As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been rewatching Friends, and I finally got to the big finale. Rachel is moving to Paris, then Ross makes a big romantic gesture, she gets off the plane... you know the score.
Even though I recently wrote about how much I disliked Ross, and how I couldn't get behind Ross and Rachel's on-again-off-again (but mostly off entirely) relationship, I found myself getting really into the finale. The "I got off the plane" moment seemed like a great emotional culmination of ten years of TV.
Of course, it didn't make any sense. Apart from during season finales, Ross and Rachel have shown almost no interest towards one another for the past six seasons. Their relationship was broken seven years ago, and judging from Ross's reaction to the return of figure-of-jealously Mark, not a whole lot has changed. Yet after years of teasing, the viewers need to see Ross and Rachel get together, and so they do. Even if it's illogical. Even if the female character must give up everything for this "happy ending."
Because Rachel does. She shows, in the final few episodes, that she really wants to go to Paris. She wants this amazing job opportunity, and this adventure. Not only that, but without moving to Paris, she is both jobless and apartment-less. Two of her friends are moving away and moving on with their lives... but because of one out-of-the-blue romantic moment, Rachel must throw everything else away, even though the past (and the present) has shown Ross to be jealous, controlling and, overall, a bad match for her. Even though they have a daughter together, and they were planning on seeing each other on a regular basis after she moved anyway. Nothing may stand in the way of the happy ending.
And, even as I thought these things, it did feel like a happy ending. Possibly because, when it's the final episode, we don't have to think about all of that. When the show ends, the characters' lives seem to end too, held perpetually in the state that we last saw them. In this world, Rachel doesn't need her big step in her career, or even a logical conclusion to her relationship. She just needs the big romantic moment, the memorable line, followed by the memorable kiss, that tells viewers that she ended up happy, and that they ended up together.
And why isn't her smiling on a plane as she flies away, the girl who started off fleeing from a marriage and dependent on her father, a bad waitress who is now an international, head-hunted fashion executive, enough for a happy, satisfying ending? Because the viewers have been encouraged, for ten years, to see Ross-and-Rachel as one entity. And they must be together for the viewer to be happy.