I remember the series premiere of ER. I remember anticipating it the whole summer. I remember getting antsy about it as the date approached, and I certainly remember the first time we saw John Carter, medical student. The staff at County General instantly knew he came from money because it was the first time that they'd seen a tailored white coat instead of a regular one. I remember Hathaway attempting suicide. I remember Ross showing up drunk. To this day I remember storylines from more than a decade worth of seasons. ER was a show I followed religiously, and even if it didn't go out with a big bang last night, as a devoted fan for more than a decade and a scholar of television I think it went out the right way.
Essentially, there are two ways that a series can choose to end – the cataclysmic "things will never be the same" way or the "life goes on" way. If you try, without much effort you can come up with examples of both. The best of the "things will never be the same" variety is, I think without question, the greatest television series finale that ever aired and (for what it's worth) the highest rated – M*A*S*H. We've talked about it before, but "Goodbye, Farewell & Amen" is, I think, a perfect finale. I'd be hard pressed to imagine something ever equally its greatness. It had great writing; wonderful acting; was a show everyone loved; and very importantly, the perfect out. How to end the series? Just have them reach the end of the Korean War, no more war, no more M*A*S*H.
To choose the greatest of the "life goes on" finales is far more difficult (M*A*S*H is a very safe choose), but, the ER finale is a perfect example. We got to catch up with old friends, we got to see where people are, and, at the end of the night, life for County General continues. Life at County General had to continue, short of a budget crisis closing the hospital forever or a bomb destroying the place, there was no way to for the hospital to shut its doors. And, if you've been paying attention over the years you know that budget crises have threatened to close the hospital and that any number of things have destroyed parts of County without the place shuttering permanently. Life had to continue there, and that was the message we all got.
Plus, the series really focused on what it needed to focus on, the two main characters that existed during the run of the show – John Carter & Mark Greene. The show initially centered around Greene, but once he left, it was Carter who took up the main character mantle (something he would relinquish in the last few seasons of the show). The Greene moments were handled perfectly, Rachel came to interview for medical school at County. Perfect and cyclical, who could have asked for more. Mark has, of course, passed away, so it would have been foolish to bring him back again (we had that flashback thing earlier in the year), so to have Rachel there as his proxy was the right way to go.
Lastly, I think that the story worked wonderfully because a lot of moments in it, a lot of shots that appeared, and some dialogue echoed the series premiere. As with Rachel appearing, it showed how life is cyclical and that it continues no matter what.
No, there were no explosions, there were no bombshells, there was no "oh my god, I can't believe they did that!" moment. It was contemplative and while not spectacular (if you ask me too much time was spent on the current cast and bringing Neela in via webcam as they did last week too was silly), had the right tone and feeling.
Southland has some pretty big shoes to fill.