No finale was more wickedly perfect than that of “The Shield,” aired in 2008. Detective Vic Mackey, its brutish anti-hero, received a fate worse than death or any prison term: the loss of authority as well as his family into witness protection, and a desk job as part of his immunity agreement.
Not only an honest tearjerker, the finale of “Six Feet Under” in 2005 was flawlessly in synch with the series’ sensibility. A drama about a funeral home, it had been a five-season meditation on life and death. Fittingly, the finale tracked the life and eventual death of its family of characters. The moral was clear and beautifully drawn: No one is immune.
Or course, some finales leave viewers scratching their heads as much as nodding them with pleasure. After six seasons and 120 episodes, “Lost” left the air in 2010 with a rapturous close that provided more comfort and inspiration than hard answers. For one last time, viewers were obliged to get lost in the many dimensions of “Lost,” and did. On its own oblique terms, it worked.
But there was no more jaw-dropping finish to a show than that of “St. Elsewhere,” a pioneering, often mordantly funny hospital drama a quarter-century ago.
On the night of May 25, 1988, viewers learned that the series’ entire six-season run had been a figment of an autistic child’s imagination. His snow globe containing a toy replica of the hospital was seen in the series’ final shot.
If that ending fueled debate, its scale and intensity was nothing compared to the uproar after “The Sopranos” cut to black in June 2007.
An argument can still be sparked among “Sopranos” fans over What That Ending Meant:
Was the nervous implication (that Tony Soprano was about to be whacked as he dined with his family in a local restaurant) carried out after the screen went dark? Or had Tony, glancing up, just been acknowledging his daughter Meadow’s entrance?