Several episodes on this list are finales, either of seasons or of series. Never bothered to do an official count, might later, but it’s a bunch. It’s pretty natural for that to be the case, too, because a finale is supposed to be the culmination of the audience’s investment in the show. We’ve seen the story arc, we’ve felt the rising emotions, and we’re going to enjoy the hell out of the peak. While it’s better if you’ve enjoyed the journey, sometimes a strong climax can even make up for a mediocre build-up.
Nothing about the prior sentence was meant to be sexual in any way, and I resent any attempt to make it so. Of all the finales on this list, however, this one has the most absurdly strong climax that doesn’t rely on a subversion or a loss.
To those who would point out that Scrubs had another season after this, I say “It was called Med School, was clearly a spin-off, and you smell bad.”
Scrubs was a comedy-drama set at a hospital. The show’s usual narrator is John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff), who the audience has followed from being a medical intern up until the current episode where he is an attending physician in internal medicine and leaving the hospital to be the residency director at another hospital. J.D.’s most notable quality is that he is prone to daydreams, which are usually shown to the audience as short surreal cut-away sequences. While brilliant at medicine, he is also painfully immature through most of the series, until finally he resolves to change and become an adult throughout the season leading up to this, including taking a new job to be near his son.
J.D.’s best friend is surgeon Chris Turk (Donald “I deserve more work” Faison), with whom he shares an openly near-romantic bro-lationship. Turk is married to Carla (Judy Reyes), a Dominican nurse whose experience and knowledge often conflicts with the fact that most of the doctors in the hospital tend to dismiss her opinions for being a nurse. Carla’s best friend is J.D.’s love interest, and by this episode girlfriend, Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), a brilliant WASP-y doctor who also has issues with adulthood. The Hospital, Sacred Heart, was, for most of the series, run by Dr. Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), a stereotypical bureaucrat who later left his position and became much more normal and relaxed as a retiree. His replacement is J.D.’s mentor Dr. Percival Ulysses “Perry” Cox (John “You should be watching Stan Against Evil” McGinley), who is aptly described as “House without the limp.” Rounding out the regular cast is the unnamed Janitor (Neil Flynn), who basically does whatever he wants at any time, which is usually to torment J.D., and might be the most intelligent person in the hospital, despite likely also being insane.
As this episode starts, it’s J.D.’s last day at work, and he attempts to get a grand apotheosis from all of the other characters. Dr. Kelso announces that he’s decided to resume being a doctor because he actually does like helping people, and will also be leaving Sacred Heart to do so. Kelso tells J.D. that nobody tends to make a big deal about it when someone leaves the hospital, but does offer him a handshake and best wishes. Dr. Cox, similarly, tells J.D. that it isn’t significant that he’s leaving, and refuses to show any sentiment or emotion about it. J.D. is disappointed, but acknowledges that this is just who Dr. Cox is, and that he is still a great teacher. Carla and J.D. share a moment reflecting on their friendship and their mutual love of Turk, before admitting how much they’ll miss seeing each other every day.
J.D. is confronted by the Janitor about an incident from J.D.’s first day at work in the Pilot, and J.D. finally admits that he did, in fact, stick a penny in the door of the hospital by accident. The Janitor reveals that he saw it, and it wasn’t the penny that led to him tormenting J.D., it was the fact that J.D. lied about it. The two finally share a small emotional moment as the Janitor finally tells J.D. his name.
Elliot tells J.D. that she is moving in with him, finally cementing their couple status in the show. Turk keeps trying to find grand gestures to celebrate J.D., but, ultimately, they just share a hug and acknowledge that, even apart, they’ll always be best friends.
J.D. then “tricks” Dr. Cox into telling an intern what he really thinks of J.D., namely that he was the best doctor that ever came through the hospital, that he was the most caring and brilliant doctor and human being that he knows, and that Dr. Cox will always consider him a friend. Now, technically, this happens with J.D. hiding behind Dr. Cox’s back, but Dr. Cox throughout the series has been acknowledged to have the uncanny ability to always know who is standing behind him, so, to the audience, this is a direct confession.
At this point, we watch J.D. as he delivers his final monologue, and it is one of best, and maybe even the best, in the show’s run. J.D. remarks at how, despite maybe not getting everything he wanted out of the day, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if we’re all really the most important thing in other people’s lives. We should just cherish the times when we are able to make another person feel even a little bit better, whether they appreciate it or not. And, as he reflects on this, he thinks of all the people he’s shared experiences with, and, as he does so, he rounds a corner and dozens of people who have been on the show all appear in the hallway, reprising their characters. As J.D. literally walks out of the building surrounded and heralded by the past people that, for better or worse, he’s shared pieces of his life with, he finally exits the building, speculating upon the future. And that’s where the show does something that is incredibly difficult to pull off: It shows us the happy ending, and it doesn’t seem cheesy.
J.D. stands in front of a banner wishing him farewell, and an old projection plays upon it like a home movie, while Peter Gabriel sings “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields. The projection is of J.D.’s hopes for the future: Marrying Elliot, having a child with her, holidays with Turk, Carla, and Dr. Cox’s family, his son marrying Turk’s daughter. And, rather than just ending with these projections, we’re instead shown images of the characters just hugging each other, maintaining their love and friendship long after the show is over. As J.D. finally walks off-screen, he remarks that his fantasies may come true “just this once.”
This episode is everything the show built to. It’s the culmination of every relationship and friendship that has been won through the dramatic losses and victories that the characters have shared. This show left nothing behind, and gave everyone the emotional moment they deserved. More than that, it showed the audience that everything paid off. We spent time with these people. We invested ourselves in these characters. Despite the fact that they’re fictional, we have a real connection that manages to make us feel something outside ourselves, and maybe that will even make us more willing to be happier with the connections we make in real life. That’s what makes a dream, or a show, worthwhile: When the fantasy can make your reality better.
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Here are two videos that make up the ending, one of the past, one of the future: