Depending on whom you ask, the term “cliffhanger” either came from the Sherlock Homes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or from the serial films of the early 1930s. Either way you slice it, it ends up being the same thing- you have no clue how things are going to turn up.
It’s that feeling of ambiguity that leaves us wanting more. The most infamous cliffhanger in TV history came from the primetime soap opera Dallas which left us wondering “Who shot JR?” Turns out it was Kristen (who knew?!?), but this event set the stage for the television cliffhanger model. Daily soap watchers know what I’m talking about. There is some sort of cliffhanger every Friday. Who is the Salem stalker? Oh my God, it’s Marlena! Holy shit, Marlena might kill Alice Horton! Marlena fell off a building trying to get away from John who FINALLY figured it out! Marlena is in jail and she just escaped and snipers are shooting at her and Bo is trying to order them to stop, but they can’t hear and I think she might get shot! Marlena is dead?!? THEY JUST BURIED MARLENA ALIVE!
This season’s primetime cliffhangers have held us well in their grip like they do every year. Here is a quick list of some of the ones we’ll be wondering about for the rest of the summer (or just a night, depending on how much of a fanatic you are I guess).
On top rated drama CSI, we are left to wonder if Grissom (William L. Petersen) and Sara (Jorja Fox) went HOME together, or if Grissom was just giving her a ride home from the slammer (She was arrested for DUI earlier in the episode). The very first time we see Sara, we are led to believe that she is some sort of expert in the field who shares a past with Grissom. After the pilot episode, Sara was switched from an expert to a novice, and even though Grissom was no longer in a position for a romance with her, it was still brought up every once in a while. In my opinion they could leave out all of the personal junk and just give us the crime action.
Smallville’s Clark Kent (Tom Welling) disappeared into a dimensional (I think) void because his “birth father” Jor-El (played by Terence Stamp…yep, that’s right General Zod, one of the super-powered villains from Superman II) wanted him to “come home.” Our last shot, sure to be on permanent pause on many a TV, is a naked Clark in the fetal position lying in a familiar-shaped pool of light.
Malcolm in the Middle left us wondering what Reese (Justin Berfield) would do in Afghanistan with the Army, not to mention the fact that Hal (Bryan Cranston) and Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) are both unemployed.
Even series finales aren’t exempt from the cliffhanger formula. The Frasier finale didn’t show us if he would win the girl or not. The WB’s Angel signed off with what was left of our merry gang of heroes about to throw down in a dark alley with a literal legion of demons, monsters, and dragons. The finale cliffhanger is a little bit different, though. We never really know if the characters get off the cliff by climbing up, or plummeting down. It’s left up to us, the longtime viewers.
So, do I think Frasier got the girl? Duh. Of course he did. Did our gang on Angel beat the forces of darkness? Without a doubt.