Sometimes writers make missteps in their shows. They make a move, be it killing off a character, or retooling the show, or what have you, that enrages the fans. A lot of the time, this will kill the show, but not always. If not, the writers will backpedal, returning things to the way they were in the hopes of maintaining the show a little longer. But once in a while that misstep just happens to be right at the end, when the show was scheduled to finish anyway, and there’s no chance to correct it. And when that happens, the lackluster finale can be enough to, in retrospect, ruin the entire experience of watching the show. That’s what happened with these four, finales and final seasons that so radically changed what we knew about the work that it’s no longer enjoyable. This is a highly subjective thing, so I’m sure that plenty of people will disagree with my list, but all I can do is describe it from my perspective.
With that said, here we go. Naturally, it’s nothing but spoilers past this point.
As a Doctor Who spinoff, Torchwood took a very different approach to the material. They always kind of had the big question looming over their heads: “If things are so bad, why hasn’t the Doctor shown up to save us?” This came to a head during the third season, a miniseries called “Children of Earth.” In it, Gwen discusses why she thinks the Doctor didn’t come this time–he’s ashamed at the things we’re doing to survive. And there are some truly horrifying moments in there, especially when the representatives and bureaucrats discuss how they’re going to deal with the alien threat. Still, Children of Earth is generally seen as a high point of the series, and for a while it looked like it was going to be the end. Then premium cable channel Starz decided to pick up Torchwood as a coproduction, and that’s when things started going downhill. With very few of the original characters remaining (basically just Jack and Gwen), the show introduced a slew of new characters that were poorly developed and less likable than the Torchwood team (and they weren’t exactly lovable themselves). This fourth season, called Miracle Day, is about everyone on Earth no longer dying, no matter what condition they’re in. The plot’s resolution hinges on a nonsense revelation about Jack’s immortality, and is completely incompatible with the explanation provided in Doctor Who as to how he gained it. Worse still, the final scene reveals that new character Rex has somehow gained immortality from Jack as well, which is extra-incompatible, to say the least.
I think a lot of fans are happier pretending that Miracle Day doesn’t exist, or that it’s in some kind of alternate universe where it can reside without fucking up the related shows. After all, it’s hard to imagine the Doctor’s previous companions sitting around on Earth while Miracle Day is happening. Since there’s been no acknowledgment of it over on Doctor Who, let’s just go with that, huh?
3. The X-Files
One of the big reasons that The X-Files got so popular in the 90’s was this promise of a huge conspiracy lurking in the background, just waiting to be exposed. Everyone assumed this was what the finale would be. It was so obvious. But then the show came right up to that finale, which dropped the bombshell of a looming alien invasion, and the mystery still wasn’t resolved. But wait! There’s a movie, too! Except that movie didn’t resolve it, either, and actually takes place between seasons 5 and 6. And another movie? Well, that one’s stand-alone, basically, and has very little to do with the core myth arcs of the series. See, as it turns out, the show’s creator, Chris Carter, was just making the plot up as it went along; he never had an ending in mind, never knew how to draw this giant mystery to a close. His case is so infamous that he’s the inspiration for the trope about making shit up as you go over on TVTropes.
Some people might say that the show’s not exactly ruined by the lack of resolution for the myth arc, that its episodic nature still allows for plenty of enjoyment out of the individual episode stories. But for me, the main interesting point to the show is that conspiracy arc, so learning that it never gets resolved really killed my interest in the series, and I doubt I’m the only one.
2. Battlestar Galactica
Hooo boy. This is probably one of the most controversial series finales ever, and it started with that controversy much, much earlier on. Revealing that existing characters were the Final Five Cylons, for example, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. The increasingly religious bent that the series took on as it continued also turned off a lot of fans who’d tuned in for space adventures, and then outright divine interference starts to kick in with the resurrection of Starbuck. By the time the finale rolls around, it ends with our characters making the completely irrational decision to forsake all their technology and start breeding with the native cavemen on… Earth! The real Earth this time! We even get a flash forward to the present day, where Head Baltar and Head Six discuss god’s will and blah blah. And wow, did this last part especially piss fans off. Reading into the ending, it almost seems to advocate a Luddite anti-technology philosophy, and there’s the vague implication that we’re setting ourselves up to repeat the cycle of the Colonies if we don’t change our ways (presumably by sacrificing technology). For fans of science fiction, who are typically very pro-technology, having the whole show wrapped up with deus ex machina and then spitting in our faces with that message really ruined the whole show. I know it certainly colored my ability to enjoy it.
Of course, then Caprica came along and had to pick up the pieces, which they did by focusing on this religious aspect that everyone hated… it’s little wonder it got canceled so fast.
Andromeda has a special place for me, because it was the first “grown-up” show that I ever followed week to week. I loved the ship, I loved Rommie and Beka and Harper, loved everything about it. But then it got picked up by Syfy (before the name change) for one final season, which was… ugh. The last season is set entirely in the Seefra system, which is made up of a bunch of dust bowl planets and populated by uncivilized brutes. Everything is bland and desert-colored, and we see very little of the Andromeda herself (worse, Lexa Doig had to step back due to her pregnancy and we got replacement scrappy Doyle shoved in our face). Everyone and everything we’d built up over the last four seasons was lost. The show ends with the revelation that Trance is actually the avatar of the star of the Tarn Vedra system, the capital of the former Commonwealth, and it’s been taken out of time in disguise… as Seefra. Dylan is an almost godlike being, and the show’s become so focused on him that the other characters might as well not exist, even though a good chunk of the season is spent rounding them up again.
I later found out that the show’s head writer, Robert Hewitt Wolfe (who, like BSG’s Ronald Moore, was a former Star Trek writer) ended up leaving after disagreements over a lot of these very issues, and he actually wrote a little one-act screenplay that describes how he would have continued and ended the series had he been allowed to do as he wished. You can read it here, and it’s quite interesting to see. It’s a real shame that he was pushed out, and when his name resurfaced attached to a project called “Defender” (which essentially seemed to be Andromeda 2.0) I was quite excited. Unfortunately, Syfy didn’t pick up Defender, so it looks like we’ll never get to see his version on screen.
Are there any shows that were ruined by their finales for you? Or maybe you didn’t think the finales for these shows were that bad? Let me know in the comments, or hit me up on twitter.