With Smallville ending this Friday after 10 years, Jayne Nelson looks at the ways some other shows have called it a day
All good things must come to an end and TV shows are no exception, including Smallville . Yes, after 10 years it was beginning to look like this show about the “early years of Superman” was going to carry on until his zimmer frame years. But no, the final curtain for Smallville falls this Friday in the States. How should it end? We’ve taken a look at how some other telefantasy shows have called it a day to look for clues. Whether they’ve had time to prepare beforehand or were axed unexpectedly, that final hour of telly is always going to be interesting. We take a look at the best and worst of these final destinations...
10 A Massacre!
If your show’s going to end, why not go out with a bloody big bang – emphasis on the “bloody”? Simply kill off your beloved characters (bonus points if they die in slo-mo), then sit back and watch the fans freak out!
Blake’s 7 was never more exciting than when, after a plethora of hilarious slo-mo deaths (finally after four series the Federation could shoot straight), the screen went dark and we heard all those gunshots – see the clip above. The heroic gang of do-gooders on Angel had already lost Wesley and were clearly about to be polished off (by a dragon, no less!) at the end of “Not Fade Away”.* Xena was even beheaded in the final episode of her show, much to everybody’s surprise – things don’t get more attention-grabbing than that!
What better way to break the hearts of a loyal audience, eh? Not to mention ensuring your show lives on forever in infamy...
*We’ll overlook the fact they lived on in the comics, seeing as we didn’t know that at the time the episode aired. As far as we were concerned, they were all doomed...
9 Turning Out The Lights!
Get the show’s creator, J Michael Straczynski, to physically turn out the lights on the space station he dreamed up. And then? Blow it to pieces. When it comes to finales, Babylon 5 is The Boss.
8 Make ’Em Cry!
Everybody loves a good weep when their favourite show ends. Ending a series with a bittersweet, hugely emotional wallop – happy or sad – is a guaranteed classic. Take the bombshell at the end of Life On Mars , in which Sam Tyler effectively commits suicide to rejoin his pals in the past: a real chin-wobbler. Or that terrible, final caption at the end of Quantum Leap : “Dr Sam Beckett never returned home.” Blub!
The controversial finale of Lost is another instance of this bittersweetness – whether you loved it or hated it, you can’t deny that it was a heartstring-tugger of the highest order. Seeing the survivors of Flight 815 gathering together in their final moments before moving to another level of existence, all of them looking so happy, was deeply moving. (Although that could’ve just been the violins. You can’t go wrong with some violins. They’re the sound of tears in fiddle form.)
7 Cram It All In!
You’re halfway through your series and the network announces the bad news: you’re canned. But all is not lost – you’re not quite done with writing it yet, and so you perform an eleventh-hour piece of scribbly wizardry and write the best finale you can possibly manage given the abrupt nature of proceedings. Sure, you can’t answer every plot thread, but you do your best, if only to please those precious fans who’ve stuck with you through thick and thin.
Probably the best example of this in recent times came with Caprica , a show that was slowly building up a universe that was complex and intelligent before seeing it snuffed out after poor ratings. Rather than leaving everything hanging, the writers somehow managed to craft a montage at the end of the finale that tied the action into sequel show Battlestar Galactica and gave every single character a finishing point (or a fitting starting point if some of them had special destinies, such as Lacy).
Ostensibly it was really designed as a teaser for season two, which was allegedly going to jump forward in time, but it works so well as a series finale you can bet your ass it was (re)designed this way. And thus Caprica gave us some tasty sugar to help us swallow that harsh cancellation medicine. Gold stars all round.
A slight variation on this was the final episode of classic Doctor Who , “Survival”, which was just another episode, until the producer was told very late in the day that the show wasn’t coming back next year. So Sylvester McCoy was called in to record a monologue about the tea getting cold… or something, that was played over the final scene. Actually, as a last minute botch job, is was quite affecting.
6 Just Fizzle Out!
Take The X-Files and Charmed as your examples. You’ve been on our screens for, let’s say, over five years. You may have been a really big hit once but most of your viewership has evaporated, mainly because the quality of your writing has diminished. Either that, or your big stars have left, or you were an overnight success that couldn’t stand up in the harsh light of day. The network has announced that you won’t be renewed at the end of this season, so you’ve had months to plan for your big finale. So what do you do?
Who cares? Nobody’s watching anyway.
To be fair, Charmed did have a reasonable final episode… for its penultimate series! Clearly under the impression the axe was coming the writers forced the three witches to take on new bodies and abandon their home. Er, and then another series was commissioned, forcing some really convoluted back tracking in the first few episodes of the next season. But as we said, few noticed.
5 Just Another Episode, Folks!
Not every show has a complex arc plot or a serialised nature – there are many that are happy to do self-contained episodes which stand alone alongside their brethren. If this is the case, why bother giving your show a big send-off? Episodes will probably be shown out of order when it hits syndication, anyway, so why confuse people?
Star Trek ’s “Turnabout Intruder” is a classic example: just bog-standard Trek with nothing to set it apart from the other episodes. In a way, this is quite a refreshing approach to take to the demise of a series – everything will carry on as it always has, and those characters remain forever unchanged in your mind’s eye. Except when the unexpected happens [see next page]...
4 It’s Not Really A Finale!
Who would’ve thought that the final episode of Star Trek in 1969 would’ve led to a multi-million-dollar movie a decade later, let alone all the others that followed? Or that Firefly , cut so short and ignored by so many, would end up on the big screen within a few years of its cancellation?
It happens more often than you’d think: shows that are pulled off air which then pop up as movies. Not all of them hit cinemas – there were the Stargate SG-1 TV movies and Farscape ’s “Peacekeeper Wars” miniseries, not to mention Futurama rising from the dead as a run of TV films. Then another series. Sometimes you just can’t keep a good show down...
...Although, in the case of The X-Files: I Want To Believe , a vampire-style beheading and stake through the heart might have been in order. And don’t even get us started on Highlander: Endgame (which was spun off a movie AND a TV show, bizarrely enough).
And with Next Generation they had the best of both worlds: the writers knew the show was ending, but also knew it was likely to live on in film form. The solution they came up with was very satisfying – “All Good Things” felt like a very fitting finale to the series, encompassing themes and plot line from the show’s seven year run, while leaving the ending open for more. Shame the producer’s of SG-1 couldn’t pull off a similar trick. The last episode there truly belongs in the previous category.
3 Go Crazy!
It’s the end. Go nuts! You’d be amazed at how many shows do this, even if it means ripping up everything that’s gone before or pushing credulity to its very limit. Sometimes it even happens before the showrunners know for sure that they’re cancelled, as though they’re masochistically challenging themselves to try to follow their lunacy next season in case their luck’s in.
Twin Peaks is probably the poster child of this kind of finale, turning its final episode into a cliffhanger-laden nightmare dreamscape featuring demons, songs and no coherency whatsoever. The Prisoner (’60s incarnation) lost the plot too, resulting in a migraine-inducing farrago that made the rest of the show look sane (or a boldly psychedelic mindf**k depending on your point of view). Recently we’ve had the Dollhouse finale, set years in the future after an apocalyptic disaster – it was great, but we really have to ask... WTF?
2 Completely Balls It Up!
Star Trek: Enterprise effectively ended its life as an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation , with Riker and Troi powering down a holodeck simulation of the old Enterprise crew’s final adventure of the series. The message seemed to be that TNG was more important than Enterprise : why else would TNG ’s characters have hijacked the finale?
Even Jonathan Frakes thought it was a bad idea, as he good-naturedly and amusingly reveals at this convention (picture quality’s bad, but the sound’s okay):
Not a complete balls up, but one hell of a cheat, was Star Trek: Voyager , which simply decided to remake one of its best episodes, “Timeless”, but a bit crapper, longer and with added Borg, hoping we wouldn’t notice.
1 The Good Old Cliffhanger!
Things guaranteed to cause you excruciating pain:
1. Stubbing your toe on your coffee table.
2. Treading on an upturned plug.
3. A paper cut on your tongue from licking an envelope.
4. Being bloodily dismembered by a threshing machine.
5. That show you adore being cancelled after the final episode has been filmed, leaving no way for the writers to wrap up plot threads they left hanging in the expectation of another year’s filming.
The horror. The horror ...
It’s the most frequent of all the examples on our list, and the one we hate the most. Take the BBC’s shonky adaptation of The Tripods : our heroes escape the Tripod city and return to their base, but it’s deserted and all their adventures have been a waste of time – noooooo! Or the last episode of the excellent Odyssey 5 : the crew of the Odyssey haven’t saved the Earth yet, so does this mean we’re all going to die? Nooooooo!
How about the finale of FlashForward : there’s another blackout on the way and nobody to stop it – nooooooo! Then there was Outcasts , which finally, finally became interesting in its last episode with a whole bunch of cliffhangers that we’ll never see resolutions to. And to be topical, just this week Stargate Universe ended in America... on a freakin’ cliffhanger. [Exact nature TBC, as we haven’t watched it yet.] Nooooooooooo!
Cliffhangers were invented by the Devil to make us think twice before investing time in any new TV show. Seriously, it’s a wonder we watch any telly at all.