This Was Television Asked & Answered: What’s the first influential season finale you remember?

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Appearing on Fridays, This Was Television Asked & Answered  is a chance for the writers of TWTV to answer questions about TV history. Questions can range from the personal to the critical about historical television. Asked & Answered has been on hiatus for a while, but we thought we’d bring it back for the warm summer Fridays.

While we came up the question for this installment, we’d love for you, our readers, to submit questions for us to answer in the future. Feel free to leave them in the comments, tweet them to usask on Facebook, or email them to us. 

The question this week is: What is the first season finale that you remember having a major impact on you as a viewer?
(Note: spoilers to follow.)

Andy: Assuming we’re excluding series finales from consideration (because it would be hard to measure up to, say, Cheers or Newhart), it probably took a good long ways into my viewing history to really be affected by a season finale. “The Pilot” and “The Opposite” are two of Seinfeld‘s best episodes that just happen to be season cappers, so I’m not sure those count. Every season finale of NewsRadio carried the weight of possibly being the last new episode we’d ever get. But in terms of a season-long arc ending on a note that hit me emotionally and made me long for the next year, my mind goes back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s two-part “Becoming” to close the second season. The back half of that season is where that show made The Leap, and the final minutes socked me in the gut. Luckily, I came to Buffy late and caught up on the first four seasons in repeats, so I didn’t have to wait more than a day for season three’s premiere “Anne” to continue to the story.

Battlestar Galactica, "Kobol's Last Gleaming"Greg: This is an easy one for me: the season one finale of Battlestar Galactica (the remake). While not without a few stumbles, BSG still stands as one of the all-time great serialized dramas, and it was the first serious television drama that I watched from beginning to end. And let me tell you, I was glad I was watching it on DVD, because when a certain person did something (I’m keeping this vague for those who haven’t seen the show) at the very end, I was stunned. It was my first introduction to the power of the cliffhanger, a device I don’t always like (I prefer the Whedon and Simon approach of generally resolving things in season finales) but one that can be very effective if used well and pretty much cemented my love for the show, and for television in general.

Whitney: My answer to this could probably be any of a handful of season finales from the late-90’s/early-00’s. Some of the first cliffhangers I remember were definitely from CSI and other procedurals of that ilk. The first one that for sure had a major impact on me though was the season three finale of Charmed “All Hell Breaks Lo0se”, and it was for a different reason than being an emotional and high-stakes episode of television. This was the first finale I can remember where my knowledge of how the business of television worked had an impact on my understanding of an episode. It had been widely reported that Shannon Doherty would be leaving the show after the third season due to drama behind the scenes and everyone’s ongoing displeasure with working with her. At that point in the TV season the only suspense left for an aware viewer was how they would write her out of the show. As the camera panned away from the sisters’ house and a shot of them all injured on the living room floor, it was pretty obvious who would get sacrificed to that specific demon. For me, it was the first season finale where a major cliffhanger wasn’t a cliffhanger at all.

Julie: Before the season three finale of Friends, I made it a point, out of principle, never to watch season finales. That’s not true. It’s just that I don’t remember watching any season finales before that one, or at least I don’t remember them registering as season finales. “The One at the Beach,” however, did have an impact on me, and that was probably due to the dreaded (dun-duh) cliffhanger. I was too young to care about who shot J.R. or who did that thing one time to whomever on Melrose Place, so this Friends episode (where we were left wondering whose room Ross was entering for presumed sexy times) is one of my earliest memories of having to survive through an entire summer before getting my questions answered. And back in those dark days, the mid-to-late ’90s, you couldn’t just go on the internet and talk to other nerds about your TV obsessions. I mean, maybe you could, but my family didn’t get the internet until two months after this episode aired, and by then I had already moved on to Lilith Fair and college.

Full House, "The House Meets The Mouse"Andrew: I’m a 25-year-old straight male, and so when I say one of my dreams was to be “princess for a day,” you should know it has a very particular meaning. The first season finale I distinctly remember is “The House Meets the Mouse,” the sixth season finale of Full House. Now an admission—I had to check before writing this to make sure it actually was a season finale. After all, I was only five years old when it aired; there was probably a rerun on the next week that my parents stuck me down in front of and it was all the same to me. But the Tanner/Katsopolis/Gladstone/Gibbler trip to Disney World was, in fact, the season conclusion, and it hit many standard finale notes. Danny proposes in fireworks over Magic Kingdom while Jesse’s band plays a classic Disney song. In fact, this episode shares many beats with Full House‘s own series finale, including a D.J. and Steve reunion (here including a meta joke I would not get for several years with Steve Weinger dressed as Aladdin, who he voiced in the 1992 film)  and Michelle returning to her family after being lost (here literally, in the series finale metaphorically).  Full House is one of the first primetime series I remember watching growing up, and this episode is probably the one that sparks the greatest memory in my mind. Plus what kid doesn’t want to go to Disney World?

Kerensa: When I was in seventh grade the show I could never miss was Sailor Moon. I was THAT Sailor Moon fan—I had t-shirts, took online quizzes, talked about the show on message boards. When that last episode of season one, “Day of Destiny,” aired on USA, I was in complete anxiety mode. The Sailor Scouts have to go to kill Queen Beryl. One by one the Sailor Scouts are destroyed until just Sailor Moon is left standing to fight the battle on her own. And her love Tuxedo Mask is under Beryl’s spell. Basically everything looked dire. She kicks ass for her friends, love, the world and herself. In typical cartoon fashion, Beryl is destroyed but all the Scouts’ memories of each other are erased. I was destroyed. I had never been so emotionally invested in a show before so I just remember crying a bunch, lamenting that they couldn’t remember each other.  USA never aired the second season. My seventh grade budget didn’t allow for the purchase of the entire subtitled series, so I never saw much more of Sailor Moon but it did cement my over-emotional investment in television for the future.

Sabienna: I know that I saw my share of season finales prior to Lost‘s season one three-hour capper “Exodus,” but that’s the one that immediately sprung to mind when I read the question. As a television viewer, nothing that came before and very little that wasn’t also Lost that came after left my mind as thoroughly blown as that episode did. The trekking, the Arzt explosion, “we’re gonna have to take the boy,” that accursed pan down the hatch only to smash to black before anything was revealed—it is insane how thrilling and infuriating those three hours were. I don’t recall anything I did that summer besides drive everyone else around me crazy with my theorizing, which is another reason why this episode was so significant: it drove me to the internet to find people who would discuss Lost with me in a meaningful way. The fate of Walt and the mystery of just what was at the bottom of the hatch were so tantalizing that they pushed me to go from being a passive TV junkie to a TV junkie who wanted to engage with a series at every level from the insider business news to the fan theories. After that, there was no turning back.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Becoming"Emma: Like Andy I’m going to have to go with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two finale, but unlike Andy I had to wait the whole summer to find out whether Angel was really dead. Buffy and Angel are probably the first couple that I truly shipped and if Tumblr had been around back then it would be all about the Buffy and Angel gifs. I remember the second half of season two feeling like torture after Angel lost his soul and tormented Buffy and while I now understand that it made the show better, at the time I was mad as hell that they had torn my favorite couple apart. The closing moments of this finale where Angel gets his soul back only to be sent to hell were pretty brutal and I’m sure it’s why I had a long standing dislike of Xander for not telling Buffy about Willow’s plan. This was the first Buffy finale to make me teary but it certainly wasn’t the last.

Cory: I probably didn’t think of the episode as a season finale, or even understand the concept of a season finale, but I very much remember watching the end of Boy Meets World‘s third season, “Brother Brother.” The penultimate episode is the more memorable and famous effort, where Cory and Topanga have that epic kiss in front of the fountain at Disney, but the finale features a really great story about Cory and Eric’s brotherly bond once Eric discovers that he didn’t get into college. Eric grew to be much more of a comedic tool (in very sense of the word) in later seasons, but at this point, he still had a certain level of realistic humanity that made his struggles with the college news quite compelling. The episode also puts a nice little button on the Cory and Topanga story for the summer and doesn’t really provide much of a cliffhanger, yet I remember wanting to know where Cory and Eric actually traveled, and how terrible the results probably were (I’d be proven right by the season four premiere, where Eric decides to stay in a small town because there’s little left for him at home).

The Sopranos, "Funhouse"Les: I watched a lot of shows growing up, but I never really paid attention to season finales—or structured seasons of TV as a whole—until The Sopranos. While we didn’t get HBO until midway through the series run, my mom, brother and I made a routine of checking out tapes with individual episodes, a measured approach that allowed us time to digest between the episodes, and to discuss and dissect them for a couple of days afterward. The first season finale “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano” is solid, but the second season finale, “Funhouse” is the one that really stuck with me and elevated the show into better than great territory. Following up on “The Knight in White Satin Armor”—still my pick for one of the most shocking moments in TV I’ve seen—”Funhouse” kept the momentum going by resolving the matter of Big Pussy Bonpensiero’s informant status, a painful experience to watch as the conversation between Tony, Pussy, Paulie and Silvio on the boat spirals to what needs to be done. The episode also expands on the show’s existentialist and surrealist penchant through Tony’s food poisoning-induced fever dreams, particularly the memorable shot of Tony speaking to the fish head with Pussy’s face to come to terms with the truth. And then there’s the gorgeous closing montage of the Soprano friends and family celebrating Meadow’s graduation interspersed with the various criminal endeavors of the family, set to the Rolling Stones’ “Thru and Thru,” ending with Tony smoking his cigar as the waves crash on the Jersey shore.

J.: When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came to the end of its third year, it did so having attempted something no Trek series had seriously attempted before: a full-fledged dramatic arc that ran the length of the season. With that in mind, I went in to the season finale, “The Adversary,” knowing everything had to come to a head. And it certainly did so, but not at all in the way I expected. Rather than a big, loud climax, “The Adversary” is quiet, tense, and claustrophobic, trapping all the characters on the tiny battleship Defiant as an evil shapeshifter stalks them in the guise of an ally. And while most other Trek shows used nail biting cliffhangers to end their seasons, “The Adversary” ends on a much grander note, throwing one of the main characters into a devastating personal crisis (in the process paying off a setup from back in the season premiere) and closing with a final revelation that rocks the show’s universe to its core. The haunted look on Sisko’s face as Odo shares with him the evil changeling’s dying warning — “You’re too late, we are everywhere.” — stayed with me all through the summer.

Cameron: Given that Boy Meets World is a show I watched weekly for most of my pre-pubescent years, it should come as no surprise that the series finale (the earliest that I can ever remember watching) left an impact on me. In particular, there’s the outstanding final scene with Cory, Shawn, Topanga, and Eric in the middle school classroom from the show’s first season that breaks my heart every time I see it. It was also, I think, the first time that I truly understood the emotional power of following a set of characters over a long period of time, something that BMW in particular was very good at focusing on over the years. One more time now, with feeling: “Class dismissed.”

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3 Responses to “This Was Television Asked & Answered: What’s the first influential season finale you remember?”

  1. Marty McKee

    “Who Shot J.R.?” for sure. Certainly the most influential finale ever, because it “invented” the season-ending cliffhanger. None of the finales you mention would even exist without it. And it was HUUUUGGEE! All summer, you couldn’t go anywhere without people talking about it. Magazine covers, everything. Buzz about it was ARRESTED-DEVELOPMENT-on-Netflix Times 1000, that’s how big it was. And what was really beautiful was that they didn’t resolve the cliffhanger in the season opener. Several weeks went by, leaving 50 million people on the edge of their seats, waiting to find out who shot J.R. Vegas took bets. Hell, I didn’t even watch DALLAS regularly, but I sure tuned in to find out who the culprit was!

    Reply
  2. Diane Jackson

    I’m 62 years old, a lot older than you folks and I watched most of the older shows when they were new. Way before the internet. I had to think about this for a while, and since you eliminated series finales from the mix (M.A.S.H. anyone? That one shook me pretty hard) I have to agree with Sabienna and say the season finale of Lost she refers to was a big one for me. I came late to Lost. At first I thought it was just another stupid reality show, like Survivor, so I didn’t watch it. Then my daughter (who was living in another state) told me I’d love it, so I went and rented the entire first season, one episode at a time from a now defunct Hollywood Video, and I gorged on them. I was hooked. And I mean hooked (“so it’s 2 AM and I have to be at work at 8, I can watch one more”). I found countless Lost fan forums where I joined the discussions about what lurked at the bottom of the hatch. When the series resumed in the fall, I couldn’t make sense of some guy running around cooking breakfast. Now I own all six seasons and I never tire of watching episodes from my DVDs. I’ve never been so involved in a TV series. I keep wishing and hoping another show will come along that will invest me in it like that one did.

    Reply
  3. Clockwork

    As an English teenager I’m going to have to say the re-vamped Doctor Who, and whilst I remember watching the Ecclestone series (which I recently re-watched and completely fell in love with, tearing up at ‘The Parting Of The Ways’), it was Ten and Rose’s exchange at Bad Wolf Bay in the series two finale ‘Doomsday’ (i.e. wherein The Doctor doesn’t even get to say “I love you”) was the first finale to make me ball my eyes out, and to cause a repeat performance with every re-watch. Barring that, House has some damn good ones (series four, ‘Wilson’s Heart’ for example) and at risk of sounding like a parrot, Buffy’s finales were often epic (‘Becoming part 2′, and ‘Homecoming part 2′ being the best but there was never a bad one, really). There was also one episode of Heroes I watched when i was too young to, ended with Hiro Nakumora atop a tower and his powers malfunctioning before the programme promptly ended causing (according to my Mum) me to drop to my knees and scream “Nooooo!”. So, to sum up, I’m a sucker for a good finale. (‘Sherlock’ anyone? My friend cried)

    Reply

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