We’re well into the month of May, which means television shows are wrapping things up with season ending episodes. I watched one finale just last night for a show that’s a favorite of mine.
It did not leave me a happy viewer.
I may have ranted about the episode a bit once it was over. Possibly again this evening. Why? Because the episode ended with an out-of-the-blue unfulfilling cliffhanger.
We’ve talked before on the blog, as we did in the McDaniel classes, about the contract the writer makes with the reader (viewer) at the beginning of a story (show). In a romance, there is the expectation that the hero and heroine will reach a happily ever after; in a mystery, the criminal will be uncovered; in a drama, the bad guys will be vanquished and our protagonists will live to fight another day. In the case of my show, there was the expectation that the hero and heroine, who had been doing the relationship dance for six seasons (the last two of which they were engaged), would finally tie the knot and end the “will they get together arc” and move onto the “they’re married – now what?” arc.
Sadly, that did not happen.
In the episode, our hero and heroine ran into one clichéd impediment after another as their wedding day quickly approached: the groomsman’s tux didn’t fit; there was an accident at the wedding venue so there was a scramble for a last minute location; and the bride’s dress was ruined thanks to a broken water pipe. The main impediment that had me sighing and rolling my eyes, however, was that the bride turned out to already be married, thanks to a forgotten college episode in Vegas years before, which required her to track down her “forgotten husband” and get him to sign the divorce papers before the current wedding could proceed. Trouble, of course, ensued.
When our heroine got frustrated during the course of the episode, our hero reassured her that “it’s all part of the fairy tale” and that they were just working for their happy ending. I was willing to accept that, but it meant that I definitely expected a happy ending. With less than ten minutes to go in the episode, when the previous marriage issue had been resolved, a new venue arranged, tuxes obtained that fit, and the bride was in a replacement wedding gown, things were looking good. The happy ending was within reach. Instead, in the final scene, what we got was an out-of-the-blue act of violence and a dead-or-alive cliffhanger moment.
When doing a little web-research on this topic today, I came across this comment on ArghInk from one of the Who Sunday “Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways” discussions:
“Davies does what Joss Whedon always did, he ENDS the season; he doesn’t shill out his narrative with a tacky cliffhanger because he knows if he delivers at the climax, his audience will be back.”
I understand that there is an overarching arc for series television that goes beyond a season or a single episode, and obviously the writers want to make sure viewers tune in for the next season, but there has to be a better way to do so than relying on a cliffhanger. For now, I think I’ll just pretend this episode never happened.
So, how do you feel about cliffhangers? Do they work for you or do they leave you cranky too?