The way we consume television has changed a lot since the days of late-May season finales followed by a summer full of reruns. But the fervor sparked by a good (or terrible) finale remains evergreen.
In the last few weeks, both one-season wonder “Big Little Lies” and 12-season behemoth “Bones” made their final bows in ways that largely pleased their fan bases, despite the episodes using very different strategies.
Without spoiling anything, HBO’s “Big Little Lies” wrapped up the mystery at the center of its series in a deeply cathartic way in its final moments, while Fox’s “Bones” opted to go the route of the average episode and allow the characters’ world to keep on spinning, even if the audience was no longer watching.
With these swan songs in mind, and with an eye to the upcoming series finale of HBO’s “Girls,” here are a few tips on what to do (and what to avoid) to deliver a stellar ending.
Do: Under-promise, over-deliver
This one goes out to all the gripping action shows that spend years trying to weave an elegant narrative tapestry that ends up looking more like a wad of perpetually tangled earbuds.
It’s nearly impossible to wrap up several seasons’ worth of intrigue with a single episode, which is why it’s always smarter to aim lower. Answer the audience’s greatest questions; anything else is just a bonus. Sorry, “Lost.”
Don’t: Forget “happily ever after.” It’s a lie.
Sure, that sounds cynical, but in television narrative, not every loose end needs to be tied into a neat little bow.
Take “Cheers,” which had a great end to its 11-season run with a finale that didn’t ensure everything would turn out just fine, but allowed for enough ambiguity to suggest the world would keep on turning.
Do: Remember to read the room
If the first two pieces of advice seem contradictory, there’s good reason. The perfect finale for one show will not be the perfect finale for another. If “Bones” and “Big Little Lies” had switched tactics, it would have been strange and confusing.
Television creators need to, above all else, trust that they know their show and their audience well enough to give them what they want while still honoring their narrative.
Either way, crafting a satisfying ending is a herculean task. For as many people who hail the finale of “The Sopranos” as the best of all time, just as many see it as a travesty. There’s just no easy way to say goodbye to a television show. All you can do is hope for the best and leave them wanting more. But not too much more.
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