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This Sunday, the Waystar Royco saga hits its end point as Succession wraps up its fourth and final season, perhaps the most anticipated television farewell since Game of Thrones viewers watched Westeros achieve relative peace in 2019. Whether the final act of Jesse Armstrong’s zeitgeist-catching hit will go down in the HBO hall of fame, or the “um, what just happened” territory that befell Tony Soprano, will be seen (and debated) this Sunday night. But in the meantime, The Globe’s writers and editors got together to discuss some of their favourite, and most polarizing, series finales ever.

Ranking the fake films of Succession's Waystar Royco cinematic universe

Six Feet Under (2005)

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Lauren Ambrose, Peter Krause, Frances Conroy and Michael C. Hall on HBO's Six Feet Under.Larry Watson/HBO

If anyone knows that all good things must come to an end, it is the fans of Six Feet Under, a show about dying (but really about living.) The HBO funeral-home drama about the Fisher family aired its final episode, Everyone’s Waiting, on Aug. 12, 2005, after five seasons. Unlike the previous 62 episodes, the show did not begin with a death, but with a birth.

The elegant, therapeutic final scene flashes forward to happy moments and milestone events to come in the lives of the main characters – the wedding of Michael C. Hall’s David to Mathew St. Patrick’s Keith, for example – before the manner of all their deaths are tastefully revealed. The dialogue-free montage is set to the soft sounds of Sia’s Breathe Me.

The show which often confronted death with black comedy and regularly showed naked corpses on mortuary tables went out peacefully. Even Keith taking bullets during an armoured car robbery felt poignant. Heart strings are pulled shamelessly.

The family’s youngest child (the rebellious, artistic redhead Claire, memorably played by Lauren Ambrose) is leaving Los Angeles. Before she goes, she wants to snap a photo of the family. “You can’t take a picture of this,” her dead brother Nate tells her. “It’s already gone.” - Brad Wheeler

True Detective (but only Season 1) (2014)

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A scene from True Detective, season one, featuring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.HBO

With great respect to Mahershala Ali, and, uh, some respect to Colin Farrell – What happened to your shoes?! – the spirit of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective was functionally exhausted by the end of its first run. The time-hopping first season first exhibited enormous promise as two versions of Woody Harrelson’s dopey, aggressive detective Marty Hart and his hard-drinking partner Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, raced to solve a string of murders along the Louisiana coast over the course of two decades.

By the end of the penultimate episode, True Detective had reached a harried pitch, with the murderous villain’s identity finally revealed. Yet it had also become steeped in casual misogyny and plot devices that felt increasingly unimaginative; after seven episodes revelling far too much in the killing of women, it turned out the show’s Yellow King had been there all along, but his scars had been covered up with ... a beard. The finale presented viewers with neither a happy nor unhappy ending: the good guys unexpectedly survived, but the powerful people who enabled the Yellow King’s murderousness may or may not have remained at large.

After exhausting so much energy whipping up a massively engaging mythology, True Detective couldn’t stick the landing. Each season since has felt like a heavy-handed course correction. Issa López, Jodie Foster and Kali Reis may rescue the anthology series when they lead the fourth season later this year, in part because Pizzolatto’s role is significantly diminished. - Josh O’Kane

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

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A scene from Twin Peaks: The Return featuring Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee.Suzanne Tenner/Handout

The first early-nineties run of Twin Peaks managed to feel both nostalgic – for such a haunting show, it was laced with the motifs of fifties-style innocence – and positively forward-looking, setting the stage for decades of ambitious television to come. David Lynch’s original conclusion, in which a possessed Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) creepily calls out for his love interest Annie (Heather Graham) turned out to be a quarter-century-long tease. It held countless narrative opportunities for a potential third season.

When Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost brought Twin Peaks back in 2017, they took the Lynch-iest direction possible. And it was great! MacLachlan’s Cooper suddenly became three (four?) characters as the show expanded itself beyond the docile pines of the Pacific Northwest, as a series of humans and demons traversed the U.S. in a competition to either enable or defeat a great evil that was unleashed in the world.

Episodes 17 and 18 arrived on streaming services simultaneously. The first offered the closest thing that could be construed as a satisfactory ending, with Cooper seeming to reach back into the past and, maybe, reversing the series of events that led to the series-launching death of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Then Episode 18 completely erases that goodwill, taking Cooper on an American roadtrip that may or may not be our reality (as opposed to the show’s) and exclaiming, in one final gasp, “What year is this?!” One fan theory postulates that the final two episodes were meant to be watched simultaneously, but in the absence of multiple CraveTV logins, I’ll stay satisfied with the linear-watching approach. Twenty-five years and 18 episodes after the last cliffhanger, Lynch concluded the series with a bigger one. He decided to make art, not entertainment. - Josh O’Kane

The Sopranos (2007)

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Edie Falco portrays Carmela Soprano and James Gandolfini is Tony Soprano in a scene from one of the last episodes of the hit HBO dramatic series The Sopranos.Craig Blankenhorn/The Associated Press

Now 16 years removed from the moment that Tony Soprano stepped into Holsten’s ice cream parlour, the fate of everyone’s favourite HBO antihero has been debated and dissected for roughly twice as long as The Sopranos was even on the air. Is Tony dead? Is the Member’s Only jacket guy his killer? Has Meadow learned to parallel park yet? (On that last question, a 2002 Chevy Silverado Super Bowl ad, directed by Sopranos mastermind David Chase and considered “canon,” answers that question with a definitive: yes, finally.) In the pre-Twitter days, it is hard to overstate just how badly the cut-to-black ending went over with audiences – there’s an Orson Welles-ian War of the Worlds air to the situation, with HBO subscribers frantically calling their cable suppliers thinking that they lost their signal at the most important moment in television history. But I’ve learned to love the ending, as existentially loaded and ultimately satisfying as the entire series. To demand a definitive answer to Tony’s plight is to miss the point. As the family/Family man complains to Dr. Melfi in the very first episode, “I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.” Endings, they’re not easy to live through. - Barry Hertz

Lost (2004)

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A scene from the final episode of Lost featuring Matthew Fox.Handout

It started with an airliner, one of its wings ripped off, crashing onto a beach, leaving its passengers stranded on an island. With a budget of US$14-million, the pilot of Lost was one of the most expensive ever. Over six seasons, creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof flash-backed and then flash-forwarded through the lives of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Jin, Sun, Charlie and so many more, with avid fans discussing the polar bear, the Dharma Institute, the Smoke Monster, the Man in Black and all manner of other oddities dropped into each episode. None of it should have worked ­– and yet it did. The 2004 finale, aptly titled The End, was viewed by 13.5 million people and came in first in every time slot, boosting ABC to the highest-rated network on the night it aired. The episode also divided fans and started numerous debates online about what had actually happened to the characters. Had they been in Purgotary this whole time? Did their souls ever find peace? It was also one of the first internet-fuelled pop-cultural moments, uniting fans around the world. Ultimately, Lost will be remembered as a first in many respects, but especially for the way it explored our search for meaning. (Hint: it’s about people and connections.) It was also the first time I participated in a weekly fan recap and forum hosted by EW’s Jeff Jensen, who built and kept a community going from each what-the-heck moment to the next. - Judith Pereira

What I found through watching Lost

M*A*S*H (1983)

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Mike Farrell and Alan Alda in the hit TV show M*A*S*H.20th Century-Fox

It’s been more than 40 years, and this epic finale remains one of the most-watched episodes of television ever, with a whopping 106 million people tuning in for Goodbye, Farewell and Amen. Hawkeye, B.J., Margaret, Col. Potter and Klinger finally said goodbye to Korea and to all of us who’d followed them for 11 seasons (eight years longer than the Korean conflict itself). M*A*S*H was more than comedy, and it was lightyears ahead of its time, tacking issues such as racism, sexism, sexuality, PTSD and what happens during the fog of war. The finale – part of which revolved around wisecracking Hawkeye attending counselling to deal with the trauma of a harrowing bus ride with refugees – was heartbreaking, just as many M*A*S*H episodes could be. But it also contained moments of lightness, including Klinger’s decision to remain in Korea, and Hawkeye and Margaret’s long-awaited lip lock. And that was M*A*S*H’s greatness: an ensemble cast that was able to develop and ultimately conclude their stories in a way that left fans satisfied, if a little (okay, a lot) teary. - Judith Pereira

Mad Men (2015)

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John Slattery as Roger Sterling, Jon Hamm as Don Draper, Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell, Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris and Kevin Rahm as Ted Chaough, in a scene from the final season of Mad Men.The Associated Press

There was always something of a litmus-test element to Mad Men: whether or not you really fell in love with the show depended on your hunger for cynicism. The healthier your appetite, the deeper your affection for Don Draper. And in no episode was this more true than its (in this writer’s opinion) finale to end all finales, Person to Person. In it, our antihero is in the process of, well, a complete meltdown, having maybe quit his job, maybe abandoned his family, definitely abandoned his car, and decamped to a hippie commune in California. The beauty of the finale is not in how it tied up loose ends – which it did with all but its central character, with most of them getting a satisfying ending, if not a happy one (apologies to the Draper-Francis family) – but how it left Draper’s own trajectory open-ended.

Unless you’re a cynic. In Mad Men’s final scene, Draper is sitting cross-legged on a hilltop as a hirsute hippie leads him and a group of flower children in guided meditation. “A new day,” the hippie suggests. “New ideas. A new you.” Draper closes his eyes, the camera pans in, and, as a smile of complete peace spreads across his face, a song begins: I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke. And the full ad plays. And that’s how it ends!

It was an absolute masterstroke from writer Matt Weiner – Draper had been working for ad firm McCann Erikson, the real-world counterpart of which did in fact come up with Coca-Cola’s famous 1971 Hilltop ad. And he’d been hotly pursuing Coke as a client for nearly the entire series. The timing lines up – Mad Men so deftly wove real-world history into its narrative throughout its run – but so did the character trajectory. Here was Draper, not actually finding a new purpose, a new mantra, a new him. He was embedded, researching, stealing new ideas, to make new money. You can change your circumstances, Weiner seemed to be saying, but wherever you go, there you – in all your genius, in all your self-interest, in all your cynicism – are. It was a series conclusion that looked and sounded joyful, but was, just barely below the surface, utterly, unflinchingly, crushingly bleak. Like the perfect ad. - Rebecca Tucker

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2003)

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Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) kisses Angel (David Boreanaz) during the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.Handout

Watching television was a very different experience in 1997, when Buffy made its debut. Once a week, I’d adjust the rabbit ears on my ancient TV and switch the dial to the WB. I was hooked, and I remained so for all 144 episodes, which I have watched and rewatched (and, ahem, watched again) over the 20 years since its finale, in May, 2003. Buffy was campy and hilarious, but it was also painfully smart, with the horrors unleashed from the Hellmouth a metaphor for the horrors of growing up. And Chosen remains a perfect ending to a transformative show. There are battles and explosions and twists galore, plus the show’s signature banter between the core four, Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles; a final (or was it?) kiss with Buffy’s forbidden first love, Angel; a heartfelt parting with baddie-turned-champion Spike; and a hundred other dangling loose ends tied up tight. But most of all, Chosen is about the wonder of having a million potential futures to contemplate. In the episode’s final moments, as the survivors survey the crater that was once Sunnydale, Buffy’s baby sister, Dawn, asks: “What are we gonna do now?” And Buffy just smiles – because the possibilities for her, and for all of us being thrust suddenly into adulthood, are endless. - Dawn Calleja

Sex and The City (2004)

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Sarah Jessica Parker, one of the stars of the HBO's Sex and the City, in the next to last episode of the series.HO/HBO via Reuters

Before the films made it embarrassing to like Sex and the City, oh how I loved it. A Carrie with Miranda tendencies, I couldn’t relate to the fashions or the lifestyle. What really resonated was the central role that friendships played in these women’s lives, even as romantic partners came and went (in one case, with only a Post-It note for a goodbye).

The end of the show was not simply a TV event for me; it felt like something that was happening to me. The series finale, An American Girl in Paris, aired in two parts (Part Une and Part Deux). It saw Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) leave New York to be with The Russian, Aleksandr Petrovksy (Mikhail Baryshnikov) in Paris, where he was opening an art show.

I was a puddle during Carrie’s final New York dinner with Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kirstin Davis). “Today I had a thought,” Carrie says. “What if I had never met you?” With Carrie the glue in the foursome, what would become of these friendships after her bon voyage? But ah, the voyage turns out not to be so bon. In Paris, Carrie sees Petrovsky for what he is: a selfish narcissist who will never put her first. Without bothering to say goodbye, she leaves his exhibit to belatedly join a group of fans at a restaurant. But she is too late. They have left, and left her book behind on the table, stained.

Then, Big shows up. Carrie’s big love, off and on, since Season 1.

Amplify: Sex and the City was always flawed - but it still gets female friendship right

I would have preferred to see Carrie leave The Russian and Paris on her own, to continue her life in New York (or wherever) with new adventures we viewers would only be able to imagine. Carrie didn’t need a Prince Charming to rescue her. The episode’s final scene sees Carrie disappear into the show’s other main character, New York. And, nice touch, reveals Big’s real name, thanks to Carrie’s flip phone.

That finale aired nearly 20 (gulp) years ago. I still at times listen to MC Solaar’s La Belle et le Bad Boy, the song that played in the pivotal scene when Carrie leaves Petrovksy at the gallery. The song reminds me of that time of life when SATC was a revelation and such good company; a time of life when we could make mistakes and know that our girlfriends were just a phone call away to help fix them. Or just listen. Marsha Lederman

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