They’ve become all the rage in television season enders. Some are worth it, some ain’t. Some have you leaping at the TV when the “to be continued” line appears on a black screen and screaming at the injustice of making you wait however long for the resolution while others have a habit of making you just scratch your head and wonder if they writer(s) just ran out of good ideas and decided that some strange twist at the end would make people tune in next season.
And, of course, we all have our different opinions on them. Some people hate them all, some people love them all and others like them only when used sparingly. Me? I only like them when they’re done right and the payoff was worth it.
This has been rolling around the great, empty wasteland I call a head for some days now. Basically it was kicked off by having to listen to two people argue the merits of Battlestar Galactica’s and Lost’s season/every freaking show enders. I won’t get into BG’s final four revelation until it plays out a little longer and I won’t touch Lost’s habit of show enders and season enders for fear that I may track the writers down and kick the snot out of them. So, minus those two examples but including every medium I can think of, I give you:
My picks, in no real order, for the best and worste cliffhangers ever:
5 – The X-Files: Anasazi
The best of the X-Files’ season ending cliffhangers partly because it was in the shows prime and partly because it felt like a good idea rather than the cliched, tired device it became later on in the show’s run. It left you hanging as to the fate of the show’s characters and it created tantalizing questions about Mulder’s quest and the answers that he might find. Its resolution also did what I think good resolutions should do. It closed out that chapter of the story and acted as a springboard for other storylines.
4 – Doctor Who: Neverland
“I am he who sits inside your head, he who lives among the dead, he who sees you in your bed and eats you when you’re sleeping.”
Big Finish was making quite a name for itself by doing new Doctor Who stories with the old casts for audio dramas. But they had one tiny problem. They were stuck with just how far they could push things. Each of their stories were slotted between the original television episodes and were therefore restricted in how much they could do without violating established continuity. They were new adventures, but the were new old adventures.
They got a mixed blessing of a gift for Who fans though. Fox’s Who telefilm bombed in the US and was junked by the studio. This created a new Doctor in the form of Paul McGann who had no history to violate. The second that Big Finish got the character and got McGann on-board they went to work at creating new Who adventures meant to be new adventures. And that let them create a “season” long story arc that ran under the main stories of the McGann series as well as popping up in little one-off lines in other Doctors’ stories from that year. The build up was slow but progressively larger and more noticeable with each story until Neverland.
With Neverland the arc became the story and, after approximately 140 minutes of good, solid story, the bomb is dropped. With three words, Big Finish not only created one of my favorite cliffhanger endings, but also my favorite ever Doctor Who cliffhanger. What were those three words?
————”I am Zagreus!”————
3 – Babylon-5: Z’ha’dum:
“Holy $&!^!!!! Holy F’N $&!^!!!!!!!”
I think that’s about how I worded it. Season Three’s last episode just about did everything that you should have expected JMS to do but didn’t think he would actually do. Once I scraped my jaw off of the floor, I set about going insane waiting for the start of the next season. JMS did a lot of things right and a few things horribly wrong with B-5, but that was, for me, a major check in the “right” column. Even if I did hate his guts for the entire summer.
2 – WCW Monday Nitro, 1996 - Leading up to Bash at the Beach
Yeah, no one thinks wrestling when they think of great cliffhangers, but sometimes they happen. In 1996, WCW was building one of the few, truly great story lines that it ever did (and then overdid) in the history of post-NWA existence. The n.W.o. invasion was a fantastic hook and brought new viewers into the WCW fold week after week. And then they did the tease. Three WCW wrestlers would face the two known members of the n.W.o. and their third, as yet unknown member. Fans went nuts trying to figure out who the third man would be. Names were tossed about like mad. Everyone expected another WWF star to show up at Bash and be the third member of the invasion and chomped at the bit to see which one would come to WCW.
The leading theory was The British Bulldog. Long believed to be unhappy at WWF, he instead signed a new contract with them and killed the theory dead just before Bash. Now, people went even more nuts and the fledgling IWC came close to crashing several sites. The last Nitro before Bash just teased the storyline even more and made you want to see Bash sooooooo bad.
And of course the payoff was one of the biggest turning point moments in modern wrestling history. Hulk Hogan, the biggest baby face in wrestling at the time, came striding down to the ring to save WCW from the rule breaking n.W.o. and, with one poorly performed leg drop on Randy Savage’s prone body, became one of the biggest heels of the 90′s.
1 – Dallas: Who Shot JR
Let me say upfront that I was never a fan of Dallas, didn’t watch it and couldn’t care less about it in most ways. But this was beyond a cliffhanger. It was a cultural phenomena. It was and is likely still the single greatest cliffhanger of all time.
I was 9 at the time, and even the kids I went to school with, kids who also didn’t watch the show, were getting in on the guessing game. TV news shows, radio hosts, DJs, magazines and everything in between were getting in on the game of trying to crack the mystery. You couldn’t turn around that summer without running into something related to those three little words:
“Who shot JR?”
It’s been 28 years since Dallas rolled its credits after the sound of a gunshot and the sight of a slumping Larry Hagman and that cliffhanger is still mimicked, spoofed and played with by even people who weren’t alive to see it. It’s been kept alive by nostalgia shows and by spoofs in things like The Simpsons.
Not my show, not type of show and never high on my must see list was Dallas. Still, they hit the right cord at the right time and created something that will likely outlive the memory of just about every other aspect of that show.
And now, a few of the worst:
5 – Nightmare City (1980):
Yeah, you get used to bad films when you’re a zombie and/or vampire fan, but some things just abuse the priviledge. Nightmare City, in any of its seven or eight names, turned itself into a prime example of a bad ending and of a writer writing himself into a corner.
Our hero goes to cover the landing of a plane that’s full of people exposed to radiation. Out of the plane storms a mob of fast, smart and almost indestructible “zombies” that use knives, guns and teeth to get at the blood of humans. Their numbers grow a bit and the quickly start to over run the country.
After much blood, gunfire and destruction, our hero and his lady are being chased through an amusement park by the gun wielding monsters of the film. First the hero’s lady dies a nice, quick death and then the hero takes a nasty, fatal fall. Then, mid-fall, the hero wakes up safe in his bed.
A few moments later the hero is being told to go cover an emergency plane landing. As the scenes from the beginning of the film begin to replay… The image freezes on the scene of the steps dropping from the plane and the words “And so the Nightmare begins!” pop up on the screen before the credits roll.
And that’s it. That’s the end. You end on a cliffhanger that loops you back to the beginning of the film and goes nowhere. It still amazes me that the film is as loved as it is. It doesn’t even have the excuse that City of the Living Dead has for a poor ending.
4 – Lost: Season 1:
Yeah, I said I was going to ignore Lost, but…
No answers, more questions and NAMBLA pirates. If there was no other great and shining clue that the Lost writers didn’t quite really know where they were taking things then that should have been it. At least they’ve sort of gotten back on a solid track even if it doesn’t quite work with the mysteries of the first two seasons.
3 – The Matrix: Reloaded:
What a jumbled mess. One of the most enjoyable movies in a long time turns into one of the biggest cinematic disappointments in ages. I don’t even remember the details of the cliffhanger ending leading into Revolutions and I really don’t want to try to remember. The Matrix was a stand alone movie in my collection.
2 – (Tie) Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf:
I love both shows dearly and one would have to be insane to dislike them, but they share one great failing. Both shows ended their, inadvertently, final seasons on a cliffhanger. They fall under the category of “worst” because we will never, eeeeeeeever see the resolutions of their cliffhangers. As a maniacal fan of both shows, that sucks.
1 – John Byrne:
John, I love your work, but you’ve got a horrible history of starting stories, shredding a book and then, before putting things back together again, walking off in a huff after “creative disputes” with editors and companies. It got so bad there for a while that I wouldn’t touch a John Byrne comic unless a) it was creator owned by Byrne or b) it was a one shot comic.
I could care less about John’s famous personality conflicts and feuds in the industry, but the effect it had on his work sucked. You were very often left with a good story arc finished by someone else that, while enjoyable at times, still left you with a nagging bit of disappointment as to what might have been.
Can someone please tell me where “than” came from? No, not the word itself; I wanna know where my usage of it came from. I was looking through my rough drafts and notes from the last two months and noticed that I’ve been writing/typing the word “than” in certain places.
“This is greater than that.”
“I felt that it was less dangerous than our other options.”
I have no idea where that came from. I remember back in the second or third grade (early 70s) when we still had the usage comparisons for “then” VS “than” in English class, but then it all but disappeared from all of my later courses and school text books. I don’t even think that it’s considered improper English anymore to just use “then” all of the time. But somewhere in the last few months I’ve started using “than” where appropriate and I have no idea why that just started happening on its own like that.
So, where did the “than” come from?
(Useless) I want my own entrance music and location specific pyro. And I don’t want one that starts when I walk into the room either. None of that stuff where you hear the first note as the guy walks into sight. No, my ego wants one like Metallica’s, Christian Cage’s or Chris Jericho’s. With Metallica, the warm up act was over and you would wait and wait and wait for them to come out. Rather than just coming out with no build up, Metallica played Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” over the speaker system. Fans knew that once that started playing the band was coming. Great build up. With Jericho and Cage, you get a countdown/music intro to get everyone’s heads turning and the anticipation up. That’s what I want.
(Unrealistc) I want a TV Time Tuner. Never heard of it before? Well, that’s because I just made it up. What it “is” would be something like the normal TV tuner box, but it would have three additional tuners to go along with the standard channel option. One would be the month-day-year control, one would be location and the other would be time of day.
Now, most of you are just thinking about being able to catch the game despite work or some silly, trivial thing like that. No. Stuff that. That’s what they gave you DVRs for. Me? I want to be able to go on a nostalgia binge. That TV show I loved that isn’t on anymore and will likely never see DVD release? That’s my target for the tuner. Yeah, Struck by Lightning, Condo, uncut WKRP, Children of the Stones, Into the Labyrinth, Brimstone and Grapevine (the first one, not the crappy second one) are just waiting out there somewhere.
And, hey, what about the real geek out moments? What about all those Doctor Who episodes that were destroyed years before the BBC knew what that show would one day become? There’s a popcorn night with fellow geeks for yah. And what do you think you could make $$$$$$ wise by hooking that baby up to a good DVD recorder and selling the “found” prints to the BBC these days? Or what about all those other things lost to time? Be a lazy geek and set for life.
(Unrealistic) I want the six panel workout program. Oh come on… You’ve seen it. We all have. Every comic book reader has. 90% of the comics out there used to cover the history of a character with very little deep detail unless it was the origin story. Other than that, you got the “and after years of training and honing his skills” bit where you saw six panels of gymnastics, weight lifting, running, martial arts and whatnot followed by a panel of the hero standing there looking like he was chiseled out of stone. Well, I want that program cause the regular one is taking way too long to get back in shape with and it’s hard to do with an infant in the house demanding your every second of attention.
(Useless) Belly button lint removal nanobots. Nuff said.
(Useless & Unrealistic) Portaljons. Look again, there’s an “L” in there. See, I was watching Stargate SG-1 and figured that tech like that would have much better uses than space travel. How about a small, carry-on size gate with locked in coordinates to another gate on Pluto or something. Whenever you need to go, you just find an isolated area free from prying eyes, open the gate and get rid of that last bottle of water you gulped down. And if the tech evolved to Farscape level tech, you could set it up so that you could control the point of exit for the other end of the wormhole. You know, like over the boss’s desk or next to an American Idol contestant.
(Unrealistic) The Victory Streak: Issue #1 by year’s end.
Live by the sword, Bill…
I was going to type up the laundry list of the things that have been keeping me busy the last three plus weeks, but I decided against it. After talking with Myers on the phone the other night I decided that most of it would be boring and dull to the average reader. Who wants to read about lawn care, chopping wood, protest groups and insane people anyhow. Therefore I am just going to hit a few highlights for those of you who don’t know the details of the major stuff.
Jenn’s surgery went off mostlywithout a hitch. They went in one extra location to get after her gallbladder and that kinda bruised up the muscles around the ribcage a bit. I took some time off from work to play Mr. Mom to Ian with the aid of his two grandmothers and he seems to have come out ok. He did get a bit upset that mommy couldn’t pick him up and play with him all the time and do all of her “mommy” things and he has though, since Jenn fully recovered, become rather mommy fixated and gets upset when she leaves the room without him even if I’m in the room. That’s been wearing off the last couple of days, but he’s still rather clingy about mommy.
I had a few work ups and downs that I really don’t want to get into or just plain can’t get into on a public blog. One thing that was a sorta down is that our street walker from the “sucks” no showed his court date with me and two other court dates around the time of mine. Don’t know what happened to him. Hopefully it wasn’t something fatal, but there’s no way of checking since he had zero ID on him of any sort whatsoever.
I’ve been working at writing with mixed consistency and results. I keep trying to ditch the project that has me stymied and so something else but that one just keeps getting in the way of being able to do anything else. I may have to try and pick Mulligan’s brain on this one since no one I work with or know around here really gets the concept…
And I must confess to wasting time for about five days running. I was in a bit of a funk and just sulked in my computer room and argued zombie “rules” and mythology for half of that time on a couple of IMDB boards. Still, that did end up producing a zombie scenario visual that I’d love to see on the screen one day. Imagine a Dawn 2004fast zombie running full tilt at you while, due to its advanced state of decay, partly falling apart as it runs. I’d pay good money to see that.
And, yes, I was sick for 24 hours after seeing the new color commentator of ECW butcher the job for one hour of ECW. God… I thought that Coach was bad at the job. Adamle makes Jonathan Coachman seem like Gordon Solie.