Title: One for the Road
Directed by: James Burrows
Written by: Glen Charles and Les Charles
Air Date: May 20, 1993
Previous: The Guy Can't Help It
Next: none (series finale)
Guest Starring: Shelley Long, Tom Berenger, Jackie Swanson, Paul Wilson, Anthony Heald
"One for the Road" is the 25th and last episode of the eleventh season of Cheers. It is also the series finale, the 271st and last episode of one of the most popular and successful American sitcoms of all time.
It's a slow night at Cheers, as the barflies are watching the Cable ACE Awards, mainly for the chance to ogle the female hosts. Sam returns from his sex therapy session, and Rebecca's still dating Don the plumber (Tom Berenger), and still hoping that he'll propose to her. When he does, she says no, even though she really, really wants to. Eventually, Don flees the bar.
On the TV, the winner of the next award is one Diane Chambers, not seen since she and Sam called off their wedding and she left town six years ago. Yep, Diane (Shelley Long) is back, and she's still Diane. Sam catches her speech (hard not to when it goes so long), and decides to give Diane a call for old time's sake. It doesn't take long for them to fall back into the old routine of lying to one another. When Diane tells him that she's married to a man named Reed, Sam fabricates a wife of his own. Sam suggests Diane come visit the bar so they can catch up, believing, rightly, that Diane's story of success is a lie and that she'll never actually come around. Norm knows better, though.
Sure enough, the next day Diane returns to Cheers, and offers to take Sam to lunch with his wife. Sam scrambles, asking a by now entirely distraught Rebecca to pretend to be his wife. Lunch doesn't go well, between Reed's suspicious behaviour, Rebecca's Rebeccaness and the fact she and Sam didn't bother corroborating any cover story before going to Melville's. Things don't get better when Don appears, insisting Rebecca marry her and refusing to take no for an answer, though this time Rebecca does say yes. Then Reed's boyfriend enters.
Left alone, Sam tells Diane he only made the pretense to stop Diane getting the idea he's alone and miserable without her in his life. Diane thinks he's covering for anger at how she didn't return six years ago. She explains that she had written a book, but didn't want to come back until she was actually successful, and six months became a year, and by that point she felt she'd been gone too long. Quietly, Sam admits that they have once again proven they just don't work together. Diane admits she doesn't have a lot of people in her life - even Reed's just her dog groomer, but it's the life she's chosen for herself.
The next day, Norm finds Woody's actually managed to get him a job, and Rebecca announces she and Don have gotten married. She's got mixed feelings about it, even though she loves him and he loves her. Carla, however, gets worried when she notices Sam's missing. When Frasier tries reassuring her, Sam enters to announce he and Diane are back together again, and they're getting married. And Sam's planning to move to LA.
No one in the gang is supportive of this. Sam insists he needs more than Cheers, and the gang should need more than Cheers, and with that storms out of the bar.
At the airport, Sam and Diane's flight to LA is delayed, and as they wait, the two start to have second thoughts, thinking they can hear the PA system speaking to them directly, cautioning them about their choices. As the plane returns to the terminal, Sam and Diane hold hands, knowing what comes next.
Sam returns to Cheers, and decides to crack open a box of cigars, offering them to the rest of the gang, but everyone makes excuses and leave Sam on his own. For five seconds. Turns out Diane phoned to tell them what happened, and they were just messing with him.
The gang hang out over their cigars, with a brief reappearance from Rebecca, still uncertain about how her life's turned out. They muse on the meaning of life, family and friendship, until they decide it's time to leave. The last one out is Norm, who turns back to Sam and tells him he knew Sam wouldn't leave. That he knew Sam will always come back to his one true love. And Sam knows who that is.
Left on his own, Sam reflects on this, and comes to the conclusion: "I'm the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth."
A customer approaches the door, but Sam tells him they're closed, and with that, stopping only to adjust the picture of Geronimo hanging in the back of the barnote , turns off the lights.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The whole deal with the Cable ACE awards is basically a joke about Diane's pretensions, how that after she fancied herself a great writer she wound up stuck on cable TV. Within a few years of this show, The Sopranos debuted on HBO and established cable as the home of the best television. The Cable ACE awards were eventually discontinued because cable shows and made-for-cable-TV movies like Diane's wound up winning Emmys all the time.
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Woody tells Diane he's married, expecting a kid and on the Boston City Council. Diane responds that she's next in line for the throne of England, forgetting this is Woody she's dealing with.
- As Himself: Kim Alexis and Mike Ditka as themselves, hosting the Cable ACE Awards.
- Back for the Finale: Diane returns, after six seasons away.
- Blatant Lies:
- Sam insists he's doing great. Life's great, business is great, hair's thicker than ever.
- Frasier's over Diane. Completely over her. Utterly, totally over her.
- Book-Ends: For the entire 11-year run of the show. In series premiere "Give Me a Ring Sometime", the first shot of the series shows Sam Malone coming out of the hallway to the pool room and opening the bar. The last shot of the series shows Sam, having closed the bar, walking back down the hallway to the pool room.
- The Cameo: Among the random patrons of the bar are Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip Doonesbury, and Rick Berman, producer of the Star Trek franchise (owned by Paramount, which also produces Cheers).
- Cannot Spit It Out: Frasier tries saying he loves the gang, but is unable to get it out.note
- Career Versus Man: Gender-flipped with Sam, who faces the prospect of running away with Diane, and leaving Cheers. He picks career.
- Character Filibuster: Diane's learned nothing in her time away, her acceptance speech just going on and on and on until she's dragged off.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Cliff, one last time, though his last Clifficism, by his standards is pretty tame. He claims the best successes in life are down to comfortable shoes.
- Companion Cube: The most common interpretation of the ending is that the bar itself is Sam's one true love, not unlike Captain Kirk's love for the Enterprise
- Conspiracy Theorist: Cliff insists there's no actual earthquakes in LA, it's just the government drilling down to install a computer in the center of the earth to control the earth's rotation. Hearing this one has Frasier suggest again that Cliff go in for electroshock therapy.
- Creator Cameo: NBC execs Brandon Tartikoff, Warren Littlefield, and Grant Tinker appear as anonymous bar patrons. Contrary to some sources the man who appears in silhouette outside the door to the bar is not James Burrows, but rather Bob Broder, agent to series creators Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles.
- Damned by Faint Praise:
- Frasier tries congratulating Don and Rebecca's marriage, but he can only manage to get out "you got Rebecca."
- Once again, Rebecca says her days at Cheers have been the best days of her life, and everyone's horrified.
- Deconstruction: Once again, everyone but Diane points out her and Sam's relationship is masochistic and destructive, Sam included. Sam, meanwhile, is still aware his life is pretty hollow and meaningless and he now wants more than that.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Sam ultimately doesn't end up with Diane.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Sam insists Diane don't be sorry for her after the debacle with Rebecca in Melville's.
- Double Entendre: Sam suggests they get dessert, but the discussion on ice cream soon turns into other things, and they decide to skip eating.
- Embarrassing First Name: Turns out Woody's first name is actually Huckleberry, not Woodrow.
- Establishing Shot: Every single episode of Cheers ever was full of these; there were establishing shots of the street outside the bar with cars whizzing by, establishing shots of Boston scenery to help set a mood, and establishing shots of frequently seen secondary locations like Frasier's condo or Carla's house. So it's appropriate that the very last shot of the series, before the final Smash to Black, is an external shot of the bar, at night, with the lights off.
- Extra-Long Episode: This episode ran on NBC as a 98-minute extravaganza. Minus the commercials, it's 73 minues, so basically a triple episode.
- The Faceless: The man who knocks on the door of Cheers after closing time, seen only as an outline in the window in the last scene. He's symbolic of all the patrons who have come, and will come, to the Local Hangout under Melville's, the bar where everybody knows your name.
- Finale Credits: The final episode ends with white credits against a solid black background, instead of the usual yellow credits over a still of the bar. In addition, a Lonely Piano Piece version of the closing theme plays instead of the usual clarinet theme.
- Foreshadowing: Norm says he wants to go home to Vera, and Carla says she wants to go back to her kids.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Cliff, again. No-one in the bar cares about his promotion.
- Gainax Ending: Just what is Sam's one true love, and what did he mean when he said "I'm the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth"? Is it the bar? Is that why he's lucky, because he has the bar and his friends and they love each other?
- Grand Finale: A 98-minute episode when it ran on NBC, 73 minutes without commercials, 70 minutes in syndication, involving Norm finally getting a job, Cliff getting a promotion, Rebecca getting married, and the return of Diane Chambers.
- Happily Ever Before: Rebecca at one point is aware of this, saying that when Don finds out how crazy she is he'll dump her, but before that, they'll have a great time. Frasier later reveals that in fact, Don did dump her...and then became rich when he invented some toilet gadget.
- Implausible Deniability: Rather than let Carla know Diane is on the TV, Woody - at the frantic gestures of the gang - insists the TV isn't even on. Carla accepts this. Sam tells Carla she's hallucinating being at the bar at all. Carla would rather accept she's in hospital, barely clinging to life rather than accept she's seen Diane again.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Frasier's response to seeing Diane again is demand Woody give him "the meanest swill ya got".
- Kick the Dog: Sam lashes out at the gang when they're not supportive of his going to LA.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The last line in the series, delivered by Sam to the man at the door, doubles as a farewell to the show.Sam: Sorry, we're closed.
- Lonely Piano Piece: Instead of the cheery, up-tempo clarinet theme that always played over the closing credits, the credits for the finale were accompanied by a slower, more melancholy Lonely Piano Piece version of the closing theme.
- Love Will Lead You Back: Norm's final exchange with Sam in the series finale centers around this subject. Exactly what "love" Norm's talking about has been the source of much debate among critics and fans alike. (See The Power of Love below).
- Master of the Mixed Message: Rebecca wants to marry Don, but every time he asks she ends up saying "no", until he flees.
- Missing the Good Stuff: Paul grumbles about how he always seems to miss the interesting events at Cheers. Then he misses Rebecca and Don fooling about, followed by Reed and his boyfriend having an argument. He doesn't miss Cliff crowing about his promotion.
- Nervous Wreck: Between her insecurities and her gold digging tendencies, and that nuking his proposal efforts, Rebecca spends most of the middle of the show a blubbering mess, so much so even Diane thinks she's a headcase.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The series ends with Sam walking out of the main bar room and down the hallway to the pool room.
- One True Love: Part of the Gainax Ending. Norm hangs back to talk to Sam. He tells Sam that he knew Sam wouldn't leave, because "You can never be unfaithful to your One True Love. You always come back to her." When Sam asks what that is, Norm only says "Think about it." After Norm leaves Sam looks around and says "I'm the luckiest son-of-a-bitch on earth." The strong implication is that Sam's One True Love isn't Diane (after all, they just parted for good), or any other woman. It's the bar, and the friendship and companionship he's shared with all of the people there.
- OOC Is Serious Business: Woody gets the perpetually unemployed Norm a job as an accountant for the city. As Norm notes, this more or less makes Woody his boss. They may still be friends, and Woody may still call Norm "Mr. Peterson" when he's pouring beers at the bar, but one change in tone and the drop of the honorific "Mr." reveals that Woody will not stand for all the goofing off and absenteeism that marked Norm's prior career (such as it was).Norm: Well, everybody, congratulate me. I am now employed by the city of Boston. [applause] And I have this man to thank for it. [points to Woody]
Woody: Oh, hey, no problem, Mr. Peterson. I know you're gonna work very hard.
Norm: Yeah, of course, Wood. Hey, this kind of makes you my boss, huh?
Woody: Oh, yeah, in a way. But you know, deep down and above all and through everything else, we're friends.
Norm: Of course. No man ever had a better one.
Woody: I feel the same way.
Norm: I may be late tomorrow.
Woody: I wouldn't recommend it, Peterson.
- Opinion Flip Flop: Rebecca claims she likes Diane and thinks she and Sam make a good couple. When Sam says they're not getting back together, she changes her opinion to "saved by the bell".
- Other Me Annoys Me: Averted. Diane admits she's based her screenplay on Carla, and it ends with her going postal and killing a lot of people. Carla actually seems amused and impressed by it.
- The Power of Love: Lampshaded by Norm to Sam in the ending sequence of the series finale: "You can never be unfaithful to your One True Love. You always come back to her." It's implied that he means the bar—though he had earlier repeatedly described Diane as "the love of Sam's life."
- Re-Cut: When this episode first ran on NBC it was 73 minutes long without commercials. When it later aired on NBC for one last time during summer repeats, it was trimmed to 70 minutes. This is the version commonly found on streaming and in syndication, where it is also usually divided into three parts. Things missing from the shorter, three-part version include the bit where Diane reveals her TV movie was a Roman à Clef about Carla, and Cliff's conspiracy theory about LA earthquakes. Also, the Finale Credits and the Lonely Piano Piece closing theme are shorter, and they lack the credits for Mike Ditka and Kim Alexis (since those were in "part 1" of the syndicated version).
- Screaming Woman: Carla screams every time Diane opens her mouth, until Sam finally covers Carla's mouth.
- Soapbox Sadie: A new trait Diane's picked up with her time in LA. Her speech ends with her trying to soapbox about the environment as she's dragged offstage.
- Something Only They Would Say: Frasier is initially uncertain if it really is that Diane Chambers on the TV, until her speech rambles on pretentiously naming all the Greek Muses.Frasier: Oh, boy, is it her.
- Split-Screen Phone Call: Used for Sam's congratulatory phone call to Diane after they haven't spoken in six years.
- Stock Sitcom Grand Finale: Follows the template pretty closely. Rebecca leaves first, and apparently permanently (to marry Don, although Frasier lets us know she returned to Cheers as a barfly), the rest of the cast strolls out the front door, Norm hangs back for a bit to have a talk with Sam, and then Sam exits into the pool room after turning off the lights and telling a late-arriving customer (and the viewer) "Sorry, we're closed."
- Suddenly SHOUTING!: Frasier, several times.
Diane: Frasier, you're hurting me!
- On his reunion with Diane.
Frasier: WELL, YOU NEVER HURT ME, DID YOU?!
Frasier: I mean this as a caring and supportive friend: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FREAKIN' MIND?!
- After hearing Sam and Diane's decision to elope together, asks him an important question, as a friend.
- Take That!: The joke in Diane being on the Cable ACE awards is that despite her pretentiousness and her hopes of success, she's only wound up slumming for cable TV.
- Thanking the Viewer: After the closing credits, the message "Thanks for having us over on all those Thursday nights—Cheers" appeared on the screen.
- This Is My Chair: A Running Gag, throughout the Rebecca years especially, was Norm's attachment to his particular stool on the corner. In the last scene Norm talks about how love is the most important thing in life, and how everyone has one person, or one thing, that they love. What does Norm love?Norm: I LOVE THIS STOOL!
- Trauma Button: Frasier jolts when he hears Diane, and does a double-take when he sees her in the flesh.
- What Exactly Is Her Job: One last gag about Rebecca's non-job when she comes into the bar, dishevelled and miserable. Sam comments he's not getting any work out of her, and Carla points out she never does anything anyway, "and she doesn't start that until noon".
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Carla's fear of Diane is still just as strong as ever.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: It looks like Carla might, might give Diane a genuine compliment... then she decides life's too short.
- Sorry, we're closed.