Roundtable: Finales that Fell Flat

Last month, we talked about finding a series or a franchise and falling in love with it until one day, there’s a turning point; suddenly, we just don’t love it as much as we used to, and we jump ship. But that got us thinking… what happens when that turning point happens at the end of the series, when it’s too late to jump ship? When we’ve invested all of that time, energy, and love into a fandom and it just doesn’t pay off?

So I sat down with the contributors of Speculative Chic to ask them: What are finales fell flat? Those could be book finales, movie franchise finales, games, comics, but of course, the first and easiest thing that comes to mind is television!

Needless to say, we had quite a few responses, but what surprised me was how many people are still upset at the same things! Which franchises were the biggest offenders? Read through to find out what Kelly, J.L. Gribble, Nancy, Barbara, Howard, Nu, and Whitney are still ticked about, and consider this your SPOILER WARNING.


Kelly: Major True Blood spoilers ahead:

True Blood went from being my favorite show to having the most disappointing series finale of all time. For the first four seasons, the show was a lot of campy fun and at least loosely followed the plot of Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries book series. It chronicles the adventures of the citizens of Bon Temps, Louisiana, primarily telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, as they learn to cope with the fact that vampires and other supernatural creatures are real. I almost never say this because I am a completely devoted reader, but the television show was actually better than the books in the beginning. Vampires “coming out of the coffin” and having relationships with humans is a vague metaphor for the gay rights struggle but the show never took itself too seriously in the first four seasons. Even though I think True Blood improved upon Charlaine Harris’ books, the show lost its way when it went totally off-script in season 6. The show quit being as much fun when it started drifting away from its focus on Sookie and her potential love interests. It was also a terrible mistake to get away from having the main characters unite against a common enemy the way they did in the first four seasons.

From the moment that Sookie meets Bill in Bellefleur’s Bar and Grill, her love life is a primary focus of the show. I kept watching the show until the bitter end, primarily because I wanted to see who Sookie wound up with. Would it be Bill, the chivalrous Civil War soldier turned vampire? Shape-shifter Sam, her boss and good friend? Sexy bad boy vampire Viking Eric? Nice guy werewolf Alcide? For me, the show’s jumping over the shark, what just happened to the show I once loved moment didn’t come until the series finale when Bill tells Sookie that he needs to die so because he wants her to have kids. I wanted to throw the remote at the TV. Through seven seasons of the show, Sookie never mentions wanting kids one time. She gets engaged to Bill and genuinely loves Eric, but never once even mentions that she is upset that she can’t have children with them because they’re vampires. She never talks about kids when she dates Alcide, a werewolf who could father kids with a human. Then at the very end of the show, which skips ahead five years in time, Sookie is pregnant by some random dude with a beard that the fans have never seen before. I invested more time in this character’s love life than I did my own, and I don’t even get to see her husband’s face? True Blood often skewered religious hypocrites and “family values” politicians so the weirdly conservative finale was totally out of place. For show that started out with vampires as a metaphor for gay rights, it was bizarre, ironic, and downright offensive for the finale to imply that having kids is the only way to lead a meaningful life. My advice is to watch the fun, romantic, over-the-top show for four seasons, then turn off the TV and say, “I wonder what happens to these characters. I guess I will never know.”


J.L. Gribble: To understand why the finale of Star Trek Enterprise didn’t work for me, you need a little background on my reaction to the rest of the show. I really disliked Enterprise. And then I absolutely loved it.

As a life-long Star Trek fan, I didn’t get into the show when it originally aired. I watched the first episode until the shower scene with Trip and T’Pol and turned off the television. That scene went against everything I knew Star Trek to be, squeezing the property down into the lowest common denominator of entertainment (“sex sells”), and I didn’t have time for that nonsense.

I still don’t have time for that nonsense, but I do have a Netflix addiction, so 10 years later, I gave Enterprise another shot. I muddled my way through the dull or, at best, average episodes while mucking around online. I mocked the opening music every time. I watched it more so that I could be conversant in its content as a speculative fiction subject matter expert than because I actually liked it.

Then season 3 happened. Suddenly, the show embraced the more modern television storytelling of an over-arching season plot rather than stand-alone episodic adventures, and it did it in a spectacularly epic fashion. No longer was I browsing Facebook while I watched. I was all in.

But you have to remember that they made this jump in 2003, not the age of binge-watching episodes streaming online. I have to assume that since most people were still tuning in by the week, this format wasn’t as familiar to Star Trek viewers as it is now. Which makes the news that season 4 would be the last season of Enterprise make much more sense in context.

What made season 4 of Enterprise so great is that while it could have returned to the previous format of easy week-by-week adventures, I like to imagine that the writer’s room threw up their collective hands and said, “Fuck it.” Season 4 was for the fans. As a show that is technically set at the earliest point in the Star Trek Prime timeline, it spent its final season making a point of answering all the questions people had in later (earlier?) shows, such as why the Klingons in “The Trouble with Tribbles” had smooth foreheads and why Worf really didn’t want to talk about that in “Trials and Tribble-ations.”

I hope I’ve made it clear by this point that I went from not wanting to bother with this show to being completely invested. I adored these characters, and I adored their adventures. So, it’s a shame that after showing me how awesome they could be in the previous two seasons, the writers instead said “Fuck you.” While the Enterprise characters are certainly in the episode, for the series finale they are part of a holodeck simulation being experienced by former Star Trek: The Next Generation characters Will Riker and Deanna Troi as historical research. For the life of me, I can’t even tell you what that episode was about, and that’s why I chose to discuss it for this submission. Because after clawing its way into my heart, the ending of the show wasn’t even about Enterprise. I have no idea why the people I’d grown so fond of ended up as supporting characters in someone else’s story, but it was a massive disservice to them, and a major disappointment to this fan.


Nancy: Fables was an urban fantasy comic published by DC’s dearly departed Vertigo line. The comic ran for 150 issues and resulted in various spin off projects (comics, graphic novels, a prose novel, and a damn good video game). And while it took me almost ten years to jump into the series, once I did, I was hooked. Here’s the basic premise: after being forced out of their Homelands by a powerful force known only as The Adversary, fairy tale characters, both major and minor, live undercover in our mundane world while grappling with the impossible task of trying to get along with each other.

For dozens upon dozens of issues, Fables was pretty damn amazing. I swooned over the romance between Snow White and Bigby (the Big Bad Wolf), and fell in love with the heroic Boy Blue and Frog Prince. Even after The Adversary was defeated, I still continued to devour issue after issue. When I heard that the comic was coming to an end (in a final graphic novel entitled Farewell), I was sad but eager to see how things would end.

But I couldn’t have been more disappointed with the results.

The story presented in Farewell came off as rushed and underdeveloped, leaving even the largest, most epic events, strangely lacking in bite. Seriously, beloved characters DIE OFF, and their demises feel meaningless and shoe horned in. And although I have no way to know for sure how series creator Bill Willingham approached this final volume, I can’t help but wonder if his heart was no longer in it anymore, because Farewell seemed aggressively phoned in.

The one silver lining? Mark Buckingham’s artwork was as strong as ever. But unfortunately, when it comes to the writing, I found nothing sweet about this Farewell. And to someone who had fallen in love so fully with the series, to come out of it feeling so “meh” really hurt.


Barbara: The reimagined Battlestar Galactica had its uneven moments, it had its questionable story directions (the Lee/Dualla/Kara/Anders Love Quadrangle of Doom couldn’t die fast enough for me), and it had its occasional lows (let us not speak of the abomination that was the black market episode). But most of the time, Battlestar Galactica was a damn amazing show with a damn amazing soundtrack to boot. Whenever I revisit an episode, I’m still blown away by how good it could be. It surpassed its cheesy source material, and then some.

Then came the finale. It didn’t fall flat so much as it lit its hair on fire and acted like it was a fashion statement.

Warning: spoilers and swearing shall ensue.

I am hardly the first person on the internet to rant about Battlestar‘s last episode, but seriously: what the fuck was that, show? God did it? Kara just disappears with no explanation? Adama — the man with the most powerful glare in the universe — decides to shuffle off to die alone in a cabin because his girlfriend lost her battle with cancer, screw that son of his who’s still living and has no more family left? Meanwhile the shit stain on humanity that was Baltar gets a happy ending? And Head-Baltar and Head-Six are angels or some shit?

Then there’s the thing I had the hardest time believing: an advanced spacefaring society decides to pitch all of its technology into the nearest star, and everyone’s okay with that? Christ, most people I know can’t go five minutes without their smartphones. But we’re supposed to believe everything will be fine because Baltar’s dad was a farmer and Helo killed a deer once or something? Never mind all of the unknown diseases on this new planet-that-turns-out-to-be-Earth-because-of-course-it-does that you are all going to die from BECAUSE YOU PITCHED ALL OF YOUR SCIENCE INTO THE SUN. Did you idiots forget the suckitude that was New Caprica?

And speaking of that unoriginal this-is-Earth-and-these-characters-are-our-ancestors story twist: we’re seriously supposed to believe Anders wrote “All Along the Watchtower,” and it lingered in our collective unconsciousness until Bob Dylan came along? I can’t even with that bullshit.

Forget that plan the Cylons turned out to never actually have. I wish the writers had had a better plan, if they even had one at all. Because that dumpster fire of a finale managed to cast a very large and unfortunate pall over an otherwise brilliant show.


Howard: I’ve never been angrier at the ending to any work than I was at the ending of Mass Effect 3. How bad was that ending? Let me put it this way. Before the game’s final sequence, I was on the verge of declaring Mass Effect the greatest video games series of all time. Better than long-time favorites like Final Fantasy, Metroid, and Castlevania. In about 30 minutes, they managed to graft on an ending that somehow managed to cheapen three games’ worth of efforts; create ugly, horrifying plot holes; and make me consider renaming my cat (her name is Tali’Zorah).

The problems with the ending are legion and many have written about it before, but its biggest failing in my book is that it failed to take into account the Mass Effect series’ biggest draw: the fact that, for nearly three games, your decisions MATTERED. That all gets wiped away with a three-choice option. But while that’s the worst sin, it’s far from the only sin. The ending’s “big twist” is poorly foreshadowed and makes absolutely no sense when you think about it for about five seconds. Sometimes villains are scary when they don’t have a motive. But even a quotidian “RARRRR, WE’RE EVILL!!!!!” motive would’ve been better than the illogical nonsense series developer BioWare somehow came up with. And there were numerous plot holes that were so bad BioWare created an “extended cut” of the ending just to patch them up.

I think, in the history of fiction, the only creative choices that made me equally angry came from Marvel Comics unmarrying Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson and making Captain America a Hydra agent. But endings? Even The Sopranos ending wasn’t this horrible.


Nu: True Blood will always hold a special place in my heart, but its series finale disappointed me. True Blood ran from 2008-2014 on HBO. I spent June 2009 watching the first season in anticipation of season two, and I immediately fell in love with the show. It had everything I loved: vampires, funny/memorable characters, a fun setting in Bon Temps, Louisiana, and supernatural monsters! There were times it was plain cheesy and over-the-top, but that’s what made it so much fun to watch. The show and the actors were aware what kind of world they were playing in, and they were having fun with it too. For five seasons, I looked forward to summer because that’s when new episodes aired. This show gave me characters like Eric Northman, the icy vampire sheriff (and introduced me to Alexander Skarsgård, which I will forever be thankful for); Sam Merlotte, the bar owner/shapeshifter; Lafayette Reynolds, the cook at Merlotte’s who could have easily been a caricature of the sassy, gay sidekick, but it was actor Nelsan Ellis that gave the character depth and layers, and sadly, Nelsan recently passed away bringing back many fond memories of his character and the show; Jessica Hamby, the teenage vampire trying to navigate her new form and the usual teenage angst bullshit; Jason Stackhouse, the loveable but clueless brother to female lead Sookie; and Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi who gave us this iconic moment. There were also scores of secondary characters I enjoyed, but I can’t list them all. So, you notice that I didn’t put Sookie or vampire Bill Compton on my “favorite character” list. Although Sookie and Bill are considered the main leads of the show, they were never my favorites. I don’t blame Anna Paquin or Stephen Moyer, but their writing and relationship was one of the weaknesses of the show for me. That only intensified when show creator Alan Ball left after season five, and I noticed a decline in the storylines. They were always absurd, but what I loved about the show were the characters. In seasons six and seven (the last season), I didn’t recognize the characters I loved anymore. At times, so many new characters were introduced that the original core characters were pushed to the side. I admit I didn’t keep up in the last season, but I tuned in to the finale and to me it was a big WTF moment. SPOILERS: After seven seasons of viewers battling between Team Bill or Team Eric, Sookie ends up married to an unknown character. The viewers don’t even see his face, only the back of his head. It was totally unsatisfying. They didn’t even stick to the book series’s original ending, where she ends up with Sam (at least that would make some sense).


Whitney: Five years later, the gaping wound that is the Mass Effect 3 ending is still raw. You might ask a Mass Effect fan, isn’t it about time you get over it? The answer is no. There are some things you don’t get over. Some things never heal.

When Mass Effect 3 came out in 2012, it was the conclusion of a story five years in the making. But this wasn’t just any story. Video game narratives like that of Mass Effect are a relatively unique storytelling medium in that you are not a passive observer. In Mass Effect, you as the player character of Commander Shepard are asked to shape your own story by making decisions that affect the galaxy around you. Instead of watching a story unfold, you are an active participant. Over the course of three games, you as Shepard grow your relationships and make moral decisions with significant consequences that carry over from one game to the next and make your story unique. What every story does have in common, however, is the ultimate goal: destroy the Reapers, a giant machine sentience hell-bent on “cleansing” organic life every 50,000 years. As you can imagine, fans theorized over the course of the trilogy how Shepard would defeat the Reapers. In a game predicated on player choice, how would the pivotal decisions we’d been making in each game would come home to roost and affect the fate of galaxy?

Well, in short, they didn’t affect anything. The final twenty minutes of Mass Effect 3’s original ending throw out every theme that has been developed over three games and 100 hours of gameplay, reducing the fate of the galaxy down to picking your favorite color. None of the choices that you make previously have any bearing on this choice; in essence, the climactic moment wipes the slate clean and renders all previously made choices irrelevant. In the most confusing, bizarre conclusion anyone could possibly dream up, some entity nicknamed the “Star Brat” tells you that you have three choices:

  1. Destroy the reapers and murder your cool robot friends in the process (featuring red explosions).
  2. Become a reaper so you can control them and tell them to quit being such assholes (featuring blue explosions).
  3. Merge organic and artificial life into some weird hybrid so that everyone can overcome their differences and just get along (featuring green explosions and everyone now has green eyes).

In the original ending, before developer Bioware acquiesced to fan outrage and applied a DLC bandaid, there was no context provided for any of these choices, and the concluding cinematics were identical save for a different energy color. Your ship crash lands on an unidentified jungle planet for some unknown reason, and you know nothing about their fate, nor the fate of the armies you’ve spent three games rallying to fight at your side. What you do know is that the mass relays that allow for FTL travel are all broken, and as they were an alien technology no one understood, the most logical assumption is that everyone who showed up to make their stand is now stranded in one solar system and will surely die of starvation.

Upon finishing the game, the only common emotion anyone felt was confusion. What the hell just happened? Are my friends ok? BIOWARE, WHAT HAPPENED TO GARRUS? In the absence of any form of closure, there was no emotional outlet available for five years of narrative buildup. Instead of a release all we got was…red, green or blue.

And Bioware couldn’t figure out why everyone was so upset.

Outrage was the loudest reaction. Gaming journalism was split between agreeing with fans and disparaging them for being entitled whinybags. Fans (including me) sent Bioware color-coded cupcakes in protest. The California Literary Review even chimed in, calling the ending “storytelling suicide.” One fan managed to score perhaps the greatest Twitter Burn of all time. Eventually, the ‘Extended Cut’, a free downloadable content ‘patch,’ added new cutscenes and context meant to better explain what happened and attempted to fill gaping plotholes. It was a bandaid and not a fix, but it helped a few of us sleep a little better at night.

Really delving into the true extent of the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle and how and why it all went wrong would probably involve something more like a dissertation. Or you can just ask any Mass Effect fan you know, and you’ll get the full story. Just make sure you’ve got some time. Because it’ll be a long rant.

10 Comments

  • J.L. Gribble July 14, 2017 at 8:17 am

    I appreciate the affirmation that I shouldn’t bother finishing True Blood OR Battlestar Galactica.

    Reply
  • Shara White July 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    So yeah, if I could’ve summoned up my frustration and the words, BSG would’ve also made my list. I defended the crap out of that show, firmly believing in the writers and their “plan,” but then season 4.5 hit, and I was like…. “shit.” There were so many missed and LOGICAL opportunities, like making Kara’s father Daniel the missing cylon, which would’ve made her the first cylon/human hybrid and explain so much about her personality and issues and how she came back. I’ll never forget how Moore was like, “Kara is whatever you want her to be” after the finale and I was like, “I want her to make sense, you jerk.” And how SURPRISED the writers were that people thought Daniel (who we didn’t meet until the back half of the final season) could POSSIBLY be the missing cylon that was ALSO introduced in the BACK HALF of the final season…. gee, 2+2=4 you guys…. but no, they were so much more interested in tangents.

    Couple that with just really dump writing, like how Ellen Tigh, a woman who’s been alive for thousands of years, thinks that Saul got the Six model pregnant because HE LOVED HER MORE THAN HE LOVED ELLEN and I wanted to headdesk the shit out of everything. Yeah. Because THAT’S how biology works, Ellen, OBVIOUSLY.

    So many missed opportunities.

    Reply
  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier July 14, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Okay! Now I don’t feel bad for jumping ship on True Blood.

    Reply
  • Lane Robins July 14, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Protest cupcakes and possibly renaming your cat. I think that from my POV Mass Effect “wins” for worst. 🙂 And y’all are cementing my decisions to jump fandom ship when the rats do. No holding out for a final save.

    Reply
  • Carey Ballard July 15, 2017 at 1:36 am

    Well damn. That is sad news about Fables. I love Fables–still working my way through the series. I know it ends, which honestly is half the attraction for me when it comes to graphic novels & comics; I’m really tired of rehashed storylines and retconned characters. And I’ve heard other people thought Farewell fizzled, too. I’ll have to read it when I get that far.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 15, 2017 at 10:05 am

      Rehashed storylines and retconned characters? I tire of those too. That’s why I love it when I hear a series of any sort is ending, so long as the writers are ending it on their own terms.

      Reply
    • Nancy O'Toole Meservier July 15, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      Admittedly, the majority of the comics (besides Farewell, and the Great Fables Crossover) ARE still worth your time. I think that’s what makes the ending so painful

      Reply
      • Shara White July 16, 2017 at 9:59 am

        I worried about Fables when I was reading The Unwritten. There was a great big crossover into Fables, and while that made sense given The Unwritten‘s worldbuilding, it annoyed me because I was SO BEHIND on Fables, and while I think I heard the crossover material was supposed to be a kind of alternate thing (maybe that was wishful thinking on my part though), I didn’t like the direction or place the characters were in. I won’t say it killed my enthusiasm for Fables, but it has created a kind of dread.

        Reply
  • Carey Ballard July 15, 2017 at 1:41 am

    And now, of course, after reading all of these I can think of two different finales that fell flat for me–the ending of Locke & Key (sadly enough, Locke & Key is brilliant until then), and Dollhouse’s final episodes–as problematic as that entire series was, and even though I know it got cancelled, which was the reason for its dissociative finale.

    This line of Barbara’s for BSG is the best. “It didn’t fall flat so much as it lit its hair on fire and acted like it was a fashion statement.” Soooo true.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 15, 2017 at 10:06 am

      ….. I can’t remember the ending of Locke & Key.

      Reply

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