10 Shows That Nailed The Finale – Joker Op-Ed

How you start is important to getting popular, but how you finish is the key to being a legend. After all, who wants to sit through 75 hours of a show for a giant letdown? Here are ten series that managed to really stick the landing.

Runner-Up: My Finale (Scrubs)

The Show: John “J.D.” Dorian (Zach Braff) is a doctor at Sacred Heart Hospital with his best friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison), Turk’s wife Carla (Judy Reyes), his girlfriend and fellow doctor Elliot Reid (Sarah Chalke), his mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), the head of the hospital Bob Kelso (Ken Jenkins), and his nemesis the Janitor (Neil Flynn).

The Finale: Okay, this is only a runner-up because I am not willing to deal with people sending me messages that say “technically, the show had another season,” followed by me slapping my face in frustration and saying “Then why did they call it Scrubs: Med School? How come it changes location, most of the cast, and central character?” But, the DVD release still says Season 9, so… fine. It’s not the “finale.” That’s particularly sad because I think it would be a strong contender for the number one spot here if it was. Unlike many great finales, this one didn’t rely on any kind of subversion or loss. Instead, this episode gives its main character, J.D., the exact send-off that we probably hoped he’d get. 

A vision of a good life ahead.

It probably stands out because of the last 5 minutes of the episode, when J.D. starts to walk out of the building, and the show, and is suddenly surrounded by every guest from the show’s run that they could manage to fit and afford. As he walks down a literal memory lane, he finally stands at the exit, and we see a projection of the future he’s headed for, filled with love, happiness, and friendship. It’s a happy ending that never feels too cheesy or overdone. 

10) The Last Show (The Mary Tyler Moore Show)

The Show: Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) is a single woman who is an Associate Producer for WJM’s 6 o’clock news, starring Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She works alongside Executive Producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and head writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod). Mary’s best friend is Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper), Rhoda’s nemesis who is also Mary’s friend is Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman), and Mary’s friend who works at WJM is Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). The other main character, introduced later, is Georgette Baxter (Georgia Engel), Ted Baxter’s girlfriend.

Betty White has murder in her eyes.

The Finale: For a show that contains what I consider to be the single best episode of all time, it’s pretty impressive that it managed to end with what was, for a while, considered the “gold standard” of finales. It was a regular exhibit in screenwriting courses. The creators of Friends said it was a major influence in how they wrapped their show. The key is that it really is an ending for the characters as well as the show. When a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) takes over WJM, he decides he wants to fix the 6 O’clock News ratings. Unfortunately, he determines that the only person worth keeping is Ted, the person who repeatedly causes the show to tank. Everyone else is fired, devastating Mary. To cheer Mary up, Lou Grant arranges for Rhoda and Phyllis to visit her (both now had spin-offs), with both offering vastly different methods of support for Mary (and hatred for each other). Ultimately, Ted tries to do a sincere send-off, but instead quotes the song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” Everyone says goodbye, resulting in a group hug that no one wants to break, giving rise to the hilarious image of the entire team moving together in order to get tissues. Mary ends up smiling at the good times and turning off the lights on the set.

Yes, you could drink at work back then.

The key to this ending is that everything goes wrong for all the right people. Everyone who has spent years cleaning up Ted’s mistakes gets fired because of Ted, but because they kept making him look good, Ted keeps his job. He tries to protest the firings, but ultimately backs down when threatened, leading to Murray saying “When a donkey flies, you don’t blame him for not staying up that long.” When Lou tries to cheer Mary up, she calls in two of her friends… who hate each other and fight viciously. When Ted tries to be sincere, he just quotes a completely unrelated song. That’s what made the show great, watching people deal with all of life’s crap and unfairness with a laugh and a joke. It was the best way to end the show.

9) Come Along With Me (Adventure Time)

The Show: Adventure Time follows the journeys of Finn, the last human (Jeremy Shada), and his adopted brother Jake the dog (John DiMaggio), through the land of Ooo. They usually are accompanied by Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Marcelline, the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), and sometimes the Ice King (Tom Kenny). 

Plus a lot of supporting cast.

The Finale: The last episode of this show takes place far in the future from the normal timeline and the show now apparently stars two new characters named Shermy (Sean Giambrone) and Beth (Willow Smith), who appear to have a similar relationship to Finn and Jake. They go to meet with the King of Ooo, who is revealed to be BMO (Niki Yang), Finn and Jake’s AI game system. BMO tells them the story of the “Great Gum War,” what the show had been building to for a season, then tells them of the coming of GOLB, the anti-God of that universe. Ultimately, the war is averted and the world is saved, and Shermy and Beth take up the mantle of Finn and Jake.  

Behold the coming of GOLB, he who needs a manicure.

The reason this is on this list is mostly because it contains three great elements. First, the Great Gum War is literally averted, rather than fought. Finn ends up convincing both sides of the war to stand down, and does so by forcing each side to view the situation from the other’s point of view. This represents the culmination of Finn’s growth from a boy to a man, finally realizing that violent solutions propagate violence, but that forgiveness can bring true peace. Afterwards, Shermy, now representing young Finn, complains that he thought the War would be more important, like the end of the world, only for BMO to casually say “no, that’s what happened next.” Second, after the apocalypse is averted, Shermy and Beth, acting as audience surrogates, ask BMO what happened next, only for BMO to respond with “Eh, y’know. They kept living their lives.” I think this may be one of the most perfect summaries to end a show. It’s not a bland “happily ever after,” but it is a way to tell everyone that, even though life goes on, this story has hit the end. However, the true ending is Shermy and Beth taking the pose that Finn and Jake take in the title screen, meaning that the adventure will always continue. Lastly, we see Marceline and Princess Bubblegum finally become a couple. Given how much crap the show had gotten in the past for even hinting at this, I love that they decided “we’re at the end, let’s go for it.” This finale summed up everything that was good about this show.

8) One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation)

The Show: The series follows the lives of all of the people who work for or are associated with the Parks Department of Pawnee, Indiana: Idealist Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), her husband Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), her Libertarian boss Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), her coworkers Tom (Aziz Ansari), April (Aubrey Plaza), Garry (Jim O’Heir), Craig (Billy Eichner), and Donna (Retta), as well as April’s husband Andy (Chris Pratt), and Leslie’s best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) and her husband Chris (Rob Lowe). 

So. Much. Talent.

The Finale: By the end of the series, everyone is leaving and no one works for the Parks Department anymore. However, Leslie asks everyone to help her when a man asks them to fix a swing near his house. As they work together to navigate the bureaucracy to repair the swing, the show flashes forward and shows how almost every characters’ life progresses. We see Garry get a happy ending after being the sad sack for most of the series, Donna turn her success into helping children with her husband (Keegan-Michael Key), and Tom become a celebrity through writing a bestseller. Ron is shown to retire from his business to run a major park with Leslie’s help. April and Andy start a family and Leslie and Ben both become successful politicians, with one of them implied to eventually be president. 

My money’s on Leslie.

This episode should be terrible. It’s saccharin beyond anything else the series had done up to this point and it’s little more than an extremely elaborate “and they all lived happily ever after.” However, the way in which their flash-forwards are told give us a real picture of how all of these people, despite drifting apart, are always bonded by the events of the show. Even though they live in different parts of the world, they’re still a family and they always will be. Moreover, the world we see in the future is a hopeful and just one, with Leslie, who has always been thwarted by the stupidity of Pawnee, becoming governor of Indiana. We see a world where, despite still having problems, we find a group of people who are fighting for the right thing, even if they all disagree on what that is. To drive it home, Leslie even quotes Teddy Roosevelt’s line “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.” We see a future where that kind of dedication is celebrated, and that’s what really makes this episode work. 

7) Basil the Rat (Fawlty Towers)

The Show: Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) and his wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) run a hotel in England. Basil is an angry jerk obsessed with class mobility, always trying to become one of the elite, but his own incompetence usually dooms him. His staff includes the sensible Polly (Connie Booth) and the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs). 

Cleese was married to Booth for season one, divorced by season two.

The Finale: A health inspector (John Quarmby) informs Basil that the state of Fawlty Towers’ kitchen is below standard. If they don’t fix the problems in 24 hours, the hotel will be closed. At the same time, Basil discovers Manuel is keeping a pet rat, named Basil, in the kitchen, having been sold it as a “Siberian Hamster.” Basil tries to get rid of it, but Manuel protests and he and Polly hide it in the shed. After Manuel foolishly lets the rat back into the hotel, Basil the human poisons a veal shank in an attempt to kill the rat, but the shank gets cooked by accident. After every customer, including the returning health inspector, orders the veal, hilarity ensues. Eventually, the health inspector is handed the rat, but the cast attempts to cover for it as the episode ends.

Not enough rat in the diet nowadays.

The key to Fawlty Towers was the incredible combination of tight writing and amazing physical performances. Each episode typically took Cleese and Booth six weeks to write, which is probably why there are only twelve of them in two seasons over five years. This episode is the pinnacle of that, because all of the beats in the episode have to be precisely timed in order to keep the tension building. In the meantime, all of the characters have to keep scrambling and covering for their actions as they keep trying to find Basil the Rat. It also helps that this episode is the opposite of what Basil Fawlty had been hoping for. Rather than becoming an elite establishment, his hotel is almost closed down for being a dump, and at the end of the episode, it seems extremely likely that it will be shut down. Rather than a happy ending, we get a shot of Basil, having passed out from stress, being dragged unceremoniously from the room. 

6) Weirdmageddon (Gravity Falls)

The Show: Gravity Falls is a town filled with strange happenings and mysteries. When two kids, Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal), come to stay with their Great Uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) for the Summer at his Mystery Shack, they get caught up in the town’s weirdness, along with Stan’s two employees Wendy (Linda Cardellini) and Soos (Hirsch). Their greatest enemy is a dream demon named Bill Cipher (Hirsch). 

Mabel’s sweater game is on point.

The Finale: The final episode begins with Bill winning. He has finally figured out a way to enter the real world in his true form and he immediately reveals himself to be one of the most horrifying villains ever to be featured in a show for kids. He and his gang start to wreak havoc upon the town, until Dipper, Mabel, and the surviving cast fight back. Ultimately, they’re able to trick Bill into entering Stan’s mind, which they then wipe, destroying him as Stan’s dream self punches the demon out of reality. Then, finally, the Summer ends and the kids have to go home in a tearful goodbye.

Bill does this to a character offering to help him. Again: KIDS SHOW.

The greatest strength of Gravity Falls was that it always focused on how the characters felt and what they were going through internally more than externally and this finale is no exception. The strength of the episode isn’t just in finally showing us the power of Bill Cipher and having the team overcome him, it’s that the last 20 minutes is just having a slow, sad, emotional goodbye from all of the characters to the two kids that changed the town so much. We see some nice flash-forwards explaining that most of the characters will be okay, and still be the eccentric oddities that we came to love, but also that everyone will be separated in their own lives. Maybe they’ll be together again one day, but it seems likely that this is the end of this story. It ends with a cryptogram that deciphers to: FADED PICTURES BLEACHED BY SUN. THE TALE’S TOLD, THE SUMMER’S DONE. IN MEMORIES THE PINES STILL PLAY. ON A SUNNY SUMMER’S DAY. I’ll admit that I still tear up reading that, because it’s just that adorably sincere. 

5) All Good Things… (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

The Show: It’s the 24th Century and mankind has spread itself among the stars, meeting new life forms and threats along the way, and forming the United Federation of Planets. The top ship among the Federation fleet is the Enterprise-D, captained by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Along with crew members William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Data (Brent Spiner), Worf (Michael Dorn), Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Picard explores the unknown along the Final Frontier.

Troi’s the one who isn’t in a uniform, which drives some fans nuts.

The Finale: Picard finds himself unfixed by time, his mind jumping between the present, twenty-five years into the future, and seven years in the past, just before the show’s pilot. These jumps are random, making people think he’s going mad. In the present, he goes to investigate a space anomaly. He then uses a jump to convince his future ex-wife Beverly to travel to the same anomaly, which is happening in the future as well. In the past, he declines to go to the anomaly so that he can have the encounter at Farpoint with Q (John de Lancie), an omnipotent being who threatens humanity. However, it turns out that Q is actually causing Picard to jump through time, telling him that solving the mystery of the anomaly is the only chance to save humanity. Picard discovers that investigating the anomaly is actually what causes it, and sacrifices all three different versions of the Enterprise to stop it. This is revealed to be Q’s test and that Picard passed, saving humanity. 

Q: All powerful and fashion forward.

It’s one thing to manage to tie in the themes of a show with the finale, it’s another to literally tie the entire series together into one single cohesive expression of what the show is about. Star Trek has always been about humanity at its best; challenging the unknown, exploring the unexplored, bettering themselves for the sake of being better. This episode reveals that the entire series, from the Pilot to the end, was a test of whether humanity can evolve, with Picard as its focus. Picard proves not only that he can solve a four-dimensional problem, but that he and his crew are willing to sacrifice themselves in three different time periods in order to save the universe. It proves again that humanity has limitless potential both scientifically and socially, if only we can evolve beyond our selfishness.

4) Meanwhile (Futurama)

The Show: I seriously do a review of this show every Friday, episode by episode, due to a vote by my readers almost two years ago. I’m not describing this series again. Read one of my reviews if you want a description.

Two. YEARS. Never again.

The Finale: Fry (Billy West) decides to propose to his longtime flame Leela (Katey Sagal), and uses a device that rewinds time by 10 seconds (and has a 10 second recharge time) to set up the perfect proposal. Unfortunately, he ends up breaking the device, trapping him and Leela in a frozen world. Together, they live a long and happy life, until they’re discovered by the Professor, who fixes the device. He warns Leela and Fry that when he undoes the time freeze, it’ll take them back to before the episode started, with no memory of the events. Fry and Leela agree that, while they enjoyed growing old together, they both want to do it all over again. 

I’m amazed Fry kept all his limbs.

This show gets bonus points because Futurama actually had four separate finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and then this one. Despite having tried to wrap the show up multiple times, I am always impressed that this one is, in my opinion, the best of the four. It’s not just telling us that Fry and Leela will ultimately find happiness, we get to see them being happy together, with each of them clearly influenced by the other for the better. It helps that so much of the episode is really funny before that. We see Fry messing around with time in a number of fun gags, a throwback to the pilot, and Fry dying multiple times to the point that Leela starts to get bored with it. It’s a solid set of comedic scenes that turn into a sincere and emotional third act, which is basically what Futurama did at its best. 

3) Goodbyeee (Blackadder Goes Forth)

The Show: Each season of Blackadder featured Rowan Atkinson as a different descendant of the Blackadder family. This one was a Captain in the British Army during WWI. He was commanded by the incompetent General Melchett (Stephen Fry) and his nemesis Captain Darling (Tim McInnerny). Each episode features his attempts to get out of actually having to fight, usually involving Blackadder’s incompetent aides George (Hugh Laurie) and Baldrick (Tony Robinson). 

Who doesn’t like a bit of Fry and Laurie?

The Finale: Blackadder finds out that there’s going to be a full-scale attack the next day, meaning that he, along with all of his soldiers, will be running all-out into No Man’s Land. Since all of them will likely die, Blackadder pretends to be crazy in order to get sent home, but it fails. He tries to contact the British High Command to get sent home, but it fails as well. Darling is sent to the front line, despite his attempts to protest, while Melchett sits miles back. George and Baldrick discuss their losses during the war in a humorous way, until finally George admits that he’s afraid of dying. Blackadder and the rest of the group go over the top and are killed, with the shot fading to a silent poppy field. 

This field grew from blood.

Some of you might be asking how this can’t be my number one finale since it’s in my top ten greatest episodes of all time. Well, the answer is that this is a better episode of television than it was a finale, but it’s still a great final episode. 

It was a tradition for each season of Blackadder to end with death, usually that of the entire cast, but it was always done in a comic fashion. This entire season had frequently played off the massive casualties of World War One as a dark joke, which set everything up to do a similarly humorous or absurd conclusion to this season, but instead, they played it perfectly straight. It’s a sad, somber, painful ending to the show. It’s a subversion of the nature of the series, but it fits the theme of the season, that war is hell. The show sacrificed its own cast to make sure that people remember that the price of war is blood and tears.

2) Felina (Breaking Bad)

The Show: Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a chemist who finds out he has terminal cancer. He decides to partner with his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) to make meth in order to provide for his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and his son Walt, Jr. (RJ Mitte). He does surprisingly well, eventually becoming a kingpin.

For some reason, Cranston isn’t Lex Luthor.

The Finale: Having managed to lose most of his money and betraying Jesse in the last season, Walt threatens former partners to leave a fortune to his son and decides to “make things right.” He rigs a machine gun to a mechanical arm and tries to make amends to his wife for all of his misdeeds, having a conversation in which she points out that his actions were always about him, never the family. Walt goes to meet the Aryan Brotherhood members holding Jesse hostage and uses the machine gun to kill almost all of them, with him and Jesse killing off the survivors. Walt is mortally wounded, but dies smiling surrounded by meth cooking equipment as Jesse escapes. 

He got shot where the cancer was. Fun.

This episode works on so many levels. First, the title is an anagram for finale and a reference to the song “El Paso,” which mirrors the events of the third act. Like the subject of “El Paso,” Walt dies in the arms of his beloved: Meth. Second, it mirrors the pilot, both beginning and ending with sirens headed for Walt. In the pilot, Walt declines to shoot himself, but here, he dies by a shot from his own gun. Walt even dies in the same outfit he wore in the pilot. Third, it provides a satisfying conclusion to a series that was constantly escalating tension by doing exactly the opposite, being a quiet denouement for Walt after one last blaze of glory. The show was always building towards his death, and Cranston’s final moments on-screen send the character off in exactly the right way. 

1) The Last Newhart (Newhart)

The Show: Dick Loudon (Bob Newhart) is a writer who moves to Vermont to run an inn with his wife Joanna (Mary Frann). While Dick is a relatively normal and sane person, the town is populated by eccentric people whose inability to operate within the bounds of reality constantly drives Dick crazy.

All of these people are crazy.

The Finale: After years of putting up with the locals, the entire town is purchased by a Japanese tycoon who wants to turn it into a golf resort. While Dick and Joanna make a show of wanting to keep the town the same and refuse to leave, literally everyone else takes a huge payout and vacates. Years later, Dick and Joanna now run their inn in the middle of a golf course. All of their former neighbors pay them a surprise visit, but quickly drive Dick crazy until he gets hit in the head with a golf ball. He then wakes up in bed… as Dr. Bob Hartley, the main character of The Bob Newhart Show, next to his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). He reveals that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream he had, something that annoys his wife when he reveals that he was married to a beautiful blond. 

That feeling when you wake up in a different show.

This finale should be terrible, because the idea that the whole series was a dream would normally be stupid or seem like a cop-out. However, The Bob Newhart Show was a series about Bob Hartley questioning his own reality and Newhart was a series where everyone somehow played by rules that defied any established rules of logic, except for Bob Newhart’s character. It not only made sense that Newhart was a dream of someone who constantly questioned reality, it made MORE sense than any other explanation. Bob Hartley always defined himself as the “only sane man” in his life, so he still does that in his dreams. Bob Newhart essentially spent 20 years setting up this punchline across two different series and it served as a perfect finale for both of them. I think it’s telling that after Breaking Bad ended, Bryan Cranston did a “fake ending” where he wakes up as Hal on Malcolm in the Middle that was inspired by this. When the second best ending has to pay tribute to something, you know that thing has to be the best. 

Let me know if there are any others that you think I should have added by posting in the comments or on my Facebook or Twitter. 

Reader Request: Sub Rosa (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Sometimes my readers love to torture me. This is one of those times. Honestly, I think I have been putting off doing reader requests specifically to avoid watching this episode again. As you’ll note from my list of the 100 Greatest Episodes, plus another review since then, I think highly of the show Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes, they missed the mark, and this episode is definitely not a bullseye. This is more akin to throwing the dart, missing the board entirely, and having it ricochet into your buddy’s eye. It’s not the worst episode of TNG, but it’s solidly in my bottom five. If you want to know my least-favorite TNG… well, request it. I’m not watching that piece of shit again without reason.

Quick Recap of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takes place about 100 years after the original Star Trek and features the crew of the next starship Enterprise. The notable crew members are Captain Picard (Patrick “I’m basically made of magic” Stewart), Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes, the episode’s director), chief engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Chief of Security Worf (Michael Dorn), Android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), Lt. Commander Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and this episode’s focus Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). They explore the universe dealing with random problems ranging from legal issues to reality-warping aliens.

StarTrekTNGCast.jpg
Not pictured: Wil Wheaton, who wisely wasn’t in this episode.

That’s enough background, on to the creepy ghost sex!

SUMMARY

StarTrekTNGFuneral.pngThe episode begins at the funeral for Beverly Crusher’s grandmother, Felisa Howard (Ellen Albertini Dow), who was apparently a doctor on a Scotland-esque planet called Caldos IV. During the funeral, Crusher sees a weird guy (Duncan “I was Zorro in the 90s” Regehr) leaving that apparently does something to her ladybits, but from her face might just have been gas. No one else appears to have seen him.

StarTrekTNGRonin1

Crusher goes back to her grandmother’s cottage (which, despite it being the future, is still a cottage), and looks through it for mementos, finding her grandmother’s diary and a candle which apparently had great spiritual value to the Howard Family (Crusher’s maiden name). As she heads upstairs, a man named Ned Quint (Shay Duffin) enters and blows out the candle, saying that it was bad luck for her grandmother. Beverly kicks him out, because that’s what you do to creepy strangers who come in and mess with your stuff.

StarTrekTNGQuint
You mean I don’t look sane?

Back on the Enterprise, the engineering team determine that there is a problem with Caldos IV’s weather system, and that an unexpected storm is brewing. Subtle. Meanwhile, Crusher has been reading her grandmother’s diary and discovered that, despite being 100 years old, her grandmother was in a casual sexual relationship with a man in his 30s named Ronin. From the diaries, it appears that Ronin started seeing Crusher’s grandmother, Felisa, shortly after the death of her own mother. Since we already had dialogue in the episode that mentioned that Crusher’s own mother died when she was young and that her grandmother raised her, this is the creepiest foreshadowing ever.

StarTrekTNGCrusherKnee
Stroke that… knee?

While Crusher sleeps on the ship, a ghostly presence starts to undress her then says her name, waking her up. Crusher goes to talk to Counselor Troi about it, saying it’s a dream, and the dialogue in this scene might be the worst in almost any episode of any version of Star Trek. Not just because Crusher is discussing reading a “particularly erotic chapter of [her] grandmother’s journal,” something that SHOULD NEVER BE IN A TV SHOW, but because it comes off as a weirdly clinical discussion about sexuality. I suspect this is tied in to the fact that women getting sexual gratification, even in the abstract, is essentially guaranteed to get your ratings boosted to MA, but maybe the person writing the dialogue just hadn’t ever heard anyone talk about sexual experience. The credit for the screenplay is a woman (Jeri Taylor), while the teleplay credit is a man (Brannon Braga), so I ultimately have no idea what led to the weird-ass sequence between these two characters.

StarTrekTNGFlowers
This is not normal.

The next day, Crusher visits her grandmother’s grave and runs into Quint (sadly, not the one from Jaws). Quint warns her that a ghost is causing the weather problems, and that if she lights the candle, the ghost will come for her. He also warns her not to go to her grandmother’s house. However, a thunderstorm comes up, which prompts the Enterprise crew to start working on fixing the weather control system. Crusher is forced to take shelter in her grandmother’s cottage, finding it full of flowers.

She hears things moving around the house and sees the reflection of Ronin (the guy from the funeral) in a mirror. Ronin talks to her as a disembodied voice, telling her that he was the visitor from the night before. She moves to call the Enterprise, but is struck with sudden disorientation and either arousal or pain (maybe both?). The voice says that it loves her, just as it loved her grandmother before her. It claims it was born in 1647 in Glasgow and lived with Crusher’s ancestor Jessel Howard, then stayed with every Howard woman after the last one died (apparently the surname was matrilineal until Beverly?). This includes moving to Caldos IV at some point.

The spirit then tries to “merge” with Crusher, which she resists… only for her to be seen back on the Enterprise acting as if nothing has happened. When Troi questions her, she says that she’s “seeing” Ronin, but only in the physical sense.

StarTrekTNGMerge1

On the bridge of the Enterprise, fog is rolling in, as weather control is now malfunctioning onboard the ship. The crew catches Quint trying to alter something on a panel, saying that someone is going to kill them all. An energy discharge kills Quint before he can explain. Beverly determines that he was killed by an anomalous energy pulse, meaning it was no accident (Dun dun duuuuun).

Beverly returns to the cottage to talk with Ronin, who is now corporeal, but only for a few minutes at a time. Ronin begs her to light the candle, which is where he lives. She has to go back to the ship to get it, while Ronin travels to the ship in a beam of energy. She lights the candle in her quarters on the ship, which allows Ronin to appear and merge with her. Crusher then resigns her post with Starfleet and states her intention to become a healer on Caldos IV. Picard is unable to stop her, legally. Searching for the energy source that killed Quint, Geordi and Data find it coming from Crusher’s Grandmother’s grave. Crusher and Ronin “merge” again, this time in a manner which appears pretty much fully sexual. Picard comes to check on Crusher, finding her in a mildly compromising position.

StarTrekTNGMerge2
Oh, yeah, merge that weird non-corporeal essence with me, baby.

StarTrekTNGRonin2Picard points out that something is wrong with Crusher, forcing Ronin to appear as himself. Picard questions Ronin until he disappears, resulting in Ronin shocking Picard in the same way that he killed Quint earlier. Refusing to let Picard die causes Ronin to separate from Beverly, with Ronin intent on stopping Geordi and Data from exhuming Felisa Howard’s grave. Ronin, in Felisa’s body, rises from the grave and disables the pair. When she arrives, Beverly realizes that Ronin is an Anaphasic lifeform which has to bind with a host in order to keep living, finally destroying the candle. Ronin tries to possess her again, but she kills him with a phaser, before dropping to her knees crying.

At the end of the episode, Crusher and Troi are talking about the fact that Crusher is somewhat sad that she couldn’t be with Ronin, because he made her grandmother very happy.

END SUMMARY

This was not an easy re-watch, and I was tempted to just do it from memory, but in the end I caved.

StarTrekTNGRonin3.jpg
NOT. HEALTHY.

Here’s the thing about this episode: It never feels anything but creepy to me. Crusher says at the end that Ronin “seduced” her and her grandmother, but the first time we see her interacting with him, he’s undressing her while she sleeps. The next time, he keeps her from calling out to the Enterprise, makes her physically weak, then apparently “merges” with her without her consent. From then on, we’re shown that she’s now almost physically dependent on Ronin, to the point that she’s shaking like a heroin addict while waiting for him on the ship. He’s literally corrupting her mind to make her want him. Nothing about this is “seduction,” unless you have a very messed-up idea of courtship. And that could very easily have been brought up at the end. Beverly could have expressed some anger at the fact that she was basically mind-raped for the entire episode, but no, instead, she says “oh, who cares if he literally manipulated her mind to make her love him, as he had done countless times before, he made her happy.” And then she’s kind of sad that she couldn’t just stay happy with Ronin. I get that the ghost orgasms were really good, but, seriously, he was clearly altering your mind, woman!

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For the record: Yes.

This isn’t a new concept, that maybe it’s worth losing your free will to gain happiness. And if the story was about addressing that idea, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s not. That’s not even a particularly great concept to address in Star Trek, since one of the primary conceits of the series is that humanity is basically always in a state of self-actualization, which makes it basically incomparable to the search of happiness in the modern world, where humans rarely achieve that point in their lives. So, the ghost banging continues to seem more akin to sexual assault and brainwashing than seduction or pleasing. This episode kind of reminds me of why I don’t like some modern “semi-erotica” like 50 Shades of Gray, because it’s basically treating an abusive relationship as just being sexually aggressive.

Also, everyone’s behavior in this episode is a little off. First, no one seems to be super weirded out that Crusher would have sex with a guy who had just been sleeping with her grandmother. I dunno all of what happened in the next 350 years in Star Trek, but I really hope we don’t follow the timeline that assimilated “normal to be wiener cousins with your grandmother” into the culture. And, understand, this isn’t like a distant relative Beverly never met, her grandmother is the one who raised her, making her effectively her mom. Second, Crusher really doesn’t seem affected by the fact that Ronin straight up kills a guy for almost no reason. Despite the fact that she’s later extremely concerned when Picard gets mildly injured. Is it that it’s Picard who is her on-again-off-again love interest? Maybe, but it’s still weird that a guy gets killed and nobody really comments on it. Third, what the hell is wrong with Troi? Why does she never realize that Beverly, one of her closest friends, is being controlled by a strange force? Instead, she basically keeps advising her to “go with it.” She’s the worst counselor ever.

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You don’t do your job well, and you never wear your damn uniform.

The dialogue in this episode is also notably bad, even by Star Trek standards (look, I love the shows, but the dialogue is generally either crap or gold, no in-between). On Memory Alpha, there’s even a quote by writer Rene Echevarria that he can reduce this episode’s writer to a shuddering mass by saying “I can travel on the power transfer beam,” a particularly stupid and useless line that somehow still made it into the episode.

The episode’s inspiration, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, also doesn’t really help sell any kind of love story. If you haven’t read it, go read it now, it’s not particularly long and it’s online for free . Or, if you’re gonna be lazy, let me just summarize it as “governess looks after two young children while dealing with a haunting by two former lovers.” Ultimately nothing about the story really lends itself to this idea of an “inherited ghost lover,” except for the gothic setting.

So, I don’t like this episode at all, and I regret watching it again to write this review. I had to re-watch “Darmok” just to get the taste out of my mouth. Thanks, readers, for torturing me again.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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5) Queen of Heaven (I, Claudius)

I, Claudius is a miniseries, but, much like with some of the earlier shows, I could not care less about technicalities. A pox on all pedants (including, usually, me). It’s 12 episodes long, and all of them are amazing, but this one goes beyond.

IClaudiusBookI, Claudius is an adaptation of Robert Graves’ novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. It is a fictionalized account of the early Roman empire, going from Augustus to, you guessed it, Claudius, and supposedly told by Claudius himself (he narrates it from the end of his reign). Claudius did, in fact, write an 8 volume autobiography of his family, but, since it didn’t survive, we only know the gist of it, and that the historian Suetonius thought it was “tasteless.” Given the nature of some of his predecessors, as shown within this show with a decent amount of accuracy, it would be impossible to write a “tasteful” history of the Julio-Claudians (the family of Augustus).

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Dear Penthouse Forum Romanum: I never thought it would happen to me…

The show is narrated by Claudius (Derek Jacobi) at the end of his life, with the entire series happening in flashback. Here’s the story so far, for those of you who don’t know slightly fictionalized histories of the early Roman Empire (warning, this show is dense as hell, this’ll take a few minutes. If you want to skip, go down a bit): Augustus (Brian Blessed) was the first emperor of Rome. Much of the first part of the story concerns the events that surround him seeking an heir. Augustus’s wife, Livia (Siân Phillips), wants her son, Tiberius (George Baker), to be the next emperor, and she will do almost anything to get it.

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If looks could kill, she’d… well, she kills everyone anyway.

Livia is the best character on the show, and among the best characters of all time. She is the epitome of someone working behind the scenes. She murders anyone that gets in her way, usually with her own batch of poison, always keeping herself removed from actually having to do anything direct. She poisons Marcellus (Christopher Guard), the first heir of Augustus. She implicitly has Marcus Agrippa (John Paul), the second heir, murdered so that his wife, Julia (Frances White), Augustus’s daughter, will be free to marry Tiberius.

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Pictured: Tiberius. Not Pictured: Dignity

She coerces Augustus into forcing Tiberius to leave his wife Vipsania Aggrippina (Sheila Rushkin), whom Tiberius loves, and marrying Julia, who he does not (he hates her to the point that he beats her and is banished from Rome). When Livia’s other son, Drusus (Ian Ogilvy), begins to encourage Augustus to return Rome to a Republic, Livia sends her own personal physician to oversee him after he has a small injury. Unsurprisingly, he dies shortly after. When Augustus announces his intention to perhaps give power to his grandsons, they die in “accidents” over the next few years. Livia uses agents to reveal that Julia has been engaging in “deviant behavior” which contrasts with Augustus’s strong moral code, resulting in her banishment, and the end of Tiberius’s. Tiberius is then named co-heir with Postumus Agrippa (John Castle).

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Young Claudius

Now, Claudius, son of Drusus, actually enters the story. Claudius has both a limp and a pronounced stutter, and, despite the fact that he reads constantly, is thought to be a fool because of those disabilities. In fact, the historian Pollio (Donald Eccles), tells him he needs to exaggerate those faults, because otherwise he’ll be thought of as a threat, and probably killed by Livia. When Augustus determines that Postumus alone should succeed him, Livia frames Postumus for rape and has him banished. Postumus, having seen the depths of Livia’s drive to make Tiberius emperor, tells Claudius all that has happened because of her, and reiterates “Play the fool, Claudius.” When Augustus is told of Postumus’s innocence, Livia poisons Augustus. When he fails to die and takes the precaution of only eating food he picks himself, Livia paints his fig vines with poison. In case anyone doubts the succession, she has Sejanus (Patrick Stewart) kill Postumus. Tiberius is finally Emperor.

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Patrick Stewart as Sejanus. Yes, it’s a wig.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Tiberius is a terrible, terrible person (who knew having a mother that kills people all the time might affect your development?). The only thing that stops total tyranny is Germanicus (David Robb), Claudius’s older brother, who, naturally, dies. It turns out, however, that this one wasn’t Livia. Germanicus was actually killed by his son, Caligula (John Hurt), but Livia manages to convince Plancina (Irene Hamilton), the wife of Piso (Stratford Johns), the governor of Syria, to murder her husband and place the blame on him to spare Caligula.

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Claudius, Caligula, Tiberius: Three Emperors

OKAY THAT’S THE BACKGROUND TO GET TO THIS EPISODE.

SUMMARY

IClaudiusSejanus2.jpgFor those of you who have been keeping count, Livia has murdered basically everyone. She’s killed her husband, her son, her grandchildren, his grandchildren, friends, enemies, you name it. All to get her son to be Emperor. The story then jumps ahead to later in Tiberius’s reign. Tiberius pretty much just holds orgies and forces women into prostitution, supported by young Caligula. Sejanus actually runs the empire, and he uses it mostly to seize property and imprison his enemies. Everything sucks, is what I’m getting at. When she confronts him in the street, Livia even says that Drusus (her other son, who she KILLED) should have been emperor instead of Tiberius.

IClaudiusDinnerClaudius is called to a dinner with Livia. Livia, now old, reveals that she has been hiding a secret from almost everyone. She has found that there is a Sibylline prophecy which says that both Caligula and Claudius shall become emperors. Livia, finally having accepted that Tiberius is a waste of a man, exacts a promise from Caligula and Claudius to have her become a goddess after her death. Caligula dismissively agrees and leaves. Claudius, however, finally reveals his true self to her, surmising that Caligula will be the next emperor because Tiberius would want someone even worse to follow him, so that he will be remembered well by comparison. As he is talking, Livia notes that Claudius has lost his stutter, and no longer pretends the fool. Because of this, she begs him again to make her a goddess when he’s emperor. Claudius laughs at the thought of being emperor, and agrees, thinking nothing of it.

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Caligula cruelly mocks Livia

The scene then jumps to Livia’s deathbed 6 years later. She calls for Caligula and Claudius. Caligula arrives first, and, when Livia asks if he remembers his promise, tells her that he will be the god, and that she will burn in hell, tormenting her as she lies helpless with the knowledge that he will destroy everything in the name of his deification. Claudius arrives soon after Caligula leaves, and Livia asks him if he will uphold his promise. Claudius then sits down and asks about every bad thing that she’s done. All the people she’s killed. She admits to everything, freely, and admits that it was all wrong. She thought she was doing it for all the right reasons, her son, but she now understands that she never should have done any of it. Claudius, seeing not a monster, but a woman who has lived long enough to realize that she has done horrible things that can never be undone, tells her that he will make her the “Queen of Heaven.” She passes peacefully in bed.

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END SUMMARY

Okay, first, almost no performance has ever matched Siân Phillips as Livia. It was a role she was clearly born to play. She is loving to her children, a monster in practice, and, in the last scenes, just a sad old woman looking on a world that she ruined in the name of blind love. Now, she knows that she is facing not just death, but true damnation, and she requests just one thing: deification. This isn’t in the name of preserving her legacy, however. It’s just the only thing that might actually allow her to be forgiven for what she’s done.

IClaudiusDieAHero.jpgIn The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent famously says “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Appropriately, he was addressing the concept of the dictator at the time, specifically Julius Caesar, the precursor to the Julio-Claudians. This is the opposite of that. This is the villain living long enough to see what happens when she wins. And, make no mistake, this is her having won. She achieved the goal of the massive machinations she’s been working for decades. She made an emperor out of her beloved son. The problem is, she didn’t ever think to help make him a good emperor. Or even a good person. She just gave him power that he didn’t ask for or deserve.

IClaudiusCrimeAndPunishmentIn Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky addresses a similar theme to Livia on her deathbed. Even when you’ve gotten away with a crime, even if you believe that the crime was justified by some “higher order,” in the end, you will never escape your guilty conscience. That’s supposed to be the purpose of societal values, to make sure that, even when you go free, you are still a prisoner in your own mind. You may pretend to not see the walls, but, when you are old, you will look around and see every brick you have laid around your soul, and you will know that your existence has amounted to nothing but pain. If you have any belief in the natural goodness of people, then part of making a better world is to remind people that breaking their own ethics will one day bring them the pain that they have inflicted upon others. This episode is the culmination of that. It ends not with a monstrous empress sitting behind the son that she has brought to power, but with a grandmother telling the only person she has left that her life was a mistake. And perhaps, too, we should learn from Claudius, who sees the agony that she has brought upon herself as being a torment that won’t end, and promises her forgiveness. It’s not that she deserves it, it’s that it’s the right thing to do.

PREVIOUS – 6: The Sopranos

NEXT – 4: WKRP In Cincinnati

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Reader Bonus: Chain of Command (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Alright, so, this was probably the easiest voter-bonus episode to write. I’ve watched this episode (both parts) a dozen times at least, because it is nothing short of a master stroke for Star Trek. It barely missed the cut-off for the actual list, and only because the episode that DID make it is amazing for exactly the same reason as this one, but to a greater extent: That Patrick Stewart is a global treasure.

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NO SINGLE NATION MAY LAY CLAIM TO HIS BRILLIANCE

I’m not going to revisit the premise of Star Trek in depth. There’s a ship. It goes into space on a journey. It’s staffed with the best and brightest that humanity and its associated planets have to offer. It’s called the Enterprise. This version, however, has the best captain (FIGHT ME), Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick F*CKING Stewart).

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Please don’t look at me like that, Janeway

This first episode starts off with Picard losing command to be put on a covert mission to deal with the Cardassian threat. No, not the one with the sex tapes. They’re an alien race.

No, not the one with the sex tapes.

SUMMARY

Picard is replaced by Captain Jellico (Ronny Cox), whose command style, by comparison, is… not as good. Picard goes with a small team on a mission to destroy a cache of biological weapons. They arrive on the target planet, but, finding no signs of weaponry, they suspect a trap and try to escape. Picard is captured and brought to Gul Madred (David Warner), who informs Picard that the entire mission was a setup to capture him in order to obtain secrets on the Federation. That’s the first episode, and it’s… well, only okay. But, it sets up the amazing second episode.

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Jellico did actually get Troi into a uniform, though.

Madred spends the entire episode torturing Picard. Starvation, dehydration, humiliation, beating, shocking, forced nudity, degradation. The crew borrowed a list from Amnesty International when writing it, and put basically all of the ones that would be allowed on network television into the episode.

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And Patrick Stewart sells it all.

It starts by Madred telling Picard that he has no name. Picard will only be called “human.” Then, Madred starts to try to break Picard’s will, and these are some of the most powerful scenes in the entire series. The most memorable exchanges involve Madred showing Picard four spotlights behind his desk. Madred asks Picard how many lights he sees. Picard says four. Madred tells him there are five, and when Picard disagrees, Madred uses a device implanted in Picard to cause him all varieties of simulated pain.

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“How many lights do you see?”

Meanwhile, the crew of the Enterprise is told Picard is captured, but they are forced to disavow his actions, which means he’s not eligible for rights as a prisoner of war. These scenes mostly just serve to allow for time-skips on the Picard scenes.

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Although, they do give Jellico some solid redemption.

Madred brings his daughter in to work, and he and Picard banter about the nature of raising children to believe that it is alright to value no other sentient life. Madred claims that the Cardassians used to have a rich spiritual society, and it led them to starve. Now, the Military rules, and everyone is fed (Update: Madred would have supported Thanos). Picard responds that Madred’s children will have full bellies, but empty spirits. He then mocks Madred by denying that there are any lights.

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Does Picard have a “are you shitting me?” look? Your question is answered.

Picard is shown to start resisting by separating his mind and body, envisioning himself at his family’s home in France. As Madred tries to break him, Picard starts to turn the tables, pointing out that Madred knows torture is ineffective at getting information or control, so Madred is clearly just using it to punish people because he feels weak. Picard calls him pitiable. Madred proves him right by just shocking him again.

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Picard turns the tables in the middle of a torture session. Most people would just cry.

Finally, the Enterprise is able to intercept a Cardassian ship and threaten to detonate a series of mines that would destroy them in order to force the Cardassians to release Picard.

Madred, having been told that Picard is going to be released, goes to confront a dehydrated, delirious Picard. Madred tells the captain that the Cardassians have conquered the planet that the Federation was defending and that the Enterprise was destroyed, and that they have no need for him anymore. Madred then offers to let Picard live a life of comfort in exchange for one thing: Telling Madred that he sees five lights. Picard, wavering, and uncertain, starts to speak, and then the guards come in and inform Picard that he’s being returned to the Enterprise.

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In what is one of the most amazingly bad-ass moments in the history of television, Picard, a beaten, broken, shadow of a man, turns to his captor and tells him:

“THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!”

Couldn’t find an HD copy, but here’s the scene anyway. It’s also on Netflix.

It’s an amazing scene that would rouse the heart of even the most stoic or cynical of people. It is nothing short of a triumph of the human will against circumstances that should render a person into a shaking pile of incoherent wailing. Which is what makes it even more notable when, in the last scene of the episode, Picard talks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and admits to her that, during the last exchange, he did see five lights.

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Picard has trouble even admitting to himself he was broken. But he still won. Amazing.

END SUMMARY

People who took High School English seriously probably have read Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. One of the most iconic scenes in the book is when the protagonist, Winston Smith, is tortured by the Party’s propaganda agency, the Ministry of Love. The torturer, O’Brien, begins to try to force Winston to think in Newspeak, the Party’s language, by torturing him to the point that when he holds up four fingers, Winston will believe there are five.

‘How can I help it?’ [Winston] blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’

‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.’

That is what Madred is doing here. While Madred is originally supposed to be getting specific information out of Picard, by the end, he has long forsaken that in the name of just breaking Picard’s mind. And, much like the end of the book, Madred does finally succeed, even if only for a moment. At the end of the book, Winston has learned that hope is gone, because the Party controls everything. Unlike Winston, Picard is saved by the momentary appearance of hope because he learns that the Cardassians don’t fully control him anymore. Hope is what a person can hold onto when everything else is lost, and it is anathema to being controlled.

The other central difference between Winston and Picard is that Winston never was able to challenge his torturer, because he never understood what the Party wanted to do to him or what their goals were. Picard, on the other hand, understands exactly what the Cardassians want and what Madred really is thinking at almost any given time. He is able to use that to turn the tables at certain points and regain a position of power.

Using Nineteen  Eighty-Four as a comparison here is particularly apt, because the Federation is the exact opposite of the Party. The Party, and apparently the Cardassian Empire, lives to oppress and control for the sake of control and oppression under the pretense of survival. The Federation exists to put every person within it into a state of self-actualization at any given time. Every person on Earth is cared for, and given the basics to allow them to self-determine for free for the sake of advancement. Pretty much the best possible view for the future contrasted with the worst.

But, mostly, this episode just has Patrick Stewart being awesome. If it wasn’t for the fact that the first half is slow and the intercuts with the regular crew weren’t so off-putting (seriously, it was a bad idea to put Patrick Stewart and David Warner in a scene together and not consider that it made everyone else look like worse actors by comparison), this would have made the list proper.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The good half of the episode (the scene above starts at 45:15):
https://dailymotion.com/video/x5hpsdb