The TV shows I watch really like to end seasons with cliffhangers and sometimes it feels as though the writers don't trust their audience to keep watching without them, no matter how gratuitous and shit they invariably are. It got me thinking about the art of writing a good season finale. Obviously the main aim of the writers is to keep their audience interested. We have to want to continue watching. But that's only one part of it and I think other important factors are overlooked in favour of that. A season finale should be satisfying, and it should be in keeping with the themes of the season, and it should hint at the themes of the next season, and it should whet our appetite for what's to come. Buffy invariably did this well and they used cliffhangers sparingly and with subtlety, my personal favourite being S6, which did all of the things I mentioned - a happyish ending and a superb coda with the ensoulment of Spike. I then reflected on my current shows and where I'm up to with them and whether the season finales fullfilled the above criteria.
Smallville, Season 3
Actually, this appealed to me at the time of watching it, mainly because of the last ten minutes (I'm a sucker for opera in film/tv scores) which was so cleverly filmed. (The rest of the episode barely even registered and I've seen it twice.) But when I actually consider the cliffhangers I have to question how successful they were:
- Lana goes away to Paris forever. A girl can only hope, but given AlMiles's embarrasing delusion that Lana is the primary draw of the show, I have no doubt that she will make her comeback in epsiode 1 of S4 in a totally uninteresting way.
- Chloe gets blown up. Okay, I already know she's still in the show, but even at the time it didn't really work for me (in the way it was presumably intended). AlMiles may be delusional about Lana but they're not so stupid that they would kill off their best female character. I guess I'm mildly curious about what really happened to Chloe, but as cliffhangers go, this was kind of a nasty one.
- Pete leaves forever. Pete who? So they finally got rid of their most underwritten character, and I'm supposed to care why again?
- Lex dies. Ha. As pretty as MR looked in that last scene and as brilliant as he is at, well, dying. Um, duh. That's just the stupidest of all the cliffhangers, ever. Lex'll be just fine, thanks. And stop having him nearly die, you unoriginal bastards.
- Lionel is in prison and gets his head shaved. For absolutely no reason on earth, this was my favourite "cliffhanger". Yeah, I don't know why. No clue.
- Clark goes through a portal of some kind. Given that I have no idea what this will mean for Clark, I'm not sure I can muster much enthusiasm about the results, though I suppose this is the most interesting one.
Verdict: Bad episode. Lame cliffhangers. Silly (but loveable) show.
The OC (Season 2)
No, no, no, no, no. *Awful*. Every rule broken. The shooting of Trey had the opposite effect - it made me *not* want to see what happens next. It ended on the biggest downer imaginable (I much prefer happy endings) and essentially killed my interest in the show. Yeah, I'll keep watching, but with an irritated sigh rather than a joyous squeal.
Verdict: Crappy episode. *Dismal* cliffhanger. Occasionally good show.
Desperate Housewives (Season 1)
Pretty good finale actually because they tied up loose ends and filled us in on what really went on with Mary-Alice. Though what was the cliffhanger again? I think something about Mike Delphino being Zach's real dad. Which I couldn't give a flying fuck about.
Vedict: Good episode. Average cliffhanger. Addictively bad show.
Alias (Season 3)
The master of cliffhangers, shit, they end every episode with one and they do them well. Part of what makes the show work really - it's novelistic in structure, not episodic and in fact, I would struggle to pick out individual episodes (with the odd exception). The S3 finale cliffhanger was the weakest thus far because it felt like ground we'd covered before. And a lot. Sydney finds our something horrible about Jack, she then learns the reasons Jack did it and their bond is strenghtened. And I truly hope that's what will happen here, because if they turn around and tell us that Jack's been a baddy all along and nothing we've seen is true, I'll feel fucking cheated. The Jack/Sydney relationship is the backbone of the show, and the development of that relationship should not simply be disregarded in favour of providing us with shocks and twists. Anyway, Jack's my favourite character because he's so morally ambiguous yet still on the side of right. So yeah, I predict that things will sort themselves out with those two and then I guess S4 will explore what happens with Sloane and his daughter and the Rambaldi device. Still, not a patch on the S2 finale, what with the whole, "why are you wearing a wedding ring, Vaughan?" "Uh, I'm married. Oh yeah, and you've been missing for two years." Kick. Ass.
Verdict: Great episode. Disappointing cliffhanger. Awesome show.