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Sudden Downer Ending / Live-Action TV

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Warning: As a Spoilered Rotten Ending Trope, EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE on this list is a spoiler by default. You Have Been Warned.

Sudden Downer Endings in Live-Action TV series.

  • The last episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun: all of the main characters are forced to return home. Mary doesn't want to leave Earth, and she is given a Mind Wipe so she won't remember Dick. An alternate ending has Mary being abducted by Dick after the Mind Wipe, but it still ends on a depressing note.
  • Adam Ruins Everything is an informational comedy about a know-it-all named Adam that goes around, barging into people's lives and bothering them with harsh truths. The whole series is played for laughs and discusses a wide range of subjects, but the last episode of the first season, "Adam ruins Death", takes a pretty somber turn. It starts with Adam talking directly to the viewer, telling them the harsh truth that they, the person watching this, will die someday, and there's nothing they can do to stop it. Shortly after that, Emily, a recurring character, gets hit by a truck and ends up in a coma, with her fiance overlooking her unconscious body. Adam comes up and talks to Emily's spirit, before giving the harsh truths of the episode, revolving around the concept of death. At the end of the episode, Emily makes a miraculous recovery and comes out of her coma. Everything seems to leading towards a happy ending, until Hayley, Emily's friend and Adam's love interest, has a nasty fall while coming into the hospital room to check up on Emily, and dies. The episode ends with Adam having a breakdown at Hayley's funeral, telling Emily that despite his vast knowledge on the subject, he is still terrified of death. The two friends leave the church to go on a walk together, with Emily trying to cheer Adam up with random facts, like he used to do. Roll credits.
  • Akumaizer 3's penultimate episode sets the series up for a happy ending, with the heroes reforming the Akuma Clan and finally defeating the Big Bad. In the final episode however things take a dark turn. The Greater-Scope Villain sends his strongest warrior on a rampage that claims the lives of the Akumaizer 3's demon allies and ends with them sacrificing themselves to kill him. The final scene of the episode is the Akumaizer 3's surviving allies somberly watching as their souls drift away.
  • In the last episode of ALF our wise-cracking alien protagonist is captured by the Alien Task Force, presumably never to be seen again by the Tanners. The producers were told they'd get a Made-for-TV Movie, Project: ALF, to Wrap It Up, but it wasn't until years later that it actually happened, and the tone of it was distinctly darker than the series.note 
  • Subverted with the first season of Angry Birds on the Run. King Pig drops the phone in the ocean, and the birds realize that their only chance of getting home is gone. Luckily, the mother and daughter happen to have a tablet with them that the birds can use to get home.
  • The finale of Blackadder Goes Forth gradually abandons the gallows comedy that the series displayed with the looming shadow of death over the main characters and tragically shows the inevitability of it.
    • Made all the more sad because the same trope was played in two of the previous series for laughs. Justified in that playing the result of the finale for laughs this time would not have produced the best reaction given the subject matter. The criticism ends up much more effective by having audiences empathise with the characters. Also because for anyone with any emotional investment in WW1 (read: everyone in Britain above a certain age), the ending is actually incredibly touching, respectful, and appropriate. Writer Ben Elton's uncle, an eminent historian specialising in the period, was outraged when he first saw Blackadder Goes Forth and practically disowned him for what he saw as trivialisation of the war. After seeing the final episode, he wrote his nephew a letter apologizing and praising him for the way it was handled.
    • And the ending was nearly an accident, being almost entirely fixed in post, as seen here.
  • Chinese Paladin I: after defeating the Big Bad, saving the world, and slaying the water-demon who killed her mother, Ling'er returns triumphantly from the battle; and then collapses in her husband's arms, having fulfilled her destiny to die saving the world. The final scene—of her husband and newborn daughter returning home alone—becomes even worse with the realization that her daughter is going eventually to meet the same fate as her mother, and grandmother.
  • Companions being Killed Off for Real in Doctor Who is a very rare event. Therefore the deaths of Adric in the 1982 storyline "Earthshock" and especially Clara Oswald in 2015's "Face the Raven" (a tragedy that still happens, despite the show playing with the Timey-Wimey Ball afterwards) have impact on viewers who have avoided spoilers. The endings of the David Tennant episodes "Doomsday" (2006) and "Journey's End" (2008) are likewise extreme downers for an otherwise upbeat series.
    • The Doctor's regenerations can be this, especially if they come out of nowhere (the Ninth Doctor), or if everything appears to be all right when the regeneration hits (Four, Nine again, Ten, and Eleven). Or, well, any of the Doctors, since they're always someone's favorite, and they all leave the show eventually.
  • In the Dragnet episode "The Little Victim," the titular infant's abusive father is jailed, and the mother divorces him to protect her son. Until a year later, when the father gets out of jail and pays his ex-wife a visit. She's so lonely that she lets him in. This time he beats his son to death.
  • A channel-wide example: the Fine Living Network was a cable channel aimed at an upper-class lifestyle, not unlike OWN. When it shut down after the Great Recession, the last thing shown before it became Cooking Channel was a clip of a pale-faced Grim Reaper coming to a house, reading a card with the FLN logo on it, and ringing the doorbell.
  • In Glee's third season finale, Kurt was rejected from the prestigious performing arts college he spent the whole season trying to get into. The whole thing felt extremely out of the blue since his audition made him out to be a shoo-in several episodes prior, being praised by the recruiter and all. Luckily in season 4 he gets in after another audition at the winter showcase.
  • This happened with the episode "Second Chance" from Growing Pains. Carol's boyfriend Sandy (played by a young Matthew Perry) gets in a car accident due to him drinking and driving and winds up in the hospital. When Carol visits him, Sandy looks like he's okay and we're to believed that he'll be out in no time. Carol then comes home and Mike tells her that the hospital just called and said that Sandy had just died from internal bleeding. The last shot shows Carol in tears as Mike and their parents try to comfort her.
  • The series finale of How I Met Your Mother had earned the scorn of most fans for this. The mother dies, Barney and Robin divorce, and the gang split apart and become shells of their former selves. For a show that was mostly lighthearted and fun the ending came as a shock to many fans, fortunately the season 9 DVD had a happier ending which many fans considered far superior.
  • One occurs in the iCarly episode "iGo Nuclear": Cal, the man that helped Carly make an exquisite nuclear power generator which gives her an A+, is revealed to be a wanted criminal as the rod he used to the generator's energy source was an illegal substance, with Carly learning this through witnessing him being arrested. As a result, Carly's grade reverts to a D- and she is forced to attend her class's "Root and Berry Retreat" for extra credit.
  • Done fairly frequently in Law & Order, particularly the original and Law & Order: SVU. The story will be shaping up towards what seems like as decent an ending as there can be given the circumstances, only for there to be a last-minute twist that completely changes the tone of the ending. (This can be anything from a judge overturing a verdict to a witness ending up dead.)
    • Special mention goes to the SVU Season 17 finale "Heartfelt Passages". After being shot in the abdomen, Mike Dodds pulls through the surgery and is recovering in the ICU, where he's apparently doing well enough to exchange a little banter with his father and Benson, only for his condition to take a rapid turn for the worse. It turns out that blood clots from the injury resulted in a massive and ultimately fatal stroke.
  • Publicity for the last ever episode of largely light-hearted series Lovejoy focused on the return of Will They or Won't They? love interest Lady Jane and Lovejoy's wedding to Replacement Goldfish Charlotte. Instead, the Villain of the Week kidnaps Lovejoy on the way to the wedding as revenge for foiling his plot and Charlotte refuses to believe it, thinks she's been jilted, and takes a job away from the area. What's more, Lovejoy's other two friends also take jobs away from the area and he's effectively evicted from his home/shop. The final scene of him packing his things into the back of his truck and driving off alone is actually quite depressing.
  • Although Medium dealt with many bad things, its overall ethos was generally that the bad guys always got caught and everything turned out well in the end. Which made the series finale in which Alison's husband Joe is killed in a plane crash, most of the episode is taken up with a bizarre soap opera tale of it all being a ghastly mistake and an amnesiac Joe living in Mexico which turns out to be a dream, and then Alison spending the next 40+ years of her life without the one person who has kept her sane throughout her psychic travails and whom she has repeatedly been shown to depend on utterly, all alone because she never finds someone else or remarries all the more difficult to take.
  • The BBC's Merlin suffers deeply of this — for all that the first 4 years were mostly light, and even for all the Darker and Edgier vibes on the 5th season, it reaches new heights by the series finale. Considering the legends it comes from, though, it is a Foregone Conclusion.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look had an interesting variant of this. The trope was discussed in the penultimate episode, with the duo deciding they wanted their last sketch to be this. The sketch at the end of that episode was a spoof of the trope. Then the actual last episode came around, and it ended with one of the most depressing sketches ever made.
  • In the season 1 finale of Nickelodeon's The Other Kingdom, just as Astral's finally able to have a proper conversation with Tristan and gets to have a dance with him — and he reveals himself to be a fairy like her ... Tristan turns out to have been the lost prince of Spartania destined to bring doom to Athenia, and is taken away by his father King Reed against his will, and Astral left all alone, meaning all of Astral's attempts to be with Tristan in the other world were completely in vain.
  • Power Rangers:
    • The ending of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers came close, but the start of Zeo reversed most of its more serious consequences back to the status quo, whereas the start of Power Rangers in Space took the Sudden Downer Ending and ran with it.
    • In terms of individual seasons, Power Rangers Turbo ends rather sadly. Turbo, being based on a parody sentai, was written as light-hearted. However, the ending is downright depressing. The Rangers have to sacrifice all of their Zords and all of their weapons to defeat Goldgoyle. Dimitria and Blue Senturion leave to help Zordon, who has been kidnapped. The Power Chamber is raided and destroyed. The Turbo Rangers lose their powers and can't stop Divatox from taking over the Earth. The only reason she doesn't is because she is called away by Dark Specter, who has been behind all of the previous threats facing Earth. The four teen Rangers leave with Alpha 6, powerless, into space to find Zordon, with no idea if they can find him, or whether they can even rescue him if they do find him. Justin stays behind to be with his dad. It is, so far, the only season to end on such a sour note.[[note]]That said however, this isn't really an ending. It's more of a new chapter.
  • The finale of the original Roseanne series, where it's revealed that the entire series was a book Roseanne had written after Dan died of a heart attack. While the first 8 seasons are said to be a semi-fictionalized account of her real life, she admits that season 9, where they won the lottery, was complete made up for book, as Danís heart attack at the end of season eight was actually fatal in real life. When the series was revived, Danís death was retconned to also have been made up for the book itself, with Dan (possibly jokingly) being annoyed about it.
  • This trope began a season early in the BBC's version of Robin Hood. At the end of season two, Maid Marian was brutally murdered at Guy of Gisborne's hands, changing an upbeat family show into something unimaginably bleak, and without any hope for a happy ending. Bizarrely, season three tried to regain its reputation as a family show, but the fed-up actors left for greener pastures, ensuring that the show ended with the deaths of Robin Hood, Allan-a-Dale, Guy of Gisborne, and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Despite the gutted cast, there was an attempt to introduce a Legacy Character for Robin Hood, but the show was not commissioned for a fourth series. The show ended with the remaining outlaws vowing to continue the fight against Prince John, but anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of English history knows how well that would have turned out.
  • Seinfeld's two-part series finale. The show itself was about selfish people coasting through life, and the finale showed them finally getting their comeuppance. Still, it divided fans of the show, some thought that it was a very dark and uncharacteristically serious way to send off a sitcom, especially one that had prided itself on being a "show about nothing". It also didn't help that said comeuppance came at the hands of the minor and one-shot characters from the series, many of whom were even worse than the protagonists.
  • Season 1 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ends with Pike on the bridge after returning from the Bad Future, with Makin' Memories playing... and then he and Una get summoned to the transporter room, where sheís arrested for violating the Federationís No Transhumanism Allowed law.
  • Super Sentai:
  • Titus did this for every season finale — but especially in the final three episodes of the series. In the first, Christopher's mother Juanita shows up suddenly in Christopher's house, apparently having broken out of the mental hospital she was in. The episode is mostly lighthearted as usual, focusing on Christopher and his family trying to catch/find Juanita...until they finally have her cornered, in a closet, when Erin comes in with a message from the mental hospital, that Juanita had committed suicide four hours prior; meaning Christopher had been hallucinating her the entire time. And THEN, there is the two-parter finale that continues the story, 'Insanity Genetic', in which the cast is on an airplane coming back from Juanita's funeral, Christopher has a mental breakdown, and they all cause a panic and get arrested under suspicion of being terrorists. They are all thoroughly interviewed, the authorities become convinced Christopher is mentally ill, and the rest of the cast end up admitting him to a mental hospital, where he reassures Erin that he'll be okay as she tearfully says goodbye, and we're left with a last, lingering shot of Christopher sitting alone in his cell.
  • The True Life episode "I Don't Trust My Partner" had two couples talking about their trust issues. The audience sees Nikki and Shawny, the second couple interviewed, fighting for the extent of the episode, thanks to Shawny flirting with girls behind his girlfriend's back, and eventually going to couple's therapy to see whether they should move in together. Fast forward some months later, the show pans over to the new apartment the couple talked about renting, with their stuff inside. Problem is, shortly after they moved in together, Shawny suddenly died after complications from a hernia, and Nikki went through a period of overwhelming grief. For a show that usually goes no further than a Bittersweet Ending, this depressing conclusion came out of nowhere.
  • For the most part, Ultraman Leo is a fairly standard Showa era entry in the Ultra Series, albeit one without an overarching antagonist for most of the series once the Alien Magmas are out of the picture.
  • The final episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Things looked dark, darker than usual, but there was a clear path to victory set up that was going to make everything better. Except right before reaching it, the protagonist suddenly decided that Redemption Equals Death (despite the entire show up to that point being explicitly about redemption via living a better life) and chose to just stay dead, leaving her soulmate alone. It wasn't even a Heroic Sacrifice, as nothing was gained by it. This ending was quickly disavowed by the comic book continuation.