A good season finale is a tricky thing to pull off. Showrunners usually want to save up some pow/wallop for the end of the year, but a show can suffer when too much gets stuffed into one hour. Similarly, when a show’s been on a long time, it can fall into a sticky trap of constantly trying to out-do itself. Historically, some of the best and most memorable season finales have ended on a well-executed cliffhanger. Be it personal, emotional drama (will Felicity pick Ben or Noel, you guys?!?!) or life and death action (Vaughn isn’t dead, is he!?! Ahhhh!!), those cliffhangers can keep us anxious and riled up all summer. Sometimes, rather than give us a cliffhanger, the show decides to change the rules of the Universe right then and there. That’s something “Lost” pulled off over and over again. (Major kudos to J.J. Abrams for having his name attached to the first three season finale examples that popped in my mind.) And then, of course, there are those crushingly disappointing season finales that make you want to throw your shoe, popcorn or smallest, most handy pet at the television. Oh yes, “The Killing,” I’m looking at you. Here’s a ranking, from worst to first, of the 2012 season finales. There are, obviously, some finale spoilers here. So please proceed with caution.
18. “Glee”: They only reason this episode bears mentioning at all is this scene with Mike O’Malley. A funny, lovely and loving tribute to his not-dead gay son, Kurt.
17. “House”: I know “House” has stumbled over the past few seasons, but I almost broke my eyeballs rolling them at the on-the-nose metaphor of “burning down the house.” It was nice to see the return of some old favorite characters. (Hi, Amber!) But, in the end, this just felt like a bloated, empty farewell to a once great series.
16. “Grey’s Anatomy”: I know you’re not watching anymore, but their plane crashed, someone died, and Shonda Rhimes continues to strain our credulity well past the breaking point with all the horrors this group of medical professionals have endured.
15. “Modern Family”: For all its mawkishly sentimental voice-overs and “aw” family bonding moments, this series has ceased to touch or impress me in any way. Ty Burrell is still usually good for a few laughs, but other than that this season, and this uninteresting season, finale left me cold.
14. “Grimm”: Though it has enjoyed a bumpy season, “Grimm” looks to be upping the family drama ante next season with the introduction of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. Though the “Mom?” cliffhanger felt a little too “Chuck” and “Alias” derivative for my taste, I’m looking forward to Mastrantonio’s presence next year. Perhaps she can join the Madeleine Stowe and Jessica Lange Bitchface Club.
13. “Once Upon A Time”: This show tried very very hard to impress me with a big ol’ dragon and life or death stakes. But the dragon SFX (like all the effects on this lavish but cartoonish show this year) looked oddly cheap. And the reintroduction of Belle prompts this question: was Emilie De Ravin this terrible on “Lost”? Dear god, woman, you’re playing opposite Robert Carlyle. STEP IT UP. And, speaking of “Lost,” the very bold “change the Universe” move was very reminiscent. Magic is back, eh? In the shape of purple smoke? Alright then.
12. “The Walking Dead”: I haven’t watched this episode yet, or most of the second season for that matter, but I will take TK’s word for it that the finale fixed many of the problems that have been plaguing the show this season. As in, they literally burned down a troublesome plot point. Fantastic. This just shot to the top of my “Summer Watch” list.
11. “30 Rock”: It’s been a mixed season for this show as well and all the good James Marsden has brought (and that’s a lot of good) has been undone by Kristen Schaal’s obnoxious Hazel character. And this…this sh*t right here? I may never be able to unsee it.
10. “Vampire Diaries”: This silly, campy, melodramatic CW show delivered everything you would expect from a non-Whedon teen vampire soap. Action, double crosses, love triangles, etc. I’m not really feeling the final twist and I enjoyed our “normal girl” protagonist to be just that. A “normal girl.” (Who, okay, is also a doppleganger with magic tingly blood that can save or damn entire races of supernatural creatures. Tempted to watch yet?) The screen cap below courtesy of the most cleverly inane recap per on the nets, Price Peterson.
9. “Community”: It’s tough for creators to film a finale not knowing whether it’s the end of a season or a series. Personally, I preferred the penultimate Ocean’s 11 spoof episode. It did what “Community” does best. The sentiment and bigger gestures of the finale seemed more Harmon-agenda-driven than anything else. But we’ll have to see what next year brings.
8. “Cougar Town”:: The Big Wedding is a classic season finale trope and while we’ve seen it all before (starring Courtney Cox, in fact), the cul-de-sac crew managed to pull of something charming, sweet and sharply hilarious.
7. “Happy Endings”: Speaking of weddings, this series started with one and each season, so far, has ended with one. The love triangle nonsense aside (please, less Dave/Alex drama, more Mandonna) this was a stellar episode featuring a surprising and fun cameo by Brian Austin Green.
6. “Awake”: If you stopped watching this show somewhere towards the beginning of the season, do yourself a favor and go back and pick it up. The show ended on a high, high note (it won’t be renewed next season) with the most emotionally satisfying conclusion in recent memory. Fans of BBC’s “Life on Mars” or “Ashes To Ashes” will be delighted with the dreaming mind/buried memory solving of a major crime.
5. “Revenge”: Though I dropped this show in the middle of the year, I picked it back up for the last few episodes and couldn’t have been more pleased with the finale. Though Florence Welch’s incredible “Seven Devils” did a lot of the heavy lifting, the energetic fight scenes and the plunge into a deeper conspiracy was all very vintage “Alias.” And, unlike “Grimm,” this felt more like an homage than a rip-off.
4. “New Girl”:: How much have I grown to love this group? So much so that the threat to their happy home felt as big to me as any plane crash or house fire. The sweet ending montage of each housemate dancing in his/her room was a perfect reflection of the bubbly joy in my heart. The show has grown so much this season and emerged as a personal favorite.
3. “Parks and Recreation”: Sitcoms don’t have to make you cry, but it can be so rewarding when they do. Please, bury Amy Poehler in Emmy gold this year.
2. “The Good Wife”: Though the poignant more CBS-like family drama of this episode was remarkably acted and executed (kudos to both Julianna Margulies and Chris Noth), the heft of this episode belonged to Archie Panjabi. I still don’t get why people think this show is just for grandmas. Watch Panjabi take a sledgehammer to a wall and then get back to me. I can’t wait for Kalinda’s husband to get here next season. What a magnificent and tense season-ender.
1. “Parenthood”: And though this is the third episode on the list to end with a wedding, it leaves all of them in the dust. Thank god for “Parenthood” as has consistently filled the tear-soaked hole “FNL” left in my heart. Each plot line and character was so lovingly and organically presented in this episode and culminated with both a fierce joy and tender ache. The episode is still on my DVR, months later. I may never delete it.
Joanna Robinson did not include “Game of Thrones” as she would like you to save up all your thoughts and opinions for TK’s magnificent recap tomorrow.