In today’s crowded television landscape, a cliffhanger season finale seems to be mandatory these days. There was a time when a cliffhanger season finale wasn’t mandatory. The following five season finales are the reasons why people keep coming back for more.
The castaways on the mysterious island end their first season with plenty of twists and turns. Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), Michael (Harold Perrineau) and his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelly) are ambushed by the Others (who are finally seen after mentioned in hushed whispers throughout the season), who kidnap Walt.
Meanwhile, John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) is snagged by the living smoke cloud, which drags him through the jungle, but Jack (Matthew Fox) saves him. Locke then tells Jack they must open the enigmatic hatch because their survival depends on it. The hatch is opened, revealing a dark, deep hole with a ladder at the top.
Where this all could lead was anybody’s guess as this show could go anywhere and everywhere, keeping viewers busy blogging about it and gossiping about it at the water cooler all summer long until Lost returned in the fall with its second season, asking more questions than it answered.
Definitely a WTF moment as four of the Cylons are finally revealed in the final scene, becoming fully aware of what they truly are upon hearing “All Along the Watchtower” and sharing the same vision. The four Cylons are Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), Tory (Rekha Sharma), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), and Sam Anders (Michael Trucco). All of them are in denial about their origins as they return to their respective posts. However, none of them are sure of their actions now that they’re aware of their true selves.
Meanwhile, the fleet prepares to engage the Cylons in battle. Apollo (Jamie Bamber) encounters Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff), believed to be dead, who tells him she’s found Earth, the planet being sought out by the fleet. In the final moment, the camera pulls back, showing viewers the entire galaxy and the planet Earth. It’s not a dream, it’s not a hoax, Starbuck isn’t lying – Earth does exist. A very powerful cliffhanger leaving the viewers in suspense and raptly waiting for the next season.
Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) finally steels herself that she must kill the evil Angelus (David Boreanaz), who as the heroic Angel lost his soul in a moment of true happiness as the two consummated their relationship earlier in the season.
After a pitched swordfight, unbeknownst to Buffy, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) restores Angelus’ soul at the very last instant, making him a good guy again. But it’s too late. All the time spent hardening her heart is for naught as Buffy kisses her lover passionately, tells him to close his eyes, then runs him through with her sword and into the vortex created by the demon Alcathala as he awakens. The vortex is then closed, but with Angel sucked into it, his arm extended towards Buffy and his face etched in confusion as he’s banished to a hell dimension. The look of pure horror on Buffy’s face sells this scene, demonstrating Gellar’s acting ability. This is the series’ most heart-wrenching moment.
It doesn’t end there for Buffy: her mother (Joyce Summers) learned about her double-life as the Slayer and tells her not to come back, Buffy also reluctantly joined forces with Spike (James Marsters), her friends are brutally beaten, she’s wanted for a murder she didn’t commit, and she’s expelled from high school. The only thing for the heartsick Slayer to do is run away someplace to lick her wounds. Fans wondered all summer long where she ended up, what would happen to Angel, and what her new status quo would entail.
(airdate: June 18, 1990): The Borg has moved into Federation space and the Enterprise intercepts the unbeatable foe. They demand Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) surrender himself, but he refuses. They eventually kidnap Picard and turn him into Locutus of Borg. Locutus tells the crew that “Resistance is futile” (a catch-phrase that is now engrained in the annals of pop culture) and they are to prepare themselves for assimilation. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes), now in command of the Enterprise, has no choice but to fire upon his former commanding officer as the episode ends with him giving the order.
This episode, considered a high watermark for the series, has been critically praised by Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide, citing the last scene as one of TV’s memorable moments. It was also the topic of discussion for Trekkies that summer. The creators received a lot of fan-mail over the ending, wondering if Riker would become a captain and wondering what would become of Picard. These questions were answered in the fourth season premiere, “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2,” which is considered to be the greatest episode of this series.
(airdate: March 21, 1980): This episode is the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” episode, where somebody hid in the shadows and plugged ruthless oil baron J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman). This was the last episode of the second season and now the third-highest rated television episode in U.S. history. Fans had to wait nearly 9 months until Dallas returned for its third season to see if J.R. would actually live and which character pulled the trigger. Three possible scenarios were filmed with different people seen shooting J.R. until it was decided it was Kristin Shephard (Mary Crosby), who was pregnant J.R.’s love-child.
Hagman took advantage of the show’s popularity and the pop culture buzz that was prevalent throughout most of 1980 about who shot his famous character that CBS met his contractual demands and he got a pay raise.
The pop culture fervor over this cliffhanger produced T-shirts asking the immortal question “Who Shot J.R.?” During the 1980 Presidential Election, Republicans created an official badge that read: “A Democrat Shot J.R.” Thanks to this episode, it became commonplace in the television medium to end a season with a cliffhanger finale.