Finales can be a hard thing to pull off for even the best TV show. They have to wrap all of the show’s plotlines and resolve most of the character’s narrative arcs without destroying the integrity of the episode itself. Some shows try to keep things open-ended in terms of interpretation, while others are more concerned with keeping the spirit of the series alive until the closing scenes. Either way, fans don’t always understand what happened in the end, so let’s take a closer look at some of the more obscure series finales in television history.
While most of the show was pretty weird, the final season of Lost really went off the rails. The fifth season ended with Jack and the crew setting off a hydrogen bomb on the island while still stuck in the past. The sixth season starts off showing two separate timelines: one where the survivors are still stuck on the island (but now back in the present), and another where the plane seemingly never crashed. This alternate timeline soon revealed itself to be much different than the original, and many of the characters were living completely different lives. Sawyer, for example, was a cop instead of a con man.
The final episode revealed that this timeline was actually the afterlife. There are two parts that people often get confused about. First, this purgatory doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters had actually been dead the whole time. The afterlife timeline happened after the events of the series. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof later explained at the show’s 10 year anniversary that the afterlife plotline was supposed to demonstrate how the events on the island weren’t purgatory, since that’s where everyone wound up later on. Basically, the whole afterlife ending was put in to debunk the longstanding fan theory that the whole show was set in purgatory. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect.
THE SOPRANOS (1999)
This is one of the most infamous finales of all time, simply for how abrupt it is. Tony and his family are sitting at a diner, listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” During the scene, Tony notices a man looking around the diner, and then the screen quickly cuts to black. It was so abrupt that many viewers thought something went wrong with their cable feed. According to series creator David Chase, the ending implied two things. First, that Tony was always going to be paranoid, but not that he was in any particular danger at that moment. Second was that endings for guys like Tony Soprano usually come out of nowhere. All we’re saying is that there might have been a way to get that point across without making people think their TVs were broken.
QUANTUM LEAP (1989)
Sometimes, finales are confusing simply because they were never meant to be the show’s last episode. That’s the case for Quantum Leap, which has one of the most bizarre, left-field endings ever. The premise for the show was kind of complicated. Dr. Sam Beckett had developed a time travel machine where he could “leap” into the body of someone in the past. When he tested his machine out, something went wrong and Sam started randomly leaping around time, playing a different person in history with each episode. The show was cancelled out of nowhere after 5 seasons, so the producers were unable to film an actual finale. They had to quickly adjust the fifth season finale to be the series finale.
The episode shows Beckett leaping into a bar where the bartender might be God, who tells Sam that he has control over where he leaps. Sam makes one more leap to help out one of his friends and leaps again. After the jump, a title card pops up saying that “Dr. Sam Becket (sic) never returned home.” Yes, the card misspelled the main character’s name. It was also a depressing ending for a typically positive show. The original plot of the episode is rumored to have involved aliens, who were quickly replaced by God. The show had to figure out how to turn what was supposed to be a cliffhanger into a hard ending. Maybe Sam Beckett will leap into their past one more time and help make a clearer finale.
30 ROCK (2006)
For a sitcom, 30 Rock had a pretty straightforward finale. The show was about a group of writers, comedians, and actors that all starred on a live sketch show called TGS. The finale was about the crew producing the final episode of TGS, so it was purposely meta. It wrapped up the show’s plot lines and was generally well-received. Everything was fine until the very last scene of the show, which took place several generations in the future. Liz Lemon‘s granddaughter is all grown up and is pitching a show about her grandmother to the new head of the network, an apparently immortal Kenneth. During the events of the show, he was an NBC page, essentially a paid intern. To many viewers, revealing him to be ageless and immortal seemed like a completely random and absurd way to end the show.
The Kenneth ending was actually being set up throughout the entire series. There were lots of jokes implying that Kenneth was a simple country bumpkin, but looking back clearly suggests that he is actually from a simpler time. He often makes references to old actors and songs, and there were many subtle hints to his timeless age. It turns out that 30 Rock was a much crazier show than anyone ever realized.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004)
Back in 2004, the Syfy channel shocked fans by taking a classic, 1970s show about space hippies and turning it into a gritty story about the last humans trying to survive in outer space. These humans were from another galaxy, After their homes were destroyed by the robotic Cylons, the survivors ventured out into space, looking for the lost human colony of Earth. In the final season, they find Earth, but it is a nuclear wasteland and everyone is dead. During the finale, the humans eventually settle down on a primitive planet, which turns out to be the Earth of the past.
Earlier in the final season, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace dies, but she later returns under mysterious circumstances. Once the team settled on Earth, she has a nice moment with Apollo and simply disappears. According to executive producer Ron Moore, Starbuck had in fact died, but she had been brought back to life by a higher power to lead the humans to Earth. Whether or not that higher power was God, or if she was an angel, demon, or alien was purposely left vague. We’re just glad our favorite character got to return before the end.
5 CONFUSING TV SERIES ENDINGS FINALLY EXPLAINED