I used to be a fan of the TV show Dexter, I say “used to be”, because until the last season it was a thoroughly enjoyable (and) guilty pleasure of mine. However, season 8 ruined it for me. The twists and turns in the plot were nothing short of nonsensical (I could give examples; Deborah's sudden XXX but I might spoil it for those who have yet to watch this disappointing season. A word of advice, don't.)

The grand finale of the show struck me speechless, I would describe it as being a cop-out ending, an ending which had no premise, a desperate attempt by the screenwriters to give a final dramatic twist to the story, but which fell flat on its face. I believe that the writers were trying to attempt a sort of poetic justice, an ironic ending considering Dexter's character at the beginning of the TV show. But it just didn't work.

  • Is there a word or expression which describes a sudden and inexplicable "cop-out ending", wherein the reader of a novel or TV viewer feels cheated in some way.

  • Can I say: “a cop-out ending”? Is it idiomatic?


8 Answers 8


The first word that springs to my mind is anticlimactic, though lame seems to be a popular phrase. I wouldn't say your 'cop-out ending' is idiomatic, but it is definitely descriptive.

I am impressed that you got through eight seasons of Dexter. I enjoyed the first two, but the third started to get diluted and predictable and I dropped off so you might want to keep in mind that I didn't actually see the episode you refer to.

TV series also have a context all of their own. I read somewhere recently (I can't find it now...) that good endings for TV shows are almost impossible to write. Partly because very few TV series start out with an ending to work towards, while movies do; partly because a series by its nature is about continuing rather than ending; and partly because the length of a TV series means there is a lot of build up - tens if not hundreds of hours of it - and only one episode in which to finish it all off. That combines to make any finale a bit of a fizzle, so phrases such as lame and anticlimactic need to be used in a way appropriate to the standards of TV show finales. An ending that is lame for a movie or a novel may be acceptable by the standards of TV serials.

This has to balanced agains a counter argument though. Compare the UK and US versions of the old series Life on Mars (If you haven't seen it, you should. I think you would enjoy it but get the UK version.) and the way they end. Both series are about the same length, 16 episodes for the UK version and 17 for the US, but the UK finale is excellent while the US one is seriously lame. In the US one the central character wakes up in a rocket on Mars and finds it was all a dream while in suspended animation (blaaaaaaagh...) while the UK ending keeps the tension on right up to the final minute - literally. As both series have the same length and the same amount of build up, but one has a lame ending and the other a great one, it could be argued that the writers have more to do with it than anything else and blaming the format is a cop out.

This is something to keep in mind when you see lame or anticlimactic (or anything else similar) being used to describe a TV serial - does the user think TV shows inherently have poor endings, or does he blame the writers? That is going to colour his/her use of the word and your interpretation of it in a way outside the usual subjective elements.

  • Side note about TV finales: one of the the things that made Breaking Bad good is that the plot was designed (intentinaly) from the get go to force development and put a deadline on things. It couldn't just keep going because we knew, from the start, that the protagonist wasn't likely to be alive in a few years,
    – BCS
    Mar 12, 2023 at 19:45

Cop-out ending is not only idiomatic, it also has the virtue of being a pun.

  • Yes, pithy response.
    – user98990
    Nov 25, 2015 at 10:54
  • See this article that discusses a similar criticism of the series finale of "The Sopranos" [LINK](www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/390879/). "[the finale] felt to me calculatedly cryptic, and, as such, more than a bit of a cop-out..." Jul 25, 2017 at 15:49

Nuking the fridge or jumping the shark refer to the defining moment when a movie or a series has turned the corner from great to terrible.

Nuking the Fridge is an idiomatic phrase used by movie fans to describe the declining point of a film franchise as a result of its heavy reliance on special effects. The phrase stems from a scene in the 2008 action-adventure film Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wherein Jones survives a nuclear explosion by hiding in a refrigerator. (Yeah, like that's gonna really do it.

Examples of use:

-Star Wars didn't really nuke the fridge until Jar Jar Binks was introduced. - Peter Parker dancing around the bar in Spider-Man 3? Kinda nukes the fridge!

The Urban Dictionary: "Nuking the fridge" refers to the moment in a film series when it becomes apparent that a certain installment is not as good as previous installments, due to ridiculous or low quality storylines, events, or characters.

The saying is also a reference to the phrase "jump the shark," referring to an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis, considered the lowest point of the show. "Jumping the shark" is applied to a television series alternatively to film.

On May 25th, 2008, the website Nukethefridge.com (featuring video game and action film news) was created. On June 4th, SlashFilm.com published an article titled “Is 'Nuke the Fridge' the New 'Jump the Shark'?” referencing the common phrase to describe the point in a TV show’s run when it started to go downhill.

You can say it had a cop out ending, it fizzled and died, it fell flat, it crossed the boundary of bad into lethal, or put any spin on it you like. Or you can say it jumped the shark and died.

  • 14
    My sense of "jump the shark" is that it refers to the moment when a successful and once-good franchise proves that it has run out of good ideas and is now running on residual momentum and a no-longer-deserved good reputation. I've seen it applied to TV shows, movie sequels, and even political dynasties, though I haven't tried to track any instances down. "Nuke the fridge" is new to me, but it seems to have a lot in common with the earlier term. And maybe through overuse "jump the shark" jumped the shark and had to get nuked.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 13, 2014 at 8:07

It seems that the ending was abrupt, perplexing and much was left unresolved; leaving viewers unsatisifed.

I think the phrase “a cop-out ending” is appropriate. The website TV Tropes provides a definition of Writer Cop Out

"A cop out is when a story builds to a certain climax and the writer suddenly wusses out and chooses a different, less ambitious or less satisfying ending, or worse, chooses not to end the story at all. This may come out of Executive Meddling, Creator Breakdown, lack of talent, or simply an incomprehensible creative choice. " - TV Tropes "Writer Cop Out"

  • 2
    I found an instance of "Writer Cop Out" on a TV website, which supports your phrase "cop-out ending" tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WriterCopOut "A cop out is when a story builds to a certain climax and the writer suddenly wusses out and chooses a different, less ambitious or less satisfying ending, or worse, chooses not to end the story at all. " Nov 13, 2014 at 7:26

'Cop-out' is correct usage.

You can say "the ending was a cop-out" or (if you want to be vehement) "was a total cop-out".

cop-out ending

That would also be understood but is more unusual.


I guess one could call it;

Deus ex machina
Latin: [ˈdeus eks ˈmaː.kʰi.na]: /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkiːnə/ or /ˈdiːəs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/;
[1] plural: dei ex machina

  • noun
    • a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object

    This is known as a Gainax Ending, after an anime studio that's infamous for nonsensical endings to the series it produces. (Warning: TVTropes link.)

    • 3
      this is a really great answer, but others understanding this term highly depends on whether they're familiar with anime. "gainax ending" is certainly not a common term outside of anime circles.
      – user428517
      Nov 13, 2014 at 21:23

    letdown, noun

    1: the emotion felt when one's expectations are not met; the museum exhibit was just so-so, and we returned home with a vague sense of letdown.

    2: something that disappoints; the eagerly anticipated new movie starring our favorite actor turned out to be a big letdown.

    © 2014 Merriam-Webster

    If you wish to avoid the letdown of a cop-out ending do not watch The Sopranos...

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