We just watched a slew of season finales, ranging from the wonderful to the baffling. Every May, TV shows try to leave us wanting more. But sometimes, a season's big ending is up in the air until you see it, with writers frantically crafting new scripts. Here are 10 finales that were being written right up to the last minute.
Let's just deal with the most obvious example first — the TNG second season finale was an unholy catastrophe of epic proportions. The show was still suffering from the writer's strike, and they had gone over budget with the Borg episode, so Paramount asked for an ultra-cheap episode that could be filmed in just a few days. So someone threw together this this dreadful clip show where Riker reclines on a magic bed and they try to make him feel all the different emotions that Riker is capable of. This somehow fills a whole hour. Co-writer Maurice Hurley has called this episode a "piece of shit."
This is another one that suffered from a writer's strike — Heroes' second season, in general, was massively disrupted by the 2007-2008 strike, and this episode had to be rewritten to wrap up all of the season's plots, instead of launching into a whole new chapter for the spring. In the original version of this episode, Adam succeeds in unleashing the Shanti virus, bringing about the plague apocalypse that Peter foresaw and leading to a storyline about trying to find a cure. But at the last moment, the episode was rewritten so that instead Peter succeeds in stopping the virus. And then a new twist is introduced, where Nathan suddenly wants to come clean about mutant superpowers, and gets shot.
The final moments of the seventh season finale were up in the air until the last possible moment — because nobody knew if the show was coming back for an eighth season, or if David Duchovny would agree to return as Fox Mulder. Various endings were mooted, including Mulder meeting his father aboard an alien spaceship. But in the end, the show got another season and Duchovny agreed to be a recurring character — so Chris Carter delivered script pages to the set the day of filming, in which Scully announces she's pregnant and the mystery of Mulder's whereabouts is set in motion for the next year.
Patrick McGoohan reportedly wrote the final episode of The Prisoner in 48 hours before the show's filming deadline, after he'd learned The Prisoner was being canceled and this was to be the final episode. He had written the cliffhanger in "Once Upon a Time" a year earlier, and had no idea how to resolve it — so he came up with a surreal masterpiece in a weekend.
Here's a rare case of a finale that was rewritten after it had already aired. The original version of "Limbo" was meant to serve as a series finale — Magnum gets shot in a dockland firefight, and finds himself having an out-of-body experience. Because he's dead. He meets his dead Naval buddy Mac, and realizes he has one last chance to say good bye to his friends, which involves a lot of John Denver music. In the end of the episode, Magnum walks away into Heaven. This episode freaked me out when I first saw it — but after the episode aired, the network decided to renew Magnum P.I. after all — so the episode had to be re-edited, so that Magnum wasn't actually dead but in a coma. Weirdly, the re-edited version of the episode still includes snippets of Magnum's funeral, which seems a bit premature. The re-edited version was shown before the start of season eight, where Magnum wakes up from his "coma."
And now we're back to shows hit by writer's strikes. Supernatural's third season was massively truncated, and this was bad news for Dean Winchester. Originally, season three would have involved Sam saving Dean from going to Hell — but at the cost of activating Sam's demon-blood powers. So instead of Dean getting dragged to Hell, and the season ending with Dean trapped and screaming, we would have seen Sam paying a high price. As it was, Sam's demon-blood powers didn't fully come into play until the following season.
David Lynch didn't write the final episode of Twin Peaks, but he did direct it — and he wound up massively revamping the script during filming, to make the sequences in the Red Room way more surreal. He added more appearances by characters who hadn't been seen in a while, like the Log Lady, and he amped up the weirdness in general. Most of all, Lynch changed the episode's ending to make it way more blatantly obvious that Agent Cooper was possessed by BOB.
This episode was reshot months after it was originally finished, because Glenn Mazzara left as showrunner, and the new showrunner, Scott Gimple, wanted a different version of Andrea's death. As Dallas Roberts, who played Milton, explained to Entertainment Weekly, the original version shows a dying Milton struggling with killing Andrea, and he actually tries to strangle her with a chain so he won't kill her after he becomes a zombie. But Gimple felt like the episode would have more impact if we didn't know Andrea's fate until the end — so he brought them back for reshoots.
For one thing, this wasn't even going to be the fourth season finale at all — they'd already filmed "Sleeping In Light" and then the show was suddenly renewed, so "Sleeping in Light" was held back until season five. But also, according to a lot of sources online, creator J. Michael Straczynski didn't know until the very last minute that Claudia Christian wasn't coming back for season five, so the episode had to be revamped at the eleventh hour to remove all references to Ivanova.
And last but definitely not least — the Doctor Who mega-story "Trial of a Time Lord" was never going to be the show's finest hour, but it's hard to imagine a more catstrophic series of events than what happened to its final episode. Writer Robert Holmes died before writing the script, leaving only an outline. And then script editor Eric Saward, who was already quitting, agreed to write the final episode based on Holmes' outline — but after producer John Nathan-Turner insisted the show couldn't end on a cliffhanger, Saward refused to write it. And legally, the show couldn't use either Holmes' or Saward's drafts. So Nathan-Turner stuck Pip and Jane Baker in a room without access to outlines or notes about how the story was supposed to end, and they had a few days to write a brand new ending. From scratch. The result features Doctor Who's greatest line of dialogue of all time: "There's nothing you can do to stop the catharsis of spurious morality!" (Apparently, you can read Saward's unused script for episode 14 here. No clue if it's real or not.)
Thanks to Ciaran Conliffe, Tyler Williams, Drew Chial, Tristan R. Salazar, Lisa Rein, Theresa DeLucci, Rich Johnson, Jenn Reese, Matthew Wood, Catherine Hill, Brian Huberd, Piglet, Joe Kinkopf, Eugenia Beh and everyone else who helped with this one!