How Much Does a Final Season Influence a Show's Legacy? How Much Influence Should It Have?


This year has been full of planned final seasons. The Office30 Rockand Spartacus came to a close earlier in the year, and now we're nearing the conclusions of Breaking BadDexter, and Burn Notice. In a world where writers are more empowered to craft their chosen ending, we've grown accustomed to putting an otherworldly amount of pressure on THE END. Maybe it started with The Sopranos' fade to black, or maybe it goes back further—say, to Seinfeld or St. Elsewhere—but we definitely expect shows to have a path to those final moments, and it can get ugly if the final moments aren't well-received ('sup, Lost?). However, if a show's been awesome (or even pretty good) for a number of years and the finale doesn't work, that faulty conclusion shouldn't define a show's legacy. 


Dealing with final-season disappointment


I've always been fascinated by the people who say that the final episodes of Lost ruined the entire six-year experience for them, or that Battlestar Galactica's series finale negated the show's excellent early seasons. If you step away from the idea that shows don't owe us anything—that if their endings don't match our personal desires, that isn't the show's fault—it's hard for me to process the notion that one disappointing final season or episode can overwhelmingly cancel out all the great, and even good, stuff that came before. Think about it: If we dislike a show's pilot, or the sixth episode of its first season, or even its entire first season overall, that doesn't mean that later episodes are guaranteed to be poor. How many shows improve in their second, third, or fourth seasons? (Read: Most of them.) But if it's the final string of episodes that doesn't work, there's so much hand-wringing about what went wrong and what's been ruined. 

I understand the disappointment that final seasons can bring. As fans, we invest all this time into characters and worlds, and we hope they leave us in a satisfying fashion—it's human nature to want to see villains get their comeuppance, to watch heroes be redeemed, to have our burning questions answered, etc. These days, such feelings are exacerbated by the huge amount of discussion and analysis that takes place on the internet, where fan communities extract meaning from every corner of a show and make projections about what could (or should) happen. When you have 10 years invested in Smallville and the finale doesn't even totally deliver non-CGI shots of Clark Kent as Superman, it's understandable to not only be disappointed, but to feel like every possible outcome you had in your mind would've been better than what you saw, especially in the moment. 

Nevertheless, "in the moment" observations shouldn't define a show's legacy and neither should perceived failings in a final season. I'll defend the end of Lost all day, but I can also acknowledge that its final season had a lot of problems. And yet, those problems could never invalidate the pilot, "We have to go back," "Not Penny's Boat," or the entire fourth and fifth seasons. Although the current nature of the TV business means that shows have more freedom to end when they want to, the great thing about television as a medium is that amazing things—or terrible things, or both—can happen in any given episode, only for the next one to deliver the completely opposite result. 


Different shows, different types of endings


Let's focus on the two big shows that are charging toward their end this summer, Dexter and Breaking Bad. I've never been more confident in a show going into the final run as I am with Breaking Bad, and the (mid-)season premiere did nothing to dissuade me. This is a show that's been building to very specific endpoints for a very long time, and its writers have rarely strayed from that path. If the show suddenly goes off the rails in three weeks, with Walt just hanging out at Denny's for hours at a time or Walt Jr. starting his own breakfast blog, that'd be a bummer (maybe), and it would likely prevent us from experiencing the kind of catharsis we were expecting. But would that mean the show, as a whole, was a failure? Ditto for Dexter: I have fewer ideas of what should or shouldn't happen in the final four our five episodes, but I'm guessing that most fans don't expect those episodes to involve a whole lot of Batista and his hats, or Quinn and Jamie squabbling over new curtains. Speaking of which, Burn Notice is in full-on serialized mode, with some pretty dark stories going on right now, so I can the show reverting back to a lighthearted romp would seem kind of odd. 

But think back, for example, to The Office and 30 Rock. I'd posit that fans were mostly happy with the way both series ended. But it's important to note that there was never really that much pressure to stick the proverbial landing. Meaning, not all final seasons or series finales face the same viewer expectations. With sitcoms, we tend to expect the more traditional conclusion—group hugs, new babies, bittersweet separations. And with procedural-y shows, even those that turn serialized like Burn Notice, resolution is pretty straightforward as well. Meanwhile, shows with big mysteries or plot devices (LostBSG, even Fringe), and shows that position themselves as "different" or "more than" (The SopranosThe WireMad Men) are scrutinized much more closely. Some of that scrutiny is warranted (gotta answer those questions, bro!), but quite a bit of it isn't. Not all shows should be judged on the same plane, but we also shouldn't overreact when great shows don't totally blow us away in the end.

Ultimately, I keep coming back to earlier this summer, when James Gandolfini suddenly and tragically passed away. After a few years of fans and critics pushing The Sopranos aside—a shift that was at least partially brought on by the controversy surrounding the series' final episode—there were some great stories that basically said, "Hey, this show is probably the best ever, even if you forgot." Time (and an untimely death) has helped The Sopranos regain some of the luster it lost because of its series finale. The wounds are still raw for Lost fans, but I imagine that people will come back around on that show, too. But it doesn't have to be this way, and it doesn't have to take that long. So in seven weeks when Breaking Bad and Dexter are both over, let's try to remember that even if their final seasons didn't work out like we expected or wanted them to, their legacies (whatever they may be) aren't ruined. Deal?


What do you think? Are final seasons overvalued, or should we continue to consider them as highly important?

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A bad ending doesn't ruin all that has gone before. But it does have an impact on your desire to re-watch a series.
I enjoyed most of Dexter, but I doubt I'll be watching it again because I know what it is all leading up to. The same goes for X-Files. It was one of my all time favourites, but because they dragged it at least a season too long, the ending became too muddled so re-watching isn't worth the time.
Breaking Bad on the other hand. Even though the ending was brutal, it was very satisfying and I'll definitely be watching that again.
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A final season or episode definitely has an impact on the series as a whole. Think of a really good book that keeps you enthralled in mystery and suspense. The climax keeps you turning the page and you wonder how it will end until.... a ball of light comes from the middle of nowhere and solves all the problems despite there being no foreshadowing of said ball of light. (This is actually from a Murakami book). I can read that book again if I wanted to, but the ending was so bad that I would be working towards a painfully bad conclusion, unable to enjoy the parts before it and thus ruining any future experiences of reading the book again.

TV is not dissimilar to a book. If the ending is good enough, you may find yourself watching it again for all those parts you missed. On the other hand, if the ending was bad, it could very well negate all the pleasant experiences. In this case, the ending could very well be defining moment in its legacy.

My last example: Sixth Sense. Imagine an ending where Bruce Willis talks to his wife, she wakes up and they embrace themselves as two living people. Would you have seen the movie again to find all the things you missed?
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Phew. Almost lost you. Cory, your excellent commentary is no longer on the first page (unless I missed it). Are you catching all the spoilers suddenly (or not, I don't notice this stuff) flying around on Dexter? Are the writers messing with us, do you think?

No matter, the show still stinks. Oh, and apparently the writers are defending their bad writing in The Writers' Room on the Sundance Channel? That I have to see.
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For me the show's writers need to go in with a planned ending. I feel like if the writers are just making it up as they go along they are more likely to be plot holes, forgotten story arcs, filler stories, and all that stuff. If you know how your story ends I think you're more likely to have a successful final season because you've spent your entire show knowing the endgame, and have been able to foreshadow, plot ahead, and things like that, which, in my opinion, makes for a more rewarding viewing experience.
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I didn't think that Lost's ending was disappointing at all, but that's maybe due to the fact that I never had the six-year experience. On the other hand, Chuck's ending definitely sucked imo.
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I remember Dexter being AWESOME in its first and earlier seasons. Although, for some reason, it doesn't have that awesomeness anymore, like some other shows do.
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I loved how for example Charmed ended...
But Merlin was really crap....that really ruined the whole series...
But i think it is important...you want a good ending, logical ending...without having more questions then before...
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Charmed did it just as well as it could be done. So did Everybody loves Raymond. I'm one of the few people I know who liked the way Seinfeld ended. They got their comeuppance, but still didn't learn anything.

I don't think all series should necessarily have a formal ending, but of course, dramas like BB really need to if for no other reason than to avoid what I call Gilligan's Island Syndrome. Those poor castaways left stranded on that island troubled me for years. I realize that wasn't a drama but it did leave the story completely unresolved.
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I don´t know who remembers it.. but it is not so long ago:
Scrubs had 7 Seasons, and the 7th season ended abruptly, when the authors were laying down work. The last episode was a mess, not in any context of the episodes before, just really horrible! After that I felt bad about the series! and maybe for the series.

But then the 8th Season appeared, at first I did not want to watch it. BUT this season was much better than the 7th and J.D. got an series ending which was totally worthy! And that is how I remember it. It was one of the funniest and best comedy shows
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There have been a few planned show endings that I felt fell short. Specifically, the final seasons (not necessarily the final episodes) of Fringe and The OC. In each case there was lots to love about those final seasons (here's looking at you Autumn Reeser and John Noble), but the seasons over all were a let down. In both cases the final seasons didn't live up to drama, intensity and just overall great story telling of the first few seasons. Thankfully they didn't ruin the entire series for me. There is more great in the whole series than there was bad. With that said, I can see if a final season (and it'd have to be a whole season not just one bad episode) was truly atrocious, how that could overshadow all the good and ultimately ruin a show. I can't think of any examples at the moment, but I can see how it could happen. Most of the shows that I watch that had planned finales actually did a pretty good job wrapping it up (Chuck, Stargate SG1, Everwood, technically Jericho was planned it just shouldn't have ended period!).

Smallville was mentioned in the article, and I have to say that yes, the final season was dreadful, the final episode even more so. But, in this particular case the show was sucking long before the final season to the point where I had stopped watching for two seasons prior. I decided to give the final season a try and found that it was as bad as I remembered. So, not all the bad can be heaped on that one season.
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Depends on how the show is progressing. I wasn't so disappointed in the Finale of LOST as I was the final 3 seasons of LOST! I could say the same for Dexter since the end of S4. A great ending for Dexter would be a plus but given what I've seen from this writing team..not holding out hope. Still LOST and Dexter will go down as "Good" shows, not the "GREAT" shows they were the first half of their run.
In the same vein BB would have to have a terrible conclusion to drop from it's GREAT status. Been solid from start to current and based on what they've set up to work with I'll be shocked if they don't pull off a solid conclusion
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On the matter of shows "owing" endings, I agree that they don't necessarily owe the ending we want, but they do owe the ending they promise. Stories make promises, characters hold promise, we watch because the show has inherently promised something we want to see played out.

I think disappointment comes when the show fails to keep those promises - like Lost. It made so many promises that it ignored come season 6. I could have dealt with it all being after death if there had been some muted promise somewhere along the line that made such even a remote possibility. But it didn't. Just said, 'oh, we have to wrap this up, quick, someone vomit up a semi-believable ending.' Semi-believable, sure, but it didn't satisfy the outstanding promises.

As for shows' final seasons and what they mean for the show overall, I agree that it shouldn't affect our memories of all the good times, but that doesn't change that we end up biased anyhow. I still love Lost and the journey it tried to take me on. I just wish it would have delivered. As such, I'll enjoy the memories rather than boxsets sitting on my shelf.
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I won't buy any full season DVDs of a show whose finale disappointed me.

"If you step away from the idea that shows don't owe us anything"

IMO, shows make the majority of their $ from advertising, selling reruns, & DVD sales. All three depend on VIEWERS opinion, and the last two probably depend a lot on the VIEWERS opinions/ratings. Therefore, IMO, shows thinking they owe viewers NOTHING (SGU) won't last long, therefore won't make much $.
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They don't owe you the ending you want.
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I have to say, I think the relative importance of a series finale is also dependent on how important a show seems to structures the series to have it be. *Lost* is a case in point. While the show did a lot...and I mean A LOT...of amazing things, most of the narrative structure relies on the success of its conclusion. Its storytelling was revolutionary, and its influence on the rest of television is undoubted, but a viewer's assessment of the show itself is largely going to rely on how successful he or she found its finale, since the show spent several seasons making it important.

On the other hand, a show like *Twin Peaks*, to go even farther back in the vault, had one and a quarter truly excellent seasons and then dwindled off into a made-for-TV-movie morass. Despite the fact that it was ostensibly a murder mystery, *Twin Peaks* was never really a murder mystery, and its success and, subsequently, legacy was ultimately more reliant on Lynch's weird, provocative vignettes. Its finale, which NO ONE REMEMBERS, is of very little importance to the show's long-term significance.
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I always think the Series premiere and the Series finale should be great
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Oh, and I liked the series finale of the Sopranos.
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Depends on the show... I doubt the last season of The Mentalist would have any impact on the legacy of the show, no matter who's Red John at the end. And there is nothing that Dexter can do at this point that will make me not like the show and recommend people that have not seen it yet, to give it a try.
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I do think it depends. If a show gives the impression that there is an overall known arc to everything it does, building up to a big reveal, but by the end it just looks as though it's making things up as it goes along, I think it does let the series down as a whole.
Shows that may have a season arc, but that's about it, I don't think it matters what the final episode is. 24, for instance.
I tend to find endings in general, for TV, film and books, seem to often be rather poor these days, I don't buy this 'imagine the ending yourself' stuff. No, you wrote it, you tell us what you think the ending should be.

Slightly off at a tangent and going back a bit, I remember talking about the Quantum Leap finale, wondering why (given that it was just text) they didn't have him going home at some point.
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The sad truth is that many, if not most of, final seasons are disappointing, even when the writers know the show is ending. But I agree it shouldn't matter. I didn't enjoy Fringe's last season as much as the previous ones, but it won't ever taint "White tulip", "Peter" or "The Day we died" in my eyes.
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The final season of Dexter is about Dexter,not about Dexter`s table imo. I`m not exactly gripped , but interested all the same. Season 5 and 6 in my eyes were disastrous. Jonny lee miller and Hanks didn`t have the presence needed to be bad guys. If they had used EJ Olmos correctly and had him facing off with Dexter, that would have saved it. nothing can save me from Hanks lol .
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Massively, as it is really the point to the whole story being told. at least Dexter and BB are getting some closure.
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Deal.
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Personally I think that the last season should not have a huge impact on the viewer's overall opinion of the show if rest of the show has been good-to-great. However people tend to remember the bad things better than the good things and it's natural. Kind of nerdish/gamerish example is the ending of Mass Effect 3... Solid game with a crappy ending. This caused number of Metacritic user reviews to go something like this:

"This game was unbelieveably great, I loved EVERYTHING... Except the last 10 minutes..."
Then they proceed to rate the game as 4/10 and it just is... ridiculously harsh.

In my opinion Dexter's quality has been spiraling since the fourth season, with season 7 being a nudge upwards. I don't know if it's because no villain has matched the amazingness of Trinity or if Rita had some super powers that made the writers want to try harder. I am going to watch the show's final season with careful optimism, but I am not going to let it ruin the series for me if it's a crapfest.
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When it comes to Mass Effect and Lost, it was a game (and a show respectively) where it was good in creating loose ends. What you expected from the end was to see those loose ends wrapped up. If they do not, then yes the show is a failure because it failed to do what it promised to do. So yes, in my opinion, Mass effect 3 ruined the whole thing
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I actually liked the final of Battlestar Galactica. I don't know how they could have finished it otherwise, it all made sense.
The only thing that was not good was Starbuck's storyline.

Anyway, final seasons are not overvalued: they are the closure, sometimes they give sense to what has passed before. Of course they are essential.
But the overall quality of a series does not depend ONLY on its final season!
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When people say the last season of Battlestar Galactica was bad they are usually referring to the original series. Up until the point they reached Earth it was awesome. Then things kinda went downhill.
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I liked Zarek, they shouldn't have killed him. The situation in Galactica was indeed becoming a dictatorship and the scientist (don't remember his name) should be executed
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Hey Cory, you finally found a way to make Dexter an interesting show! Kudos.
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In case of Dexter it's not the worst final season. Seasons 3, 5, 6 and 8 are just horrible. Fucking horrible.
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Just 3 and 6 were horrible. Season 5 is one of my favorite seasons of Dexter. I'll watch season 8 in a few weeks.
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I think 5 was prettynice, too. 3 and 6 were the bad ones!
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:) same here im huge fan of 1,2 and 4 season :D but i dont like 3,5,6,8 to :)
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That leaves a lot of good seasons, doesn't it? It was just a suck show, a candle that fizzled out too soon.

Oh well, it will all be over soon and we won't have to watch this hot steaming mess anymore.
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I've watched all of LOST several times and the finale was nothing short of perfect. The people who complain about it wanted to be told what happened in a nice, clean, ending with a ribbon on it instead of being allowed, through creative direction, to draw the conclusions for themselves. Not surprisingly, shows that tie up their endings too neatly are very soon forgotten -- it's the ones that make you think (or make you irritated that live on. Come on we're STILL talking about LOST if that were not proof.

The finale of BSG was amazing as well, though after the action died out and they found 'earth' things got a little drawn out for me. Still, they were smart enough to do what good Sci-Fi does -- serve as a parable for thus dealing with the real, and leaving a few question marks for us to ponder over.

I think Breaking Bad is going to wind things up with less 'loose ends', simply because it's a drama that revolves around an anti-hero... and one who is getting MUCH worse morally than he ever was. It'll end awesomely, though, of that I have no doubt.
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The last season of lost was a disappointment because of what they did NOT do.

Each episode had 1/2 hour of purgatory which was presented as effecting the Island reality. Sun losing her ability to speak properly at the same time the Purgtory universe has her in a similar situation for example. Desmond in an energy experiment and aware of the Island reality in the P universe. etc.

What they COULD have done was save purgatory until the end and shown us more Island secrets, and more action and plot in the stories in the temple etc. What we all WANTED!

Imagine them waking up in the penultimate episode in purgatory and flashing back to the island to wrap it up before they finally go into the light. A few hours in purgatory would have been all we needed to see their souls rewarded with better endings and go into the light.

They had a great idea but got stuck with the concept of a season long alternate universe being purgatory. 8 hours in purgatory should have been cut to 2-3 max in the last hours of the show. Most of the purgatory universe was a waste of time. It would compare well with Sopranos spending half the final season episodes in the diner waiting for the lights to fade to black.

And that is why it was disappointing. But I fully intend to watch it all over again someday soon! Like the article said, 5 out of 6 seasons of greatness is a true treat!

And season 6 was still better than most other shows. It just could have been better.
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It's like debating whether or not a certain human being is worthy as a whole, depending on how they died. There are magical moments in a person's life and those will always be and ring true. That person's death has nothing to do with their impact.... as such with a TV show in my view.
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The real problem is people can't accept other people's opinion, they refuse to let someone like something that they don't....
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I know the Battlestar Galactic series finale didn't go over well with all of the fans, but I didn't mind it at all. I can think of numerous other ways it could've ended that would've pissed me off and "ruined" the series for me. Also, having respect for the entire team behind BSG and knowing the way it ended was the plan (albeit they wanted to take more time/seasons do do it in) I'm okay with it. That's generally how I've felt with shows in the past. If the writers just decide to end a show a certain way -because they find out they're cancelled and have a limited time to write, or find out the network is only giving them one more season, etc. - it's harder for me to swallow than if in the end, regardless of how they get there, they end it as planned. A standout example for me is Supernatural. The creators wanted to end it a while back (the exact season is escaping my memory) and they tied it up in a bow as they had envisioned and the CW told them it was going to continue regardless - and then they left the show and the next season was horrible. I gave it a few episodes and stopped and in my mind it ended when it should have according to its creators. Granted, I know recent seasons have gotten significantly better (as I've been told by people at least) so I'm happy for the show and the fans but still satisfied with when I stopped watching. In any event I have no doubt that Breaking Bad's finale will be amazing... sad to see it go ... but amazing.
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Supernatural's 5th season was the planned end. Those 5 seasons were some of the best seasons in the history of television. I still watch it for the characters and its gotten much better after the disastrous 7th season.
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For all you Dexter fans, is this year better than last? I was so disappointed with last year that I've got the first 7 episodes of this year on my dvr. I haven't even watched an episode yet.
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The biggest problem in my opinion is that they introduced way too many characters for a last season both interesting and un-needed ones.
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It's much better than season 6. :)

It's similar to season 7 in that the Dex-Deb stuff is pretty good, but the rest is weak. Actually I think that maybe the Dex-Deb stuff was a bit better in season 7, and the rest a bit better in season 8. I'll have to wait for the season to be over before I decide which one is better.
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think it`s about the same. they are telling us about Dexter more, so less killing.
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Nope. It blows goats.

But by all means, watch the season thus far and play a drinking game - whenever Dexter says something moronic in a V/O, have a drink. Then again, never mind, you'll be drunk by the end of each episode.
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Only season 6 is worst than this one
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If you thought last year was bad, don't even consider watching this one.
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Woops, actually I enjoyed last year, it was the year before that I didn't like. For some reason that season with Colin Hanks stays with me like a bad song.
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The Colin Hanks season is definitely the worst, but this year is a close second.
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If you didn't like last year, you would fucking hate this year.
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Seven episodes of S8 have already aired and it's a very flaccid season. Cant believe it's the final season and only five episodes are left. Personally, I am disliking the way the writers are setting up the ending. This used to be a dark and edgy show and now, in it's final run is looking like a romance novel plot. Just watching and waiting to see how it ends. And to think that this used to be my favorite show a few years back. :(
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LOST was great, it was actually brilliant. Re-watched it recently and you can see they had a plan from start to finish. No show is perfect but I loved the fact that some new people came and found these mysterious things on an Island which were not actually mysterious or special at all. People who don't get that don't understand LOST at all even if they want to cry out. Lost was a 6 season love letter to the nature of faith vs science. The aggrandisement of these mundane objects was a metaphor for our creation of the supernatural from the mysterious.

The point of there never being all answers given is to highlight the fact that as a species we may have a lot of science and understanding but there are many things, that in our short lives, will never get answered, the same was as in 6 seasons we didn't get all the answers and it's tough.

I don't really judge TV shows based on small sections, I watch them overall and then make a judgement. Anyone who scraps an entire show or film just because of an ending or single point should probably just not comment at all.
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"...you can see they had a plan from start to finish..."

Not even the writers would make that claim. They had the final scene figured out from the beginning, and maybe they had already decided that the island was a conscious magical entity protected by two immortal brothers with special abilities, but other than that, they just focused on making each scene look good, with no regard for the big picture.
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By your logic, you can go watch a movie that has plot holes and has strange things happening with no explanations given and a disappointing ending and you will walk away satisfied because life is a mystery.
I accept that there are mysteries in life, I do not accept unanswered questions from a movie or especially a tv show.
And judging a tv show over all is fine, but when the show is like Lost, where it is all about mysterious things and events, and in the end most of those are not explained, and most of the ones that are explained feel forced, how can you not judge the show to be lacking?
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What? They so didn't have the plan from start to finish and it shows!
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And, "Dreadful Ending" gets the nod going away.
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The finale to a show really matters! Imagine if the ending of Breaking Bad was that Walter White was just having a BAD nightmare after his chemo therapy session. He never got into making drugs with Jessie and he was just still a high school chemistry teacher. That would be the whole series a farce no matter how good the series was.

I think having no ending, that means leaving things open is way better than a bad ending.

One good finale we had this summer was Magic City. Tv.com did not do a review but it ties up lots of loose ends as a series finale, answered most questions. It also had some open ending just in case there is another network interested or a possible movie.
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A viewer did:

http://www.tv.com/shows/magic-city/the-sins-of-the-father-2815802/

Except for the ludicrousness of Vera going to Stevie's hotel room, the finale was very good for a show, interrupted.

We all wanted Ben gone, but of course they had to leave Ike's nemesis alive, since the show didn't know that STARZ is an idiot. Ike drawing in the sand at the end
was nice.
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I bet if there was a season 3 or movie. Vera would be going to Stevie Hotel room just to talk only or she would stop at the door and turn back.
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This post must have been written, at least partly, because of doubts about Dexter's final season, and I think a lot of viewers share those doubts. The show has had its ups and downs for years, sometimes building tention very effectively over many episodes, while at other times fizzling or failing to even really engage viewers in the first place (during its weaker seasons). I personally haven't really thought of giving up on the show anywhere during its run, but during this last season I found myself kind of just wanting to know how it ends, to get it over with even.

The show has always had trouble finding good storylines for any character other than Dexter himself and a few of his enemies, and this continues even now. Here's hoping the final episodes will still turn it around. But even if they don't, I agree with you Cory that a show shouldn't be judged solely on its final episodes. Just like it shouldn't be judged based only on the first few.
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The one show that I can think of that had a perfect final season was The Shield. Every loose end was brought up and tied up nicely. Everything came full circle and, although it was really a depressing ending, it was perfect for that show. The Shield is one show that I can think of that never lost any quality through any of its seasons. Every episode was 5 stars for me.
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yeah, generally referenced as the show with a fantastic final, capping season.
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Why, do you really think Mackey was going to 'suffer' for very long before he got back into doing what he did best?
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I think that as much as I want to say that it shouldn't matter I keep reminding myself the ending of one of my personal favorites and how much this one hurt.
In the end, when you're really emotionally invested in the show, the story and characters, you can keep a memory of its great seasons, but the ending... well, it means a lot.
Option 1, You can be satisfied, happy and finish watching with a fond thought, always willing to come back to your favorite moments. Like I have with many shows, lately especially Fringe.
OR option 2, you can accept the ending feeling it could have been better, but hey... you can still rewatch some stuff that you liked the most about the show.
OR option 3, you end up with some very extreme emotions, in my case, it's just sadness. When you watch a family show, that serves you dozens of funny moments each week, gives you lots of happy endings at the end of its seasons, you certainly don't expect it to end in the worst, the most tragic way you could possibly imagine, without even much hope and not fulfilling so much of its premise... well, it hurts to look at any episode of the show. No matter how much you loved it, each happy moment only reminds you of the tragedy that came at the end. So, yeah, it means a lot. I would so much want be able to watch something from the early stages of the show! But I can't. Not yet anyway.

So, like you can see, it IS very emotional for many dedicated fans, I'm clearly still not over one ending and it's been months.

Anyway, I wish you all some great final seasons and episodes of all of your shows!
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>>>>>So, like you can see, it IS very emotional for many dedicated fans, I'm clearly still not over one ending and it's been months.

Wow, which show?

Isn't it too bad writers don't care about their audience who has let them get filthy rich? In the case of Dexter, this last season amounts to the writers giving us the bird.
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"Wow, which show?"
Yeah, I know :)
I was actually talking about Merlin.
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Which show are you talking about?
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Ok, deal. But to answer your question How many shows improve in their second, third, or fourth seasons? (Read: Most of them.) I can mention that many good shows had been best in their first two seasons, and it could have easily ended there:
- Lost : for me the best two first seasons in a show. Then Lost got LOST
- Dexter
- Sons of Anarchy
- Fringe
- Heroes: maybe just the first season
- 24: two season was enough, after that it was just repetition of the same thing.
One show that had a great final season is SPARTACUS, though it was just three seasons.
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Fringe Season 3 was some of the best TV I ever saw, while Season 1 had me doubting the shows longevity a few times. So will disagree quite strongly with you there, the rest I can mostly agree to.
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The best examples of shows that started out good and then turned really bad are Alias, Prison Break and Heroes. I can't even order them, because they were all so terrible.
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Of course you're right on Dexter, never watched the others, and you are so right on 24. Another show that decided to take a long walk off a short pier.

Rescue Me was another, imo. What started out as a BRILLIANT first episode got SO bad so quickly (read giant soap opera) that in the finale, you just wished Tommy Gavin met a horrible end.
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Season 3 was the best season of Fringe IMO.
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Sorry, but I don´t agree. For me Fringe was best in season 1 and 2
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I seriously don't think I've even heard this opinion before. Fringe S1 and S2 were very good, but Fringe S3 was a masterpiece. And possibly some of the best TV I've ever seen.
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Parallel Universes? yes, interesting, and we could see some of the main actors/ actress showing a new side. But for what I like about Fringe, the first two seasons were best: the small individual cases, the fringe cases, the funny Walter, the tough Olivia. But most important the simple story and the direct guidelines. But I may be one of the few ones to have liked those two first seasons best, and I can understand why people like the more complex, two worlds story better.
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So if Lost's second season was one of the best, doesn't that fit exactly what I said?
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I think LOST first season was maybe the best first season in a TV show (though I liked a lot Six Feet Under and the recent Rectify´s first seasons). Though Lost was good in the second season with some new characters and The Others, I still think Lost first season was the best due to
- story was kept simple
- characters got time to grow and interact with each other, to mention some: Sawyer and Cate, Sayd, Lock, Jack, Sun, Jim.
- The Mistery of the Island was kept far and just enough close to intrigue
I could use the same points in my opinion to define what it made Breaking Bad such an explosive first season. Though BB is still good, and all seasons have been fine, none have that explosive punch of those first seven episodes.
But yes, I do agree with you that many shows do get better after second and third season. But some were best at their first and second. Then it went a bit downhill.
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Good show with bad enging is like having a delicious meal in a expensive restaurant and when you call the waiter to pay your bill, he comes while you are eating your last bite and farts in your face. No matter how good the meal was, the fart will leave biggest impression.
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I wouldn't say the final season of lost was bad but it was such a departure from the rest of the plot line that it felt out of place and thus didn't satisfy nor justify a proper ending .

I have the up most confidence that Breaking Bad will deliver. Most people expect Walter to die but if the writers decide to surprise us then I'm sure they've come up with something amazing. Breaking Bad is the only show I can remember that hasn't had a single bad episode.
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I would agree that the final season of LOST was weak but it didn't ruin the show for me. It still is my favorite show of all time! The people that thought the show was ruined by the ending obviously didn't understand what happened. They DID answer most of the major questions by the end, a lot of people didn't watch closely enough. Furthermore, LOST is a charcter-driven show! It's not about explaining the mysteries and answering questions, it's about the characters and the journey that we follow them on.
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I'm sorry, but I fail to accept the notion that Lost was not about the mysteries and answering questions. Now I loved the show, hated the ending and thus it has stained the show for me. Many of those who loved the ending seem to argue that the show was about its characters, and not the mystery, so we shouldn't focus on the fact that the mysteries were not explained. I disagree. What did everyone talk about between episodes? What were internet forums full of, especially between seasons? Theories and speculations relating to the mysteries of the show. Most fans cared more about what the island was about rather than if Kate would choose Jack or Sawyer. While I am not saying the show wasn't character driven, the driving force behind the show, and what got everyone talking, was the mystery. And the fact that most of the burning questions went unanswered, leaves many people disappointed. And it does tarnish the show. A bad episode means nothing in the overall scheme of things - every show has one - but an ending which fails to tie up most loose ends and doesn't explain most of what has gone on over the course of the whole six seasons of the show, does tarnish the show as a whole. It's like watching a murder mystery for six seasons and then never revealing whodunnit. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth and you can't help but feel cheated by the show.
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While I won't get into a pointless yay/nay discussion about Lost and its ending, this part always irks me:
"The people that thought the show was ruined by the ending obviously didn't understand what happened."
Just because someone doesn't share your taste doesn't mean they didn't "get" it. It's one of the most used postulates of pro Lost-ending fans (and other fans of other shows too for that matter) and quite frankly you can and should do better than that if you feel the need to justify or explain your reasons for liking the ending.
Phew semi rant over, sorry but as I said that phrase irks me :)
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Ok that's fair... I should've said "some people" or just left out that part entirely but I stand by everything else...
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So many great comments on here, great article.You can see how important an ending is to its audience by the response on here.

One point and show I would like to mention would be that the whole final season of a show is just as important as its final episode or final minutes. The Shield had a fantastic final season and also a highly memorable and satisfying finale which shouldn't be forgotten. I'd also mention the final season of Spartacus in the same breath, just brilliant.

Thanks guys.
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Well, now I'm really looking forward to watching the rest of The Shield. Just finished season 2 and bought all the other seasons the other day. As for Spartacus, I've got 3 episodes to go in the final season and I'm very disappointed. With Viva Bianca and Lucy Lawless gone, it's just not the same.
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It depends what the show is about. LOST is a horrendous example. It was a show propelled by mystery promising to reveal something mind blowing, so for the final episode not to address most of the mystery that had been building up for years is just piss poor planning by the writers. LOST can never be redeemed for me. Anyone can come up with years of highly random unexplicable mysteries if they never intend to explain how the hell they were pulled off.
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To be fair, they said for about two years that if you're watching the show for the mystery, you're going to be disappointed. I don't necessarily or fully disagree with you, but Cuse and Lindelof went out of their way to prepare you.
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which part of lost wasn't explained?
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I think Mr. Eko would be an example of what was unexplained. Along with Room 23. What exactly was the smoke? What would happen if the light on the island went out? (instead of the vague answer of everyone in the world losing that light) what would happen if the smoke monster/MIB left the Island? WHAT IS THE ENERGY? How does it make a person into a somewhat deity ala Mother, Jacob, Jack, Hurley? Was the mother the first protector of the Island? Was she born there? If not, how'd she get there and why? Was she a candidate? What was the Incident? What did the bomb actually do in 1977? We know it propelled them back into the future but what was left in 1977? How did Eloise know everything? We know they contacted her in the 1977 on the Island, was she still talking to Jacob and knew to send them all back WITH DEAD LOCKE!? Where did the statue come from?

Etc..

I was satisfied enough with how the Island half of the story ended, but the flash sideways was a HUGE let down for me.
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Yes there are many unanswered mysteries in lost but the ones you put forth are either already explained or not significant to the major plot of the show which IS explained. I'm not gonna venture in to a lengthy explanation because plenty of people already have and here is one that sums it up quite nicely: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HWECQa23Cs
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Believe me I was obsessed with lost I've seen lostpedia before. How the smoke came about was explained, yes. But WHAT it was, was not. Lets just agree to disagree. Unanswered mysteries DO cheapen the over all feel of the show, even the explained portions.
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First of all no it is not important because whether these mysteries are answered or not they don't change the outcome of the story that IS explained.
And second the smoke monster IS explained. You havent been paying enough attention to the show or taken the time to google your questions. Check out Lostpedia for most of your unanswered questions. http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Portal:Mysterious
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What the smoke is isn't important to the overall story? Or how the energy makes someone have powers? I mean listen I love the first five seasons and the end didn't ruin the whole show for me but it did make a joke out of the writers' intentions. They claimed science fiction yet it ended with fantasy magic and religion. It was ridiculous how it was handled.
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I love the fact that nobody has answered to your post with any explanations.
Most people think back to what they wanted to know and don't remember what wasn't answered.
It is the easiest thing to shoot out mysteries one after another with no intention of ever explaining them if you have a fanatic fan base that will justify anything.
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Look, I liked the Lost finale! Emotional closure was far more important after 6 years of watching than any plausible explanations as to why everything happened. And it became pretty evident by the 3rd or 4th season that there really wasn't any possible explanation that would satisfy our ridiculously heightened expectations. The mystery is always more fun than the reason behind it, and I'm ok with that.
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It wasn't emotional though, it was cheesy, contrived, and a disgustingly obvious cop-out. I wasn't sad that the show was ending (although I deeply wanted to be), I was frustrated and angry.
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I didn't think it was cheesy or contrived, though keep in mind it was the first show I ever really really loved and I'd spent 6 years of my life obsessively watching it and discussing every mysterious event at length with my friends at lunch. So I was more primed to accept cheesiness, I guess. Not that I admit it was cheesy!

...Also keep in mind I actually liked the epilogue to the Harry Potter series, for similar reasons. IT WASN'T CHEESY WE NEEEEEEDED IT!
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What was a cop-out about it?
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Glad I'm not the only one that will defend Lost 'till the end of my days.. Really geat article! Keep them coming!
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The end of lost DID ruin it. Now, it's hard to watch the early episodes and see that the things you found mysterious either had mundane or ridiculous explanations. And the very end? Well, they were all dead and they all went to heaven together? Ummm, That's not the end of a story. You can tack that rubbish onto the end of ANY story. Take Titanic, for example.
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that wasn't REALLY the end. that was more like an epilogue, no? the end was that jack and kate stopped the smoke monster, some of them left on the plane and jack saved the island. that's the real end.
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It's amazing how many people didn't get the end of this show. There's still a lot saying "they were dead the whole time" while it was only half of the 6th season, or in other words 1/12 of the show's actual screen time spend with that storyline.

Six Feet Under let their characters all die in an epilogue, too. And I'm pretty sure that there are many people liking that finale while flaming the LOST finale. So that can't be the reason.
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No. You can't just say that anyone not liking the ending must be too stupid to get it. That's the reasoning of Prometheus fanboys. That's to imply that anyone who sees it and gets it MUST like it, and that it's, therefore, a perfect story with no flaws.
They weren't really dead for any of the last season, either, except for the ridiculous flashes to the pointless weird limbo-type existence. Me, if I died in a plane-crash, I'd wanna just skip to my eternal afterlife and not have to hang around, not knowing I'm dead, while I wait for the other passengers to figure it out so we can go to a church and through the cheesy glowing doorway.
By the 5th season, I was wondering if the ending might be that they get off the island and discover they are all in a TV show, so they track down the writers and find them using a plot-wheel to write each characters life. It would certainly be a better ending. Hell, even the old, The-island-formed-over-an-ancient-crashed-alien-ship-and-the-damaged-engines-are-leaking-strange-energy-into-our-world ending would have been better. There were virtually no big reveals in the finale, either. We already knew all we were ever going to a few episodes before that.
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"No. You can't just say that anyone not liking the ending must be too stupid to get it."

I did not say that. I think you didn't get my post.
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And how about the 50+ unanswered questions?
Defend this show all you want, but to me the Lost ending was like a Sherlock Holmes book that went straight to the end without explaining how Holmes arrived at his conclusions.
If they had no intentions of revealing all the time filler mysteries they were throwing out all the time, then they should have gone another way. I am sure what really happened was they wrote themselves into a corner.
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Its always about the journey and not the destination for me. I'll defend LOST to the end of my days as well. It was an amalgamation of sci-fi and spirituality (or are they both the same and we haven't understood it yet!) from the first day. It may not have answered all its mysteries, but that's one of the things I love about it. Of all the shows I've seen; GOT, Lost, Firefly and Supernatural are the only ones I see myself revisiting in the future.
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I loved lost's ending,... I never expected to know the mysteries of the island and I thought it would underwhelm the whole bigger-that-us feel of the island and the plan for these people,...
so as far as endings go,... the most important factor for me is for the show to remain true to itself and not try to please people or explain everything,...
as for as Dexter,... that's a hard one for the writers,... Is giving dexter the happy ending morally correct ? how should they address deb-is-in-love-with-dexter issue without creeping everyone out? putting him in jail will just totally diminish his sort-of-hero complex,... and killing him off will be expected as hell,... decisions decisions ,...
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Perfect show with the best writing on tv: JUSTIFIED!!!! I hope they dont's screw up the final season.
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Hopefully, that shouldn't be for a while.
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It all depends on the show. Some shows (Like ATLA) only really depend on the last couple of episodes. Other shows (Like Breaking Bad) depend on the whole last season to make it worth it.
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FRINGE: I love Fringe, but the last season was a different show. I was actually a bit upset with Fringe's actual ending, the last two episodes of season 4. Remember how the main villain was killed in the finale? Or how they dumped the show's own rules of logic and pretended another villain's motive for destroying the world is to create a new world with dinosaurs? September trapped by a glyph? Not a good ending, not at all, but the previous seasons were good enough to render it Ok in my opinion.
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You forgot about season 5
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dinosaurs? did that happen? i totally forgot this already..
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Spoiler, don't read any further if you haven't watched it: Bell tries to destroy both universes in order to create his own new world. Right at the beginning of season 4's last episode we see him and Walter explore his vision in a virtual world, which includes dinosaur-like creatures wandering around :)
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LOST: I've never met a person in Europe that wouldn't hate on it's last season. Not only because of bad scripting, even worse storytelling and plot holes. Simply because a mystery show is supposed to at least attempt to answer it's mysteries. Numbers? Walt? Dharma Temple? Black man's goals? Now think of all the downright stupid explanations that were given: What is the island? Hint: It has a bloody CORK?? stopping the evil from floating into our world or some BS. The worst season of television ever.
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Agree, they were just creating mysteries to make the show interesting without even thinking for satisfying answers.
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Hi there, I'm from Europe and I didn't hate the last season of Lost.
(Admittedly I can't remember most of it, including Freckles' actual character name)
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Hi, I'm from the United States and I loved the final season of Lost. It's okay.
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Yeah, if those things didn't matter after all, what was the point of having them?
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