A poor series finale can be a tough blow to a TV fan – whether it’s seeing your favorite character die or finding out it was all a dream, there’s something awful about investing years of your life into fictional families and friends only to have it torn down before your very eyes. The issue is, when a show reaches such heights of success, it’s almost impossible to reach the expectations of the viewers when it rounds things off.
With that in mind, Screen Rant is taking a look at some of the most divisive finales – love them or hate them, the end to these shows really made a mark. Obviously, there are SPOILERS ahead.
Here are the 14 Most Controversial TV Finales of All Time.
How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother was a revelation when it first aired in 2004 – seemingly being the recipient of the torch that Friends passed on when it finished its ten year run. The show aired for nine years with an unprecedented consistency in quality. Every episode is funny, touching, and relatable, yet surreal enough to hold the attention of a wider audience.
Brilliantly written, the show gained popularity quickly, telling the story of how Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) met his kids’ mother – and the tandem stories of his friends’ lives in their 20s and 30s.
However, when the time came for the show to finish, audiences had enjoyed a top-quality final season, surrounding the pivotal event that was the supposed catalyst in Ted’s relationship with “The Mother.” The event was Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) wedding, which had been alluded to earlier in the previous season. After spending a good 2 seasons following a will they/won’t they plotline between Barney and Robin, they finally tied the knot – dispelling any concerns each had for their past behaviors with touching and heart-warming lessons along the way. Fans had been hoping for Barney and Robin to get together since season 1, and this was a momentous occasion. However, after spending two years rooting for the couple, the show took the opportunity of the finale to drop in the couples’ divorce – with no warning. In one line – “we got divorced” – in the middle of a different conversation, they tore down a relationship that they spent two years building.
The finale becomes more controversial however, in Ted’s final moments. If two years on a relationship that is then destroyed seems excessive – try nine years. After investing in nine seasons of Ted finding the perfect woman, she is killed off in the finale. That’s right, the woman viewers had waited almost a decade to meet died of an undisclosed illness within moments of the final meet cute. Only for Ted to go running back to the girlfriend that was so wrong for him back in season 1: Robin. Whilst this overjoyed Ted and Robin supporters everywhere, others felt that the lazy twist had been an unrealistic end to an otherwise lovable story.
Dexter was a show that broke new ground. The tables turned on the usual sort of protagonist that viewers had become comfortable with, and instead they were given a villain to relate to. Somehow lured into cheering on a serial killer, audiences were gripped by Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) and his “Dark Passenger” and Dexter became one of the most binge-worthy shows around.
The show had some incredible episodes, with some mind-blowing twists and storylines. However, there was a notable decline in quality as the seasons moved forward – and there was the constant question throughout: “how is it going to end?”
Discussions were always rife over whether or not Dexter would get caught and have to atone for his crimes – at the end of the day, he was still a murderer. He had broken the law quite extensively, and was a danger to the public. So surely he wouldn’t get away with it in the long run? The finale of the show was so controversial in that, not only did he get away with murder and start a new life, he also murdered the one person he cared about most – his sister, Debra (Jennifer Carpenter).
Whilst some fans wanted to see their favorite character keep his freedom, others were concerned that he left his job as a blood spatter analyst, a job which suited the character and made the series logical, to become a lumberjack.
One of the charms of Ugly Betty, other than its surreal humor and good-natured cheesiness, was the message at its heart. It followed a woman with a dream to become a serious journalist, but the only job she could get was at a fashion magazine (which, in real life, is highly unrealistic, but was explained away as her being “too ugly” to distract her boss). With little fashion sense, thick glasses and braces, Betty (America Ferrera) had to deal with the pressures and pitfalls of working in the fashion industry – all the while being judged for her looks. However, the beauty of the show was that she was so comfortable in her own skin and her own choices, that it rolled off her back.
New to the field, her strength was inspiring, and she brought strength to less confident characters. She befriended people who would never have dreamed of befriending her, simply based on her looks, yet she never changed for them.
So with this in mind, whilst the finale of the show did finally have Betty succeeding in her field and moving to London to start a new job, many viewers were distraught that it also saw her getting a makeover, and conforming to the trends she’d spent so long avoiding. This was said to go massively against her character.
Her final relationship, too, was a point of controversy. Whilst many fans had been adamant since the show started that her and boss Daniel (Eric Mabius) were perfect for each other, many others maintained that their friendship had been a cornerstone of the show, and that putting them in a relationship at the end of that went back on the idea that they could be friends without any romantic implications.
When Smallville first aired, nobody would have expected it to last an entire decade. The series had its fair share of issues, ups and downs – but it also benefitted from a loyal fan base who stuck with it throughout. However, the collection of fans was finally divided by the show’s finale.
Whilst some considered it the perfect way to round off the series, with Clark and Lois’ wedding and a final big defeat, others felt it was too simplistic, and some corners were cut. Clark’s defeat of Darkseid was said to be too easy, and the use of ‘mind-wipe magic’ seemed like lazy storytelling.
One of the biggest shows of the decade, Lost was incredibly popular amongst a wide audience – and opinion of the finale was heavily divided. Six years after Oceanic Flight 815 crash landed on a mysterious island on its way to Los Angeles, we finally discovered the whole story of what happened to survivors.
Whilst some viewers loved the fact that it was widely left to interpretation, many hated the plethora of loose ends left dangling at the end of the show. There was no closure to the storyline involving Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and his father, for example. Numerous questions remained unresolved, but it also echoed the pilot in many ways, bringing the show full-circle.
Roseanne was a roaring success from day one, with its new feminist and working class take on the sitcom, an idea that was incredibly ahead of its time, but very well received. It ran for a strong 9 years and made a real mark in television – which is why Roseanne’s finale was so controversial.
After spending nine seasons becoming familiar with the situation and the characters, reveling in the highs and hurting right alongside the pitfalls of the show, some considered the finale to be an enormous slap in the face. In what could be considered lazy writing, the finale offers a twist – never a great idea (Dallas, we’re looking at you). It turns out that entire series was a work of fiction. In reality, Dan’s heart attack was fatal and the family did not win the lottery. Jackie is a lesbian and Beverly is straight, Scott isn’t a lawyer and Leon is a different person altogether. Couples are mixed up, and everything is flipped topsy turvy – the show that the audience watched was simply a story written by Roseanne herself in order to cope with her depressing reality.
Two and a Half Men
In true Chuck Lorre style, Two and a Half Men had a great start, continued on an upward trajectory, reached its peak, and then died a slow and painful death. Following Charlie Sheen’s notorious public feud with Lorre, the actor was dismissed and his character brutally murdered by his ex-girlfriend. He was thrown in front of a train, and his body literally exploded. However, in the show’s final episode, it is revealed that, actually, he was alive all along and living in Rose’s (Melanie Lynskey) basement as a prisoner. As Charlie’s brother (Jon Cryer) and the character who replaced him (Ashton Kutcher), sit on the balcony outside Charlie’s old house, discussing the news of his survival. Berta (Conchata Ferrell) mentions that Charlie has sent her a big check, and so she quits, but then immediately changes her mind, for some reason.
But besides the disjointedness of the episode, the biggest point of controversy in the Two and a Half Men finale was the very final scene. Charlie (played by a Sheen-lookalike who we never see from the front) returns to his beach home and walks up to ring the doorbell – but before he has the chance, a piano falls on his head. The camera pans out to Chuck Lorre in his director’s chair, which then turns to the camera and simply says “winning” in an obvious reference to his feud with the actor. Some found this to be a funny way to “re-kill” the character, and agreed with Lorre’s side of the disagreement.
Many, however, found it to be a distasteful and unprofessional way to end the show, making it more about the creator’s personal gripes than about the characters and storyline that viewers tuned in for week after week.
After following Gilmore Girls for seven years, the adventures of Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Loralei (Lauren Graham) came to an end. Fans found the show incredibly addictive – and enjoyed arguing over which of Rory’s boyfriends they preferred. However when the finale came, some fans loved the way in which it rounded up the story, but others disagreed fully.
The ending saw most loose ends tied up: Rory graduated from Yale and heads off to work on President Obama’s campaign trail as a political correspondent, the entire town throwing her a huge farewell party, and Lorelei and Luke (Scott Patterson) finally getting back together. It was heart-warming, but perhaps a little too easy.
What irked fans the most, though, was the “Logan” predicament. Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry) had been Rory’s boyfriend for the majority of her time at Yale, and had proved himself time and time again to have nothing but love for her, despite his playboy ways. He looked after her when she fell out with Lorelei and needed hope and guidance, but still let her be herself. However, it seems the writers thought that wasn’t enough and when, after a long season of planning, Logan finally proposed to Rory, she turned him down cold. Not only that, but the proposal ended in a break up with no chance of reconciliation. The relationship we cheered for over the years was gone in an instant, in an obvious attempt to show that Rory didn’t need Logan. But did that mean she didn’t love him?
Sons of Anarchy
A more recent entry on the controversial finale front is Sons of Anarchy, which ran from 2008-2014. Depicting a gang of biker outlaws, the show follows two parallel plot lines which intertwine and overlap, and garnered a huge following on both FX and Netflix over its seven season stint.
However, when the show ended in 2014, opinions were yet again divided. Whilst all of the loose ends were tied up in a neat little bow, and viewers found out everything they needed to know about the future of their beloved characters and could see that the clubs problems were solved, others thought that this story didn’t make sense.
The script was knocked as being predictable and disappointing – and the ending saw the lead character, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) unable to find a way out of the problems the writers had created for him. So he – and the writers – took the easy way out, by taking his own life like his father had before him.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before Joss Whedon became a household name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the cult classic that shot him to fame. With his usual sarcastic humor and dark twists, he created a show that garnered millions of fans across the world, each with their own favorite season and villain. However, as the series came to a close, the show began to suffer from repetitiveness. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had saved the world so many times that it was bordering on boring.
The finale attempted to combat this by putting more at risk than ever had been before – and therefore it needed a bigger hero to battle it. Many fans loved the finale, feeling that it wrapped up the show nicely without leaving anything unexplained. And, while it did see the loss of a few beloved characters, it ultimately did achieve that goal.
However, other fans thought that the episode made little sense and disproved established canon from other episodes. For example, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) does some magic, and suddenly everyone is ultra-powerful. So there’s a bunch of slayers now, instead of the plot-defining “there can be only one” rule that had been played around with before in the show. It also saw the destruction of Sunnydale which, while symbolic to Buffy’s character, could also have been seen as an easy write-off of everything that happened there.
Having had her life torn apart after her father was wrongly accused of channeling money to terrorist activities; Emily Thorne (Emily Van Camp) makes it her ambition to exact revenge on those who wronged her family.
After a relatively short run of four seasons, Revenge came to a close – and split viewers’ opinions once more. We saw Emily/Amanda finally getting her revenge and killing the head of the family that ruined her life, Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) – but not before Victoria shot a dying bullet to Emily’s heart. Promised two graves from the offset, it didn’t seem a far-fetched idea that the second would be Emily’s. However, due to a very swift heart transplant, she survived – only to dream that heart donor had been Victoria herself.
The writers have since explained this to be a metaphorical dream sequence, and that Emily doesn’t actually have Victoria’s heart. While the finale wasn’t entirely nonsensical, it seemed a lackluster and effortless way to end what had been a rollercoaster of a series.
After following the Halliwell sisters through 8 seasons battling against the forces of evil using their witchcraft, the show’s finale was divisive as audiences argued over whether or not it did the show justice. The final episode of Charmed saw the characters’ destinies realized, and everyone appeared to achieve the life they wanted – and all relationships ended up warm and fuzzy, and supposedly it was exactly what the fans had wanted.
However, by the time the finale came about, the show was considered to have long since peaked, and fans were starting to tire of the storylines. The finale’s convoluted plot whipped between time periods inexplicably and repeatedly attempted to cheat death. Whilst there were moments of emotion, the saccharine sweet end was considered to be overkill and, ultimately, awful by a large proportion of viewers.
The fourth and final season of Heroes suffered from a lack of focus and a disjointed storyline – and this echoed through to the finale. While some enjoyed the final moments of what had been a pioneering series, it was considered by others to be anti-climactic in comparison to some of the other villainous plots we’d seen.
The final scenes saw Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere) deciding to reveal the group of “heroes” to the world, attempting to fill all with hope that, after years of shadows and persecution, there might be a bright future on the horizon at long last.
Fans never seemed to warm to the final season and its travelling circus storyline. The villain of the entire series, Sylar (Zachary Quinto), ended up turning good at the last minute – which was entirely against his character, and upset a lot of fans.
Possibly one of the most popular shows of the last few decades, The Sopranos follows the story of lead character Tony (James Gandolfini) and his leadership with the Italian mafia in New Jersey (as well as the psychiatric care he receives to deal with the stress of such a position). Through eight years of power struggles, affairs, and violence, The Sopranos gained significant critical acclaim throughout – that was, until the finale aired.
Some fans profess to love the final episode of the show for its ambiguity and the way in which it leaves the viewer wanting more. However, others were hugely disappointed in the way it failed to sufficiently end the series’ storyline. Throughout the final season there is a build up to Tony being “whacked” – but the finale was deeply unsatisfying on this front.
While in a restaurant, Tony’s family filter in slowly but the camera keeps panning back to various onlookers who are keeping a wary eye on him – perhaps ready to shoot him. The scene builds and builds, with Tony’s daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) parking her SUV, and the audience awaits the show’s final climactic moments – only to get a sudden cut to silent black. And that’s it. Does Tony get killed? Does everyone live happily ever after? We’ll never know.
Honorable Mention – Scrubs: Med School
The season eight finale of Scrubs was glorious. Seeing everything rounded off so neatly, with a little glimpse in to the characters’ futures, was so heart-warming and fuzzy that it was impossible not to love it, and perhaps even shed a little tear for the show. After nine years, it had gained a considerable following, and become one of the most quotable shows on television.
However, the powers that be clearly weren’t happy with the perfect ending – possibly with potential cash on their minds – and rebooted the series with the spin off Scrubs: Med School, starring many of the original cast. However, the season pulled apart the perfect ending, making it almost redundant. The majority of Scrubs fans consider Med School as a write-off, and ignore its existence.
Did we miss any other controversial endings? Let us know in the comments!
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