The Return Of The Cliffhanger!

By: CT

For far too long, major cliffhangers have been relegated to the daytime soaps (and even many of them seem to have lost touch with the art they perfected many moons ago) and primetime’s season finales. But I’m happy to report that the cliffhanger is alive and well… and being used to great effect by some of television’s most intriguing dramas.

Although last night’s season premiere of TRUE BLOOD seemed headed toward a “Sookie dumps Bill… again” ending, the show wisely avoided breaking the pair up in favor of a shocking cliffhanger in which Eric’s animal side came out as Lafayette cowered in fear, leaving us to wonder what the heck is going on in that weird torture chamber (which seems to be located beneath a salon based on the villainous vamp’s interrupted-in-progress dye job!).

And no currently-airing show does better cliffhangers then the woefully-underappreciated HARPER’S ISLAND, which quickly realized that the weekly murders were an interesting hook but not nearly as effective at bringing viewers back as the shocking final-moment clues as to the killer’s identity. “It’s all about you!” uttered one character to our heroine, Abby, before biting the bullet. And the creepiest kid on television — Madison, as perfectly played by Cassandra Sawtell — ended the latest outing with a stunning bit of info that seemed to indicate Abby’s dad might be the killer.

Another spookfest, SUPERNATURAL, proved this season that it could excel silmutaneously at two seemingly mutually exclusive formats: stand-alone episodes and those with mythology-related cliffhangers, many of which also worked on the emotional level tied to the major bumps our favorite ghostbusters hit in their brotherly relationship.

Interestingly, the art of the cliffhanger has, for some time now, seemed lost to those in charge of DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, the show which should have been able to single-handedly revive the concept in primetime. Instead, it has relied for far too long on endings that were either trite, predictable or, worse, had no “tune-in-tomorrow” factor whatsoever. Someone needs to inform Marc Cherry that once we know a bad guy is bad — and yes, Dave, we’re talkin’ about you — there’s no suspense to having a voiceover tell us (gasp!) he’s plotting to do something bad.

Here’s hoping that network execs realize that if you don’t give people a reason to come back, they just might take you up on the non-invitation!

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  • bws

    Wow, CT, you nailed it! Loved the True Blood ending last night. Spooky, Scary!! And it’s great to hear someone giving props to Harper’s Island, too. My wife and love turning off all the lights and watching Harpers late Saturday night. Good times!!

    No mention of cliffhangers would be complete without mentioning LOST which gives us something great almost every time right before the THUMP…

  • ct

    BWS: There was a time when I’d agree with you about LOST, but I found that this season, they relied WAY too often on the all-too predictable cliffhanger in which they revealed the identity of someone… “it’s young Ben!” or “It’s Danielle!” It got very repetitive, and most of the time, I think the audience had gotten to the conclusion before the show did…

  • bws

    CT, I think that was a byproduct of the time traveling “whatever happened happened” motif on season 5 of LOST. Because we, as viewers, had a more omniscient view than in previous seasons. So I would agree with that.

  • Lindlee

    The cliffhanger that will always stick out for me is Supernatural Season One when the semi slammed into the Impala carrying our boys. At that time, I really thought that the show was going to wrap up the YED hunt b/c it was about to be canceled (remember this was when the CW came into creation and there was a lot of chaos). I thought it was going to be a one season show. Also I didn’t know at that time that Eric Kripke is fearless and will take the show anywhere. Kill Daddy Winchester? Kill Sam? Sure, why not? Send Dean to hell? Sounds like a good idea to me! But the season one finale will always stand out for me b/c I did not see that coming and I was NOT prepared for it.