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Confusing TV Show Endings Explained

Starting a new show is kind of like getting involved in a new relationship. You develop an infatuation, devote your time to it, and get completely invested. In the end, you'll either be happy and fulfilled, or you'll end up bitter and disappointed. Whether you get the ending you want or not, you're often bound to come away with lingering questions, or even end up completely baffled about what just happened.

So many television shows have stuck their landings (Six Feet Under, The Americans, and Parks & Recreation come to mind), and plenty have not — famously, shows like The Sopranos, Dexter, and How I Met Your Mother deeply disappointed longtime fans who faithfully stayed with these shows until the very end. A series finale can't possibly satisfy every single fan, but some are just plain confusing, and whether the finales seemed entirely slapdash or were just difficult to understand, many viewers have been left at a loss when their favorite shows ended. Here, we try to explain some of the on- and offscreen reasons that hit shows ended the way they did.

Breaking Bad

AMC's hit drama Breaking Bad launched Bryan Cranston's career as a dramatic lead, kept audiences riveted through five seasons of twists and turns, and even spawned a particularly worthy spinoff (the Bob Odenkirk vehicle Better Call Saul, which has been lauded by critics), and when the series finale, "Felina," aired in September of 2013, it was watched by over ten million viewers. Audiences might have been ready to see unlikely drug kingpin Walter White meet a sticky end, but instead, he freed Jesse from captivity, said goodbye to his wife and children, and died on his own terms before police could apprehend him, ultimately getting the happiest ending anyone could expect from such a dark, often horrifying story.

Though the episode was critically adored, many viewers were left befuddled by the ending, which wrapped up perhaps a little too neatly, and before too long, the internet was ablaze with numerous theories about the story's conclusion, with the most prominent being that Walter died not at the end of the episode, but just before the halfway mark. While trapped in a broken-down, snow-covered car trying to elude the police, Walter was able to miraculously escape, and many have argued that his rescue of Jesse and time with his family is his dying fantasy, which might clear up this implausibly happy ending for some irritated fans.

Veronica Mars

In the midst of the early aughts, when primetime teen soap operas reigned supreme, teens and adults alike who were looking for a darker, more sophisticated show turned to Veronica Mars, which began airing on UPN and made the jump to the CW, the product of UPN and the WB merging before its third season. Starring Kristen Bell as the titular teen sleuth, the show chronicled Veronica's myriad of mysteries and cases in her hometown of Neptune, California.

However, the series came to an abrupt end during its third season, when the CW abruptly announced the show's cancellation just before the season finale aired, despite creator Rob Thomas' pitch for a story in which Veronica would go on to work for the FBI. During her college graduation, Veronica figures out that evil billionaire Jake Kane has a sex tape of her that he has used to publicly shame her, and after cutting her ex Logan out of her life for attacking her current boyfriend, Piz, Veronica is at a loss as to what to do next. Audiences were left with plenty of unanswered questions, including the fate of her father's race for sheriff. Years later, fans rallied and raised over $5 million for a movie follow-up that arrived 2014. It will be followed by a new season on Hulu in 2019, meaning fans have finally gotten closure in the years since.


Felicity, which served as a launch pad for stars like Keri Russell and Scott Foley as well as creator J.J. Abrams, was a college drama about incoming freshman Felicity (Russell) following her crush Ben (Scott Speedman) across the country to New York rather than attending school in California as planned. Along the way, she found herself involved in a love triangle between Ben and Noel (Scott Foley), but as the show progressed and Abrams moved on to other projects, many viewers and critics believed it suffered.

The confusion behind the series finale is as follows: the show ended with Felicity's college graduation and her choosing Ben, but after that, the WB asked for five more episodes, which led the writers down a twisting, time-travel based path that asked what might happen in an alternate universe where she chose Noel rather than Ben, the boy she followed to the East Coast in the first place. Because the show technically had already ended, this Noel-based universe was utterly confusing to most fans, who thought the show had already completed its story. This time traveling befuddled not only fans of the show, but some members of the cast, with Scott Foley admitting later that he barely had any idea how the show ended. However, one promising development came out of this, as Abrams, frustrated in the writer's room, started to wonder what might happen if Felicity became a spy — which led directly to his next project.


Devoted Alias fans will always remember Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, an ass-kicking super spy who worked as a double agent within the CIA to take down SD-6, a mysterious terrorist cell. With a supporting cast that included Victor Garber as Jack Bristow (Sydney's tough yet loving father), Michael Vartan as Michael Vaughn (Sydney's handler, partner, and eventual love interest), and even a young Bradley Cooper as Will Tippin (Sydney's best friend), the show balanced classic spy drama with an ancient, mysterious figure named Milo Rambaldi who seemed to be the key to the show's entire story.

However, thanks to Jennifer Garner's real-life pregnancy and the show's decision to kill off Vartan's character at the height of their romance, ratings slipped, and ABC decided to cancel the show in 2005. The series finale, as a result, was a confusing, noisy, mess, bringing Vaughn back (saying that he had faked his death), putting all its eggs in the Rambaldi basket, killing most of the supporting cast (including both of Sydney's parents), a bizarre scene involving a man being buried alive and his daughter's ghost, and ending with an epilogue that found Sydney and Vaughn on a beach watching their children play, with a strong suggestion that their daughter could become a spy later in life. Years later, Cooper would reunite with some of his co-stars for his directorial debut A Star Is Born, giving Alias fans a little gift after a disappointing ending.

Gossip Girl

Fans of whip-smart teen soaps with phenomenal soundtracks like The O.C. flocked to Gossip Girl when it premiered in 2007, hoping to one day discover the identity of mysterious blogger Gossip Girl (voiced by Kristen Bell) who keeps track of Manhattan's richest and most popular teenagers. With over-the-top yet relatable characters like queen bee Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester), troubled beauty Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively), and Brooklyn outsider and aspiring writer Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), fans spent six seasons obsessing over their fantastically unrealistic exploits (it still seems pretty unlikely that Chuck Bass would own a hotel before he could legally drink).

As the sixth season came to a close, the series mostly did an excellent job wrapping up everyone's storylines, but the big reveal — that Gossip Girl had been Dan the whole time — still, to this day, makes basically no sense (even Badgley admitted as much). Not only did Gossip Girl constantly attack Dan, his younger sister, and his future wife Serena, he also was frequently surprised by what turned out to be his own revelations, and it was often impossible for him to have the information he was transmitting. It looks like fans weren't wrong to be confused, as Schwartz later said Gossip Girl was supposed to be Serena's younger brother Eric, but people guessed it too quickly. By pairing off Serena and her bully as well as shoehorning previous guest stars like Lisa Loeb and Billy Baldwin into the episode, the show left audiences baffled.

Pretty Little Liars

Following in Gossip Girl's footsteps, the whirlwind drama Pretty Little Liars focused on beautiful yet wild teenagers trying to figure out the identity of "A," a mysterious figure who is constantly threatening to expose their myriad secrets. With four female leads — Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale), Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson), and Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell) — the show followed these friends as they navigated their lives in the small suburban town of Rosewood amidst murder threats, bodily harm, and other deeply dramatic dangers. 

Showrunner I. Marlene King, who steered Liars for the entirety of its run, brought together a "bonkers" ending, where it was revealed that A was actually Spencer's twin sister (that Spencer never even knew existed), a grand finish that had been in the works for a number of years. Beyond that, it featured Aria marrying her high school teacher, and saddled every character with a newborn baby. Even King seemed confused about some of the finale's plot threads, and when answering questions about it, she seems to not have very many answers about fans' lingering questions.

However, even in the context of a show that was notoriously confusing and often nonsensical throughout its seven-year run, fans were extraordinarily vocal about their disappointment in the finale, taking to the internet to express their feelings and even go after King. For a show that trafficked in confusion, the ending should have suited it perfectly, and it's still unfortunate that fans felt differently.


A completely unique network television series, Dinosaurs came from an original concept by Jim Henson, the father of the Muppets and founder of the always ambitious Jim Henson Company (though Henson tragically died in 1990, one year before the show premiered).  Set in 60,000,003 B.C., the show focused on the Sinclair family of dinosaurs, which included father and mother Earl and Fran; children Robbie, Charlene, and Baby; and Fran's mother, Ethel. The family faced topical and often edgy issues, marking the show as progressive and intelligent despite its heightened reality and puppet stars.

However, the finale is famously dark in tone compared to the rest of the show — the community's poor environmental decisions lead to their demise as the Ice Age becomes immediately imminent. Fans were quite surprised when a show that had an inherently sweet tone by and large ended with the Sinclairs sitting on their couch, awaiting death. However, the message was clear — willful ignorance and greed led to the dinosaurs' demise. Knowing the show would be canceled in its fourth season, creators planned for this shocking finale, and its message remains relevant today. Even a straightforward finale can cause confusion among viewers, but at least with Dinosaurs, it's clear what the showrunners wanted to say.

The Leftovers

Considering that the entire premise of The Leftovers was based around the aftermath of a mysterious (and eventually, maybe, unexplained) Rapture-like event where 2 percent of all people vanished from the face of the Earth, the finale was bound to be fairly confusing — although in this instance, that wasn't viewed negatively, as critics and viewers alike almost unilaterally praised the show's final episode. 

The series finale, "The Book of Nora," is a perfect showcase for Carrie Coon, who spent three seasons as Nora Dunn, and as she tries to reunite with her loved ones who initially disappeared in what is referred to as "The Departure," she finds herself on an entirely new journey, albeit one that reunites her with Kevin (Justin Theroux), her on-again, off-again lover. Viewers are left wondering if Nora is telling Kevin the truth about what happened to those who were "taken" from Earth, and the finale never provides a definitive answer, leaving many loose threads unraveled, but for a show that dealt so heavily in mystery, it felt appropriate for it to end on an utterly ambiguous note.

Throughout the series, The Leftovers took a huge number of risks, and though the finale offered closure about whether those who departed were living happy lives, it still remained confusing to plenty of viewers. What does Nora really know? How did Kevin find her again? Where do they go from there? With all these questions still in the air, it's easy to feel lost after this finale.

True Detective Season 2

After the massively successful first season of HBO's anthology series True Detective, which garnered critical acclaim for creator Cary Joji Fukunaga and stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, audiences were incredibly excited for the second season, which featured Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, and Colin Farrell in leading roles. That excitement was perhaps premature — the second season finished with disappointing reviews, thanks to lackluster performances, a simultaneously baffling and boring throughline, and a central murder case that turned out to be fairly irrelevant. Though the season initially set up a fascinatingly gruesome murder as the show's central plot, the finale solved it quickly and underwhelmingly, as most of the characters are killed off, leaving Rachel McAdams to inexplicably run away to Venezuela. The closest thing audiences got to closure was the construction of a rail project, which doesn't exactly seem riveting enough to serve as the climax for such a twisting, brooding show. 

The season finale fared worst of all critically, squandering any good will that small parts of the show had built up — thanks to too much exposition, one too many shootouts, and characters betraying their previous motivations, critics were less than enamored with the show's grand finish. Perhaps Season 3, starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali, will regain some of the ground the sophomore year lost.

Pushing Daisies

Plenty of beloved series are canceled too soon, and Pushing Daisies, an early effort from Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller, is one of the most frequently cited examples. A visual feast set in a fantasy world that was still somehow grounded in pieces of reality, the show was narrated by Jim Dale (famous for his work on Harry Potter audiobooks) and starred Lee Pace as Ned, a shy pie-maker with a special, non-pie related talent — he could bring anything back from the dead just by touching it, but if he ever touched that now-living creature again, it would die forever. Using his power, he brings his childhood love, Charlie (Anna Friel) back to life, and though they can never touch, the pair spend the series solving various murder cases. 

Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after a dip in ratings during its second season, which prevented it from having an official and satisfying finale. Though many fans were happy with the ending, the show concluded on a cliffhanger — Chuck reveals herself to her family and tells them she's still alive. Thanks to an abrupt cancellation that surprised the creators, several threads were left hanging, including a storyline about Chuck's absent father, and since it wasn't intended to be the finale, the episode focuses more on Chuck's eccentric aunts than the two main characters. 

Fuller offered fans hope in the form of a limited-release comic book that would detail what happened after the finale ended. Unfortunately, the closing of the comic's publisher, DC imprint Wildstorm, meant that nothing but sample pages ever made it to completion. Fuller still remains hopeful that the story will come back from the dead in some form.