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The 10 worst TV endings in history

The ensuing uproar after the Line of Duty season six finale came with almost little to no surprise. Of course, the series had been building up for six seasons and nine years, luring viewers in time and time again in the hope that this time the hero’s in AC-12 would discover who was behind all the endemic police corruption and its links with organised crime. Each season viewers were left feeling unsatisfied. Despite this, we were safe in the knowledge that the follow-up season would confirm or disregard the many theories that had arisen in the wake of each season’s finale.

Viewers had to wait two years for the sixth edition of the hit police procedural, mainly owing to the relentless pandemic that has put a fork in much of society’s best-laid plains. This wait was not unheard of for the show, as there had been gaps of roughly two years between each of its first three seasons, and obviously, none of us could do anything to stop the effect of a pandemic in full swing. If anything, the wait was compounded by season five’s explosive ending, in tandem with being holed up at home with boredom levels increasing and the completion of all of the streaming sites making us revisit Superintendent Ted Hastings and Co.

However, it was not to be. Season six of Line of Duty started slow but then picked up the pace, luring us into thinking this time, just this time, we would close the case. Given what we know now and the revelations made, it ended on a well, meh, note. Like many of our other favourite TV series, adjectives such as “disappointing” quickly found traction. This furore was made worse by the series creator, Jed Mercurio, stating that he wanted to finish the series on “a high”. 

A high it was not, and the image of our three AC-12 members whizzing down to the ground floor in a dreadfully green-screened elevator, was seared into our minds forever. Although, hope is not totally lost for our favourite anti-corruption team. This week, the show’s star Martin Compston has revealed that he would be “heartbroken” if it does not appear for a seventh series.

Nonetheless, all this debate, disappointment and anger has dredged up the age-old debate surrounding the worst TV endings of all time. The feeling of crushing disappointment after spending years (often over a decade or more) committing to a series and its characters is an all too familiar one. 

Lingering questions such as “was it worth it?” or “why do I even bother?” spring up in your internal dialogue, and grumbles of “fuck you” in the direction of the showrunners arise once more. This triggering scenario seems to be part of the modern zeitgeist. It leaves us wondering, though, what are the worst instances of being let down by your favourite TV shows?

Join us then as we list the ten worst TV endings in history. These are in no particular order as it would be cruel to put trauma on a podium.

Spoiler Alert... obviously.

The worst TV endings of all time:

Dallas

Debuting in 1978, Dallas was soap in all its essence. It was based around the oil-rich Ewings a wealthy family of oil barons. It originally started as a limited series but became so popular; it eventually ran for fourteen seasons, spawning a lengthy spin-off in the process. Much of the show’s drama was centred around iconic brothers J.R. (Larry Hagman) and Bobby (Patrick Duffy).

J.R. was undoubtedly the shows most iconic character, and he was at the centre of the most memorable storyline, “Who shot J.R.?” where the villain was shot by an assistant. This storyline left viewers in shock and awe. It was even parodied in the classic Simpsons episode “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” in 1995.

However, Dallas’ most infamous moment was its two-part finale in 1991. The plot involved a jaded J.R. who had lost everything. Entitled ‘Conundrum’, it certainly left viewers scratching their heads. The down and out J.R. is visited by an angel named Adam and they embark on an It’s a Wonderful Life-esque journey through the past, examining what would have happened had J.R. never been born. However, Adam is revealed to be a demon, and he is the one who tricks J.R. into shooting himself. J.R.’s son Bobby runs into the room and screams, “Oh my god.”

This ridiculous ending infuriated fans. This would not be the end for J.R., either, and he would return in the awful TV movie Dallas: J .R. Returns.

Mad Men

On reflection, the Mad Men finale in 2015 left us feeling happy at the time but revisiting it; it comes across as a highly frustrating end to the hit TV show. Throughout the series’ seven seasons exploring the life of advertising executives in the 1960s, we witness a whole host of the depths of humanity. Main man Don Draper sinks lower and lower as the show wears on. He has two failed marriages, battles alcoholism, his career takes a nosedive, and his children hate him.

At rock bottom, he travels to a transcendental meditation retreat in California. That iconic final shot of Draper closing his eyes and starting to smile is not what we wanted it to mean. The anti-hero has not found inner peace or changed, but he has found the key to winning his kingdom back. This beautiful Californian vista will be his way back to advertising success. Thus, the Mad Men ending leaves us wanting more and confirms that people, well in the world of Mad Men, never change.

The Wire

The Wire is perhaps the most frustrating series of all time. It started with such nuance and narrative panache. However, much like some of the other entry’s on this list, the show gradually lost sight of itself and weighed itself down in the process. The fake serial killer storyline, in addition to the focus on the media left the plotline feeling off. In fact the shows finale ended with “our worst ever numbers” according to creator David Simon.

Of course, in comparison to the Dallas finale, it was riveting, and it certainly confirmed the theme that political capital is the real capital in society. However, the crux is, it could have been so much more. If anything, we were relieved it ended when it did, before becoming too self-absorbed.

Star Trek: Enterprise

One of the most maligned endings in TV history, this 2005 slap in the face is down-right ridiculous. This is made even more so when we note just how die-hard fans of the franchise the “Trekkies” are. The shows 98th episode, ‘These Are The Voyages…’ opens with Captain Archer piloting the titular starship back to earth for its decommissioning whilst preparing to give a closing speech at the signing of the Federation Charter.

However, the voice of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s (TNG) Commander Riker suddenly freezes the story. This is when we realised that the Enterprise’s final journey was all a “holodeck” simulation. This was a kick in the teeth for Trekkies worldwide. They had spent four seasons following Enterprise’s characters just for them and deserved a send-off for the characters they had come to love. Instead, it was a poorly retconned ploy involving an event Riker barely mentions in TNG. 

This ending was a disservice to everyone involved, including Enterprise’s cast. Used to move TNG’s plot along, it rightfully gains its spot in this list.

Scrubs

Entitled ‘My Finale’, by the time Scrubs’ eighth series teary ending rolled around in 2009, fans of the hit show were done. However, the show would return for an ill-fated ninth season with characters and plotlines nobody cared about. ‘My Finale’ is classed as the true ending by fans as it was the last to feature all of the main cast.

The ninth series focused on a new group of main characters, med students being taught by the main characters. However, season nine gained the worst reviews the show had ever had and destroyed a lot of the plotlines the ‘My Finale’ had created. Season 9 as a whole was pointless and it ruined everything that had come before it. The finale was well pointless and, muddling.

Two and a Half Men

One of the strangest entries on our list, the two-hour-long programme ended on a meta note. The series, which had been running since 2003, no longer featured Charlie Sheen, but Ashton Kutcher. The finale brought back familiar faces and a few celebrity guests, including Arnie and John Stamos. Understandably, Sheen’s character was nowhere to be seen – he had fallen out with producers four years prior, in 2011.

The 262nd episode finished with the show’s executive producer Chuck Lorre appearing in his chair. He utters one word, “winning”, Sheen’s character’s tagline. However, Lorre is promptly crushed by a falling piano. The ending was highly self-referential given that throughout the finale, the characters had been poking fun at Sheen’s characters personality traits.

It turns out the showrunners wanted Sheen to return, and after giving a lecture on drug addiction, he would have been crushed by the piano. Typically though, both parties diverged on how they wanted the show to end. Lorre claimed that Sheen didn’t want to be destroyed by ivory: “He wanted us to write a heart-warming scene that would set up his return to primetime TV in a new sitcom called The Harpers starring him and Jon Cryer. We thought that was funny.”

Therefore it led to this uber-meta and down-right weird ending. It was a shame as fans of the show were die-hard, and the finale seems to have mainly been about the rift between writers and Sheen.

Game of Thrones

The most disappointing of the lot, Game of Thrones‘ final season was a letdown from the outset. As the show had gone on, it had become increasingly clear that writing and filming were being rushed and that there had been increased divergence from George R.R. Martin’s books. Everyone remembers that Starbucks coffee cup, front and centre on the table as Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen conversates.

Indeed the ending was “bittersweet”, and it “broke the wheel” by coming full circle. So what are we moaning about, you might be asking? Well, it was the nature of the arrival at the ending. A rushed and poorly written season, the Game of Thrones finale is remembered for writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss making up their end, as the final book had not yet been released.

This infuriated the die-hard fans, who had ploughed years and years of time and effort into the series and its surrounding discourse. However, a spin-off has been confirmed, so maybe the showrunners can repent. We don’t have high hopes, though.

Lost

One of the most iconic series of the noughties, Lost did not end well. By this point, the 121-episode series had become a Gordian knot of time travel, mysteries and parallel universes that had become a bit too over the top. Fittingly entitled ‘The End’, protagonist Jack Shephard but heads once and for all with the antagonist of the show The Man in Black, who is attempting to destroy the island. However, the mystery that had been central to the series’ plot was mainly left unanswered.

The “flash-sideways” narrative device and an anticlimactic ending left fans feeling like they had completely wasted their time. Adding to this immense sense of frustration was the vague, happy-reunion end scene. For these reasons, it will forever hold its place in the annals of lukewarm series finales.

The Sopranos

The Sopranos is often hailed as a masterpiece, and rightly so. It is an all-encompassing series taking cues from The Godfather to Stanley Kubrick. It is a tour de force in writing and cinematography. It even features Steve Buscemi for a season.

The late, great James Gandolfini was undoubtedly the show’s star, and he was perfect for the role of Tony Soprano. However, what skewed the show’s ending was the unclear nature of it. Possibly the most famous TV ending of all time, the cut to black left viewers with so many questions. It is this that has characterised the show ever since its end in 2007.

Writer David Chase has refused to give a definitive answer in response to the fan theories, making it the most frustrating TV ending of the noughties, if not ever. If we take Chase’s statement, it may even be a case that audiences delved too deeply into the ending and that there is no deeper meaning. “I have no interest in explaining, defending, reinterpreting, or adding to what is there. No one was trying to be audacious, honest to God. We did what we thought we had to do. No one was trying to blow people’s minds, or thinking, “Wow, this’ll piss them off.” People get the impression that you’re trying to fuck with them and it’s not true. You’re trying to entertain them. Anybody who wants to watch it, it’s all there.”

Seinfeld

What list would be complete without the ending of Seinfeld. The hit comedy ran from 1989 to 1998 and left viewers with the most polarising finale of all time. This two-part ending, comprising the 179th and 180th episodes of the series, gained 76 million viewers when broadcasted. Entitled ‘The Finale’, this ending has gone down in history.

The series ended with the loathable characters in jail, which was in keeping with the series’ tone. However, many fans wanted to force a sentimental ending. Seinfeld’s end after a long innings ultimately alienated fans due to the widespread distaste for what they saw as a cop-out.

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