As we say goodbye to our favorite TV shows for the summer, why not pause and take a moment to consider the finest televised goodbye’s the Box ever had to offer—yesterday we listed the Top 5 best comedic series finales of all time, and today we do a rundown of the best dramatic endings. It’s a collection of some TV’s finest, most artful, and sometimes most mind-boggling moments. What was your favorite? (Warning! Spoilers ahoy)
5. The Prisoner – “Fall Out” (1968)
So how do you end one of TV’s most confusing TV shows ever? Well, in The Prisoner’s case, you simply make things even more confusing. The series—without which there would have been no Lost—features Patrick McGoohan (who also created the series) as an unnamed secret agent who, after attempting to retire and lead a normal life, is drugged, kidnapped, and left on an island called The Village, a place designed for breaking renegade agents. There he is given a new name (#6), as the operators of The Village systematically try to break his most independent of spirits to discover why he retired. And with each episode, #6 became more and more rebellious, and more and more desperate to discover the identity of #1, the person behind The Village. And when the final episode came, and it was time to meet #1 face to face… well, this is one spoiler we won’t ruin. Just know that the ensuing controversy and shock was so intense that McGoohan had to go into hiding after the episode aired. TV’s first masterpiece.
4. The Shield – “Family Meeting” (2008)
After seven seasons of watching the brutally corrupt L.A. cop Vic Mackey cheat, lie, steal, and even murder, without karmic retribution, the series finale gave an equally brutal and crushing end to the wild-eyed character made so indelible by Michael Chicklis—his wife and children entered the witness protection program to escape him, and he was given a suit, tie, and cubicle desk job, where he was assigned a ten page report to type every day. For a man like Mackey, it was an almost Twilight Zone-styled hell; for viewers, it was about as perfect a resolution to the series as one could hope for.
3. Six Feet Under – “Everyone’s Waiting” (2005)
Much like the M*A*S*H series finale mentioned yesterday in our Top 5 Comedic series finales, the series finale for Six Feet Under seems designed specifically to make viewers withdraw into a fetal position and begin crying. The episode finds Claire finally deciding to embrace photography and leave behind her family and everyone she loves, including the family funeral home. As she tearfully drives away, the episode—the only one in the series’ history not to open with a death—eases into a montage in which we witness the future deaths of every main character on the show. On paper (or html, in this case), it may sound a little sappy, but in retrospect, it now seem like the only way such a death-obsessed series could end—beautifully.
2. The Wire – “-30-“ (2008)
While the #1 show on today’s list ended things as vaguely as possible, the #2 is almost its total opposite. The Wire ended its brutal six-year run in an equally brutal fashion. A show about the ultimate decay of a city and the people who live in it, the finale found some characters stumbling towards hope (one is elected governer, the other given a promotion) before casting a pall of doom as we watched the teenage Dukie shooting up heroin in a decrepit building—as fitting a metaphor for the urban rot and decay and moral compromise that so permeated television’s second best TV show of all time.
1. The Sopranos – “Made in America” (2007)
OK, we all remember how The Sopranos ended—Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, after having survived a brutal street war with New York that left his best friend in a coma, and his brother in law dead, negotiates a truce. He then says a final farewell to her mentor, Uncle Junior, who is lost in the crippling haze of Alzheimer’s. Then he finds himself having dinner with his wife and son at dive restaurant, while a mysterious man in a Member’s Only jacket (noted earlier in the season as the attire of a made man) keeps staring at him. And then—nothing.
The most notorious series finale of all time ends with a final shot of Tony quizzically looking up before cutting to ten seconds of crushing black. Roll credits. So was he killed? Or did the series just stop there, implying that his life will be nothing but a series of moments in which he must wonder if the end is coming, and from where? Like all the best moments of The Sopranos, there are no easy, obvious answers—the show, like the best art, leaves it to you to meet it halfway and draw your own conclusions, before saying goodbye.