Warning: Spoilers follow for various TV finales from years past…
There have been many series finales that have split fandom over the years, whether they involved visits to the Iron Throne, the afterlife, or even Holsten’s (and maybe the afterlife too in that case?). It’s often clear when it comes to ending a favorite TV series that it’s hard to keep everyone happy, and frequently viewers are left steaming even if some others are satisfied.
So let’s take a look at some of the more outrageous, divisive series finales in TV history. These aren’t bad finales, just ones that made bold creative choices that didn’t sit right with a large portion of the audience. Read on for the full list…
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Game of Thrones: “The Iron Throne”
After the penultimate episode, “The Bells,” left so many fans furious, leading to an online petition to “remake” Season 8, “The Iron Throne” had one hell of an uphill climb. Not only to win people back, but also end the entire 10-year story.
In the end, many felt let down by the fates of most characters, along with the nice and neat epilogue that crowned a new ruler of the realm. Even those who didn’t hate the finale would readily admit it wasn’t exactly the best ending possible. Yes, this particular Song of Ice and Fire saga split the kingdoms and sent Westeros to war one final time.
Lost: “The End”
Lost chose to deliver an emotional finale – based more on the feelings, desires, and ultimate happiness of the characters – over one that answered lingering questions fans had stockpiled over the years. Many liked the focus on the heartstrings while others were frustrated with the lack of specifics.
And no, they weren’t “dead the whole time.” Well, except for those in the flash-sideways scenes during the final season. They were in a type of purgatory. But the others weren’t. Some lived on after the island and died from natural causes. It was then that they all joined up in the limbo church for a final farewell. The fact that none of this was abundantly clear though probably means the episode, and season, didn’t do a bang up job exactly.
Battlestar Galactica: “Daybreak”
BSG’s three-part mega close-out also wrapped things up with quiet emotion, as the notes from “All Along the Watchtower” created coordinates that led our heroes to a habitable planet filled with primitive humans. Our Earth.
Sure, the stripping away of all technology rubbed a few fans the wrong way, but it was the crazy 150,000-year time jump, and the “humanity is doomed to make machines too sentient again” messaging, that split the viewers. It’s always going to be risky to leap that far ahead, to the point where every character you cared about is a fossil, for a moral that many fans already understood.
The Sopranos: “Made in America”
The creative swerve got a ton of flak at the time, though now, years later, many fans and critics have come around on it as one of the more daring examples of “different” done right. And it certainly hasn’t hurt The Sopranos in the annals of TV history as it’s still considered one of the best series of all time.
Seinfeld: “The Finale”
Yes, it became abundantly clear over the years that Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer weren’t great people. In fact, once the show leaned into their shallowness, it hit its creative stride. But sending the guys to prison? Because they weren’t great people? It was just a bit too much for many Seinfeld loyalists.
None of this stopped the episode from being a ratings juggernaut though, or the series itself from going out as the number one show on TV. Like The Sopranos, the finale didn’t make a dent in the show’s legacy. What can we say? Sometimes it’s the journey and sometimes it’s the end.
St. Elsewhere: “The Last One”
What if there was a popular, long-running, acclaimed ’80s medical drama that, right at the very end, told the audience that nothing they’d seen for 137 episodes was even real. And then that weird ending became the show’s overall legacy, spoofed for decades by other shows.
This is the case of St. Elsewhere, which closed things out with the reveal that the entire hospital was inside the snow globe of an autistic boy named Tommy. Tommy had been dreaming that his father was the hospital’s medical director when, in fact, as revealed in the final scene, he worked in construction. I guess the title St. Elsewhere should have clued people in, right? Anyhow, this final beat left many fans bewildered and belligerent.
Star Trek Enterprise: “These Are the Voyages…”
Though Star Trek Enterprise isn’t really considered one of the top tier Trek series, it still had a ton of fans. Some of whom were left stunningly cold after the show’s finale jumped six years into the future and split the narrative between the regular cast and a holodeck adventure featuring TNG’s Will Riker and Deanna Troi.
This “valentine for the fans,” that was meant to connect Enterprise to TNG, fell flat for many as Captain Archer’s story wound up feeling like second-billing and under-rug-swept.
Felicity: “Back to the Future”
If you had to guess which TV show suddenly dove deep into time travel for its final installment, not many would have guessed “late ’90s college love triangle dramedy” Felicity. Unless you thought it was possible for all J.J. Abrams shows.
Actually, the time travel stuff started a few episodes earlier (after the show had planned out its final episode and the WB Network ordered five more) and viewers got to experience an alternate timeline in which Keri Russell’s Felicity got to go back (thanks to a spell from her goth roommate) and make different choices.
Regardless, many said the show just didn’t feel like the show anymore by the time it ended. Including the cast. And that might be a recurring element here when it comes to divisive finales — when, for whatever reason (pacing, tone, freakin’ impromptu time travel), the story no longer feels like the one you’ve been following for years.
Which TV finales did you find to be the most outrageous and divisive? Discuss in the comments!
Note: This story originally ran in May of 2019.