Patrick McElhenney/Fox
May 24, 2013 at 12:00 PM EDT

‘Tis the season to end the TV season. A time of apocalyptic cliffhangers, teary eyed goodbyes, and of course, angry runaway wedding-crashing badgers. Speaking of spoilers: There will be a lot of them in our critical assessment of the year’s most notable finales so far, from The Office to Nashville to one not-so-happy Happy Endings. If your DVR cue is clogged with deferred climaxes… well, you should get that checked out, because it sounds painful. You should also not read everything that follows this colon:


There’s an old rule that suspense works best when the audience figures out what’s going to happen a split second before the character does. But this hugely satisfying finale proved it’s just as thrilling when you already know what’s going to happen — you just don’t know when. Up until now, Freddie Highmore has been so sympathetic as the painfully quiet, sick-girl-befriending Norman Bates, it would’ve been easy to forget that he ends up slashing some poor lady in the shower when he’s older. But here, he finally gets the permission he needs to go totally mother-loving crazy: it turns out that Norma was sexually abused as a kid, and she tells him right before he gets picked up for prom. (Nice timing, Mother.) Also, someone had better shine up that Emmy for Vera Farmiga, who gives the performance of the season, mixing serious damaged-woman pathos (that sad psychiatrist visit!) with pure camp (the shoot-’em-up firing practice! the “Screw off, s—thead!” outbursts!). Oh, and that final shot of Miss Watson lying dead on the floor? Maybe Hitchcock would’ve let us figure out that she’s dead on our own, without needing to show us. But for me, there was a far more unsettling revelation there: not just that Norman (most likely) killed her, but that we were dying to see this happen all along. A- (MM)


The series finale was effective for all the reasons one could be curmudgeonly about it: It was, inevitably, a sweetly sentimental send-off that gave almost every character a happily-ever-after ending, including the show’s original hero, Michael Scott (Steve Carell, in a humbly-played cameo), who dropped by to demonstrate he had found full self-realization as a father. The end of The Office was a little like the end of Lost: Everyone either paired off with a true love or found fairy tale fulfillment or enlightenment. Yes, Toby was more woefully Eeyore-ish than ever (but at least he knew it), and Creed went to jail, busted at long last for dealing drugs during his folk rock days in The Grass Roots. But as the man said: You can make a home out of anywhere. The finale satisfied any need for an Office reunion special down the road, because it was a reunion special — a smart storytelling move that allowed the hour to accomplish all the summing up it needed to do. One year after the airing of the nine-seasons-in-the-making documentary, the Dunder Mifflin crew, now modest celebrities, re-assembled for a Q+A with fans, which also coincided with Dwight and Angela’s wedding. The Jim/Pam of it all was iffy. Feeling guilty about not supporting Jim’s sports marketing dream job after all of his romantic sacrifice and gestures over the years, Pam made good by conspiring to sell the house and move to Austin, where Darryl had just opened a new branch of Athleap. Great for Jim! Great for Pam? If she insists. The edgier, weirder moments worked best: Toby confessing he feels life is meaningless now that he’s no longer being filmed; Ryan abandoning his baby to run away with Kelly; Dwight and Angela heeding Schrute family traditions by exchanging their vows while standing in their graves. In fact, Dwight was responsible for all the best-earned tears: His blissed-out reaction to Jim’s final “good surprise” (ceding the Best Man honor to he-made-it-after-all! Michael, who delivered his most nuanced and heartfelt “That’s what she said” ever); and firing Jim and Pam so they could relocate with a nest egg of severance. The grand arc of The Office saga revealed itself: Dwight’s hilariously awkward rise to Scranton power — and his evolution into the best boss the office could ever hope to have. But is Pam really Dwight’s best friend?! Okay. If he insists. B+ (JJ)


Bullseye! What we said a few months ago about Arrow‘s pumped-up creativity paid off with a finale as muscular and spectacular as Stephen Amell’s… emotional fortitude. Because enough about the abs, already. Okay, not enough: That opening sequence in which Oliver worked his core to bust from free chains and confinement was just pure, sensationalistic fitness porn. The story was a literal gloss on class warfare: The sinister conspiracy of Starling City’s rotten Richie Riches — a proverbial terrorist group, led by “Dark Arrow” Malcolm Merlyn and including Oliver’s mother — detonated an earthquake under a slummy quarter just to murder the worthless proles they hated. You expected Oliver and his expanding legion of super-friends to save the day. They didn’t. Shocker. The small screen apocalypse was a budget catastrophe, for sure, yet it all made for a rousing riff on the call and cost of heroism (R.I.P. Tommy, who died to save Laurel) that also, somehow, managed to squeeze in a PSA about the dangers of texting while driving. Thanks, Speedy. B+ (JJ)


Destroying the Cytron card? Cheating death? Fingering the mole? Letting Quinn rearrange his insides with a hand drill? That’s right, gladiators: IT’S HANDLED! Having “fixed” so many crises, Olivia Pope gets to wear the white hat once again. (Metaphorically, and literally — check out that white velour number that she dons like a boss at the end.) And we’re all supposed to be happy about that. But after learning that she has hacked, wire-tapped, and tortured her way to the top — all for the love of a man who rigged an election and murdered a cancer-plagued Supreme Court justice — it’s getting harder to remember why we’re still rooting for her. Maybe the final revelation (Rowan is her father?!?) will help explain her dark side next season. You can blame her dad, or you can blame the system. But either way, as Harrison says, “Ish just got real.” B+ (MM)


The geek smarties on my Twitter feed seem to think the Doctor Who finale was a been-there/done-that disappointment. But I was riveted by the Doctor’s risky trek to the place where no time lord should ever boldly go: His grave. Which, in his case, is/was his own TARDIS, monolithically elephantine from leaking its infinite space, a paradox as always. I was intrigued by the cliffhanger introduction of John Hurt as apparently abominable alt-reality incarnation the Doctor. And I was satisfied by the revelation that Clara’s fundamental riddle — her appearances throughout history in various different, discontinuous forms — was the result of heroically chasing The Great Intelligence down the Doctor’s soul-well and fragmenting across his epic timeline. The Impossible Girl’s many lives destiny: To save the many lives of Doctor Who. Some feel that because Clara was so defined by her mystery, they couldn’t emotionally connect with the character and therefore care deeply about her sacrifice. Point taken: Clara needs to be further developed. But this was the season that finally lured me back into Who after many years away, and while I recognize (after much binge-watching catch-up) how this might not have been Steven Moffat’s most compelling stretch of episodes (the power of that Doctor/River Song smooch was surely the measure of it), it did for me what earlier seasons did for so many others: Hooked me good with their imaginative plots, density of head-stretching ideas, great wit, and Matt Smith’s fantastically elastic performance. Someone cast him in a Plastic Man movie. Now. B (JJ)


Four words: Decapitation by graduation cap. Really, once that happened, did you need another reason to relish this ridiculous episode? B (MM)

NEXT: Laughing at New Girl, yawning at The Mentalist.

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