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The Ten Best Television Series Finales

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As you may have heard, Battlestar Galactica, the most geek-friendly show on TV, came to an end last week. It was a stirring finale, and one that has garnered more than a little controversy in certain online circles. So it got me to thinking: How does it stack up to other great finales? Which has led to this list, all about the best television swan songs.

As a note, shows which didn't get a chance at a real finale, like Firefly or My So-Called Life, weren't considered. Also, there will be spoilers, so read at your own discretion. You have been warned.

Now to start the countdown:

10. "Exeunt Omnes," Oz

For such an innovative and influential show, Oz is rather underrated. It rarely pops up on lists of best TV series, and it's relatively difficult to find out any substantial information about the show online. I mean, this is the show that, with its stark depictions of brutal violence and graphic sexuality, not to mention its sharp and perceptive character studies and social commentaries, paved the way for such later HBO series as The Sopranos and Deadwood. It didn't break the mold, it created the mold. And it remained true to that mold until its final 100 minutes, in which all of the major storylines were resolved in fitting and, in some cases, desperately depressing ways. At the end, everyone is forced to evacuate the prison, leaving behind the ground on which so much blood was shed and so much cocaine was snorted. As dense and dark as ever.

9. "Discos and Dragons," Freaks and Geeks

Unlike so many shows that got canceled after just one season, Freaks and Geeks had a creative team that knew the axe was about to fall and who decided to actually go out with a real ending instead of praying for another year. Daniel finds happiness at a Dungeons & Dragons game, Nick finds disappointment on the disco floor, and Lindsay finds herself by listening to the Grateful Dead's American Beauty, surely the sweetest and least embarrassing spiritual transformation the Dead have ever been responsible for. It's a typically hilarious and poignant hour of perhaps the most down-to-earth and realistic teen saga television has yet to see, and if it doesn't seem to have the immenseness or finality of a last chapter, that's because it wasn't meant to. These kids have got their whole lives ahead of them.

8. "Made in America," The Sopranos

"Made in America" was forever embedded in the collective cultural conscience as soon as it ended; its infamous cut-to-black ending was so widely reported and commented on that even Hillary and Bill Clinton did a parody of it. But by focusing on that last ambiguous parting shot from creator David Chase, we run the risk of forgetting just how beautifully structured and executed an hour of television "Made in America" is. Except for Phil Leotardo's brilliantly succinct whacking, there's no outpouring of violence. So much of the series had been divided between Tony's dual lives with his family and The Family, and there's no doubting that its final hour was all about the lowercase "f" family. A.J. almost dies in a car fire with one of his many girlfriends, and decides to join the Army, only to be seduced by the more glamorous life of a movie producer, not to mention the shiny new car accompanying it. There couldn't be a more fitting denouement for the character: a rash, quasi-idealist who sells his integrity for the easiest way out. Meanwhile, Tony's final visit with Junior is heartbreaking, and that much-discussed ending shows Tony looking around at every slight movement or sound, waiting for the next attack, waiting for the next hit, waiting for death. This time, as he gives the camera one last glance, it's only his daughter. But the next time…

About Arlo J. Wiley

  • kailash iyer

    The Shield? How is this list missing The Shield? Only the greatest finale of all time!