Any fan of television will tell you: a series finale is a tricky thing to handle. There needs to be a reverence for the show's past while also wrapping up any loose storylines. Of course, this is only true if the series wasn’t canceled abruptly. Unplanned series finales often leave fans screaming over cliffhangers and missed opportunities. If a show is allowed to run its natural course, however, then the series finale is key. It is the the swan song for the series.
What should a series finale be? It has to wrap up any long-running storylines, give satisfying ends to the characters, make sense with the tone of the show, and feel like a good bookend to where things started. There are often twists in a finale, usually in regard to a character’s future or how the show finally ends. These twists can make a series finale or it can break them. Whether it makes or breaks the series, the most memorable ones definitely have a way of sticking around in the cultural consciousness.
Needless to say, what we’re about recount may give the most dedicated viewer some serious flashbacks. These twists may have very well ruined the entire series or left audiences with a warm fuzzy feeling in the end. It’s time to take a long look back at those plot twists that had audiences frothing at the mouth or them sobbing into their tissues.
These are 14 Series Finale Twists That Hurt Their TV Shows (And 11 That Saved Them).
25 HURT: Mom Loses Her Life (How I Met Your Mother)
It took almost a decade for Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) children to learn how he actually met their mother. During the final season, we saw the circumstances that led to him and the Mother (Cristin Milioti) meeting after Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin’s (Cobie Smulders) wedding. After all that build-up, all that we’ve seen over nine seasons to get to the moment, did Ted and Tracy get to have that happily ever after?
No! Instead, she loses her life to a disease. All that build-up for Ted to finally meet the kids’ mother and she turns out to be gone, with Ted's whole story being an excuse to date "Aunt Robin." It’s one of the most frustrating twists in television history.
24 HURT: Lumberjack Dexter (Dexter)
In its last seasons, Dexter was definitely the show on a decline. Long before Inhumans or Iron Fist felt showrunner Scott Buck’s poison touch, he led Dexter to its end. Nothing could quite live up to the epic disappointment that was this series finale. With everything collapsing around him, it looked like Dexter (Michael C. Hall) drove himself into a hurricane to end his own life.
Rather than join his lover Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) and son Harrison in Argentina, he decided to let them all think he had perished. Instead, he ended up working as a lumberjack in Oregon. It's an absurd, meaningless ending and totally anticlimactic. It feels like a twist for twist's sake.
23 HURT: Spencer’s Evil Twin (Pretty Little Liars)
Pretty Little Liars was pretty much a wild show from start to finish. Didn’t anyone everyone tired of all the As running around? There was, naturally, an Uber A, also known as A.D. In the most soap operatic move from the show, this Uber A was Spencer’s (Troian Bellisario) heretofore unknown identical twin sister. What did said identical twin sister want? She wanted to be Spencer.
It turned into the plot of Single White Female at the end, with the added absurdity of Spencer's evil twin having a cartoonish Cockney accent.
22 SAVED: Don's Coca-Cola ad (Mad Men)
Sometimes, a show’s ending doesn’t have to be happy or uplifting. It just has to make sense for where the character is going. We didn’t know where Don Draper (Jon Hamm) would end up after Mad Man finished, but it felt like the series would end with Don finding some sort of spiritual enlightenment after his years wasted on an empty pursuit.
Except, no, this didn’t happen. Don, instead, used his enlightenment to make a Coca-Cola ad. It’s a twist that made a lot of sense for the character.
21 HURT: Sherlock has a Sister (Sherlock)
We don’t know if Sherlock is officially ended. After the mess that was its fourth season, it certainly makes sense that it should just end. One of the weirdest twists to come out of the final episode was the secret sister, Eurus (Sian Brooke) that Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) never knew he had. She was a criminal genius who rivaled both her brothers, and had secretly been pulling strings behind the scene this entire time.
Even the show's star Martin Freeman (who plays Watson) expressed disinterest in returning to the show.
20 SAVED: House Faked His Own Passing (House)
House had a lot of ups and downs during its eight-season run on Fox. Usually, these were mainly House’s (Hugh Laurie) fault due his general misanthropy and addiction. In the series finale, it looked like all caught up with him when he apparently perished in a fire. What happened, however, was that the genius faked his own end in order to spend time with best friend, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), who had a malignant form of cancer.
It was considered to be one of the best twists in 2012. It also made sense to the character. The only way House could actually be happy was if he utterly left himself behind.
19 HURT: Everyone Ends Up In Jail (Seinfeld)
For most of its nine-season run, Seinfeld dominated the airwaves. The quirky characters and the endless quotable moments made it must-see TV for a lot of people. Needless to say, the finale was going to be huge. Instead, however, it was mostly just baffling. The gang ends up on trial for breaking a Good Samaritan law when not getting involved to help stop a mugging. They then go on trial for it and are surprisingly convicted.
The final moment for the “show about nothing” was Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld) playing to an audience of convicts. It was absurd, but not in a good way.
18 SAVED: Colleen Wing Is Iron Fist (Iron Fist)
Iron Fist had a bad first season, but the second season showed a lot of potential. There was a definite increase in quality, and season 3 seemed promising with the twist that Colleen (Jessica Henwick) would become the new Iron Fist. It was definitely one of the best things that the show did and makes us sad we won’t see more from it.
One of the more surprising elements was that Colleen’s ancestor, a pirate, was also the first female Iron Fist.
17 HURT: Dan is Gossip Girl (Gossip Girl)
Who is Gossip Girl? Throughout the six-season run of the series, the question constantly lingered in the background. Who was the mysterious host of the site that dished on the young elite of New York City? Many theories were written on the identity. Finally, audiences learned that Dan (Penn Badgley) was, in fact, Gossip Girl. It was apparently a seven-year love letter to Serena (Blake Lively) and their friends.
Sure, Dan. We’ll just pretend that the reveal doesn’t throw into question previously established canon. It still vexes the Gossip Girl fans to this very day.
16 SAVED: Winston's Eviction Prank (New Girl)
New Girl lasted a lot longer than most thought it would. Over the course of seven seasons, the kooky bunch of friends who populated the loft were known for their epic pranks. Nothing quite topped the one in the series finale.
It turns out that Winston (Lamorne Morris) made everyone think they were being evicted. This remains perfectly in line with the character and the show. It was also a prank that inspired growth as it allowed Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) to officially move out the loft.
15 HURT: Purgatory (Lost)
Lost was a series that left even the most hardcore fan scratching their heads in confusion. Though it was populated by more questions than answers, many thought things would be tied up in the final episode. Instead, we learned that one of the alternate universe timeline was actually a version of the afterlife-- a purgatory of sorts.
The series ends with Jack (Matthew Shephard) perishing before being reunited with those who had been lost. It was a worse version of so many fan theories from season 1.
14 SAVED: Klaus and Elijah’s Fates (The Originals)
After five seasons, The Originals has ended. It definitely went out with a bang over a whimper. One of the most surprising twists of the finale was the final fates of Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Elijah (Daniel Gillies) Mikaelson. While it definitely provided a shocker to fans, it honestly makes sense. The Mikaelsons were destined for tragedy over everything else.
As Julie Plec said, “[…] ultimately, for better or for worse, in all its co-dependent glory, that is the legacy of Klaus and Elijah. Much like The Notebook, I feel like it was only right that they should go together.”
13 HURT: Ross and Rachel Get Together (Friends)
This twist is a very interesting one. At the time, Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) getting together was heralded as a perfect capper to the long-running sitcom. In 2018, however, it hasn’t aged well at all. Now many fans consider it to be a poor ending to Friends, rewarding Ross for his creepy, “nice guy” behavior over the course of a decade.
This twist may be remembered fondly by those who haven't rewatched the show recently, but it can ruin the memories of those who are giving their favorite show another spin.
12 SAVED: Coach and Tami Move To Philly (Friday Night Lights)
Ask any Friday Night Lights fan and they’ll tell you that Coach (Kyle Chandler) and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) had the kind of romance that we wish we could see more on television today. It was a refreshing way of seeing things, given how rarely functional marriages are depicted on TV.
In the series finale, the couple had a decision to make. Both had great career opportunities. Would they stay in Texas for a new coaching job or go to Philadelphia for Tami’s career? Given the show's setting, perhaps fans thought they would stay in Texas. They decided to go to Philly, which proves they are the best couple on television.
11 HURT: The Final Season Was A Book (Roseanne)
The memory of Roseanne has been tainted due to Roseanne Barr’s racist comments. However, even before that, there was a pretty big cloud hanging over the series. The problem was with the season nine finale which, for years, served as the series finale for the show. During season nine, the Conner family had struck it rich in the lottery following Dan’s (John Goodman) heart attack.
As it turns out, however, this was all a book written by Roseanne in order to process her grief over Dan’s passing. Everything in the final season was merely something Roseanne had written in her book.. This twist ruined the finale for a lot of fans. It was so bad that it had to be hand-waved away when the show was revived.
10 SAVED: Secret Service Agents (Parks and Recreation)
This is more of a “blink and you’ll miss it” sort of thing, but it is important. After years of watching Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) struggle against the less-than-appreciative folks of Pawnee, Indiana, audiences were finally happy to see her appreciated. Part of the finale, “One Last Ride”, is about how she and husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) follow their own aspirations.
Leslie would lead the state of Indiana for two terms. The most important twist, however, comes in a flashforward to Garry/Larry/Jerry Gergich’s (Jim O’Heir) funeral. In it, we see there are Secret Service Agents with Leslie and Ben. This means that one of them became the national leader.
9 HURT: The Final Words (Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life)
Gilmore Girls fans were thrilled when it was announced that there would be a revival of the beloved series. It would be capped off by the words that Amy Sherman-Palladino originally had in her head as the close of the series. When those words were uttered finally uttered, they landed with a thud.
"I'm pregnant," Rory said. She had no job prospects and was living some kind of nomadic lifestyle. Did a pregnancy really make sense? Or was it another cycle for the Gilmores? It just felt like those words had to be used rather than making sense.
8 SAVED: Leverage International (Leverage)
Leverage still fondly remembered to this day by its fans thanks to its group dynamic and cool heists. There were a lot of shows about con-artists with hearts of gold, but this was something special.
One twist that fans absolutely loved in the finale was that, even though Nate (Timothy Hutton) and Sophie (Gina Bellman) left the crew, the good work was continuing. In fact, Leverage was taking a wider stance against the white collared crooks of the world, using a special black book in order to go international with the remaining members.
7 HURT: Settling On Earth (Battlestar Galactica)
Battlestar Galactica remains equal part sci-fi epic and philosophical meditation on the nature of existence. It also has one of the most confusing finales in television history. While not exactly ruining the show, it definitely remains a polarizing point of contention for fans.
What was the twist? It turns out that the entire series took place 150,000 years in the past. Humanity is descended from those survivors of the Twelve Colonies who found and colonized Earth. Also Baltar (James Callis) is God. Even for a show so entrenched in sci-fi and religion, this may have been a stretch.
6 SAVED: Vic Rides A Desk (The Shield)
Vic (Michael Chiklis) was a cop who crossed the line not once or twice, but multiple times. Over the seven seasons of the critically acclaimed series The Shield, we saw the extremely corrupt officer get away with everything under the sun. He said that the ends always justified the means.
Such a character rarely gets their comeuppance. If they do, it's usually a price they pay with their lives.. Not Vic, though-- he ends the series with a fate even worse: a desk job. He’s as far removed from his beloved action as possible.
5 HURT: Billie Destroys Her Sister (Charmed)
Most fans of the original Charmed can agree that the show had an excellent series finale in season seven. It looks like the network surprised everyone when it renewed the series for an eighth season. It’s not that “Forever Charmed” was a bad series finale, but fans had their emotional closure last season. Plus the characters of Billie (Kaley Cuoco) and Christie (Marnette Patterson) weren’t really welcomed to the fold with open arms.
In a series about the power of sisterhood, it felt like a slap in the face that the final episode twist would involve Billie vanquishing her long-lost sister rather than attempting to lead her down a better path.
4 SAVED: Rachel Married Jesse St. James (Glee)
Glee thrived on plot twists for years and years. One twist that was unplanned was the untimely demise of series star Cory Monteith. Considering that he and Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) were "end game," it was definitely a blow to the original series plan, as well as heart-breaking for all the cast crew.
It looked for a time that Rachel would end up with Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet), but it was a nice twist that Rachel ended up with her second most recurrent love interest, Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff). It was a bittersweet to see her happy and fulfilled with St. James during the future skip.
3 HURT: Sam Becket’s Fate (Quantum Leap)
Quantum Leap is one of the most beloved cult sci-fi shows. Over the course of five seasons, fans saw Doctor Sam Becket (Scott Backula) “leap” into other people’s bodies week after week. During season five, however, the show got axed by the network quite suddenly. It left the producers and creatives scrambling to give some sort of conclusion.
This twist was one of the harshest gut-punches in television history, Doctor Becket’s fate was told in a title card. It said, “Dr. Sam Becket never returned home.” What was even the point of the show then?
2 SAVED: Ava's Secret (Justified)
Justified was one of the best shows to come out of the 2010s. A beautiful and complicated tale that revitalized the Western genre, Justified followed Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) across six seasons. Nothing quite topped his eternal conflict with his equal yet opposite criminal counterpart, Boyd (Walter Goggins).
In the final episode, it appeared that Ava (Joelle Carter), wife of Boyd and ex of Raylan, escaped after a shootout. Raylan eventually tracked her down and found her living with Boyd's son. She begged him not to tell Boyd. Instead, Raylan told a story about how Ava perished a few years back and they just found out. It’s definitely one of the cappers to the series, bringing it full circle. They dug coal together, after all.
1 HURT: Tommy imagined the show (St. Elsewhere)
This is one of the most infamous twists in the history of television. It even led to the theory that all of television takes place in the mind of little Tommy (Chad Allen).
Tommy Westphall was the autistic son of St. Elsewhere lead, Doctor Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders). The show was a medical drama that took place in the hospital. For some reason, however, the final moments of St. Elsewhere revealed that the entire show took place in Tommy’s imagination. It’s one of the most baffling decisions ever made in TV.
What's your favorite series finale twist? Let us know in the comments!