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A few days ago, the popular How I Met Your Mother ended its nine-year run. Presumably the titular “I” met the titular “mother” (I never really watched the show). I was surfing some entertainment websites soon after the finale aired, and I discovered that it was met with an extreme negative reaction. I was surprised mostly because everything else I had previously read was pretty favorable towards the current season (and the show in general). Why the sudden distaste? I guess there are many reasons – none of which I am going to explore here since I didn’t follow the show.
However, after considering the reaction, I thought cropped into my mind: many popular shows have final episodes which are loathed by fans. The first time I remember noticing this was back during high school for the final episode of Seinfeld. Other notable examples I’ve come across have been for the finales of Star Trek: Voyager, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Smallville, Roseanne, The Sopranos, and Dexter. These are just a few – there are many others the people revile. Why was there such distaste? Now, I am not referring to the fringes of the internet where people just thrive off of hating things. This is just every day, water cooler talk.
I considered this for a bit. From the variety of hated final episodes that I have seen, I never thought that they were that bad. While some may not have been the greatest episode ever, it was hardly the worst one either. What is it about a final episode where people just don’t like what the show did?
I think one reason why people throw such vitriol towards final episodes have a lot to do with expectations. Like in How I Met You Mother, if the series had a continuous storyline with a somewhat vague endpoint in mind, viewers are going to leap to their own conclusions on how the story will eventually play out. When it goes in an unexpected direction, it throws viewers off and they become hostile towards it. It becomes a case of “it wasn’t what I thought would happen, so it sucks”. From what I read, How I Met Your Mother does that and somewhat casts the series in a completely different light because of it.
Personally, I think that is a bold move. Why play into expectations? Wouldn’t that make it boring and creatively weak? I’m not saying that shows need to do the opposite of what viewers think will happen. But they shouldn’t be beholden to it. Show runners need to do what they feel is best for their show. Did Tony Soprano need to be caught/killed? Absolutely not (and Soprano creator David Chase had a wonderful response to that). Did we need to see Clark Kent fly around as Superman? Nope, especially since the show’s producers said since day one that will never be seen (so that was a silly expectation to have to begin with).
This is a shame, because while it might not have ended the way a viewer might have expected/wanted, the ending could still be a completely valid way to conclude the show.
Of course, there are plenty of finales that people loved and are celebrated. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s final episode immediately comes to mind as does Breaking Bad. Then again, those were a bit more conventional, so perhaps that is why they went down better. In any event, this phenomenon of hating final episodes exists. How I Met Your Mother experienced it. It won’t be the first and it won’t be the last. I know expectations can play a big role in how one view’s a finale. Hopefully, TV viewers can put aside those expectations one day to enjoy a series finale on a more objective standpoint.