Eric McCandless/ABC Family
Lanford Beard
May 15, 2012 AT 05:45 PM EDT

It’s probably for the best Make It Or Break It ended when it did. Kerri Strug might have pulled off a gold-clinching vault on a sprained ankle at the 1996 Olympics, but that kind of odds-flouting miracle certainly didn’t seem in store for the teen gymnasts of MIOBI, who mostly limped to the finish of last night’s season 3 finale.

It was an issue of set-up, really. The entire dramatic thrust of the series has been centered on the girls’ dreams of competing at the 2012 London Olympics (an event that would likely happen before the return of the show itself). Had the show been renewed for a fourth season, it would have felt dead in the water.

Kind of like this season’s villain, Wendy Capshaw (Amanda Leighton). The gym’s token goody-goody turned out to have two faces instead of two shoes. Naturally, her undoing came courtesy of a Rock girl who knows a thing or two about scheming: Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo). But the problem with Wendy all along was that this show didn’t need a sugar-cookie-cutter villain. At its best, MIOBI wasn’t about overcoming a French-braid-twirling big bad. It was about the girls’ competition with their own hearts and bodies. As elite gymnasts, they were fighting their own insecurities and their own physical limitations at every turn.

Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbs, who didn’t appear this season) was exactly what made the series click. She had all the cards stacked against her financially (unlike Lauren), she wasn’t a flawless technician (like Ayla Kell’s Payson Keeler), and she didn’t have the support system that Kaylie Cruz (Josie Loren) took for granted. Still, she had talent and fight. Needless to say, Emily’s absence was felt this season — until last night. The girls grew up at Olympic training camp, and by the time they were sent to the floor for qualification trials, they each seemed to have taken a little of Emily’s spirit with them. Payson had shaken off her need for perfection (and shaken out her stodgy bun). Kaylie found the strength and self-assurance she lacked for the first two seasons. And Lauren was looking out for someone other than herself.

Along the way, we had a reunion of sorts, as former Sasha Belov (Neil Jackson) returned, as Kelly Parker nemesis-turned-BFF (Nicole Gale Anderson), and Austin Butler (Zane Holtz), who redeemed himself after his acrimonious break-up with Kaylie. I will certainly miss Coach McIntire’s (Dondre Whitfield) talks about the Oh-lympics, but the memory of Payson’s salsa-dancing Center Stage moment and her Little Girls in Pretty Boxes-referencing 11th-hour pep talk will hold me over at least until Bunheads begins.

What did you think, MIOBI fans? Was the series ending satisfying for you?

Read more:

‘Make It or Break It’ cancelled

TV Jukebox: ‘Make It Or Break It,’ ‘The Killing,’ ‘Person of Interest,’ and more music-on-tv moments

‘Make It or Break It’ season premiere: A new location, new girls, and a new romance?

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