Last night, Breaking Bad broke us once and for all, with a fitting ending that gave us tons of closure. But many of our favorite TV shows have straight-up kicked us in the teeth on their way out. Here are the most brutal series finales of science fiction and fantasy TV shows.
Top image: Life on Mars.
Spoilers for old television shows (and Merlin) below!
This sitcom from Jim Henson Productions has a weirdly disturbing ending — there's a total ecological collapse, in which the dinosaurs destroy their own environment through irresponsible meddling. This leads to a kind of nuclear winter, and those dinosaurs are left waiting to die. The final words are "Goodnight... goodbye." Millions of kids, traumatized.
Speaking of traumatized kids... I guess this show ends with ALF almost escaping with his fellow aliens. And then the U.S. military shows up and all the other extraterrestrials get away — except for ALF. Who's hauled off to be dissected or something. Thanks to everybody who pointed out this oversight on Twitter and in the comments, including Whitetrashsteve.
Sapphire and Steel
The series finale is actually a cliffhanger ending, that's never resolved — but it's a perfect dark conclusion to this creepy horror show. Sapphire and Steel are trapped forever in a house in the void, looking out the windows at nothing.
Space Island One
Greed and stupidity cause the space station to cut corners, leading to a huge tragedy that could easily have been prevented. When I first saw this episode, it was like having a refrigerator fall on me from a great height. The final line of dialogue: "You know, Dusan, we really ought to get these airlocks overhauled sometime." Gut. Punch.
Mork and Mindy
Fighting an evil alien, Mork and Mindy are lost in the time vortex, being flung through time, as Mork shouts "At least we still have each other." The weird final image is cave painting of the duo, hinting that they wound up stranded on prehistoric Earth.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
There is a lot of debate about what actually happened in the end, but the prevailing theory seems to be that everyone dies except Shinji and Asuka. Or all humanity gets absorbed into the Human Instrumentality Project. Image by Akira Kawaii Kire.
Another cliffhanger that makes a perfect ending. Blake's need to test people, and Avon's inability to trust, lead to a massive bloodbath in which everybody probably dies. Sums up everything.
Sort of a bittersweet ending, but the final caption asserting that "Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home" was a knife in the gut of all the fans who'd been rooting for him all this time. Fans debate whether Sam never returned home because he still wanted to help people, or because he died, or because he is just trapped in an endless Sisyphean hell.
Everybody gets into pods except for Eli, who's gambling that he'll be able to repair the final, faulty pod. So Eli is left alone on the station, basically left to die unless he can work a miracle.
Arthur dies, and we see that Merlin is still wandering around in the present day, centuries later, alone without his best friend.
Maybe not the most disturbing ending on this list — but the death of Wesley is pretty heart-breaking. And Gunn seems to be in pretty bad shape as well. But more than that, the way the show ends, with the message that the battle against evil never ends, it just goes on and on, is both uplifting and kind of nihilistic. See the "Sisyphus" thing with Quantum Leap.
Being Human UK
This ending is a wee bit ambiguous, but it seems pretty likely that the Devil won, and the three roommates got tricked into accepting an illusion of their perfect world, where they're human and still living together.
We're still in mourning for this show, and don't understand why we can't have more Fades. As TheKeith82 explains, "the ending kinda looked like it was setting up for a second series that never came. As it stands, it basically ends with the protagonist accidentally ending the world after he defeats the bad guys."
Space: Above and Beyond
This space war series ends with an episode focusing on the high cost of fighting the aliens. T.C. McQueen is critical injured, there are tons of casualties, and most of the crew is "waiting to die as they fall without shields into a planet's atmosphere," as commenter Robin Swope explains. [Thanks, Robin!]
Spike finally reunites with Julia, his lost love from the Red Dragons, but she dies. And when he confronts Vicious, the Red Dragons' leader, he's apparently killed as well. As one fan writes over at myanimelist, "He could have stayed with Faye and Jet and started all over again, and he probably would have been happy. But like he said, he had to find out if he was really living. For him the past three years were like watching a dream, and at some point, the dream has to end."
Holy crap, this ending is jacked up. Agent Cooper emerges from the Lodge — but apparently it's not Agent Cooper any more. He headbutts the mirror while saying "How's Annie" over and over, and we look at his reflection and see... Killer Bob. Ack.
This quintessentially 1968 piece of television serves up a huge dollop of surrealism in its final episode — but it's also incredibly dark and depressing, if you follow the implications of the notion that Number One, the mysterious rule of the Village, is really Number 6 in an ape mask. And it appears, at the end, that freedom is an illusion and Number 6 can never really escape from the Village, because the Village is the world.
Life on Mars UK
And finally, the show in which the solution that the main character finds is, basically, suicide. Sam Tyler, who seriously considers killing himself to escape 1973 in one of the early episodes, finally does kill himself to return to 1973 in the finale. Sure, the sequel series Ashes to Ashes added a lot of complication and layers of mythos to this ending — apparently Gene Hunt is an angel? — but if you take Life on Mars as a standalone show, this ending is brilliantly dark and messed up.