The final episode of a TV show season is always a big event, because it’s got to try and tie up the threads of the previous episodes while ensuring that the audiences will be desperate for it to return. So here’s the top ten season finales, leaving out those that also serve as show finales, because no-one needs me to bang on about how good the Six Feet Under ending was again…
NEEDLESS TO SAY, SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW.
1 – The West Wing Season 2 – Two Cathedrals
A lot of these episodes have action, violence or dramatic plot twists in them, but The West Wing’s second season finished with emotionally intense action that packed more of a punch than the hail of bullets of its first season. With President Bartlet tormented by the revelation of his multiple sclerosis and pondering whether to run for re-election, as well as mourning the loss of friend and secretary Mrs Landingham, he memorably rages at God in Latin after her funeral before putting his hands in his pockets, looking away and smiling at the big press conference. Amazingly, some people thought that was a cliffhanger, having missed the flashback scene with a young Mrs L. Two Cathedrals gains extra points for ‘Best Use Of A Dire Straits Song Ever’.
2 – Game Of Thrones Season 1 – Fire And Blood
Like a lot of HBO shows tend to do, Game Of Thrones delivered its biggest suckerpunch in the penultimate episode of the first season, finishing it with the execution of Ned Stark. You’d think that wouldn’t leave much other than reaction to fill the final episode, and there’s plenty of that, with news of Stark’s death filtering around the rest of Westeros, but there’s also time for some stunning televisual storytelling. After losing her unborn son and euthanising her catatonic husband, Daenerys Targaryen burns him (and the witch responsible for the double tragedy) on a pyre, along with her dragon eggs. Remarkably she climbs on top of it herself, emerging from the ashes the next morning with baby dragons. A great plot development with incredible musical and visual effects, delivered perfectly.
3 – Dexter Season 4 – The Getaway
Plot twists are not uncommon in season finales, but not many of them have ever been as gut-wrenchingly shocking as this one. John Lithgow’s performances as the Trinity Killer were fantastic throughout the season, and it was always likely that he would meet his end before the finish, but his final scene was still done very well, particularly the revelation to him of his daughter’s suicide and the moment with the toy train. But his ‘It’s already over’ turned out to be the most retrospectively chilling line of all, when Dexter got home, full of joy and hope for the future of his happy family, only to find that Trinity had already been there and left his baby son sitting on the floor covered in blood and his wife lying dead in the bathtub. Thrilling, shocking and heartbreaking, all in one.
4 – The Shield Season 5 – Postpartum
Here’s another shock plot twist. Ever since Curtis ‘Lem’ Lemansky got in trouble for that heroin brick in his car, you knew he was headed for trouble, and Season 5 gave him plenty, with Kavanaugh on his back, using him to try and pin Crowley’s murder on Mackey. By the end of this episode, he was facing prison (and possible gang-related attempts on his life) or a life on the run in Mexico, but cowardly Shane couldn’t take the risk of Lem giving away any of the Strike Team’s secrets. Arranging a secret meeting, he dropped a grenade into Lem’s car, killing his old buddy and setting off a dark chain of events for himself in the process. To call something a ‘game changer’ is a horrible cliche, but that’s what this momentous event was for The Shield.
5 – The Sopranos Season 2 – Funhouse
The Sopranos tended to end its seasons with moments of calm, family time for Tony, preferring to deliver the major events in the penultimate episodes. It might have looked like that would be the case here too, with Janice’s shooting of Richie Aprile, but instead there was a bigger, more seismic event still to come. Big Pussy’s treachery had been a simmering plot point for a while, but came to a head thanks to feverish (brilliantly done) dreams brought on by some bad Indian (or possibly Italian) food. A boat ride for Pussy, Tony, Paulie and Sil follows, with the big man admitting his sins and being executed and dumped at sea. And there’s still time for Christopher to be told he will be made, Tony to be arrested for Livia’s dodgy airline tickets and to tell Melfi about his dream of having sex with her. Quality, as always from The Sopranos.
6 – The Wire Season 4 – Final Grades
The best season of The Wire and one of the best seasons of any TV show ever, and it’s also got a great finale. Throughout Season 4 we were engrossed with the lives of schoolkids Dukie, Michael, Namond and Randy, all struggling to find a life for themselves in Baltimore’s failing school system, and this episode brought their stories to a head and set us up to see them taking on the mantles of older characters by the end of the show. Amongst the best scenes are Carv’s attempts to save Randy from a lousy group foster home and punching the hell out of his car after having to leave him at one in the end, as well as the surprisingly sad and noble death of Bodie. Powerful stuff all round.
7 – Mad Men Season 1 – The Wheel
A season as good as the first one of Mad Men deserved a memorable ending, and while it’s not the kind of show to often deliver thrills and spills, The Wheel had its fair share of high drama. For Peggy, it was the episode where she made the leap from secretary to junior copywriter, but also gave birth, which was a shock for someone who didn’t know she was pregnant (but had been getting a bit podgy), while Don found out that his secret brother had committed suicide and got into hot water at home over not wanting to spend Thanksgiving with Betty’s family. It ends with him on his own at the bottom of the stairs, a man with a complicated past, present and future.
8 – Six Feet Under Season 3 – I’m Sorry, I’m Lost
Season 3 had been a patchy and turbulent year for Six Feet Under, starting off with the slightly jarring news that Nate had not only survived his brain surgery but had married old friend Lisa and was raising their child together. But, in episode 10, Lisa disappeared, and this finale saw her demise confirmed with a phonecall telling Nate that she had been found drowned. His downward spiral goes into overdrive with a drunken bar brawl before showing up at old flame Brenda’s house, bloodied and broken. All this and Claire’s trip to the afterlife to see her unborn baby, Gabe and Lisa, along with David and Keith’s reunion and Ruth’s decision to marry George Sibley. With hindsight, Season 3 made a lot more sense than it seemed at the time, largely helped by this finale pulling things together (and tearing them apart).
9 – 24 Season 3 – 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
The best season of 24, Day 3 had the introduction of Chloe, Kim maturing into a good character, the deaths of Nina Myers and Sherry Palmer and the shocking execution of Ryan Chappelle. So it’s no surprise that it all got a bit too much for Jack Bauer, famously breaking down in tears in his car at the end of this finale. Not to mention that he’d had to chop Chase’s hand off to save him from death-by-virus, while President Palmer decided not to seek re-election and Tony Almeida got arrested for breaking the rules to try and rescue Michelle. That closing shot of Jack in tears may have been misappropriated by a LoveFilm advert, but showed a much-needed vulnerability.
10 – Lost Season 3 – Through The Looking Glass
One of the best episodes of Lost, this two-hour special challenged everything we thought we knew and delivered some fantastic action sequences as well as one emotional kick to the guts. It had the Others storming the beach and getting wiped out by the good guys while Charlie sacrificed his life to get the chance for his friends to contact the nearby ship, only to realise too late that it’s NOT PENNY’S SHIP (as he reveals to Desmond by writing it on his hand). Meanwhile, Locke kills Naomi, Jack beats Ben to a pulp and we see him having a hard time in the flashbacks. But wait, the last of them comes with the revelation that these are flashFORWARDS, showing life after escaping the island, and the last thing we see is Jack pleading with Kate for them to go back because it was a mistake to leave. In a word, woah.