Compared to the end of Newhart, the last episode of M*A*S*H was more conventional. The most viewed program in television history up until this past year's Super Bowl, the last episode brought the end of the Korean War because the war had to end sometime, but who could have predicted that Corporal Klinger, who spent the whole series trying to avoid being there, would willingly stay behind?
M*A*S*H, Newhart, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers were all bittersweet endings to beloved series whose characters felt like family to the viewers who tuned in every week. The conclusion of popular shows in the new dawn of DVR and on-demand made final episodes of shows like Seinfeld, The Wire, and 24, while anticipated, not so "can't be missed." At a recent press visit to USA channel's Royal Pains, a couple of writers had not seen the end of Lost, and so the group of 12 were forbidden to discuss. Opinions were held in check, and that may have been a good thing to keep "keep quiet on the set," but it would have been interesting to find out if anyone else agreed that Lost may have taken a Tommy Westphall turn, borrowing from Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge" and all six years of Lost were a fleeting thought as Doctor Shephard lay dying, and if not, would the series been better off if it had.
The more time that elapses after the show concludes helps give perspective. The Sopranos ending felt better a week later. The snow globe now doesn't seem like the disaster it first felt like when we first found out that Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandell) and Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington) never existed. Will Lost's finale stand up to time or will the emotional onslaught of those last 15 minutes fade away and leave misgivings? Lost lived by recurring action and mystery, and perhaps it is inevitable that its resolution will be ultimately unsatisfactory.
After all, once Laura Palmer's murder was solved, who cared?
Photo: 20th Century Fox/Everett