After six seasons, audiences said goodbye to the Arnold family as ABC aired the series finale of The Wonder Years. It’s a two-part episode that was aired together on May 12, 1993. Episode 114 is entitled “Summer” and the last episode (#115) is appropriately called “Independence Day.” Here’s what happened.
Winnie (Danica McKellar) takes a summer job as a lifeguard at a Cascades resort. Upset that they’ll be apart, Kevin (Fred Savage) plans to take a cross-country trip with his friends. Unfortunately, his father (Dan Lauria) won’t let him go and tells him, “You wouldn’t survive for two seconds on your own.” Disappointed, Kevin returns to his unfulfilling job at the family furniture factory. When he phones Winnie at the resort, she is enjoying herself and seems distant.
During a fight with his father, Kevin tells his old man off and announces that he needs to “find himself.” He drives to the resort. He hopes to land a job so that he and Winnie can spend the summer together. Unfortunately, she’s not thrilled to see him and he can only get a busboy position.
Kevin trys to distract himself by playing poker with members of the resort’s band. After bluffing his way to a $100 win, he goes to tell Winnie the good news and sees her in a passionate embrace with hunky lifeguard Eric (guest Brad Naso).
The next morning, Jack arrives to give his despondent son some spare underwear and cookies, because Norma (Alley Mills) is worried about him. Kevin expects an apology but it doesn’t come and he tells his father that he doesn’t need his help or his cookies. Jack doesn’t lose his temper and leaves.
When Kevin confronts Winnie, they get into a big fight. She’s angry that he was spying on her and pushes him into the pool. That night, a frustrated Kevin plays another round of poker with the band. He thinks he has the perfect hand but loses everything, including his car.
The next morning, he packs to leave and goes to tell Winnie goodbye. He ends up punching Eric and leaves the resort on foot. After awhile, Kevin flags down a car driven by an elderly couple and gets a ride. He’s surprised to find Winnie in the backseat. She’s been fired over Kevin’s behavior. The two begin to argue about who should get out of the car and the elderly couple dump them both. They continue to fight and even throw each other’s luggage into the street where it’s run over by a hay truck.
Soonafter, the two find themselves caught in a torrential downpour and must take refuge in a barn. Drenched, the two calm down and talk about how much the other has changed. They sadly agree that they’re probably not going to end up together. Scared, Winnie tells Kevin that she doesn’t want it to end. They share passionate kisses and the camera pulls back and fades to the next scene. In voiceover, we’re told that the two promised to always be together, no matter what.
We next see them arriving back home, holding hands, in time to watch the local 4th of July parade on a clear day. We’re told that Kevin and Winnie both knew that the town held their past but not their future. Adult Kevin (Daniel Stern) says, “It was the last July I ever spent in that town. The next year, after graduation, I was on my way.” As the two spot Paul (Josh Saviano), the voiceover says, “So was Paul. He went to Harvard, of course. Studied law.” As Paul sneezes, adult Kevin notes, “He’s still allergic to everything.”
Kevin spots his Dad who is being given some small flags to wave. He tells his two friends that he’ll be right back and goes to his father. As the two awkwardly say hello, the voiceover tells us that the two patched things up. Jack calls to his wife and we see Norma, Wayne (Jason Hervey) and a pregnant Karen (Olivia d’Abo). As the Arnold family reunites, the voiceover continues, “Hey, what can I say? We were family, for better or for worse. One for all and all for one.”
As the family and friends watch the parade, the camera pans to each of them and adult Kevin says, “Karen’s son was born that September. I gotta say, I think he looks like me. Poor kid. Mom? She did well — businesswoman, board chairman, grandmother, cooker of mashed potatoes. The “Wayner” stayed on in furniture. Wood seemed to suit him. In fact, he took over the factory two years later, when Dad passed away. Winnie left the next summer to study art history in Paris. Still, we never forgot our promise. We wrote to each other once a week for the next eight years. I was there to meet her when she came home, with my wife and my first son — eight months old. Like I said, things never turn out exactly the way you planned.”
The parade fades into a scene of Jack and Kevin sitting at the kitchen table. They pleasantly talk about the day and that Jack will soon be a grandpa, with gray hair and everything. Jack is pleased. As the camera pulls back, adult Kevin tells us, “Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.”
The camera draws back further to show the Arnold house and street in twilight. He continues, “I remember a place, a town. A house like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder.”
We see fireworks in the distance as the scene fades to black. A young boy’s voice says, “Hey Dad, wanna play catch?” Adult Kevin’s voice deepens a little and says, “I’ll be right there.” End of series.