Finales have been cropping up recently, and not out of nowhere. For the handful of shows that have avoided cancellation long enough, the reward is a finale that will no doubt become an episode that will polarize fans and result in memes of some kind.
But after watching the recent finale of How I Met Your Mother, it dawned on me. Finales aren’t as important to the show as the final season.
Think of a play, three act structure. It has an introduction, middle conflict and a final act for the last big moment with some tying of loose ends.
With a series that lasts multiple seasons and a catalogue of episodes. The ending of the series doesn’t hang on the final moments of its last episode. The entire final season is the final act, and if it is terrible and doesn’t work in harmony with the final episode then the show will end terribly.
How I Met Your Mother is a sitcom about a guy in the future who is recounting his early years in New York looking for his one true love. It’s a series that has been driving towards a finale and finally revealing who the “Mother” is.
So after many episodes and plenty of ups and downs in quality, finally we arrive at the moment when the “Mother” graces the screen and becomes a recurring character in the final season. We spend all season, focusing on a wedding between two characters, and rarely getting to know a character that is so vital to the series.
In the final episode, Ted and the “Mother” get together and we jump into important moments in the gangs future. And one by one everything that the final season had developed becomes irrelevant, and even in the final few minutes the “Mother” is dismissed and dies off-screen.
The shows ending was unfulfilling and awful not solely because of the finale episode, but the entire season and how the entire event of the season meant nothing to it’s end. The season didn’t work with the finale, they didn’t lead into one another or work together in anyway.
The Final Act of How I Met Your Mother as represented by a play worked like so, they meet, they fall in love then in the last five minutes she dies and he finds someone else.
An audience attending that play would just be bewildered and wonder, “the hell did i just watch”. They would the drive home still wondering, “the hell did i watch”. As they were playing the baby sitter that would continue to think, “what the hell did i watch”.
A far better series final act would be the recent finale of Breaking Bad.
The season was constant in its goals and it purpose. It had is share of twists and turns, but it never wavered from what it was moving toward. It would have been jarring and upsetting if the final season had plead out like it had and then in the final episode, Walt kills Jesse and his wife and his son and whoever was decent in the show.
Instead the show built to Walt’s demise and redemption. It flowed and worked in harmony as a final act should.
Whatever little nitpicky opinions you may have on any shows finale is perfectly understandable. Everybody wants their own little thing from a finale. But when people have long talks about whether or not a show succeeded or failed, It will be due not to fans little quibbles and wants. It will be if narratively and thematically, the show remained consistent in it’s goals.
I should know about this stuff, I’ve seen enough finales. And damn, most suck.