Elizabeth: Cliffhanger Cranky

Uh oh, what's going to happen?

Uh oh, what’s going to happen?

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.

Why?

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?

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Cliffhanger Cranky

  1. I agree, there is keeping interest and there is cheating for effect. This was a cheat (& a truly lousy one if they hadn’t just been picked up for another season). It really stunk because it didn’t even fit within the context of the show or the characters they’d established. So they sacrificed a lot. Even though this was was said to be the show strongest season for viewership, I found the entire season to be lacking, this ending just kind of threw the baby out with the water. Worse than being bad, it just wasn’t plausible. This mysterious wedding & husband would have come out long ago… at the very least when she was vetted for her federal position in Washington DC. I loved the show and had been fully vested until this season, this ending really has me thinking about going to other show now.

    So far for season enders, this year I would vote:
    Castle- 2 thumbs waaaay down
    Being Human – satisfying
    Covert Affairs – satisfying
    Doctor Who – I didn’t find much to like in the last season & the big send off was a big bomb in my book… The 50th special was good however.
    Marvels Agents of Shield – Satisfying (& good) – Shield did it right, cleaned up things, no “lousy” cliffhanger cheats. They upped the ante by giving new hope and purpose for an upcoming season (glad they’re going to get one – looking forward to Peggy Carter too!).

    Still to be seen- Can Grimm pull off a satisfying wedding (now that I am soured on them) & can Hawaii Five-o pull off a satisfying season ender – with out killing Katherine & with out a big cliff hanger cheat?

    • Penny – you hit the nail on the head regarding the implausibility of the forgotten wedding/husband. Surely that would have come out sometime before in the past 15 years. The sharpness of the characters has seemed a little lacking this season as well, especially in the finale. I’m hoping things will improve after the break otherwise I’ll just have to pretend the series ended after season 5 🙂

      The only other finale on your list that I’ve seen was Agents of Shield and I agree that was very well done. It provided a satisfying ending to the story and then provided a hint about what is to come. Thumbs up to them.

  2. This is why I stopped watching the show in question. There was too much dancing, not enough promise kept with the reader…er, viewer. I was afraid something stupid like that would happen in the season finale.

    Then again, every show writer knows what happens when the couple finally gets together (look at “Moonlighting”).

    This is why I don’t watch some of the shows my husband does…it isn’t necessarily because of the violence (which, in his shows, is pretty overt); rather, it’s because the endings are so unsatisfying for me. Too many good people die, there’s no HEA. Or even something LIKE an HEA.

    There’s enough bad stuff going on in the world, which is why I think I like romance so much.

    • Justine – I’m right with you on wanting the HEA. I typically avoid crime shows for just that reason. I was really hoping for the HEA for the show in question this season, just to see how the writers would handle things going forward after that. Based on the premise of the show, seems like having the two main characters married would require some real shifts in the story. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

  3. Oh, yeah, a cliffhanger makes me cranky.

    But one really dissatisfying things about TV shows (now that I’m older) is that TV shows wander around trying to back up their arc so they can last another season. The storyline suffers, and sometimes we get jumping-the-shark-fantastics where the storyline goes to totally weird places.

    As a viewer, I have to start thinking, do I want to continue with this show? And if the show wraps up the ends well, it’s a good idea. I stopped watching the Mentalist the first time they thought they killed Red John good (the bloodiness was getting to me, although I adored the stories and the acting). Now I’ve got to the end of season three of Drop Dead Diva. The writers finally got their acts together at the beginning of season three and delivered not just good stories, but great stories. However, the quality fluctuated at the end, and they ended season three with an ending that could be considered wrapped up and finished. Do I want to take the risk of going on, or should I be satisfied with this? A TV show (especially on DVD) is a solid chunk of time investment, and I don’t have a lot of time anyway.

    (-: I don’t know if watching a TV show “live as it airs” so to speak is a good idea anymore. The surprises can make you feel as if you’ve wasted a whole season watching something.

    But when it works, it works. It can make you feel like you’ve invested some quality time and watched something happen.

    And, a cliffhanger can be memorable. I still see references (esp. in British TV YouTube comments) to “Who Shot JR?” (the cliffhanger from Dallas — I think I was 11 or 12 when that happened). I don’t remember the scene; I do remember the buzz.

    • Michaeline – I remember Dallas and that the whole “who shot JR” story line was big when I was a kid, though I didn’t actually watch it. Was that the one where they wrote themselves into a corner and then pulled a “ha, ha, it was all a dream” resolution?

      As for steaming episodes of a show one after another rather than watching live and having to wait a week for each new episode – it definitely gives a different perspective. Nice to see the complete story arcs without interruption, though there is something to be said for the anticipation that builds when you have to wait a bit for the next installment of a story.

  4. The network ruined any suspense (like they’ll kill off the man the show is named after) by saying “Castle and Beckett will be back in the fall.” SECONDS after the “cliffhanger.” Way to spoil any tension. So he’s kidnapped not dead. Didn’t we do this with Alexis already?

    • Flo – funny you should mention that. I saw the ending and then thought, well, the show hasn’t been cancelled and they can hardly kill the character the show is named after, so, no worries about him being dead. I think that is part of what bothered me about the ending – no tension or real suspense. We’ve been speculating here at home about who was in the car. Voting is even between “some mob guy” and “someone tied to Castle’s dad.”

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth: You’re Killing Me Here | Eight Ladies Writing

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