A TV series finale is a hard thing to pull off. Viewers spend multiple seasons getting to know the characters and investing in their lives, which means there’s a lot of pressure to give fans a satisfying ending that, in many cases, they’ve spent years waiting to see unfold. This is particularly tricky for sci-fi and mystery shows, which have to have the story mapped out firmly from the beginning in order to make sure any big questions are sensibly answered in the end. The precarious nature of the TV industry also adds a layer of challenge; though creative teams may (and should) have a long-term plan for the story, writers often don’t know if or when their shows might be suddenly canceled and have little control over what loose threads are left hanging in the event that it happens.
Sometimes it works out: The Wire, The Americans, and Schitt’s Creek are among the shows that have been consistently praised for tying up their stories perfectly. Other times, it’s more divisive. Whether because they left plot lines unresolved, included a perplexing twist, or just felt tonally off, these are the 38 TV series finales that have left viewers most confused.
Ah, the sudden cut-to-black heard 'round the world. At the end of The Sopranos’ series finale, mob boss Tony and his family are sitting at a diner and listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” while they wait for his daughter to arrive. Tony notices a man looking around the diner — hinting he’s about to get offed — but the scene suddenly ends before we see what happens. Does it mean Tony will always be paranoid, or did he actually die in the end? Creator David Chase has waffled on the subject, claiming the scene is really about how he “could have been whacked,” and it’s up to interpretation.
After years of marital affairs, drinking, and running from his past, advertising exec Don Draper finally finds peace at the end of Mad Men. Or does he? The final moments show Don meditating at a retreat in California, implying that he’s finally left his job and divorced himself from capitalistic pursuits. But then the episode cuts to a 1971 Coca-Cola “Hilltop” commercial. Did Don Draper return to McCann-Erickson and create the iconic ad? Or is this simply meant to suggest that he embraced the “perfect harmony” the performers sing about?
“I have never been clear, and I have always been able to live with ambiguities,” creator Matthew Weiner told The Hollywood Reporter. “In the abstract, I did think, why not end this show with the greatest commercial ever made?”
How I Met Your Mother
The ending of How I Met Your Mother was sort of a cop out, leaving many fans confused as to why its big twist needed to happen. For nine years, a future Ted (voiced by Bob Saget) narrated to his kids how he, well, met their mother. The unique framework made it a very popular show, and in Season 9 they finally introduced “Mother,” played by Cristin Milioti. Ted and Mother seemed perfect for each other, but then the series revealed that just four years after their marriage, she died. Instead of focusing on the woman in the title of the show, How I Met Your Mother ended where it began: with Ted pursuing Robin, his ex he had a frankly unhealthy obsession with. Fans were so upset that the creators later released an alternate ending.
The closing narration of Pushing Daisies neatly wrapped up some loose ends in a general sense, but there are still many unanswered questions about Ned's ability to raise the dead, and what happened after the revived Chuck — the love of Ned’s life — revealed herself to her aunts. The show was sadly canceled in its second season amidst the writers strike in 2008, but creator Bryan Fuller told SyfyWire that he imagined that Chuck and Ned would stay together for a long time.
"One of the things that people ask is how do you wrap up the Chuck and Ned story, and for me, there was one ending, and that ending was decades later, and I couldn't really quite rush their story to any sort of conclusion," Fuller said. "Even if I knew that the series was coming to an end when we were doing the last episode, I don't know if I would have been able to end the Chuck and Ned story because, for me, that's the relationship that goes on and that you fight for."
How old is Kenneth? Was this whole show technically taking place in the past? For a series about a group of writers, comedians, and actors who star on a live sketch show, it’s perhaps unsurprising that 30 Rock ended up being partly meta. The final scene seems to take place several generations in the future, when Liz Lemon’s granddaughter is all grown up and pitching a show about Liz and her friends to the head of the network: Kenneth, who used to be the intern and is somehow still alive. The implication that Kenneth is immortal (or a vampire?) left many viewers feeling confused, as the rest of the show didn’t deal with the paranormal.
Did you expect the ending of this show to not be confusing? The cult series begins with FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper investigating the demise of student Laura Palmer, but quickly devolves into strange horror. The final sequence of the show takes place in the Black Lodge, an inescapable funhouse full of blank-eyed dopplegangers of the Twin Peaks characters. In the end, Cooper is possessed by the very person he traveled to Twin Peaks to stop. After the finale aired in 1991, GQ described it as “a surreal, undiluted nightmare better suited for an arthouse theater than ABC on a Monday evening.”
“It made a mockery of the television audience when you think about it,” ABC programming director Philip Segan said in Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, per GQ. “There was a part of me and part of the network that felt betrayed and felt this wonderful opportunity to keep something brilliant alive had just been destroyed by its creators."
Parks & Recreation
Throughout this beloved comedy series, Leslie grew from a passionate and tireless employee of Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation division to a high-ranking official. In the final scenes, we learn that Leslie became Indiana’s governor for two terms starting in 2025. Then the timeline jumps to 2048, where we see Leslie and her husband Ben attend the funeral of their former coworker Jerry. They’re approached by Secret Service agents, implying that either Ben or Leslie is the President or the Vice President of the United States. Creator Mike Schur told Variety they were “intentionally ambiguous” about the ending.
This is the show that essentially inspired every Lost fan theory and implied that an entire universe of TV series take place in a snow globe. One of the most critically acclaimed dramas in the 1980s, it was a pretty standard hospital drama until its wild ending. In the final moments, Dr. Westphall and his autistic son Tommy watch the snow fall from a window in Dr. Auschlander’s office. The scene then cuts to an exterior shot of their St. Eligius hospital, which is revealed to be inside a snow globe that Tommy is holding. Westphall, wearing a construction uniform, walks in and tells his dad, "I don't understand this autism thing, Pop.” Turns out the whole show was just Tommy imagining his father and grandfather as doctors the whole time.
Dexter was a crime procedural with a really intriguing premise: Dexter Morgan is a forensic expert by day and a vigilante by night. Many fans expected Dexter to either be arrested or to meet his demise in the end, which made the series finale all the more unusual. Feeling responsible for ending his sister’s life support, Dexter leaves his family and drives his boat out during a hurricane. But he was only faking his death, and he ends up moving to Oregon and starting a new life as a...lumberjack. The creators said that’s his “self-imposed prison,” but tonally it felt off from the rest of the show.
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life gave this beloved mother-dramedy a new ending (and raised its own questions), but the original Season 7 finale still feels like a major cliffhanger. In the original ending, Luke and Lorelai never get married, despite their relationship being teased throughout the entire series. Rory is also completely unaffected by the fact that Logan proposed to her and they simply broke up, and it’s never explained why she’s so ambivalent (though the popular theory, of course, is that it has to do with Jess.) It’s easy to see how the final season suffered following the exit of creators Amy and Dan Sherman-Palladino, who couldn’t come to an agreement with The CW to continue their contracts.
Long before Roseanne Barr became known for her racist tweets, her titular show made waves in the 1990s for exploring the lives of blue-collar Midwesterners with sensitivity and humor. But in the final season, there’s a shocking twist: Roseanne and her family win a $100 million lottery.
The final season struggled to explore what they would all do with the money, and then came the final surprise: the entire show, including its lottery twist, was just a fiction Roseanne wrote to escape from the harsh realities of her own life. She reveals that her husband is actually dead, and many of the character dynamics and arcs we saw play out were completely made up for her book.
The original Veronica Mars was suddenly canceled by The CW in its third season, leaving fans to wonder if her father ever became sheriff and if she ever got over her ex Logan. The show was then revived on Hulu in 2019, but that too left viewers without much closure. In the final moments of the revival, Veronica and Logan are finally back together and have tied the knot. But just as they’re about to depart on their honeymoon, Logan is killed by a bomb that was planted in their car. It’s a galling twist, as fans waited years to see Veronica and Logan get together, and at that point Veronica had already apprehended the bomber.
Series creator Rob Thomas admitted to IndieWire that he felt written into a corner with Logan still around, as “there aren’t many couples at the center of a [detective] show.”
The whole "North Carolina fronts the legal marijuana movement" plot in Weeds Season 8 is rather baffling, and the flash-forward finale is pretty depressing in many ways. While the final shot is lovely — showing all the main characters smoking together — it’s hard to understand how Shane ended up as an unhinged cop and why Doug is now leading a cult.
It’s unsurprising that one of the most mind-bending science fiction shows has a confusing ending. The original series aired in the 1990s and then returned in 2016 for two more seasons. The final season follows Mulder and Scully as they search for their son William, and it ends with Scully revealing that she is pregnant with Mulder’s baby. But this reveal happens after William has been shot and seemingly loses his life. Just as Scully says her being pregnant is “more than impossible,” William suddenly rises from the water. Gillian Anderson has said she’s done playing Scully, so we’ll likely never know what in the world that’s all about.
Dollhouse has two series finales, weirdly enough. The futuristic Season 1 finale "Epitaph One" was written when it looked like the show would be canceled. When it was renewed for Season 2 and then canceled again, "Epitaph Two" was written to further tie things up. That said, it never explains the twist with Boyd, and a lot of fates are left unknown. "Epitaph Two" is a beautiful, confusing end to an equally confusing series.
Jennifer Garner made a name for herself as Sydney Bristow, a super spy who worked as a double agent within the CIA to take down a mysterious organization. For a while it was a popular show, but ABC suddenly canceled Alias in 2005, leading to a pretty inconclusive ending. Sydney’s parents were suddenly gone, and the final season seemed to undermine the show’s ideals by turning Sydney into a doting housewife at the end. Also, is Sydney and Vaughn's daughter being groomed to be an agent?! Is she?!
Despite being a show that cynically deconstructed the love lives of young New York women, SATC turned out to be a cliché rom-com all along. After six seasons and countless love interests, Carrie reunited with Mr. Big in Paris, where he finally committed to being in a real relationship with her. Darren Star, who adapted the books the series is based on for TV, felt the ending “ultimately betrayed what [the story] was about, which was that women don’t ultimately find happiness from marriage … at the end, it became a conventional romantic comedy.”
Two and a Half Men
The troubled sitcom starring Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer, and Angus T. Jones confusingly ended with a fourth wall-breaking moment. As Charlie is about to walk through a door, a helicopter suddenly drops a piano on him. The camera then pulls back to reveal the series’ set and director Chuck Lorre in the director’s seat. He yells Charlie’s catchphrase just before a second piano then falls on him.
In 2014, Entertainment Weekly critic Melissa Maerz dubbed the True Blood finale “the most disappointing series finale I’ve seen in a long time.” The wild vampire saga ended on a pretty conservative note: Jessica and Hoyt got married, and Bill lectured Sookie about the importance of having children. But who is Sookie's husband, and how do they have all these friends?
This series finale made fan questioning the nature of reality and creation long before Westworld. The 2004 show revolved around the last humans trying to survive in outer space, and in the final season, they settle down. That’s all well and good, but the series concludes with a very wild and religious ending. Though Kara “Starbuck” Thrace dies early in the season, she suddenly and mysteriously comes back to lead the humans to a habitable planet, which they call Earth. The humans abandon their technology, and it’s revealed that Starbuck is actually an angel sent to help humans, and the Earth we’re seeing is our own Earth 150,000 years in the past.
AMC’s Breaking Bad made Bryan Cranston a household name as Walter White. In the final moments, Walter frees Jesse from captivity, says goodbye to his family, and finally dies on his own terms before he can be captured. Nonetheless, plenty of fan theories have sprouted up since the finale aired. Were the events of the show real, or did it all happen in Walter’s mind? Does Walter find redemption in the end?
The Good Wife
The Good Wife ends where it began: with a slap. At the start, Alicia slaps Peter, her State Attorney husband, for igniting a public scandal. The series finale closes with a similar scene, but with very different optics: former boss and mentor Diane slaps Alicia. In the end, Alicia goes from “someone who's been wronged to someone doing the wronging,” as Vox puts it. Many fans were surprised and upset about it, but producer Robert King argued to Variety that the twist is “more resonant in the rearview mirror.”
While most sitcoms have pretty wholesome and upbeat endings, the 1990s show Cheers had a pretty somber and ambiguous one. The show followed Cheers bar owner Sam, his employees, and a cast of regular bar patrons. In the final episode, the core cast sit at the bar and for a full 10 minutes talk about the meaning of life. When they all shuffle home, Sam is left alone in his bar. A shadow knocks on the door, but Sam says Cheers is closed. Who was the figure? And is the ending the show’s way of saying that the forever unlucky-in-love Sam has finally accepted that his job is all he has? Is it meant to be sad?
Freaks & Geeks
Lindsay becomes a Dead Head instead of attending college? Is there no end to her rebellious whims? Debuting in the fall of 1999, Paul Feig’s dramedy documented the sad and hilarious realities of being a teen. But the show was suddenly canceled after just 18 episodes, leaving it with a rather unresolved ending. “They show Lindsay traveling in the bus — I almost popped the tape out, because I thought I knew where they were going [to college] — and all of a sudden the bus goes by and the freaks are there in that van going to the Grateful Dead concert,” NBC West Coast president Scott Sassa told Vanity Fair. “And I thought, ‘That’s not how this thing should end.’”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It was a triumphant ending for Sunnydale, but a confusing ending for Spike, who responds to Buffy’s final confession of love with “No, you don't [love me], but thanks for saying it" before dying. And despite Buffy making a big deal out of questioning the men who turned the first young women into hunters, she essentially does the exact same thing to countless girls in the end. Is this time supposed to be different? And if so, why didn’t they activate more slayers earlier in the series?
The original Heroes was disrupted by the 2008 writer’s strike and canceled before its Season 4 finale, and the Heroes Reborn revival failed to capture the success of its predecessor. The original series ends with Claire jumping off a ferris wheel to reveal her healing powers to the world, but did she really create a “new world order?”
Viewers watched this show in the hopes of one day discovering the identity of Gossip Girl, a mysterious blogger who kept tabs on the rich and popular kids at a prestigious academy. But the reveal that Gossip Girl was actually Brooklyn outsider Dan Humphrey threw fans for a loop, considering that the blog had posted damning details about both his life and that of his loved ones — not to mention that there were many times blog blasts went out when Dan could not have logistically sent them. The creators of the show have said that Dan was not the intended Gossip Girl from the beginning, which explains why there were so many inconsistencies.
In the Seinfeld finale, the four friends almost die and then end up in jail after mocking the victim of a crime. But rather than show any remorse, the self-absorbed characters prove they’re incapable of growing. In prison, they have an argument about nothing important, mirroring how the show began. Fitting, perhaps, but frustrating to see that after nine seasons, they never changed.
This sitcom followed a middle class Black family and teenager Moesha, played by singer Brandy. Canceled after its sixth season, the final moments of the series show a positive pregnancy test being found in the trash at Moesha’s college dorm, but it’s never confirmed if it’s Moesha’s. Per Entertainment Weekly, the mystery was supposed to be resolved in a spinoff, but it never materialized.
Focusing on the story of Ginny, the first woman to pitch in the MLB, Pitch had a small but dedicated fanbase. Unfortunately, it was canceled after one season and ended on a major cliffhanger. In the final moments, Ginny enters an MRI machine after pitching a no-hitter and maybe injuring her elbow. We never find out if her career is over, and her relationship with Mike, the team’s catcher, was never resolved either.
Game of Thrones
When it comes to polarizing and disappointing endings, it’s impossible to avoid mentioning Game of Thrones. Why was the battle against the Night King so anticlimactic? Why did Daenerys suddenly turn into the Mad Queen, slaughtering thousands of people after the final battle had already been won? What was the point of Arya having Cersei at the top of her list if they were never going to fight? Perhaps unsurprisingly, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss admitted in 2019 that they had no experience showrunning before making the series and never really sat down to decide what parts of George R.R. Martin’s books were essential to adapt.
The Get Down
Netflix canceled this ‘70s hip-hop drama before it could even make it past its first season. While we know Zeke eventually finds success as a hip-hop artist because a future version of him narrates the show, it’s unclear if Mylene, Shaolin Fantastic, and the other Get Down Brothers ever make it big too.
Mixing cosmic horror and racial themes, Lovecraft Country was delightfully scary and unpredictable. But the HBO Max show was canceled after one season, leaving a number of confusing loose ends. In the finale, Leti mysteriously comes back to life after revealing she has an invulnerability spell, even though that was removed earlier by the very woman who ended her. Dee also somehow has a new pet Shoggoth, and we never confirm for sure if Ruby and Tic are actually dead.
In the final moments of Watchmen, Angela eats an egg and then heads to her swimming pool to see if she can walk on water. It’s a callback to an earlier scene, and the implication is that she now has Dr. Manhattan’s powers. Because the show was always meant to be a limited series, we’ll never know if Angela is the world’s new blue hero. We’ll also never find out if Lady Trieu would have actually destroyed the world, or how Americans would react to learning Adrian Veidt’s past crimes.
It’s mind boggling how this gothic show based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow wound up squandering all its goodwill. Initially following Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Lt. Abigail Mills (Nicole Beharie), the series boasted interesting demonic antagonists and cameos from actors like John Cho and Orlando Jones. But it soon shoved Abbie to the sidelines to focus on Ichabod and his wife, and Nicole Beharie left the show in 2016 due to an auto-immune disease. In the final moments of Season 4, Ichabod sells his soul to the Devil to obtain the Philosopher’s Stone. The show was canceled after that, so it’s unclear if Ichabod ever escapes his deal.
A sci-fi exploration of identity and human connection from The Matrix writers the Wachowski sisters, Sense8 was abruptly canceled after two seasons. Following outcry from fans, Netflix released a two-and-a-half-hour series finale in which the sensates regain their freedom and the BPO is changed for the better. But are they really safe in the end? We also never really learn what makes a person a sensate, and if there are any other clusters in hiding. Many of the characters’ individual plot lines were left open-ended as well.
At the core of this spy-comedy series was the romance between superspy Sarah and Chuck, an average tech nerd who accidentally gets embedded with the CIA’s greatest secrets. In the final episodes, Sarah is left with amnesia after a fight and is unable to remember Chuck, her now husband. Chuck brings up a theory that a kiss will bring back Sarah’s memories. But as they kiss, the scene fades to black, leaving viewers confused as to whether they got their happy ending. “The ending has a bit of magic to it,” series creators Chris Fedak and Josh Schwartz told TVLine. “People should believe in how they wanted it to end.”
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