As Rolling Stone gears up for the finale of “Mad Men” (which, disclosure, I’ll be recapping for them), the magazine has assembled a list of the best and worst TV series endings of all time. As I’ve written before, it’s a mistake to give too much weight to a series’ final episode; judging a long-running show by its last hour is like judging an entire meal by the desert course. Nonetheless, inspired, satisfying endings are what separate good shows from great ones. As David Fear puts it in his introduction, “A great send-off can gain it entry into the television equivalent of Valhalla. Slap a cop-out ending to a beloved show, however, and you’d better be prepared to kiss seven or eight seasons of good will goodbye.”
“Justified” gains entry into the pantheon for a finale so flawless it retrospectively raised the entire series behind it, while “Lost’s” ending takes a hit for retconning its final season out of existence and punting on the questions the show promised to answer. “The Sopranos'” shocking cut to black has stood the test of time, even if people are still arguing over what exactly it means, and “Six Feet Under” remains the gold standard for how to wrap up a sometimes uneven show on the perfect note. But perhaps the most pleasing inclusion is the finale of “Battlestar Galactica.” With hints of mysticism and an abrupt, didactic flash-forward (complete with a smirking cameo by showrunner Ronald D. Moore), “BSG’s” ending flummoxed many fans at the time, but watching it a couple of years later — and without knowing in advance I was supposed to hate it — the ending seemed just right to me, and Sean T. Collins agrees:
Divine intervention, voluntary space-fleet destruction, the incredible disappearing Starbuck — the decisions made in the final episode of this politically charged sci-fi reboot baffled viewers at the time. Hindsight, however, has been extremely kind to Commander Adama and his crew. The show’s long-simmering supernatural elements paid off with the daring idea of a deity whose actions are just as unpredictable and unfathomable as humanity’s. And the joint human-Cylon decision to jettison their ships and live out their days planet-side — in what turns out to be our own Earth’s pre-history — bucked a core tenet of post-apocalyptic SF, arguing that individual lives are more important than the preservation of a culture at all costs. Risky? You bet. Rewarding? So say we all.
Predictions for “Mad Men’s” ending are all over the map, but given the curveballs Matthew Weiner threw in the penultimate episode, it’s more likely to end up on the best-of or worst-of list that anywhere in between. Meanwhile, take another look at “BSG,” and see if you’ve come around since it first aired.