Today marks the 30th Anniversary of perhaps the most notorious cliffhanger in television history: On Dallas J.R. Ewing was shot by an unknown assailant and “Who shot J.R.?” became entered into the colloquial lexicon forever. I don’t remember That episode–if I watched it it would have had to have been in a past life. But I do love me a good cliffhanger. And by love I mean hate with a passion. And enjoy every second of. Because I’m a horrible masochist.
*Warning, the rest of this blog entry will contain spoilers for episodes of various series that aired some time ago. If you’re one of those who is still slowly working your way though Star Trek: The Next Generation or some other series, trying your darndest not to find out what will happen in the end, I apologize. If you watch your shows within a year of their broadcast, you should be fine.* (later blog entry to come on expiration dates for spoilers)
So what are your favorite cliffhangers?
A friend of mine once declared the end of The Two Towers (the book, not the movie) to be the greatest cliffhanger in history. It didn’t do it for me. If memory serves (my copy of TTT is at the parents house) the novel ends with Frodo being carried off by the orcs. A good cliffhanger, I’ll grant you, but I’ve read too many epics and epic like tales to have believed for a second Frodo wouldn’t be found. Only way he was going to die before the end would be if it was a heroic act of self sacrifice. But it helped that Return of the King was on the bookshelf and I only had to walk across the room to find out what happened.
This makes me wonder, does there have to be genuine fear or uncertainty of the outcome for a cliffhanger to be effective? I’m not sure there does.
One of my favorite cliffhangers is the end of season 1 of Farscape. Crais takes off with Talyn, Moya starbursts away, John and D’argo are stranded out in open space, D’argo’s unconscious and Aeryn can’t get to them. Damn! (For added info on the impact of this cliffhanger on my psyche, I got hooked on Farscape in Peru where they were about a season behind us. This cliffhanger was the last episode I saw there, then I came home to find the US in the middle of season 2. I knew things had worked out, but it was a long while before I found out how.) Now I didn’t think for a second they were going to kill off half the cast, but I didn’t know but what they might kill one or two. And I was on the edge of my seat in the wrong hemisphere.
The final episode of Farscape would have made an excellent cliffhanger if the show hadn’t been canceled, turning it instead into the Worst Show Ending Ever. (I realize it was eventually resolved by the less than stellar Peacekeeper Wars, but that doesn’t kill the sting)
I enjoyed the season 1 “Who’s at the door?” cliffhanger on Veronica Mars even if it was a little silly.
Whatever season of the X-Files it was that ended with Mulder disappearing and Scully being knocked-up was kind of fun in a fangirl “Squee”y kind of way.
Battlestar Galactica had an interesting take on cliffhangers. They ended Season 2, for example, by jumping forward a year. All of a sudden Apollo was fat, Starbuck had bad hair, and the cylons were invading. We were left wondering not only, “What the hell is going to happen?” but also “What the hell happened?” Double cliffhanger. Nice.
There are a group of cliffhangers I wish I could have been a part of. Star Trek: The Next Generation in “Best of Both Worlds: Part 1” I wish I could have been there for that moment when we saw Borg!Picard. (I’ve seen this moment, but only years down the road, knowing what was going to happen) Back in 1990 I can only imagine the thrill of the “WTF?” the audience was feeling.
So yeah, cliffhangers, the evil thing that the television gods do to us and we thank them for it.