There's Nothing More Annoying on TV than a Bullsh*t Cliffhanger-Copout
(Spoilers for Bolded Shows)
Steven Moffat is probably the king of the bullshit cliffhanger-copout. Every two-part episode of Doctor Who, it seems, ends with the Doctor in extreme peril, only to pick himself back up again in the next episode, dust himself off, and returnto his business.
The most recent instance of that was in this year’s two-part finale. In part one, the Doctor is left surrounded by hundreds of Cybermen with seemingly no hope of escape when Missy reveals she’s the “Mistress.” Doomed. The following week, however, the immediate threat dissipates when, instead of taking out an easy target, the Cybermen fly up into space and blow themselves up in order to spread Cybermen pollen into Earth’s graves, giving the Doctor another hour to figure himself out of a sticky situation.
Last year’s mid-season finale of The Good Wife was equally frustrating. Recall Marilyn Garbanza (Melissa George) — Peter Florrick’s ethics advisor — revealing that she planned to name her baby, “Peter,” insinuating that Peter Florrick was the father. Eli did a spit take and the credits rolled. We were left gasping for a month, wondering if Peter was cheating again. When the show picked back up again in January, the name is quickly explained away as coincidence. He’s named after an old friend. Nothing to see here. Move along.
It doesn’t precisely fit the trope, but going back a few years, season two may have been the low point of an otherwise excellent Breaking Bad series. The flash-forward shots of the pool bookended the season is a kind of pseudo-cliffhanger. In the end, however, we find out that they were the result of a plane crash, which Walter White was only tangentially responsible for (Jane overdosed, Walt failed to revive her, and as a result, Jane’s Dad got depressed about the death of her daughter and fucked up at his job as a Air Traffic Controller, causing the plane to crash, dropping debris into Walter White’s pool).
There was an especially egregious one at the end of season two of Game of Thrones. Samwell Tarly is left, behind a rock, surrounded by wights and White Walkers approaching him. How will he manage to escape an army of White Walker? Well, he won’t. When season three picked up, Samwell only has to battle one wight to make it out alive. (Yes. I know. Budgetary reasons. But still … )
How I Met Your Mother had a frequent habit of building up storylines involving Ted’s future wife that would later sputter out. For instance, there was an episode in which Bob Saget’s narrator emphasizes the importance of a woman Ted is about to meet, strongly implying that she will be the Mother. We find out in the next episode that she’s actually Stella. In fact, she has only the vaguest connection to the eventual Mother. This also happens in a later episode when Robin tells Barney she’s pregnant, only we find out in the next episode that she’s actually just a week late — surprise! — and not actually pregnant at all.
What a bunch of bullshit.
Infuriatingly, it’s happened twice now in the final season of Sons of Anarchy: One episode left with Juice holding a gun to Gemma’s head. How’s she going to get out of that, we were left to wonder. We never find out. When the next episode opens, Gemma is walking down a street, making calls, and trying to figure out how to get home. Kurt Sutter skipped over the entire confrontation. That very episode also ended with Juice essentially walking the plank to his death after Jax and SAMCRO apprehended him. The expectation was, at the beginning of the next episode, Jax would follow through on his episodes-long promise to kill Juice. However, when the next episode began, Juice is instead taking orders from Jax to execute a different plan, staving off his death once again.
All of these bullshit cliffhangers are what has me concerned about the next episode of Homeland. The episode before the Thanksgiving break ended with a Taliban leader bombing a caravan carrying Carrie and Saul. It’s obvious enough from the scene, however, that their car isn’t directly hit, so we naturally expect them to survive (they are, after all, the series’ main characters). However, when the episode ends, the Taliban leader has found an underground passage into the American embassy, which has been left unprotected, as the security has all fled the scene to deal with the bombing. It’s probably the series very best cliffhanger, but if that grave threat magically disappears when the next episode opens, I’m going to be disappointed in an otherwise stellar, revived season of the series.
Don’t dupe us, Homeland. If you’re going to give us a cliffhanger, ensure that the grave threat actually materializes. At the very least, make sure that the episode ends with the Ambassador’s oily husband facedown in a puddle of his own blood.
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