Series finales have become famously fraught — and likely to leave you enraged, befuddled, or simply feeling let down. Luckily, there’s a modern remedy to Series Finale Disappointment Syndrome: the alternate fan theory! For every show that’s ended, there’s a fan somewhere who’s concocted a mostly ridiculous yet strangely convincing theory about what really happened in the final moments. Here, a look at some of the best, or nuttiest, or both.
Theory: Seinfeld is a show about a show inside a show.
The Seinfeld finale, a sour conclusion in which the quartet are tried in court for breaking a Good Samaritan law, then sentenced to prison, was an infamous letdown for many. A fan on Reddit, however, posited an alternate reading that doubles as a ray of hope: The show you’ve just watched is not the story of Jerry Seinfeld and his friends doing nothing — it’s the “show” that Jerry and George pitched to NBC. What’s more, there are therefore infinite Seinfelds, on an infinite loop, as each series spawns a new series. So, basically, if you hated this finale, you have infinite theoretical alternatives to choose from.
Theory: Tony Soprano died — of poor eating habits.
The Sopranos’ final episode is the all-time champion of argument-starting conclusions. But while you’re no doubt familiar with the “Is Tony alive or dead?” argument, here are some imaginative fan theories: Tony is dead, but he wasn’t whacked — he died of a stroke, given his poor eating and presence at a diner (thus explaining the quick cut to black); Tony’s dead, but he died prior to the final scene in the diner, which is actually his domesticated, banal-Jersey-life version of hell; or Tony isn’t dead at all — we are, the viewers of the show, who have been “whacked” symbolically for our complicity in cheering for these immoral mobsters.
Theory: Walter White is still alive.
Breaking Bad’s 2013 finale corresponded with the explosion of Reddit-fueled speculation, so the show prompted no end of hypotheses. A sample: Walter White didn’t die (his wound wasn’t severe enough) — so he’ll stand trial (on a future season of Better Call Saul!). Or White froze to death in his car in New Hampshire and everything after that was a dying dream. Or White went into Witness Protection, becoming the dad on Malcom in the Middle. Or this one: White’s blue meth started the zombie outbreak depicted in The Walking Dead — which, admittedly, does contain a nod to blue meth.
Theory: Phoebe was on meth.
One of the more robust fan theories online involves the notion that Friends was the addled hallucination of Phoebe, a meth addict, who imagined her friendships with five random people she watched through the window of a New York coffee shop. Granted, this is more of a modest proposal than an alternate reading: On Twitter, Gareth Stranks posited the idea that the show should have ended with Phoebe returning to the fountain alone, where she sleeps among a discarded sofa and six dirty umbrellas. Presumably, the theme-song line “I’ll be there for you” becomes a reference to meth. Meth is there for you.
*This article appears in the June 12, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.