The Finale Formula: What works and what really irks


It’s hard to believe it’s been 7 years since the beginning of Bruno Heller’s CBS drama The Mentalist starring Aussie icon Simon Baker – with the show airing their final episode earlier this week. Although the long-running procedural has had its ups and downs, particularly the anti-climactic reveal of overarching big-bad Red John, it was hard not to get invested in the life and happiness of CBI mentalist Patrick Jane.

For a weekly crime show, it had a surprisingly satisfying finale that saw Jane’s character coming full circle – beginning the series seeking revenge for the murder of his beloved wife and daughter, while ending it with him getting hitched to work partner Teresa Lisbon and discovering she is pregnant with his child in a touching final moment. Sure it was cliche as hell, with a splashy wedding and the reunion of past and present characters, but it was a fulfilling end for dedicated fans.

the mentalist

And it seems that this is the delicate line writers must toe when crafting a series finale; a balance of satiating fans while ensuring they don’t sacrifice the story, as well as being unique enough to be memorable in the many years to come. Shows like Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights and The Wire are testament to the success of this formula, but this begs the question – what happens when this formula goes haywire?

Well here are 4 instances where it seems the rule book has been tossed aside, leaving us musing about wasted potential and laden with even more questions than when we began the viewing journey.

WARNING: Heavy spoilers ahead, proceed with caution


1. How I Met Your Mother

For a creatively made, and insanely popular comedy built on the premise of one man’s 9 season search for love (a.k.a. the search for the infamous ‘mother’), many were shocked by the turn of events in the finale. Although Ted Mosby fell for Robin in the pilot and was convinced they were soul-mates, the show spent the next nine years showing fans how they would never work out and even had Robin get together with ladies man Barney Stinson (and despite the fact we’re not surprised that union didn’t last, they did base pretty much a whole season around their wedding!)

All was good and well, with Ted even meeting future wife Tracy and having children of his own, but the finale took a sharp turn when it was shown that she passed away. Before we even have a chance to really grieve the death of this very central character, fans are expected to believe that Ted was in love with Robin all along.

For a show that kept viewers tuned in for nine years, it seems that they could have given fans a believable ending – and at risk of sounding boring, keeping it happy and predictable probably would have been the best option. Thankfully they did release an alternative ending, albeit if it was only online. Although we’re pretty certain if it was used, it would have saved the show from turning into ‘How I met your (Step)Mother’. Somehow that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it…

Last Forever Part One



2. Dexter

During its 8 season run, we saw Dexter as “a sociopath who channeled his urge as a serial killer for the social good.” And although the show has had some masterful seasons, among other much more forgettable ones, the series finale can only be described as bizarre.

After showing the touching final moments Dexter spent with sister Deb, an emotion filled talk with lover Hannah and a note to son Harrison, many fans predicted an inevitable death for the anti-hero; that the Miami vigilante would finally go down with his ship (or rather his yacht, The Slice of Life). However moments after the screen fades to black, we see an exiled Dexter starting a new life as a hairy, flannel-wearing lumberjack. Naturally.

Fans were left perplexed and with even more questions; where does he go from here? Did his Dark Passenger disappear beneath the waves along with Deb’s body? Well, perhaps the intention was to leave things open to interpretation but we can’t help thinking it seems a little lazy – and not at all consistent with his MO. Surely we’re not the only fans echoing his sentiment in the series finale: “I just want it to stop.” And luckily, it did – before things could get any worse.

Episode 812



3. Gossip Girl

As if a show about spoilt Upper East Side teenagers didn’t have enough problems, and plenty of teen drama to fill up every one of Serena van der Wooden’s oversized handbags, it seems the real flaw of the series (as well as it’s initial appeal) was the ongoing mystery regarding the true identity of anonymous blogger Gossip Girl.

In the shock finale, fans discovered Gossip Girl wasn’t really a girl at all – and instead was revealed to be writer and ‘lonely boyDan Humphrey. And let’s face it, that made no sense at all. It was clear the ending to the six season show was rushed, clumsily aiming to give viewers some sort of closure but just managed to bring up even more questions.

If Dan really was Gossip Girl, were pretty sure he would be the most messed up, bipolar and impossibly omnipresent character television has ever seen, who also manages to piss off every one of his friends and family for no real reason. Yet despite the fact that Dan as Gossip Girl has ruined all of their lives in some way, they all seem to buy it, laugh it off and Serena seemed even more eager to marry him. Well, we’re just happy they said XOXO to us once and for all.




 4. LOST

We knew straight off the bat this show wasn’t for those looking for a straightforward drama, where you can allow your brain to switch off or even go for a bathroom break and still understand what the hell is going on when you get back. Loyal fans who have stuck by the roller-coaster of a show throughout all 6 seasons know firsthand all of the crazy it entails; including Desmond’s hatch, Smoke Monsters, Hurley’s magical numbers, flash forwards and sideways, and even time-travel. But nothing could have prepared fans for the the finale which would have them all staring at their screens feeling, well for lack of a better word, lost.

Fans awaited an explanation to make sense of the jigsaw puzzle of a show that lay before them, but instead discovered that Lost creators had gone ahead and done one of the things literary teachers warn their students never to do; end the story with all of the characters being dead. That’s right – all of the flash-sideways they were witnessing were the characters in somewhat of a purgatory state. This discovery was made at the end of the finale, where the characters met together in a church before ascending to heaven.

As poetic as this ending seems from a distance, fans who had invested a lot of time into the whirlwind series were just left with a mountain of further questions. Why weren’t all of the characters at the church? For how much of the show were the characters dead? Although it does get points for being unique – love it or hate it, we’re sure this is one finale fans are not likely to forget any time soon!


Which finales did you think worked or didn’t work? Comment below!


22 | South Australia | Writer & Journo | Screen junkie

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