After seven hilarious seasons, last night was the series finale of NBC’s hit sitcom Parks and Recreation. Look it up on Google, and practically every article and review about the final episode includes the word “emotional” as the main descriptor. Not that that in itself is much different from the main description of practically every series finale in existence. For the most part, “emotional” is one of the main requirements of final episodes. That being said, not all series finales are created equal and there are many that are both highly emotional and wonderfully creative. Spoilers ahead.
This series about army doctors during the Korean War ran for eleven seasons and was based on the Robert Altman film of the same name. After eleven years, not only does the cast tend to be pretty close, but a dedicated audience will also feel pretty attached to the characters in a highly sensitive and nuanced way. Fans will pick up on the subtleties of relationship dynamics and character traits, often knowing the people on the show better than most people in life. With M*A*S*H, not only are the characters saying goodbye to each other, perhaps forever, but so are we. It didn’t make it any easier to have Hawkeye Pierce suffer an intense emotional trauma after seeing, and repressing, a woman accidentally suffocate her infant child to keep it quiet as the enemy searched for the hiding group. The moment Pierce finally recovers the memory is unforgettable.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Joss Whedon knows how to grip the heart strings better than most people in the business (I can think of a few traumatizing surprise deaths throughout the Whedonverse that had me sobbing into my popcorn), and the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is no exception. The world was always in danger of destruction, but the series finale took it to another level with the destruction of Sunnydale and a number of important character deaths during the final battle. This episode is also highly emotional because Buffy enacts a plan to activate “potential slayers” across the world, basically giving women everywhere the strength of the slayer. For young women, Whedon’s empowering feminist message was perhaps one of the most affecting things about the finale.
A lot of people took issue with the finale of Ronald D. Moore’s reboot of the 1978 series, many feeling that the increasing religious themes were out of place with the tone of the show. However, I feel like those people must not have been paying much attention if they missed the pervasive emphasis on religious belief, mythology, and prophesy. Their entire search for Earth, starting on episode one, was based on religious myth in the first place – and practically everyone is named after Greek gods. Anyway, aside from the controversial ending, there’s the deeply emotional aspects of what is fundamentally a high emotion show – including the death of Laura Roslin and what I will refer to as the “ascension” of Kara Thrace. There’s a bittersweet hopefulness that permeates the finale, giving one both closure and a deep sense of loss.
We all know that David Lynch’s weird and wonderful soapy, supernatural, murder mystery is about to get another chapter – but I wouldn’t expect many solid answers to the cliffhanger series finale in which Special Agent Dale Cooper found himself possessed by the evil demon Bob. The series was always a little over-the-top and purposefully over-dramatic – often to the point of hilarity – but the twisted and confusing finale caused deep emotion mainly through a recursive scene of Cooper wandering through a red curtained world lit by strobe and encountering a dancing midget and the murdered Laura Palmer. It was all deeply strange. He triumphed and escaped, seemingly no worse for wear, but surprised viewers when it turned out he exited the red curtained dimension with a passenger.
I was never a big fan of Friends, but the show so pervaded the time in which I grew up that it was hard to escape without even an intermediate understanding of the show and its culture. We all know the characters and their quirks and their romances, their career struggles, and the One with the Person and the Thing at the Place. But most of all, we all know about Ross and Rachel’s tumultuous relationship – so much so, that that is literally the only thing I remember from the “emotional” series finale – that Ross and Rachel finally ended up together (unless they’re on a break, har-har). I was always a Monica/Chander fan myself.
This is another show that I only ever watched intermittently, but somehow managed to form an attachment to and understanding of most of the characters regardless. I watched the series finale and I cried with joy as everyone came together for Dwight’s wedding. I can only imagine how I’d react if I had been a steadfast fan watching Steve Carrell make his finale appearance as Michael Scott, a surprise guest for both Dwight and audience alike. It just goes to show how relatable these characters are. That despite your level of dedication or understanding of the show, you relate to these people and how they relate to each other. We all have Michael Scott moments. We all know a Dwight. Most of us might think of ourselves as a Jim or a Pam because they knowingly share the joke with us about how ridiculous people can be. I think we could all use a dead pan reaction shot in our daily lives, and The Office is as close as we’ll get to our own dedicated camera crew.