Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer in the Friends finale
(NBC)

20 Years Later, I Still Can’t Believe Rachel Got off the Plane in the ‘Friends’ Finale

Friends undoubtedly changed television forever. Even now, 20 years after the finale aired, and within a completely different TV landscape, Friends is still one of the most streamed and rewatched shows of all time. It has its issues, of course, as all older sitcoms do, but its impact is undeniable.

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It launched the careers of its six main cast members, further proved that “a group of friends living together in [insert major city here]” is a strong enough premise to launch and maintain an entire TV show, and introduced the most famous and debated “will-they-won’t-they” couple in television history: Ross and Rachel.

Of course, in the Friends finale, Ross and Rachel end up together. He was her “lobster,” after all—they had a daughter together, shared a complicated and contentious but storied romantic history, and the series couldn’t very well end with Rachel on a different continent than the rest of the gang, could it? That would have ruined the magic and the sitcom’s promise of a happy ending. People grow up and move on, but the bond between these six characters? The finale needed to prove that it was unbreakable, whether the titular friends were buying a house in the suburbs or being offered a dream job halfway across the world.

I disagree, though. There are different kinds of happy endings in the world, and Rachel, arguably, didn’t get hers.

Why did Rachel have to end up with Ross?

The cast of Friends in the final episode of the series, standing in the kitchen of Monica and Chandler's apartment.
(NBC)

I’m sure there are fans out there who will vehemently disagree with me, and that’s fine! Storytelling is subjective. When you love two characters and their romance, you want them to end up together. Trust me, I get it. But I firmly believe that, while Ross got the happy ending he wanted, Rachel didn’t get the one she deserved.

“I got off the plane,” may be one of the most memorable lines in the entire show, perhaps even in TV history, but the moment Rachel opened the door to Ross’ apartment, everything she’d worked so hard to achieve fell by the wayside. Rachel deserved more than that, though. Out of all the characters in Friends, Rachel grew and evolved the most.

She started the series as a spoiled, ignorant, and naive young woman, but she knew how to ask for help when necessary. She got a crappy job, took the time to figure out what she wanted, and with a lot of perseverance, a little luck, and the help of a handsome stranger she met in a diner, Rachel built a respectable and enviable career in the fashion industry, working for stores and brands like Bloomingdale’s and Ralph Lauren. In the end, even Gucci offered her a job in the world’s fashion capital: Paris. Anyone in the industry would kill for an opportunity like that, and yet, Rachel gave it all up for a troubled romance with Ross instead.

Was that truly a happy ending for her? Of course, she and Ross could now raise Emma together as a couple. If Ross was indeed the love of her life, as the show clearly always intended, they could certainly be happy together in the long run. On the other hand, however, they hadn’t dated in years, and their previous romantic history was endlessly complicated, weighed down by lying, cheating, arguing, and terrible communication skills.

Rachel had to give up her dream to pursue Ross. She even tells him it’s her dream job, but instead of listening to her, Ross goes out of his way to get her to stay, bribing her former boss at Ralph Lauren to take her back and giving her an impossible ultimatum at the airport just as she’s boarding her flight to France.

Was that fair? Ross didn’t have to give up anything. Rachel had to give up everything.

Will-they-won’t-they couples almost always end up together. Look at Nick and Jess in New Girl, Jake and Amy in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Niles and Daphne in Frasier, Leslie and Ben in Parks & Recreation, or Jim and Pam in The Office. Those couples got the happy ending they deserved. Of course, there’s always tension, and life gets in the way, but most of them worked through it one way or another, compromising and supporting one another, trying to find the best way forward.

That’s not really what happened with Ross and Rachel though, is it? It wasn’t an equal balance, and their relationship was already more fraught and toxic than any other sitcom relationship before or since. Had Ross truly become less jealous and controlling since their emotional breakup in season 3? Friends’ final episode seems to prove the opposite.

Sometimes, people aren’t meant to end up together. I believe that Ross and Rachel are two of those people. The show could have decided to break the mold, to prove that not all grand major sitcom romances are meant to be. It could have given Rachel the ending her character deserved and provided Ross with an opportunity to prove how much he’d grown. Instead, it did neither.

Thankfully, though, I’m sure we can all agree that Chandler and Monica were the superior Friends couple anyway, and they did get the happy ending together that they deserved. I’d rewatch the show just for them.

(featured image: NBC)


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Author
El Kuiper
El (she/her) is The Mary Sue's U.K. editor and has been working as a freelance entertainment journalist for over two years, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV (she's seen every episode of Midsomer Murders ever made) and franchises like Marvel and Pokémon. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.