The 12 worst TV finales of all time

"Breaking Bad" can avoid the fate of some of TV's worst final moments

Topics: Breaking Bad, Lost, Seinfeld, the x-files, Battlestar Galactica, series finales,

The 12 worst TV finales of all timeA scene from "Lost"

There are a few things “Breaking Bad” needs to avoid if the AMC series wants to stick the landing.

For one, a deus ex machina conclusion; unlikely though it seems, we’d advise the writers of “Breaking Bad” not to tell us that God engineered the whole thing. (We wish things had gone differently, “Battlestar Galactica.”) In general, wild tonal shifts in the final moments are to be avoided — while life is full of hairpin turns, the best conclusions feel of a piece with what came before, rather than arbitrarily sending characters to jail or zipping decades into the future, or violating the show’s tone by zanily making a serial killer take a new job as a lumberjack in the show’s final moments!

It’s always seemed that the writers behind “Breaking Bad” have an unusual command of their material — but we felt that way about other comedies and dramas, once upon a time, too, if to a lesser degree. As we wait for the finale Sunday, we can only hope that the producers had a plan — and will not merely answer questions but do so in a way that keeps up the mood and themes that made “Breaking Bad” so great.



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    The worst finales ever

    “Alias,” “All the Time in the World,” 2006

    The spy drama’s supernatural elements overtook it by the finale, in which nemesis Sloane has become immortal but is imprisoned in a tomb. We liked the show when it was about a martial-arts expert in wigs!

    The worst finales ever

    “Battlestar Galactica,” “Daybreak,” 2009

    The series ended with the revelation that God was responsible for all the events on the show. Whatever your feelings about religion in our world, in the show’s world, lingering questions were not so much answered as wished away!

    The worst finales ever

    “Big Love,” “Where Men and Mountains Meet,” 2011

    The polygamist Bill Henrickson was killed -- by a random-seeming neighbor. And though his three wives were allowed to continue their unconventional family, the episode seemed otherwise to be grasping at straws to shock the audience.

    The worst finales ever

    “Desperate Housewives,” “Finishing the Hat,” 2012

    Teri Hatcher’s character left her home in order to help her daughter raise her baby -- after she’d sabotaged that daughter’s attempts to find an adoptive home for the child. It was a strange attempt to put a smiley face on a chilling, cruel storyline.

    The worst finales ever

    “Dexter,” “Remember the Monsters?,” 2013

    The finale featured the titular serial killer of serial killers getting away with all of his murders over the course of a very long series run, absconding from a hospital with the body of his sister and dumping it into the ocean as a hurricane nears -- and becoming, for reasons known only to the show’s writers, a lumberjack. It was at once frustrating and entirely tangent to the events of the series.

    The worst finales ever

    “Friends,” “The Last One,” 2004

    The last episode was the logical conclusion of a several-year morphing of “Friends” into a drama with occasional jokes; every storyline is brought to a conclusion, but there’s a lot of gnashing and wailing along the way as Ross and Rachel circle one another for one last hour. Maybe there’s no way the show could’ve ended that would’ve been satisfying; the Ross-Rachel drama felt unsatisfying on the umpteenth go-round.

    The worst finales ever

    “Lost,” “The End,” 2010

    The show, which ended with everyone dead, didn't pull off the maneuver "Six Feet Under" did so movingly (and, to be fair, in a different manner). An entirely unexpected ending, here, to a show whose twists and turns didn’t always seem to be undertaken by people who knew what they were doing.

    The worst finales ever

    “Mad About You,” “The Final Frontier,” 1999

    The finale to the 1990s’ most amiable, low-key series bizarrely focused on a guest star, Janeane Garofalo, who played the grown child of the central couple, decades in the future. That’d be bad enough, if she wasn’t relating the story of how her parents separated (they get back together, but yikes.)

    The worst finales ever

    “Roseanne,” “Into That Good Night,” 1997

    The final season completely upended the premise behind “Roseanne,” granting the Conner family a multimillion-dollar lottery windfall after they’d spent the entire series struggling to make ends meet. In the final episode, Roseanne reveals she made up all of the events of the season -- a gutsy and strange ending to a series that had been, for much of its run, grounded in the realities of American life.

    The worst finales ever

    “Seinfeld,” “The Finale,” 1998

    One of the most speculated-about sitcom episodes of all time, the last “Seinfeld” was watched by 76 million people -- nearly all of whom felt let down. (Can you imagine if there’d been Twitter back then?) Though it’s possible to mount a contrarian defense of the episode, where the gang gets sent to jail as a cavalcade of guest stars condemn them, it definitely isn’t the series at its best. (Thankfully, peak episodes air nightly in syndication.)

    The worst finales ever

    “Will & Grace,” “The Finale,” 2006

    The series had, like many on this list, outlived its glory years, and had for seasons relied on amped-up soap operatics to keep its buzz alive; the finale goes years into the future to show how Will and Grace stop being friends. The stars of the show spend much of the two hours (!) in old-age makeup and separated, a waste of the chemistry that made this show worth watching in the first place.

    The worst finales ever

    “The X-Files,” “The Truth,” 2002

    The long-running supernatural drama had put forward many hints about an alien conspiracy over the course of its run -- and the finale, revealing only that the aliens were coming in 2012 (phew, glad it’s just TV!) didn’t satisfy fans. If you’re going to hint at greater truths being out there, those truths had better be really good.

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Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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