NEW YORK — Now that the dust (and ricin) have settled from Sunday’s “Breaking Bad” finale, it’s worth considering what makes a drama series’ exit good or bad.
As much as fans may miss “Breaking Bad,” they were able to bid farewell satisfied that it met its obligations at the end no less than it did every week from the first episode.
“Breaking Bad” left the air with a finale that stands alongside the best ever, inventively tying up five seasons of narrative loose ends.
Now what about a bad finale? Easy: “Dexter,” which aired the week before.
It was disappointing, full of holes and a disservice to a series that, against all odds, managed to make a sociopathic serial killer attractive and believable to viewers for eight slice-and-dice seasons. The finale was a contrivance meant to drag the series to the finish line. In only that respect did it succeed.
But not every worthwhile series even gets a finale.
In 2010, “Law & Order” concluded after 20 seasons and some 450 episodes missing a proper goodbye or opportunity for closure. Though it was largely episodic, without the serialized through-line many dramas trade on epically, “Law & Order” and its viewers were denied the ceremony they were due at the end.
Similarly, “Deadwood” fans still grouse that HBO pulled the plug in 2006 after its three seasons with no finale or, despite vague promises by the network, a movie that could wrap up this rich, complex frontier saga.
The finale for “House,” though hardly at the level of best-ever, did right by this medical series when it aired in 2012 after an eight-season run. The quirky, pill-popping Dr. House was facing jail for a prank gone wrong as well as the demise of his cancer-ridden best friend. He faked his own death to evade arrest, then he and Wilson rode into the sunset on their motorcycles. The perfect getaway. The perfect ending.