So I put it below, behind a cut. It's very, VERY spoilery. Don't read this shit if you haven't watched the whole thing. Trust me.
I find it oddly ironic that, when I watched the last episode, my overall final reaction was "OMG we got a happy ending! I can't believe we got a happy ending!"
...because, by FMA's standards, the ending was positively joyous. None of the main characters died. The brothers were left filled with determination and hope, not despair. Lessons were learned (by both the younger AND older characters), the government was reformed... and the only "romantic" couple in the entire show became canon.
Considering the series, that's about 50 times happier than I was expecting.
All those things I just listed also gave the finale a conclusive feel. Yes, there was a lot left unexplained. But it was okay-- it felt like the end of one journey, and the set-up for another.
The search for the philosopher's stone and the secrets of alchemy is over. The Elric brothers' quest is finished. They found their golden fleece, their holy grail. That journey has ended. And maybe we don't know how or if they'll ever meet again, but you get the sense that they will. When Ed and Al are determined to do something, you can't not believe in them. They will eventually make it happen. But that's a different story. This story ends with their separation. Life goes on.
Their next quest, the quest to find each other, starts with the movie. But even if there were no movie, the series concludes itself strongly, giving you a parting impression of every character:
Ed is with his father, determined to get home.
Al is with Izumi, determined to get stronger and find Ed.
Roy and Riza are free of the burden of duty and political struggle, and can FINALLY advance their friggin' relationship a few much needed steps.
Winry is studying her trade** and Rose is raising her child.
Wrath has disappeared, off to finally find himself-- whether that person will be good or bad. Either way, he can't keep trying to be Edward Elric.
Envy has disappeared in a similar way. Will he find his father, or whatever else he seeks? Maybe. But it doesn't matter to Ed anymore. Much the way Tucker's fate doesn't matter... just as Tucker remains obsessed with Nina, Envy remains obsessed with Hohenheim. Neither character grew, learned, or changed. They're still stuck in the same cycle, the same battle, while the dynamic characters, the protagonists, are moving forward.
Dante and Gluttony are gone or dead, and it amounts to the same thing either way. Gluttony can't exist without guidance, especially now that his mind was made into swiss cheese by Dante. And Dante is too weak, with a dying body and no minions, to be able to harm anyone for years to come, if she even lives that long.
The rest of the military gang is still alive and still have their jobs. Gracia is probably raising her daughter to be a wonderful little investigator-to-be.
Everyone's accounted for.
It's conclusive, but leaves more than enough open for the film. And setting the film two years into the future only opens up MORE possibilities.
The thing about FMA, the thing FMA has always been about, is realistic characters and a realistic world. People die. Shit happens. People live. They grow and change. Sometimes they learn, sometimes they don't.
I think if FMA really ended the way a lot of people who complained were hoping, we'd have to be there for the rest of Ed and Al's lives. Do you think "happily ever after" is going to summarize their lives? Those two are least likely people to obtain happily ever after of anyone in the show. And even if they could have it, they wouldn't take it. Not our boys. Al might have been the type once upon a time, but the loss of his brother has given him a mission, and if that leads to adventuring then I don't think he'd be able to settle down after that kind of life either.
There are no "happily ever afters" or "miserably ever afters" in FMA. You *can't* possibly wrap up the lives of characters in a series that worked so hard to create complex characters that can't be summed up neatly.
They can't show us "what really happens to everyone in the end." There's no way to fit the lifetime of adventures these characters (especially Ed and Al) will have into the series finale. What the series finale does is wrap up the quest. THIS part of their lives, the quest for the Philosopher's Stone and the truth of alchemy, is completed. The lives of the characters are not.
** Just as a side note, I can't say how pleased I was with Winry's resolution in the series. She's basically the major female character of the show, and it was so nice to finally see the major female character end the series being defined by her profession, not being defined by the fate of the males around her. She didn't end up getting with anyone, or devoting her life to their cause, or anything. The thing that defines Winry as we last see her on screen is her determination to be the best automail maker in the world. That's ambition-- professional ambition, coming from a female character. It's so nice to see a female character on tv, animated or otherwise, being given such a non-sexist send off.
Sciezska, in a way, is a smaller mirror of that as well.
I wish it happened more often on shows.