap: "Mirror Image" - I debated if this one was fair, as the creators shot it when the future of their series was in doubt. Still, this was intended as a launching pad into the next season and they had supposedly been warned it could be the final episode. The episode is a bizarre bore that has Sam leaping into his own adult body and finding himself in a strange metaphysical bar on the exact day of his birth. Others in the bar appear to be either leapers or odd echos of previous leaps, along with a bartender who might be the God/Time/Whoever that sends Sam on his leaps. There's a nice moment near the end where Sam uses his one "free leap" to fix things for Al rather than go home, but then the episode concludes with the biggest middle finger to fans it could have had: a caption reading "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home."
4) Enterprise: "These Are the Voyagers" - Poor Scott Bakula. He's a great actor but is the star of two of the worst finales of all-time. This episode was a slap in the face to the Enterprise cast, as the whole story is framed as a holograph simulation being played by Next Generation's Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) in a segment that's meant to take place during TNG's seventh season episode "The Pegasus." The regulars play second-fiddle in their own finale with an utterly boring story that pointlessly kills off Engineer Tucker, and then denies the audience any real closure by neglecting to show a historic speech the captain is supposedly fated to give.
3) 7th Heaven: "Goodbye and Thank You" - I didn't watch the show regularly, but I couldn't resist tuning in for this trainwreck. Not only does all the interesting stuff happen off-screen (such as a bride and groom canceling their wedding while at the altar). Not only does the show eat up time with three badly staged, acted and written fantasy scenes that seem to be there only to incorporate Jessica Biel into the show. Not only does the twist that all three Camden couples are pregnant with twins cause eye-rolling of epic proportions. But the ratings for this episode (no doubt from people like me who came to dance on this show's grave) were high enough to motivate the CW to bring the show back for yet another year. The casualty: Everwood.
(I know the mere fact that this wasn't really the end should disqualify it from this list, but it's MY list and it was fully intended as the end right up until the week after it aired. I say it counts.)
2) Star Trek: Voyager: "Endgame" - The entire premise of the show was about a Starfleet ship, stranded decades from home. For seven seasons, we watched as the crew struggled to find a faster way back, even as they pulled together. I could have forgiven the time-travel cheat that sends them home 17 years ahead of schedule, essentially amounting to a deus ex machina. I could have looked past yet another use of the Borg, a once-threatening enemy that Voyager declawed through overuse. I even could have looked past the complete lack of sacrifice or consequence here. What I can't ignore is that the audience waited seven years to see what would happen when the crew made it back - and the show fades to ending credits before Voyager reaches Earth orbit.
And the Worst Finale of All-Time (in my humble opinion)....
1) The X-Files: "The Truth" - The only thing the show got right here was bringing back David Duchovney. To really explain everything wrong with the finale would probably mean discussing what went wrong with this series as a whole. Suffice to say that at least half - if not more - of the episode is taken up with a trial that serves only to lecture to the audience about what they already know of the alien conspiracy. The main character is passive, sitting there while everyone else is stuck rehashing old territory (not unlike the Seinfeld finale, actually.)
Worse, though the episode was advertised as explaining everything, it's clear the writers can't fold all their red herrings into a single coherent conspiracy explanation. The one bit of the conspiracy that never made sense to me was the whole super-soldier plot, which emerged from thin air in season eight. The trial scenes attempt to skirt this, but it's clear those twists can't be made to work with the bees, the black oil, the alien embryos and all the other malarkey we were asked to swallow for nine years.
With "The Truth" as its valedictory address, The X-Files makes an excellent case for why one shouldn't follow a series that's based on a never-ending circle jerk of mysteries and conspiracies - or at the very least, why one shouldn't expect any satisfaction out of the ending. After being burned on this show, I watched the first two seasons of Lost, always on guard that nothing would ever make sense. I finally quit during the third season when I realized that not only was I completely indifferent to the mysteries, but that I actively hated 2/3 of the characters.
I know there are people who would argue that Seinfeld's finale deserves to be on this list. My feeling is that Seinfeld never had anything it needed to resolve. That last episode was surely a disappointment, but it feels so unlike a normal episode that it's easy for me to divorce it from the series. It doesn't taint the rest of the series for me.
What are your picks?