Some Season Finale Cliffhangers Revitalize Their Shows; Others Just Annoy Viewers

When it comes to television dramas, nothing ignites an aging franchise better than a thoughtful, well-crafted cliffhanger. Conversely, a cliffhanger that feels forced or tacked on just for the sake of being there can actually have a negative effect, perhaps leading viewers to feel as if they are being manipulated (more so than usual). That can prompt them to decide they have had enough of a show and to look elsewhere among the new offerings of the fall season for something different to engage them.

And then there’s the issue of overkill. It’s actually a two-pronged concern. On the one prong, many shows find themselves caught up in games of Can You Top This as they feel the need to outdo the cliffhangers that closed previous seasons. (This will become an even greater concern in the years ahead as an increasing number of series on broadcast and basic cable begin breaking their traditional seasons into two or more parts, taking months off in between. That seems to call for multiple giant cliffhangers per season, rather than one big bang at the end. Just consider the recent midseason finale of TNT’s “Dallas,” which found Sue Ellen Ewing passed out drunk on the floor of her deceased ex-husband’s bedroom and her brother-in-law Bobby and his son Christopher trapped downstairs as Southfork went up in flames. I’m fairly certain these characters will survive, but are they really going to reduce the iconic Ewing family homestead to mounds of smoldering ash? It sure looked that way.) 



On the other prong, the modern-day phenomenon of the mandatory cliffhanger has been overdone, in that unless a series is highly serialized there would seem to be no need to leave regular viewers of that show on the edge of their seats for four or five months over the summer break. Also, when every series (including sitcoms) produces a cliffhanger, fatigue or disinterest can’t help but set in, because when everybody does the same thing, all those things generally cease to be so special, don’t they?

For example, if cliffhangers weren’t as common as commercials perhaps more would have been written about the explosively cinematic season finale of CBS’ “Person of Interest” -- after “The Good Wife” easily the network’s most compelling and irresistible drama this year. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but by the end of the hour the lives of the main characters were completely changed in every way. Also, the Machine is still at the center of it all; but the other machine that was a part of the story this season will be more prominent than ever. And that’s all I can say without spoiling something for somebody.

It isn’t an exaggeration to assert that “Interest” will in many ways feel like a new show when it returns next fall -- and yet not so much as to alienate or otherwise put off viewers. In truth, the events of the season finale should ensure that the full audience sticks around come the fall, not just for the season premiere but for months thereafter. It might even draw lapsed viewers back to the program.

There did seem to be some attention given in the media over the season finale of ABC’s “Castle.” It was largely an enjoyable and lightweight hour, until the final moments, when the long awaited nuptials of Castle and Beckett were interrupted by an apparent act of violence that generated no suspense whatsoever. Instead, the reaction was probably one of great annoyance, as far as I could tell, with the fate of Richard Castle left up in the air after a fiery car crash.

What an uninspired stunt -- as cheap as the cheapest narrative maneuver of a daytime drama in need of a midweek jolt. Not for a minute will anyone believe that Castle is dead: Otherwise, the show would have to return without its star and change its name in the process. Nor should anyone assume that the character will spend several episodes next season confined to a burn ward -- because why would anyone want to watch that?

“Castle” has been around for six seasons. The romance between the two main characters was carefully and organically nurtured during that time. It would have made sense for this most recent season to conclude with the two of them finally tying the knot, which would excitingly transform the series into the story of a husband and wife crime-fighting duo. That would make “Castle” as fresh next season as “Person of Interest” now promises to be. If it wasn’t the intent of the producers (or the network) to marry the characters then the storyline should never have gone there.






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