There are few things out there as blood-boiling, as rage-inducing, as angering as when a beloved TV show ends its season with some bullshit cliffhanger. And it happens all the damn time! You’d think those Hollywood fatcats hoverboarding down Rodeo Drive with their mocha Pinkberrys would understand that by now.
But between the barbwire-laced end to this season’s The Walking Dead and the upcoming and sure-to-be-just-as-infuriating Game of Thrones, we’re being inundated with bad scene cuts just to manufacture some social-media buzz.
It’s a television staple as old as “Who Shot J.R.?” that's been done to death in recent years. Here are some of the all-time worst cliffhangers from television season finales.
The Hatch. How mysterious was your incandescent glow, your inscription of the Numbers, and your impenetrability. Was it ever possible for your revelations to match our expectations?
Much of the first season of the ABC survival mystery surrounded around the discovery and attempted opening of a door in the ground, giving the characters their first glimpse of advanced technology on the deserted island. The finale revolved around a group transporting volatile dynamite to the hatch in an attempt to blow it open (to potentially use this mysterious shelter as protection against a cult of kidnapping marauders who worship some demigod named Jacob — you know what, forget it).
After spending the last leg of the season building up the intrigue and purpose of the hatch, the season rewarded the loyal viewers by ending the episode mid-climax when the hatch door is finally blown off. Viewers waited four months to find out what the hell was in the damn hatch AND IT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE.
The cliffhanger picked up right at the second-season première, taking us inside the Hatch to reveal the Swan Station and the Dharma Initiative in a big way. But that still doesn’t make up for making us wait all summer to find out what’s going on.
One of TV’s cutest couples started out as a seemingly unrequited crush, growing in front of viewers organically and dramatically until it seemingly culminated in the second-season finale “Casino Night.”
Pam’s character began the series in a long-term engagement to Roy, a warehouse worker at the paper company. Jim obviously was attracted to Pam, and it seemed to go both ways, but they never were able to come together in the early episodes.
When Jim confesses his love to Pam, she does not reciprocate. Yet she does not immediately find her fiancé; instead, she calls her mom and appears to get advice. Jim again finds her, interrupting her with a kiss. And then before we could see the fallout, the season ended.
After waiting the typical summer season out, the show returned with more romantic meandering between Jim and Pam before peaking in the third season when they profess their love. So why the hell did the show keep up the charade without a payoff? Because television is a less gratifying version of tantric sex, that’s why.
First of all, the transphobia in the second season with Famke Janssen’s character Ava Moore was ridiculous, petty, and dumb. The show attempted to shock and swerve with hackneyed stereotypes and dated prejudices. Nip/Tuck’s whole run could be argued to be poorly constructed tropes, including the season-two finale.
Second of all, this episode is called "Joan Rivers."
The bro-tacular plastic surgeons of McNamara/Troy spent some of the season operating on victims’ facial wounds inflicted by a serial attacker called the Carver. His M.O. was cutting the cheeks of his mostly female victims. The Carver threatened to come after Dr. McNamara, who had insisted the practice take the cases to begin with. The season finale built to an eventual confrontation, but the final scene does a bait-and-switch move with Dr. Troy, the true victim of the Carver.
And then ... credits! Because why the hell not. Make everyone wait 11 months to find out what actually happened to that human bucket of sex, Julian McMahon. Audiences HATE that kind of nonsense, and it backfired for the season-three première when only 5.3 million people tuned in. Shit, does that say 5.3 million, and that it was an FX ratings record at the time? Hrmph. Whatever. This finale still sucked.
“The One at the Beach”
Sure, now we know Ross and Rachel belong together. But remember all those seasons of constant teasing? Wondering “will they or won’t they?” Screaming at your TV, “Just do it already!”
Friends spent three seasons agonizing its viewers with its flagship relationship. One of the most memorable knife-to-the-heart moments was the finale of season three, when the group of titular friends head to a beach in Montauk for a getaway.
Ross’ girlfriend Bonnie (played by Christine Taylor) showed up and was subtly manipulated into shaving her head by Rachel, thereby revealing she’s still in love with Ross. The episode ended with Ross standing before two doors, each leading to the women he’s torn between. When he goes to one of the doors, the episode cuts before revealing whose room he entered or what choice he made.
Luckily, the show came back to an episode about peeing on jellyfish stings, but revealing Ross’ choice didn’t solve their on-again, off-again nature. Ross chose Rachel, but then there was this whole thing with an 18-page letter and accepting blame and yada-yada — go watch it on Netflix.
Game of Thrones
The heartache! The betrayal! The misery! All of that bleakness, we must be doomed to a fate beyond the Wall. The wait between seasons of Game of Thrones is already painful enough, but the way the HBO drama strengthened the burden this go-around was a diabolical scheme befitting a Lannister.
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No one escapes a harsh fate in this fiction, but the particularly grueling outcome fated to Jon Snow at the end of season five was just plain wrong.
The Stark bastard, arguably the ideal protagonist of the series, seemed to have a destiny for greatness. The story keeps the mystery of his lineage just so, teasing only bits and pieces in tangential scenes. At least, he was the last capable heir of a shattered family. At most, Jon Snow could have shared the blood of Targaryen and Stark.
We might get that revelation in upcoming episodes as they begin to mine the past, but it still took TWO GODDAMN EPISODES of season six until they finally brought some resolution to the Bastard of Winterfell's is-he-or-isn't-he. (Guess what? He isn't.)