Ending a series can be as hard as penning an opening one and quite often the finale often feels flat and Science Fiction TV series are no strangers to this problem.
A finale ideally needs to draw together the various threads of narrative into a satisfying conclusion and if the show has no ongoing plot needs to given a meaningful farewell to the cast of characters, perhaps illustrating how they have grown over the series. It needs to be respectful and pay due homage to the series and leave the viewer fulfilled and satisfied. It should be a love letter to the fans.
In the probably 30 years I have been watching sci-fi I have seen many series come and go and some have gone out with a bang and others with a whimper but only one has touched me deeply. One that made me sincerely upset for its loss and nearly brought me to tears, leaving me with a lump in my throat.
My first true science fiction love was Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was too young to notice the wooden acting and questionable storylines of the first season but Star Trek engaged something deep in me and they carried me along the full seven-year run with excitement and anticipation and then it all came to an end. There was no internet as there is today and so I got my advance information about All Good Things from fanzines and sci-fi magazines. I was excited about it but a little trepidatious of how the crew would end their journey. There was no through narrative to complete and so the episode had to be character driven and give each character their moment to shine. In the end, All Good Things felt flat. It felt like a season bridge two-parter. I enjoyed it and I felt sad when the credits rolled, perhaps it was because there was other Star Trek out there. Deep Space Nine (DS9) was already rolling and so in a way Star Trek didn’t end it just continued with a new cast.
DS9 ended in a more positive way – ‘What you leave behind’ had the benefit of wrapping up the Dominion War and calling a close to the Prophets storyline. It gave most characters a chance to show how they had developed but, despite the montage it lacked bite and heart, again, perhaps this was because Voyager was already on air and Star Trek wasn’t over. Voyagers end was, however, a pause in Trek continuity – there was no trek replacement this time.‘Endgame’ seemed more about Janeway than the rest of the crew. It was exciting and it fulfilled the need to get the ship home but it lacked resolution, we were left wondering how they would fit back into Starfleet? – what about the Maquis crew how would they adjust?
The next Trek on our screens was Enterprise and this finale was the worst of the lot. I enjoyed the story but they introduced a welcome return for Riker and Troi which would have made a great stand-alone episode but not a finale as it robbed the actual cast of their own chance to shine.
The reimagined Battlestar Galactica had perhaps the most riding on it. The series had a deep back-story and many, many threads to tie together, almost so much to conclude that not everyone would be happy with the final product. There was much controversy about Ronald D. Moore’s three Part Daybreak closer, that it was a silly ending, they didn’t like final five, that humans and Cylons lived together or that they were in the Earths deep past. None of this mattered to me. For me, the episode did all it needed and death of Roslin and the Galactica flying into the sun broken and battered nearly brought me to that hallowed moment of loss but not quite.
In the Whedonverse Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2003. Its last episode, Chosen, the whole cast were present and Whedon gave them all a chance to shine. The ending shots of the cast together were moving but we there was more of the universe with Angel… although in 2004 that too ended. This finale, ‘Not fade away, was a clever twist on the wrap it all up finale with a cliffhanger ending, it was in many ways the antithesis of Buffy’s ending, it was effective but ultimately not fulfilling perhaps because I wasn’t as engaged in the story as I was with Buffy.
We should be grateful however that these shows got an ending, several such as Space Above and Beyond and Stargate Universe were cancelled without the chance for an ending, many other shows went the same way and left us without a proper ending. Firefly received a film in which to close the series out, likewise, Farscape got a miniseries to end on and Stargate made some TV movies to properly give the fans an ending to the series. There is nothing worse for an invested Sci-Fi fan to leave a story untold or a plot unresolved, although this perhaps keeps them talking about or a fertile ground for fan fiction.
So what is the pinnacle of the sci-fi finale? The final episode that affected me the most was Babylon 5’s ‘Sleeping in Light’. I had watched the series from day one, I stuck with it through the variable season 1 through the exceptional third and fourth seasons and even the again variable fifth season. With its epic plot this was one series that had to have a conclusion and when it looked possible that it would be cancelled at the end of season 4 an ending had to be filmed. As it was the fifth season was granted and this finale held back until the very end with the season 4 finale spot being filled by ‘The Deconstruction of Falling Stars’.
The last 4 episodes essentially act as a finale to the show with each of the main characters getting a chance to shine and show how the station and life would go on. In the last episode, we get a final dinner with the major players set 20 years on from when we last saw them. It acted as focus on Sheridan whose life was running out and he would just one day stop. We were faced with the curiosity of what happened to the characters in the 20 years. This included the recognition of the sad deaths of Londo and G’Kar as foretold and with Ivanova still deeply affected by the sacrifice of Marcus. On top of this, we had the touching moment of a man knowing he was going to die having to first say goodbye to friends and then his wife before his final tour.
The final tour in which Sheridan visits Babylon 5 just prior to its decommissioning is touching; this recognised the very station – Babylon 5 as a character in the show in its own right, a place where all these stories were rooted. It was, in fact, this that I got the most emotional. We see Sheridan ‘die’ and be collected by Lorien to go beyond the rim. This is bittersweet; he is gone, but gone to a better place, more exciting perhaps?
Straczynski’s (Creator and Writer) masterstroke was poetic in nature very much like the tone of much of the series. At the very end, the surviving cast meet at the decommissioning ceremony of Babylon 5. They leave for their starships and as they do Straczynski himself cameos as a tech who turns out the lights of the station which is subsequently blown up so as not to be a shipping hazard. The view of Babylon 5 being ripped open was visceral and powerful despite the dated CGI. It was a statement that Babylon 5 was over and that was it, the story was done. It had an air of finality that struck home and helped condemn the eventual spin-off – Crusade to an early death without a finale of its own.
Even today re-watching the episode is still poignant given that so many of the cast have had early deaths and are sorely missed in the community. It’s my challenge to sci-fi of the future to make me feel the same again, this is the benchmark which you have to reach.