#2. Grey's Anatomy: Meredith Has Alzheimer's
Grey's Anatomy is one of the few shows that feature narration in every episode. Most of the time it's Meredith Grey's own voice we hear, setting up the events of the show and explaining how her personal bullshit parallels some medical emergency. Unlike Scrubs' real time internal monologue narration, in Grey's words seem more reflective and summarizing, as though they're coming from a place in the distant future.
Evidently a future without HIPAA.
This show is all about memories -- the importance of memory and how it creates our personality. And most important, the constant fear of losing our memories. That fear is the driving force behind Meredith's entire life.
Know why Meredith became a doctor? Like many college grads, after completing school, Meredith was kind of aimless. She took off to Europe to find herself, but while she was busy being a hipster before hipsters were cool, her mother developed early onset Alzheimer's.
Meredith flew back to Seattle to be at her mother's side. Her control freak of a mom was a legend at Seattle Grace Hospital, and in short order convinced Meredith to enroll in med school and begin a surgical residency there. The entire first five seasons are all about Meredith struggling to get out from under her mother's shadow.
In the Season 6 finale, "Death and All His Friends," a grief-stricken husband goes on a shooting spree, killing several doctors. During the chaos, Meredith suffers a miscarriage. Later screenings inform her that she has a "hostile uterus" (FYI, Hostile Uterus is playing the Grog Shop in Cleveland this Saturday!). She starts to wonder what else might be genetically wrong with her and begins to worry that she, too, has Alzheimer's.
Derek Shepherd, Meredith's husband, then takes it upon himself to find a cure for all the Alzheimer's, promptly beginning a clinical trial. Bad news, though. Shepherd's trial is rendered pointless when Meredith screws up the data in order to make sure the chief's wife gets the new Alzheimer's meds.
TV doctors violate basic medical ethics even more often than they violate each other.
The point? Alzheimer's and Meredith Grey are as destined for each other as Izzie and Denny (amiright, Grey's heads? ).
The final episode's narration is all jacked up as Meredith begins to recall her last day at Seattle Grace in vignettes that seem to be out of sequence. Derek realizes the early onset Alzheimer's has begun to claim her, even though he's still a year away from getting FDA approval for his experimental drugs.
It is slowly revealed that Meredith is living in a nursing home, sitting by a window, speaking to herself. All she can remember now are the long-ago years when she worked at Seattle Grace and the narration we heard all along is just her speaking to the wall.
In other words, a happier ending than any British sitcom has ever seen.
#1. Mad Men: Dick Whitman Died in Korea
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has been winking and nodding at us from the very beginning of his show. Look at the title sequence. I mean, look at the title sequence the way a creative executive (i.e., Don Draper, i.e., Matthew Weiner) would look at it. It's a goddamn guy plummeting to his death while his life flashes before him in brightly colored advertisements.
Huh, maybe all that midday drinking wasn't a sign of good mental health.
And by Don Draper, I mean Dick Whitman. As we learned in Episode 12, "Nixon vs. Kennedy," there was once this bumbling poor cursed soul named Dick Whitman, the son of a prostitute who named him after the business end of a man. Whitman is beaten by his father and abused by his stepmother, and eventually ends up in a far outpost of the Korean War. It's just him and his lieutenant, Don Draper.
But then, in some weird mishap worthy of The Three Stooges, Whitman accidentally blows up Don Draper and sets himself on fire. We see him switch dog tags and take Draper's identity. And somehow the new name makes him the ideal man: handsome, self-assured, successful.
Except, Whitman really did die in Korea. The entire show is the life he wished he had the courage to live (sort of like An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, except less high school English class 8-millimetery).
"You've got your whole life ahead of you," says a woman on a train in "Nixon vs. Kennedy." "Forget that boy in the box." Cigar is to penis as box is to coffin. And consider what Draper/Whitman himself says in the very next episode, ominously titled "The Wheel": "This is not a spaceship, it's a time machine. It's not called the Wheel, it's called the Carousel. It lets us travel around and around and back home again."
"Also, there's little-kid puke everywhere and touching anything gets you sticky."
As we've pointed out before, Woodstock was conceived of by a team of Madison Avenue suits just like the ones at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. While attending Woodstock with Peggy Olson, Don Draper drops acid and finally becomes fully enlightened. He realizes that Peggy is his true love, that love is not about power or expensive things -- it's about partnership. Love really is all you need.
As he kisses Peggy, the sound of spinning helicopter blades quickly builds. We're transported back to Korea, where Dick Whitman lays dying next to the corpse of Don Draper. Inside his acid trip back in time, he dies as the helicopter lifts into the sky. But he dies happy, knowing that none of the harm he's caused since assuming Don Draper's life has come to pass.
Outside his acid trip, we see that the helicopter sound was Jimi Hendrix arriving via chopper. As Hendrix plays his famous riff on the "Star Spangled Banner," we pull back and up from Draper/Whitman's motionless body. Did Don Draper die with Dick Whitman inside that acid trip? Acid isn't typically a deadly drug, but Don Draper was, in the end, a figment of Dick Whitman's imagination. Whatever the answer is, we're guessing that series creator and former Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner won't be telling anyone.
That, or Draper's Woodstock escapades give birth to an STD capable of wiping out mankind.
For more on famous endings, check out The 7 Most Soul-Crushing Series Finales in TV History and 6 Plot Threads Famous Movies Forgot to Resolve.