Television is a medium that thrives on manipulating audiences into tuning in, and no narrative device is more effective at accomplishing that task than the cliffhanger. With the end of the 2007-08 season rapidly approaching and new cliffhangers waiting in the wings, we have decided to celebrate our favorites from years past.
The Cliffhanger: It didn't provoke quite the fervor of the "Dallas" storyline that it parodied, but this two-part episode did warrant a special "America's Most Wanted" and was discussed often during the summer of 1995. It also didn't hurt that the two-part installment aired at the height of the series' popularity and creativity, bridging the gap between arguably its two greatest seasons.
In the season six finale, "Who Shot Mr. Burns (1)," the deliciously sinister power plant owner decided to block out the sun over Springfield, thus assuring that his power plant profits would skyrocket. If that wasn't enough to antagonize the town, he also incurred the wrath of perhaps a dozen or so other characters for various reasons. Everyone from Homer Simpson to Tito Puente had a reason to off the miser. At the very end of the episode, an ebullient Burns is approached by a mystery person and shot.
The Resolution: After a summer of speculation (and an in-depth analysis of the potential clues hidden away in part one), Burns' assailant was revealed to be none other than...Maggie. The baby? Yep, the baby. While she might not have been the most exciting of choices, the reveal did not diminish the overall success of the cliffhanger. The fact that people cared enough to be upset was evidence enough of that. And honestly, no matter who the shooter ended up being, people would have been disappointed. They always are.
The Cliffhanger: There wasn't one singular event to brand as a cliffhanger, but the initial flash-forward in the closing moments of season three deserves recognition nonetheless. Not only did the ending drastically alter the scope of the series, but the episode itself sparked a bevy of questions, such as: Who was in the coffin? Who got off the island? How did they get off the island? Why is Jack (Matthew Fox) suicidal and/or crazy?
The Resolution: Still waiting for it. Although one of the above questions has been answered (Who got off the island?) the others remain unresolved. The show's creative geniuses, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, have promised resolutions to many of the season three cliffhangers by the end of this season, at which time we will invariably be rewarded with another batch of mysteries to ponder until the debut of season five, most likely to occur in February, 2009.
The Cliffhanger: In this highly serialized spy drama, cliffhangers were quite commonplace, often occurring on a weekly basis. Then, just as viewers had adapted to the format, seemingly able to cope with being left hanging, J.J. Abrams and company came up with this doozy of an ending to the show's spectacular second season.
Sydney (Jennifer Garner), after realizing that her best friend Francie (Merrin Dungey) had been killed and replaced with an imposter, engages in brutal hand-to-hand combat with the replacement. After losing consciousness, she wakes up disoriented in Hong Kong. She manages to contact the CIA and is quickly met by Vaughn (Michael Vartan), who seems to be in disbelief. It is revealed that Sydney had been missing for nearly two years, a gap of which she has no memory of. Oh, and to top it all off, former paramour Vaughn ended up getting married during that time.
The Resolution: Although pieces of the mystery were revealed during the first half of season three, the cliffhanger wasn't fully resolved until the episode aptly titled "Full Disclosure," which aired an agonizing eight months after "The Telling." Despite being delayed, the ultimate payoff was huge, with Kendall (Terry O'Quinn) informing Sydney that she had been abducted by a terrorist organization, brainwashed, and turned into an assassin. When she finally had broken free of that group's grasp, she was having so much trouble coping with the horrible things that she had done that she voluntarily wiped her memory. How's that for resolution?