As a show motors through its final season, and you know the end is coming sooner rather than later, it’s interesting to suppose a few things. For instance, whether or not key characters finally get what they’ve wanted during the show’s run. Most good shows have this “will they or won’t they?” dynamic that we hope is resolved by that final episode. In the case of Seinfeld, though, there was no sexual tension between the characters by the end, so what was the question that needed answering?
Throughout the show’s run, what made it so spectacularly funny were the situations the characters created or found themselves in every week for nine seasons. However, most of those situations involved some shockingly rude comments, amazingly illegal activities, and deplorable treatment of others. They were culturally ignorant ambassadors of their age, and we laughed at their nefarious deeds, the whole time knowledgeable of their indiscretions but turning a blind eye just as they did. And they never had to really pay for their unseemly behavior.
So the question was truly “will they or won’t they pay?” and the answer was the Seinfeld Finale. That’s why I loved it, because even in a sitcom world where characters do whatever they want with rarely any repercussions Seinfeld was different. In the end it was different, and that’s what made it special. When the gang makes fun of a large man on the street who gets mugged instead of trying to help him they get their day in court, and a large group of people they’ve wronged throughout the course of the show’s run sit on the stand and point fingers. In the end they’re sentenced to hard jail time.
It’s not a happy ending, nor should it be. Therein lies the rub. We get so used to our sitcoms being funny, and for everything to be neatly wrapped up by the show’s end, and while this was a wrap, it was neither neat nor tidy. Even though Jerry’s still joking in jail at the very end of the episode, we as viewers are left with a portrait of what not to do, and how not to be, and it paints a bleak picture of humankind. Because we identified with Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, we are also judged by the indictment of those characters, and we never like to look inward and judge ourselves, so viewers instead decided the episode itself was bad.
Interesting how that happens, but instead of thinking the finale was poorly done, I got the point, and I realized it was the only way to satisfactorily end a show that was indeed about people getting away with pretty much whatever they wanted, and treating people however they wanted. Ironically it’s exactly when they think their lives are going to take the fast road when they finally get their comeuppance. It’s fitting. It’s witty. And it’s final. Just as a finale should be.