Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cliffhangers: A Primer

Taking a note from yesterday, it's time to discuss bad season finale cliffhangers. These come in four different forms: first, the cliffhanger that wasn't; second, the cliffhanger that has a terrible premiere; third, the cliffhanger that becomes the series finale; and fourth, a simply bad idea for a cliffhanger.

The Cliffhanger That Wasn't. The West Wing, season two finale was a major backfire. After the high point of the first season assassination episode, how can you top it? With an MS storyline that might put Vice-President John Hoynes in the hotseat for the next election? WTF?

Did we really think Bartlet would NOT run? If he didn't, the show would have lasted one, maybe two more seasons. Talk about false tension and lack of suspense. Don't get me wrong, the episode ("Two Cathedrals") was beautiful. The final sequence, undercut by Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms" was lovely, and quality television. Just no tension.

The Terrible Premiere. I picked the season two finale of seaQuest, DSV as an amazing season finale episode. The end of the episode saw the ship hit by a mine and holed, a dozen crewmembers being blown up inside of an alien mining facility, and only three survivors, floating in a lifeboat with nothing but miles of empty ocean around them. Great drama and a long summer of wondering.

Well, this is the first time I've ever seen a series change its concept between seasons. The premiere? Set ten years in the future, the missing ship and crew are mysteriously sent back, having been in hibernation under the alien ocean all this time. WTF? Two characters disappear, and are never mentioned again. One captain out, a new captain in. Everyone else looks the same, but somehow Lucas's hair has grown four inches? And now he has to enlist or Hudson will kick him off?

I loved the show, but I was glad when TPTB finally stuck a fork in this one….

The New Series Finale. This unfortunate occurrence happens more and more often. A series ends its season with a nail-biting finale, only to be cancelled over the summer (and sometimes the news breaks before the finale has aired, but with no time to change it). Space: Above and Beyond holds the prize for Most Notorious Example. The series ran ten years ago, for one season on FOX. Critically acclaimed, with above average ratings, FOX still canned the show. But not before leaving McQueen with his leg blown off, Wang gone kablooey, Vansen and Damphousse in a shuttle plummeting into atmo, and West and Hawkes commiserating in their bunks.

Equally annoying "finales" include: half-season replacement The Others, which concluded with most of the series regulars apparently dead from one thing or another; The Pretender, ending with a subway train explosion (thank God for TNT and movies-of-the-week); The Sentinel, which gets bonus points for an ingenious fan campaign that gave the show nine fourth-season episodes and an actual series finale (but the season three finale that almost became the series finale sucked eggs, since a beloved character lay dead). I'm sure that dozens of others exist, but these examples remain most fresh in my mind.

Last, but certainly not least…

The Simply Bad Idea. I refer to the season three finale of Enterprise. Aliens in Nazi uniforms. The shuttle pod shot at by WWII bombers. WTF? I blame Berman & Braga for that idiocy (since I blame them for everything else that ever went wrong with that series). I cannot fathom what went on inside of their brains as they hatched this little gem.

"Let's do something no one will expect! Let's really make the Nazi's aliens!"
"Great idea! We can send Enterprise and her crew back into an alternate past. Dude!"
"But how do we resolve it? That's sort of out there, isn't it?"
"Who cares, we've been taken off the show. Let Manny figure it out."
<insert evil snickering>

Season four show runner Manny Coto dug himself out of the mess with a two-part premiere that didn't suck, but wasn't memorable television. The mobsters were amusing, and he managed to resolve what seemed to be an un-resolvable problem. I loved the look on Trip's face when he realized that Archer was alive. Still, I prefer to think that the season actually started with the episode "Home."

It was the summation of the Xindi arc that the show deserved.


Unknown said...

My favorite cliff hanger was the 'last' episode of "Surface." "It's a new world..."
Paint from AW

Kelly Meding/Kelly Meade said...

I've never seen "Surface," but my dad is a big fan. He keeps telling me to watch it. Hehe.

It's funny, out of this season's Sci-Fi-Threesome (Surface, Invasion, Threshold), two of the three are still on the air (no offense to "Threshold" fans, but B. Braga deserves what he gets...).

Although since "Surface" has apparently aired its season finale, technically only one show is still on the air....hmmm...