After yesterday's Fringe finale, I've found myself thinking of what a good final episode needs in order to fully satisfy the expectations of its viewers (and especially the long-term fans). Surely it's something more than just tying up all the loose ends, right...?
For some reason, whenever I think of final episodes of long-running television series nowadays, I find myself thinking back to the finales of both Lost and Battlestar Galactica, two examples that are at best controversial in terms of how they wrapped everything up. I'm one of those who actually liked the BSG finale - Yes, there are some of us - at least at first, because it felt emotionally satisfying for the most part; while I'll admit that it fell apart somewhat (Read: A lot) the more I thought about it, when I was watching it, felt fulfilling, and as if all of the things that I wanted from it were at least being addressed, if not actually happening. Compare to that, the finale for Lost, which… just failed to live up to almost any of the promises that the series had made up until that point, I'd argue. Perhaps it's because Lost was even more predicated on the mysteries of its own mythology, and therefore had more to lose from actually trying to answer its own questions, but even before the "Hey, they are all dead and now we're in a church" climax, I was finding myself frustrated and annoyed with how Lost chose to wrap up.
That said, I would have hated it so much more if it had left its major questions unanswered. Closure is, of course, the one ingredient that we desperately want from a series finale - the one that we need, I'd argue - and so that means we need answers in some form or another, some form of plot resolution to give us the impression that the story (stories) we've been following have come to some form of conclusion and we won't miss out on what happens next. But as BSG demonstrated, we also need some kind of emotional resolution as well. That doesn't have to come in the form of a happy ending - although that'd be nice - but some acknowledgment of the commitment and time the viewer has spent with the show, if that doesn't sound too ridiculous. The viewer wants to feel appreciated in the finale of a series in a way that is somehow stronger than a regular episode, I'd argue.
A series that did it right - perhaps surprisingly, considering the circumstances (knowing that the cast would be reunited months later for a movie, the episode coming at the end of a lackluster season, etc.) - was Star Trek: The Next Generation. "All Good Things," that show's finale, managed to be a story complete in and of itself that (literally) took its lead character back through the show's history, offering the viewer a chance to revisit some favorite moments and characters, as well as to the future of the crew of the Enterprise, as a way of telling the viewers that everything and everyone would turn out fine even though we wouldn't be seeing them every week. It also looped back into the show's very first episode, setting up an unexpected symmetry and giving the series as a whole a purpose that it had lacked previously in the process. In other words, it was a finale that didn't just work as a summation of the series, it elevated the series in the process.
Maybe that's what a final episode should be: A celebration of the show that tries, one final time, to raise the game and show everyone just what they'll be missing from that point on. Perhaps series finales should have as much of a "You're going to miss me when I'm gone" as a polite fond farewell to fans… Just to ensure that they remember the episode, if nothing else. But what do you think? What ingredients are necessary to make a series finale just right for you?