I suggest you read the entire, meticulous piece for yourself, so you can draw your own conclusions. Personally, I agreed with the author on at least one of his main points. Although I never even registered the Mitochondrial Eve/scientific error (and scientific errors tend not to bother me that much anyway...), I was dumbfounded that audiences were expected to believe "Daybreak's" closing conceit: that a technological race would voluntarily (and in one voice...) give up health care, air conditioning, telephones, and indoor plumbing to live on a primitive planet in close proximity to their sworn enemies (you know, the ones who had attempted their genocide...). I mean, the Colonists had only survived the Genocide because of technology; because of their spaceships. I just don't believe for a second that an advanced people would willingly give it all up. I also disliked the final explanation -- or lack of explanation -- for Starbuck's character. It was a cop-out on a cosmic scale.
Yet I write today not to curse Battlestar Galactica's disappointing finale, but because the essay got me thinking about the ways that other genre series have arrived at their final chapters. It wasn't that long ago, actually, that most series just went off the air without any sort of wrap-up whatsoever.
We never saw the final voyage of the U.S.S. Enterprise's five year mission. Nor did we witness the Alphans discover a new home, or return to Earth. The Searcher never found those "lost tribes" of Earth.
Television audiences never knew if David Vincent stopped the alien invasion of Earth, or if Carl Kolchak finally convinced anybody that there were monsters running around Chicago. Nope. Those TV series just...stopped. The axe of cancellation fell...and that was the end of the story.
On the other hand, some notable series did get to inscribe their last acts, ending with some modest sense of completion (even if dedicated fans were left begging for more....) Now, I'm specifically discussing endings in this essay, folks, so you might consider the descriptions ahead as spoilers. If you don't want to know how a number of sci-fi series ended, then read no further.
Though bizarre, the ending of "Fall Out" succeeds because it suggests that even outside the walls of the Village, Number Six will always be a "prisoner" in an increasingly de-humanized society determined to catalogue and number citizens. We relate this message to us: we're all prisoners.
Yet "Fall Out" isn't coherent in any traditional storytelling sense, and it actually abandons the tight, "literal" narrative of the earlier episodes for an entirely allegorical finale. Some regular viewers of The Prisoner were actually enraged by the abandonment of the literal for the metaphorical, while others undertook the tough task McGoohan had sought for them: they interpreted the psychedelic, powerful images and found their own answers about the underlying meaning.
Blake's 7 (1978-1981), another British sci-fi series, also featured a rather definitive and downbeat ending, and one much more literal in nature than "Fall Out." I like to call it "The Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" End. After years of successfully fighting against the tyrannical and powerful Federation, Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) finally leads his gang of rebels into a trap from which they cannot escape.
The last scene of the episode "Blake" (and of the series) involves all the main characters being gunned down in slow-motion by Federation soldiers. Our last view of the cunning Avon sees him offering a strange smile...and raising his own weapon in a futile demonstration of defiance. The screen goes blank and laser fire dominates the soundtrack...
This ending was and remains perfect -- not because of the brutal massacre -- but because of the character-based events leading up to it. Before Avon faces the shock troopers of the Federation, he encounters the idealistic, missing hero of the series, Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) and -- because of a misinterpretation and poorly chosen words -- ends up killing him in cold blood.
Blake's 7 always concerned character fireworks more than action, and "Blake" is true to that longstanding quality. Blake trusted too much...and died. And Avon trusted too little...and also died. In other words, the same problems that had always plagued these men throughout the series plagued the freedom fighters right through the violent finale. Yes, "Blake" is dark, but any other ending wouldn't have seemed realistic in Blake's 7's cynical universe. Tie-in writers, fans, and producers have toiled ever since "Blake" aired to figure out an acceptable way for the heroes to somehow survive the events of this final episode, but the massacre stands as the final video chapter of Blake's 7. And it remains one of the most mind-blowing series finales in the genre's history.
In 1994, after seven successful seasons in syndication, Star Trek: The Next Generation achieved the sense of closure that the Original Series had been denied. It occurred in an adventure called "All Good Things" that recalled the past (and the premiere episode, "Encounter at Farpoint,") had one foot in the present, and even featured a subplot set in the future, twenty-five years down the line.
Although "All Good Things" was mired in tongue-twisting techno-babble, the story -- which saw the Enterprise-D and Picard investigating a mystery in three time periods -- was satisfactorily epic: the entire universe was at stake. The God Entity Q even took Picard back in time to the Dawn of Man in one dynamic scene. But by going returning to the beginning of the series ("Farpoint"), and Q's "Trial of Humanity," "All Good Things" also granted The Next Generation series a nice book-ends quality. Q's trial was finally adjourned...and mankind passed with flying colors.
Creator Chris Carter used the occasion of fugitive Fox Mulder's trial to present evidence (and exposition) about the conspiracies that had become part and parcel of 1990s pop culture. Witness testimony, first-hand evidence, and character recollections painted -- for the first time -- a larger, more coherent picture of the X-Files meta-story.
So much of The X-Files also concerned two world views or perspectives in conflict...and in love, exemplified by the believer Mulder (David Duchovny) and the skeptic, Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Appropriately, "The Truth" reunited this pair, and gave them one last go at the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the enduring villain of The X-Files. Then, in a touching and romantic coda, Mulder and Scully talked about their future....and the planet's. There was even the hint of a sequel since these final moments discussed the date for the alien "colonization: 2012.
It was, perhaps the ultimate statement of "Girl Power," which seemed entirely logic given the development of the series, and Whedon's original intent of creating a character who could overcome monster/horror movie cliches. "Chosen" also saw the final destruction of Sunnydale's pesky Hellmouth, the source of all the series' monsters over the years. So not only were viewers inspired...they knew they could sleep safe at night.
Another kind of series ending doesn't really bring closure at all. On the contrary, a number of programs ended on a catastrophic cliffhanger -- one with evil on the ascent -- that was intended to be resolved the following season. When that next season never came, the cliffhanger became the de-facto ending of the whole run. American Gothic (1995) offered one such cliffhanger, with Lucas Buck -- the Devil himself -- finally taking over the soul of his son in the South Carolina town of Trinity. Angel (1999-2005) ended with an unresolved battle against an army of demons in a dark alley' a perfect reflection of the main character's fight against a more powerful foe.
The serial and thus the series ended with Sapphire and Steel peering out from their inescapable prison...into infinity itself. This cliffhanger was ultimately resolved in a 21st century audio production, but the time trap stood for years...a chilling reminder of the dangerous, enigmatic nature of the series. It was an ironic capper too: after years of solving temporal riddles, Sapphire and Steel finally walked into a riddle they couldn't figure out, a deliberate reversal of the initial premise.
V: The Series (1985) had a tumultuous run on NBC, with an unusually high degree of cast and character turn over. Ham Tyler (Michael Ironside) and Robin (Blair Tefkin) had been written out mid-season, and Elias (Michael Wright) and Nathan Bates (Lane Smith) had been killed off. These unexpected deaths and surprise departures worked well in a series about a life-and-death Resistance fight against evil, militaristic aliens. The final cliffhanger was no different: it offered abundant surprises. Peace was suddenly declared on Earth, and the Star Child, Elizabeth (Jennifer Cooke), was slated to marry the Leader (unseen on a Visitor spacecraft).
In the episode's final moment, Elizabeth's human boyfriend, Kyle (Jeff Yagher), stowed away on the Leader's ship for the journey back to the distant Visitor home world. But a not-quite vanquished Diana (Jane Badler) revealed she'd planted a bomb aboard the same ship...one just waiting to detonate.
V: The Series ended with a long, dramatic pullback (from the viewpoint of the imperiled, departing shuttle...) as Willie (Robert Englund), Donovan (Marc Singer) and Juliet (Faye Grant) watched it lift off. Did Diana kill the Leader and the Star Child? Did Kyle stop the inter-species marriage? We'll never know, but at least V: The Series went out with a dramatic flourish.
How we judge the success or failure of a series finale ultimately depends, I suppose, on how we viewed the series that preceded the ending. Enterprise (2001-2005) had a terrible, insulting finale that randomly killed off a beloved character and ended with the terrible idea that the whole series was a holodeck game for Will Riker. But who -- watching that show -- could have honestly had high expectations for the finale? I know many people believe Battlestar Galactica set the bar high...and that's why "Daybreak" felt so weak. Let's face it: if the producers begin every episode of their series with the line that the bad guys "have a plan," the producers should probably have one too. And that plan should eventually be made clear to audiences. It never was. The mystery of the five Cylons overtook the series' real sense of drama in the last two years, turning Battlestar into what I once termed "a cosmic game of Clue:" a parlor game about guess who "the secret Cylon" was. Everything else became secondary...
But heck, at least the Galactica's crew didn't go down to Earth on flying motorcycles, right? Or encounter invisible cub scouts from space? Which series endings (listed in this essay or not) stick with you as being the best? Or particularly irk you?