Ten years later and we’re still talking about it.
Although The Sopranos finale will hit its 10th anniversary on Saturday, the age-old question remains. Did Tony Soprano die in the last scene of the finale? Were we experiencing Tony’s POV when the screen cut to black, meaning he was killed? The answer to that question is perhaps something we will never exactly know. After all, director David Chase seems to be leaving it up to individual interpretation, even after all of these years. However, that does not keep fans from continuing to dissect that last scene in the hopes of coming to some universal conclusion.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of The Sopranos finale and its disputable ending, we look back at a few other controversial TV finales that have intrigued, bothered, and conflicted fans over the years. There are of course many reasons why a finale might not reach its expected potential, such as budgetary reasons, early cancellations, etc. This piece though will focus on TV finales from shows that led full lives.
Spoilers for The Sopranos finale along with spoilers for Roseanne, Lost, Castle, and How I Met Your Mother.
The Sopranos was HBO’s most watched show of all time, receiving 18.2 million views during its peak season until Game of Thrones surpassed it. The popularity of the show when it was on the air was intense. For it to end on such an abrupt and puzzling note was inconceivable for fans, some of whom preferred a more definitive ending. According to director David Chase in an interview with the Director’s Guild of America, he says that “Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time.” So, there are hints that Tony did die in the finale. The swelling music to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” along with the pace of the scene make it seem as if something is going to occur. There are also hints that he did not die. Impending death may just be the theme of the last episode, as Chase implies. Tony looks up, and then the screen cuts to black. The next moment is ambiguous. No matter the ending, The Sopranos will most likely remain in history as one of the best shows of all time, as it gave a name to the HBO that we know today.
The Lost finale is one that fans and even casual viewers still cannot let go. “Were they all dead the whole time?” is a popular question all over the internet, from fan message boards to critic reviews. Unlike The Sopranos’ finale, producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse planned on a clearer ending rather than the misunderstanding that occurred. Ultimately everyone was dead in the church scene, but not for the entire series. The combination of the church scene and Jack’s death on the island though made the overall message unclear. From the beginning, the producers debunked the theory that the island was a “purgatory” for the characters. Despite this, there are still those who choose to see the finale as confirmation that this theory is true. Either way, the uncertainty surrounding this ending continues to loom over the finale and its reception.
Roseanne reached millions of viewers with its realistic portrayal of blue-collar family life in the form of a dramatic comedy. The finale to this series, however, was more an ode to a strange 9th season in which reality was not a factor at all. Roseanne won millions of dollars in the lottery and Dan survived his heart attack. Except none of this is true. In Roseanne’s monolog at the end of the final episode, we learn that Dan did die. Roseanne never won the lottery. It was Becky who was with David and Darlene with Mark. Roseanne had created a fantasy life for herself to cope with losing Dan. Critic and fan responses to this ending were mixed but mostly confused. Opting out of a sincere ending felt out of place for a show that was grounded in sensible stories. This is not to mention that revelations such as the Becky/Darlene partner switch did not make sense because they were established well before Roseanne constructed her fantasy life. With an upcoming reboot set to premiere in the next year or so which will star most of the original cast (including John Goodman), fans might be able to get the closure that they need.
There are shows that in spite of their best judgment, decide to give the audience what they want. What the audience truly wants is sometimes underestimated. The finale for Castle ends on a happy note, possibly for the sake of avoiding angry die-hard Rick and Kate fans. As if spending their last moments together hand in hand was not touching enough, Castle decided to go one step further and provide an alternate ending. One where Kate and Rick do not die and live happily ever after, with kids and everything. On paper, it might sound nice. The quick execution of the scene though caused it to ultimately stumble, and the sweet conclusion felt forced.
How I Met Your Mother
The series finale for How I Met Your Mother is one that has a clear ending. The reception of this ending is what’s unsettled. Usually, there is a sway toward negative or positive reviews. For this series though, there is a split between those who love the ending and those who think it is lazy. Fans who hoped for the mother to eventually play a large role were disappointed that her only contribution to the show was a few minutes in the finale. On the other hand, some viewers thought it was perfect for the show to end with Ted and Robin. For them, the show was never about the mother anyway. These two arguments alone will be enough to keep critics and fans busy for years to come.