Art of the Finale: Desperate Housewives “Finishing the Hat”

Television series are often judged by their series finale, for better or worse. Here at 25YL, we’re going to be looking at both the best and worst finales and what made them great (or not so great) in our “Art of the Finale” series. Got a finale you think should make the list? Be sure to let us know!


A finale is always a tricky thing to pull off. Do you give every answer? Do you create new questions that will never be answered? Do you give real closure to the characters’ stories we’ve invested so much time in? Do you give the show a truly fitting end? I’ve seen some bad finales in my time (ahem, Dexter) and I’ve also seen some great ones, but for me, one of the most perfect finales of all time is Desperate Housewives. When it came to the finale, show creator Marc Cherry (who has a cameo in the episode as a removal man) cleverly gave us the answers and resolution to 95% of the 8th season’s story in the previous episode, leaving the finale open for a farewell full of nods to the past and fun easter eggs for dedicated fans.

One thing Desperate Housewives always did so well was its flashbacks. They were always such an important part of the narrative as each season’s mystery was based on what someone had done in their past, and we were always given just enough information to keep us guessing until the reveal. We know Mary Alice’s story (her suicide was the main mystery of season one, after all) and in a new flashback we are shown Martha Huber realizing for the first time that Mary Alice holds a secret—the secret that she’ll blackmail her over, the secret that will result in Mary Alice’s suicide, and the secret that will trigger the events of every season since the pilot all culminating in this very episode.

This leads to a montage of all the explosive and shocking moments of the show ending with Mary Alice pulling the trigger, with her eventually stating that “It was the beginning of the end,” which was truer than I realized. Despite being how the whole show began I’d never actually stopped and thought that if Mary Alice hadn’t killed herself then each of the other housewives’ lives would have gone in a totally different direction to what we’d seen. A lot of the episode is like a mirror image of the pilot, aiming to show us just how far these characters have come and how they’re much better people.

Christina Estabrook appearing as Martha Huber in the Desperate Housewives episode "Finishing the Hat"

In the beginning, Gabrielle was an unhappy and neglected housewife. Her husband Carlos is working long hours and bribing her with expensive gifts resulting in her having an affair with the teenage gardener John. Flash forward to the finale: Gabrielle is the one working the long hours and Carlos is the lonely househusband being neglected. In an attempt to make her jealous, he hires a young and sexy gardener (who just so happens to be wearing the same outfit as John from the pilot episode) and obviously it works. Gabrielle’s affair with John is one of the most memorable moments from the entire show so it makes sense that a reverse scenario of it would be a part of their finale story. This time around Carlos can finally understand how Gabrielle felt all those years earlier and vice versa.

Lynette was a high-flying Advertising Executive that begrudgingly gave up her career to become a mother. She was too scared to tell anybody she was unhappy and couldn’t cope with being a mother, opting instead to pretend it was the best job in the world whilst secretly yearning for her career again. In the pilot, she’s struggling with her four children in the supermarket when she bumps into an old work colleague, Natalie Klein, who says she thought Lynette would have been running the company by now had she not left to become a mother. This prompts Lynette to begin her lies about motherhood being a happy time for her. Interestingly, the finale recreates this scene with Natalie Klein returning again, bumping into Lynette in the same grocery aisle exclaiming that “It’s been…years” since they saw each other. It has been years; they haven’t seen each other since the same encounter in the pilot episode. Lynette seizes the opportunity to brag and tells Natalie she’s been asked by Katherine (more on her return later) to run a frozen foods company in New York. All these years later and now Lynette is sure of what she wants and is determined to recapture a career she gave up for her family.

Bree began the show as a cross between Martha Stewart on steroids and a Stepford Wife, desperately keeping up the facade that she’s a perfect housewife, mother, and homemaker. Of course, within all facades lies the truth as her family was deeply unhappy with her children hating being brought up this way and her husband Rex wanting a divorce. All she wanted was for Rex to still love her and she was prepared to do anything including dabbling with bondage (after the handcuffs have been through the dishwasher obviously) to save her marriage. Bree goes through a lot involving becoming a widow, watching the man who killed her husband die, alcoholism, a nervous breakdown, disowning her son, divorce, being on trial for murder, and losing her business to name just a few. So it’s no wonder that in the finale she sees herself as damaged goods, rejecting a man who desperately wants to be with her. Once so desperate for love and a perfect family, she now rejects the possibility of it with someone who does love her (Trip).

Likewise for Susan, in the pilot she’s a struggling single mother whose husband traded her in for a younger model. We get the impression she hasn’t dated for years because of this. She just wants some love but has instead invested her time into being the best mother she can be. Now, as she becomes a grandmother, she doesn’t want the same for Julie; she doesn’t want her to have the same kind of life that she did, and she wants her to still have the opportunities to be happy. In the pilot, a young Julie is the one pushing Susan into asking Mike on a date and now in the finale, Susan is the one desperately trying to find a date for Julie (including the Doctor delivering her baby) so the roles have completely reversed. Susan decides to stop meddling in her love life and leave Wisteria Lane to help Julie raise the baby. But it’s not just Susan who leaves the Lane. In the end, it’s all of the housewives. But before the departures happened, there was a return: Katherine Mayfair.

Bree, Susan, Gabrielle, and Lynette all playing their final game of poker in the Desperate Housewives finale "Finishing the Hat"

Katherine was a main character for three seasons, with her introduction story being one of the best mystery stories since Mary Alice’s suicide, so to have Dana Delaney reprise the role was glorious. No longer a lesbian, she’s decided to channel all of her sexual frustrations into a French frozen foods company that has begun expanding worldwide, resulting in her wanting someone (Lynette) to run the US division. My only gripe is that her return was nothing more than a plot device to give Lynette her exit from the Lane. It would have been great to have her back for a couple of episodes at least, but Dana knocks it out of the park with her performance every time so all can be forgiven.

Over its eight-year run, Desperate Housewives had a lot of births, deaths, and marriages so it seemed fitting that they would include all three in the final episode. They all collide in one huge scene resolving the three remaining plot points from this season: Karen McCluskey’s cancer, Julie’s pregnancy, and Ben and Renee’s wedding. Though Mrs. McCluskey was originally introduced as a nosy neighbour and nemesis to Lynette, she eventually became just as loved as any other character and her death in the finale is one of the most heartbreaking in the show’s history. The character was only ever meant to appear in one episode but Marc Cherry fell in love with Kathryn Joosten’s performance and made her a recurring character (and eventually a series regular from season 6 on).

Kathryn was diagnosed with lung cancer in real life and asked Marc Cherry to write it into the show for her character so she could raise awareness for the illness and still continue to be in the show during her treatment. After securing her favourite record—”Wonderful! Wonderful!” by Johnny Mathis—we hear it play as we see scenes from Ben and Renee’s wedding, Julie’s baby being born, and ultimately Karen’s peaceful death. The phrase “as one life ends another begins” has never been more appropriate and if anyone had a dry eye during this montage I’d have to insist that you’re lying. Just 20 days after the finale aired Kathryn died in real life which makes it even more heartbreaking: her final role mirroring her real life.

Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey and Orson Bean as Roy Bender in the finale episode of Desperate Housewives

Despite any events that life has thrown at them, the housewives always managed to get together for a game of poker which they used as a way to ensure they could be in each others company and have a good gossip. So I think it was expected by many that they would get together for a round in the finale. They worry that this might be the last game of poker they ever play together and now I’m beginning to worry too. The seeds have been planted for some of them to move on from Wisteria Lane with Lynette’s job offer in New York, Susan selling the house to live with Julie, and even Gabrielle being offered promotion. I’d never considered that they’d all move away from each other and the Lane in the end. Surely their friendship can endure and they can keep their promise of another poker game, right?

It’s left to Mary Alice’s narration to try to let us down gently: “It was a promise made with all sincerity but sadly, it was not meant to be.” We then learn how each housewife gets their happy ending: Lynette becomes a CEO after moving to New York with Tom; Gabrielle opens her own shopping website which leads to her getting her own show on the shopping network, resulting in a move to California where she can argue happily ever after with Carlos; and then Bree and husband Trip move to Louisville with her becoming a Conservative politician. It seems upsetting that this group of strong friends never saw each other again after their moves (I’m assuming they still speak on the phone or text each other so don’t ruin that for me) but I think it was necessary for them to be totally happy in the future. Whilst Wisteria Lane holds memories of friendship, support, trust, and love, it also holds bad memories for each of them. Sometimes a clean break is what’s needed to truly move on and be happy.

Then comes the final scene and I still get a lump in my throat talking about this one or even writing about it now. Despite being the first to leave the Lane, it’s Susan’s exit that we see last so you know it must be something huge. As Susan, Julie, MJ, and baby Sophie hop into the car to leave they decide to take one last spin around the block, which leads to something I was never expecting to see: ghosts. In a show that has always been in touch with the paranormal side (it’s narrated by a dead woman after all), I don’t know why this scene shocked and touched me in equal measure but it broke me. A host of deceased characters all returned with lots of actors reprising their roles for a non-speaking brief appearance, dressed in white, stood motionless watching Susan’s car depart the Lane.

I think it’s a testament to how good the show was that so many of these people came back for the finale. Not all of the characters we see are good people (George killed Rex after all and he’s there) but they’re there nonetheless, watching over everyone. In a way, it puts me in mind of the phrase made popular in Lost: everything happens for a reason. Whether good or bad these ghosts that we see still had an impact on the housewives’ lives when they were alive; they played a part in their story, and all of that had to happen in order for them to get their happily-ever-afters. It makes me think about the people who’ve had an impact on my life and family who are longer with us—are they watching over me and guiding me through each step of my own happily-ever-after? It’s heartbreaking stuff and definitely delivers some really powerful viewing which is why, for me, this is one of the most perfect finales of all time.

The ghosts of Wisteria Lane as seen in the finale of Desperate Housewives

“As Susan left her driveway she had a feeling she was being watched, and she was. The ghosts of people who had been a part of Wisteria Lane were gazing upon her as she passed. They watched her as they watched everyone, always hoping the living could learn to put aside their rage and sorrow, bitterness and regret. These ghosts watch, wanting people to remember that even the most desperate life is oh so wonderful.”


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