Photo: Maya Robinson and Photos by Warner Bros, NBC, Showtime, AMC and Focus Features
It seems forever ago now, but yes, 30 Rock concluded in 2013, way back in January. But the dearly departed NBC show was just one of the many long-running series and franchises that said ta-ta in the year gone by. How do they all compare? We ranked eleven favorites from the world of TV, movies and books by how satisfying their finishes felt to us, from most satisfying to least. [Hint: Spoilers abound.]
1. Breaking Bad
How do you end one of the most critically acclaimed and fervently scrutinized series of all time? With a remote-controlled machine gun that kills Nazis, of course. BB’s final arc managed to wrap up most of the show’s loose ends (although there are still parts of the ricin scheme that don’t quite make sense), kill off a bunch of characters, and still let Jesse drive off into the sunset.
Generally speaking, cliff-hanger finales are the worst. And a season finale that winds up being a series finale? Ugh, nightmare. But the deft, frequently shocking Southland pulled off a miracle: The cliff-hanger ending, in which our protagonist John Cooper was shot several times, was appropriate somehow, and the maybe-season, maybe-series finale was just how you’d expect the scrappy underdog to go out. The show got better and better each season, and the intensity of its final episodes make the series’ cancellation even more crushing.
3. 30 Rock
“I will never forget you / rural juror / I will always be glad I met you / rural juror / these were the best days of my flerm.” Truer words were never spoken. (Well, slurred.) 30 Rock’s finale gave each character the send-off he or she deserved, with Liz raising her own little Jenna and Traceys, Lutz finally getting to order lunch, Jenna admitting she’d never even met Mickey Rourke, Jack comfortably at the top of the corporate ladder, and an immortal, ageless Kenneth managing the NBC of the future. Hilarious, yes, and also touchingly lovely.
4. The Office
Rule one for a satisfying finale: Get the band back together. Despite ongoing insistence that Steve Carell would not be returning, everyone with half a brain knew Michael Scott would make an appearance at Dwight and Angela’s wedding — and of course he did, and of course he said “that’s what she said,” and of course it was great. The finale couldn’t quite make up for the show’s dwindling charms overall, but it came close.
5. The World’s End
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were behind it, so this comedy was a lot of fun, but it’s hard to call it a satisfying conclusion. Of course, the Cornetto trilogy isn’t a real trilogy. Sure, they treated it that way to promote the film, but despite some stylistic similarities and cast members, the movies feel like their own things. The Cornetto reference at the end was sweet, if only as a wink to the fans, but the film didn’t feel particularly final, as it’s hard to imagine these guys won’t go on collaborating for years to come.
Delocated had already sort of ended in 2012, when the last episode of season three aired. But this past March, fans got one last trip to the show’s bizarre world — and, oh, what a trip it was, complete with a Bourne Identity sort of story that only kind of tied things up. Can you really wrap up Delocated, though? It just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of structure, so as fun as “The Frrt Identity” was, there wasn’t much to it.
7. The Big C
From day one, The Big C was a show where the main character was going to die. That didn’t make Cathy’s death less sad, but we knew where the show was heading at least. In the series’ closing moments, we saw Cathy in the afterlife, floating in her pool with with her old lady neighbor and dog — not inventive or surprising in any way, but still a fitting end.
8. The Hangover Part III
Despite being the worst-reviewed and least-successful installment, THP3 in the best of the three in at least one way (although in most ways it wasn’t): It was the most sentimental. With the “uh, what happened last night, guys?” framing device thrown out, they were able to focus more on relationships, specifically how everyone cares and wants the best for Alan. Not to spoil the ending for the stragglers who skipped this during its stumble at the box office over the summer, the hugely lucrative comedy franchise wraps up with Alan and the Wolfpack having one last chill hang before his life is changed forever.
9. Private Practice
It had to end with a wedding, right? The show had already covered every conceivable calamity, so for one brief hour, things finally seemed a little bit happy and okay. (Not totally, though: The show for some reason had to introduce a character dying of breast cancer, right at the last moment.) PP died as it lived: schmaltzy, with arbitrarily complicated romance, and a side of weeping.
In a nutshell, the final book in the Divergent Trilogy wraps things up with Tris and her friends discovering that they are part of a genetic experiment. And with Tris dying. Was it satisfying? Maybe if you like genetics? Otherwise, the majority of the book gets bogged down in made-up science and a moral debate about whether said science can determine a human’s worth. (Spoiler: It cannot.) The climactic act is shocking, and the grief scenes written from the perspective of Four (the love interest) are beautifully done. But our heroine is dead, and on behalf of a hugely implausible plan — just erase all the evil people’s memories! — that surely can’t fix everything. It’s hard to feel like her sacrifice was worth it.
Oh, for the love of Pete, what a fiasco. Dexter had been circling the drain for years, but the finale — particularly the final scene, in which we learned that Dexter faked his death and is now a logger, for some reason — was inexcusable. Deb’s death was supposed to be the emotional climax of the episode, but it was instantly made laughable by the fact that Dexter just carried her body out of the hospital and walked right onto his boat — docked at the hospital — and then sailed out and buried her at sea during a hurricane. Even more egregious: Dexter dumped Harrison with Hannah in Argentina. She’s a serial killer, Dex! What makes you think she has any interest in raising someone else’s child? Ugh.