Sometimes endings to fantasy and sci-fi stories hit the mark beautifully. Sometimes they miss the mark horribly, leaving droves of fans feeling let down and sad. In the worst case scenario, the finale will be so bad it taints the rest of the story.
There are lots of reasons an ending can fall short- the writers don’t deliver on what they’ve been building up to, the writers don’t seem to know how to resolve any of the plotlines, the finale is brutal in a way that feels mean-spirited rather than fittingly tragic or character arcs are thrown to the wayside. A good ending is hard to pull off and bad ending is an amazing common fumble.
So let’s explore some of the ways endings can deeply disappoint a fanbase and try to learn from those mistakes in our own creative endeavors.
If you have any of your own disappointing endings to favorite shows that you’d like to complain about, feel free to talk about them in the comments. If you liked any of these endings, you should also explain why and start a discussion! Obviously, there are spoilers ahead in this article.
Life is Strange's Ending
Life is Strange was a twisty time travel game that was continuously billed as a “game where your choices matter”. But the ending proved that advertising to be entirely false.
The main character, Max, had a vision of an impending tornado and was suddenly able to time travel. Shortly afterwards, her old friend got killed and she was able to travel back and save her. Everyone was waiting for an explanation behind the massive, unannounced impending storm as well as Max’s time travel powers- and the answer completely didn’t make sense.
It turned out the storm was caused by Max’s time travel powers being used over and over again (somehow), despite the fact she had a vision of it before she was granted her powers. And why did the universe randomly grant her time travel powers if she was not meant to use them? Who knows!
It was especially galling to be told time travel is bad when time traveling was the only way you could proceed in the game. If there was a way to proceed in the game without time travel, that would have been clever, but instead the player was punished for playing the game the only way it could be played.
In the end the player was given two options: go back and let Max’s friend Chloe die (note: you spent the entire game working your ass off to save Chloe repeatedly, while also bonding with her) or let an entire town die so Chloe lives. In the end, this was the only choice that ended up mattering in the game. All the previous choices you had made were either erased because you reset the timeline or they ultimately didn’t matter because everyone you’d interacted with was dead besides Chloe.
The “your choices matter” tagline was a bald faced lie. “One dumb choice matters” would have been more accurate. Because the “choice” begs the question- how did time traveling again prevent a storm that had been caused by too much time travel, rather than making it worse?
The only previous choice that did impact the ending is whether you’d forged a romantic relationship between Max and Chloe- because if you had, Max kissed Chloe right before letting her die. Yay. It was especially hard to take because Life is Strange attracted many queer fans thanks to Max and Chloe’s relationship, but in the end they were told “the only way you can be have a passionate, serious kiss between girls is if you literally murder one because the universe apparently wants her to die for some reason.” That’s an ending rife with unfortunate implications.
Smallville was a story meant to tell the tale of Clark Kent becoming Superman. As such, you’d expect to see him in all his Superman glory for the final episode, full cape and costume and all. You’d also expect a pretty epic battle considering the whole season had been building up to a fight with Darkseid. The fight ended up being over in one hit, and we only saw Superman in his costume from extremely far away, and a bit of it when he opened his shirt at the end. It wasn’t exactly dazzling.
Mass Effect's Ending
Much like Life is Strange, many found the Mass Effect ending so disappointing because previously, the choices you made had mattered very much to both the main character you were building and how things played out, but those choices didn’t really matter to the ending. Many fans felt, regardless of their choices and whether their character lived or died, the only option was an ending that disregarded all your hard work throughout the game. They also felt the ending contradicted established canon and many of the thematic elements of the game. Bioware eventually released a DLC that expanded on the endings a bit and a sequel Mass Effect game is planned, though it is not a direct sequel.
Star Trek: Enterprise's Ending
Many were furious when the ending to Star Trek: Enterprise ended up…not actually being about the cast of the Enterprise. Instead it focused on commander Riker and even Riker’s actor has gone on record saying he thought that was a mistake. You know it’s bad when that happens. The Enterprise cast was also predictably not happy, with one actor calling it “appalling”. To top it off, many viewers felt the death in the episode was completely unnecessary and awful.
Uta Kata's Ending
Uta Kata is a little known magical girl series, but the ending is notworthy because it’s not just ambiguous, it straight up refuses to explain why anything in the show even happened, making the show seem nothing more than an exercise in sexualizing underage girls and making them suffer for no reason.
The premise of the series is the main character, Ichika, meets a girl named Manatsu from a mirror and is granted powers that slowly corrupt her. It turns out this is somehow some sort of trial she has to endure at the hands of magical being and at the end she has to choose whether to destroy humanity or herself.
Why does she have to endure this trial? Why was she chosen? What is the point of this ritual? Why is the magical being determined to do this? Who is the girl in the mirror and how is she connected to anything? The show refused to explain. A confusing series of events wraps up the series and that’s that. The entire plot happened for no apparent reason.
The Prisoner's Ending
The finale to The Prisoner left many viewers incredibly confused. The premise of the show was that a man called “Number 6” was trapped in a village and desperately trying to escape it. In the end, it was revealed the leader of the village was a clone of number 6. Okay. Why? The show didn’t answer this. Some think the ending works if you consider it as symbolic, but many say it’s just nonsense.
Star Trek: Voyager's Ending
Star Trek: Voyager was the tale of a crew lost in space, 75 years away from home. The final episode shows the crew managed to get back in space in 23 years. Yay! Unfortunately, this means a lot of promised story developments happened offscreen and we didn’t get to see the triumphant return to earth. Then Captain Janeway goes back in time and fixes it so the crew gets there in an even shorter time (7 years). Another reset button ending. Great. And we still don’t get to see everyone’s reaction to returning to earth.
The comedy series about an alien had the completely unnecessary ending of him being captured by the government, presumably on his way to be dissected. And this was a family show. The eventual movie follow-up MANY years later had Alf escape being dissected, but he also lost his memories and never reunited with his fellow aliens or the family he had lived with before. So, not much better.
The Third Rock from the Sun's Ending
The ending to the sci-fi sitcom about an alien family pretending to be human had the family finally end their mission to leave earth. The problem is one of the family members, Dick, is engaged to a human woman named Mary. She decides she can’t leave Earth with him, so he responds the logical way- by knocking her out and erasing her memories so she doesn’t have to miss him. Only, you know, someone’s eventually going to ask “what happened to that guy you were engaged to” which will lead to a lot of pain and confusion.
The Matrix's Ending
The ending to The Matrix movies was as disappointing and weird as you can get. For one thing, Trinity died, despite the fact the entire climax of the last movie was centered around Neo bending the laws of the universe to save her at all costs. Guess that was all for nothing.
There’s a lot of convoluted nonsense and then Neo does a Jesus-like sacrifice or something. In the end, the villain to be taken down wasn’t the Matrix itself, but Agent Smith. It’s a bit anti-climactic.
Blue Drop's Ending
Blue Drop is a little known anime that I discovered in my thirst to find sci-fi anime starring girlfriends. It was indeed that, but a very underwhelming one thanks to the ending.
The series focuses on the relationship between a human girl named Mari and alien girl named Hagino. Knowing that her fellow aliens are going to attack Earth, Hagino…stubbornly continues to put on her school play. Priorities! Eventually the play can no longer continue, and Hagino decides to sacrifice herself in a fight against the other aliens, despite knowing she can’t stop them and her girlfriend telling her how senseless it is. As she dies, she cheesily quotes a line from her school play. Her efforts were completely futile, the ending shows the aliens have taken over earth, though Mari is in peace talks with them years later.
Basically, the entire thing was utterly senseless tragedy that made you more frustrated with the stupidity of the main character than sad.
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