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May 18 2005

Top TV Cliffhangers Of All Time. Buffy's sacrifice in 'The Gift' comes in at #8 in this Boston Herald list.

That's certainly a big one. If I had been watching Buffy back then, I would have cried all summer long.
But the end of The Gift is NOT a cliffhanger! The action is resolved (although in a joyful way), but it is resolved (the world is saved, there is nothing left to do). Ergo, not a "cliffhanger"...

This is also something I really enjoyed in Buffy and Angel: the season finales were never true cliffhanger (even the finale of buffy's season 2). Some finales were plenty of sorrow, but managed to close things. I tend to dislike series whose finales are cliffhangers...
I think the end ofseasons 6 of Buffy and 3 of Angel are the only true cliffhangers, the seasons that if they finished there would leave huge plot points just hanging.

The 6 month wait between seasons 5 and 6 of Buffy was very hard though, not really a cliff-hanger though as it was supposed to end there, glad it didn't though.
Assimilation and death are relegated to numbers 9 and 8 while 'Ross says the wrong name in his wedding vows' takes second place?

That list is just wrong.
I dunno, at the time I remember a lot of posts on the Buffy boards along the lines of "Is Buffy really dead? What's going on?". It was an effective cliffhanger in that sense.
Huh, I would've thought Firefly had the better cliffhanger, considering we had to wait 3 frikkin' years to find out what happened to them!. :)
Well, it is a cliffhanger in the sense that the show was called Buffy, and it was continuning to a sixth season. Killing off the title character would therefore be a pretty major piece of plot that needs to be tied up. Also, it left the viewers wondering is she coming back? Will she be zombie buffy? Basically what Simon said. It was just a cliffhanger that happened to also end the season-long story on a satisfying note. Many of these other shows don't have season-long arcs, so their cliffhangers were more open-ended from a narrative perspective.

Also, I agree on the Alias one (the season one cliffhanger is great too), but it would have been even better had the missing two years plot line been interesting, instead of, well, terrible.
Buffy's season five ending, very much felt like a end to the show, what a great way to end the show, the lead character dying to save the world, and everyone about to mourn before it finishes.

I certainly thought it was a great way for Buffy to end. Remember Joss said at a time, the show could of ended at the end of season five, but at the same time he was glad it got two more seasons. Same with Angel season five ending, designed to be a great closer to the series and also a launch pad for something else like a 6th season which never happened, so it appears more of a closure now, as we don't have nothing else, and Buffy would of been dead if UPN didn't pick it up.

It's cool how Joss does that, provides closure for a show, and possibility for continuing stories, in the world of networks, where your uncertain about a new season, you treat the last episode of the current one as best as possible, wrap up with a closure of ideas and events, and always leave a door open for something else.

[ edited by SeanValen on 2005-05-18 11:05 ]
Talking about a season 6 of Angel, someone told me that it was planned to take place in a post-apocalyptic LA (due to the mass amounts of demons sent here by the senior partners in NFA) and that it should have been centered around Illyria's personnality disorders and maybe a quest to find back (rebuild??) Fred's soul.

Can anyone confirm?
The end of Buffy season 2--that was a cliffhanger. Where was she going on the bus? Would she be back? What would Sunnydale be like without her? Even though we knew there would be a season 3, it was a big deal at the time.
Can anyone confirm?

Le Comité

Tim Minear, or one of the other Angel staff, said something like that I remember, I remember the words of "Think of Angel like Mad Max, traveling to places and stuff in the aftermatch of a big battle." Although I blocked it out of my mind, because of the pain of knowing it will never be!

[ edited by SeanValen on 2005-05-18 12:11 ]
It was David Fury who said it. Hopefully soon, we will see an interview where Mr Fury tells us more about Angel season 6.
That was David Fury.
The Simpsons episode with the "who shot Mr. Burns" angle should have been on that list.
For me, Seeing Red was Buffy's biggest cliffhanger.

The Gift didn't really feel like a cliffhanger.
They called the episode "Buffy's Big Sacrifice." Not "The Gift." Doh!
I love that out of all the shows listed, the picture they show in the article is from Buffy, and has SMG and ASH in it.

I also agree that Dallas would be number 1, I didn't even watch that show but I knew the big question was "who shot JR?"

In the Buffyverse out of all 7 seasons my personal biggest cliffhanger would be Spike getting his soul at the end of season 6. In Angel my choice would be Angel being sent to the bottom of the sea at the end of season 4.
"The Gift" was the thematic ending to season five. The only season finale I'd really label a "cliffhanger" was season six's wrap-up and that was only because of Spike getting re-souled. (Always and forever, the most suprising of "Buffy" moments. I still smile when I think how Whedon and company had the whole damn world -- well, most of us anyway -- thinking that Spike was planning to get the chip removed and go all evil again.)
They don't call any of the episodes by their name, Dana. And I also agree The Simpsons cliffhanger should be on that list. I spent the whole summer wondering who did it and they surprised me too. That was when The Simpsons was the best comedy on tv, now its just crap. I wish it would die but I know thats a fruitless wish.

[ edited by eddy on 2005-05-18 13:54 ]
And also at the time, the WB was playing silly buggers with the fans. Saying the season 5 finale was the last episode or something like that.
Angel being chained in a box and dumped in the ocean, imo, was the biggest Buffyverse cliffhanger! Would've loved to have seen that on the list too. I do think The Gift was a cliffhanger for the same reasons mentioned above.

And I was in high school when the whole "Who Shot JR" stuff was going on. It was a huge deal and I remember being at a school dance and they stopped the music to announce over the loud speakers who did it. The just said "Kristen did it!" and the whole crowd went wild because everyone knew what they were talking about.
I don't think The Gift was a cliffhanger in any sense of the word. In my mind, "leaving the audience with questions" does not equate to "leaving a story unresolved / starting a new story". There will always be questions about every show - heck, we all want to know what Buffy's doing now! - but I wouldn't call Chosen a cliffhanger, either, by any stretch of the imagination.

I agree that Angel being dumped in the ocean and Spike's re-ensoulment are the two Biggies. Had the shows ended on either of those notes, it would have just been weird.
Was it David Fury that discussed AtS season 6? I could have sworned it was Jeffrey Bell. I maybe confusing the interview with another. Anyway, without the controlling influence of Wolf, Ram, & Hart, the evil forces fall into total chaos leaving the fang gang in a Mad Max world. Willow returns and finds she can restore Fred's soul, but Illyria can not be destroyed as well. Amy would have played a double role as both Fred and Illyria (I strongly suspect the writers were playing this theme out when Illyria would 'play' Fred's memories and appearances in season five). They also wanted Seth Green to play a recurring role, but no details on this.

I guess whether 'The Gift' being a cliffhanger is an area of gray, I can see both points as valid depending on opinion. With that said, I must say I found it to be the most shocking of any season endings. And what makes this statement more powerful is I was already aware of Buffy's death when I first viewed it. Missing the airing on WB, I had to wait until the repeat on UPN. By then, the death was spoiled to me. What rocked me back in my shoes was 'how' she died. Those few seconds when Buffy turns and that sad peace fills her face.....my heart was shattered. That was the most heart breaking scene I've ever watched, silver screen or otherwise. I doubt anything will ever surpass it.
What rocked me back in my shoes was 'how' she died. Those few seconds when Buffy turns and that sad peace fills her face.....my heart was shattered. That was the most heart breaking scene I've ever watched, silver screen or otherwise. I doubt anything will ever surpass it.


Amen, Madhatter.

The Gift is not a cliffhanger, IMO, for the same reasons stated above. It is the end of an arc, not the beggining of a new one or a continuation of the same one. Did it leave doors open for more stories? Of course, thats classic Joss. So did Chosen. The Gift would have worked beautifully as a series finale.

"Who shot Mr. Burns" definately should have been on there.
My understanding of a cliffhanger is very traditional: the hero/ine (or his or her friends) should be placed in some sort of peril, and we should hear (or at least feel) the rising notes of the orchestra, da da DAA - letting us know to tune in same time next week for the resolution, unsatisfying as we suspect it might be.

So, IMO, The Gift wasn't a cliffhanger. At least, that's not how it was presented (I guess for obvious reasons - the WB didn't want the audience demanding to know what happened next . . . on another station). There was resolution. Buffy - or anyone close to her- wasn't in peril, she was dead. If she'd died with Glory yet to bring down the dimensional walls, well, that would have been a cliffhanger.

So, Angel at the bottom of the sea, absolutely, Spike's reensoulment, yes. The classic BtVS cliffhangers come at the midway point of the two-parters: Welcome to the Hellmouth, Surprise, What's My Line Pt. I, Becoming Pt. I, Graduation Day Pt. I, This Year's Girl, Bargaining Pt. I. And we can certainly throw in the endings to I Was Made to Love You and Spiral. But The Gift? Not in my book.
Absolutely agree with you, SNT. I felt that "The Gift" was more the end to an excellent arc. Personally, I thought the episode "Seeing Red" was practically the textbook definition of "Cliffhanger", but maybe that's just me. The unresolved issues - Xander and Anya, Tara getting murdered (Willow's eyes turning black), Buffy getting shot, Spike's attempted rape and then riding off on the motorbike - unbelievable stuff.
I agree with those who consider the end of Season 6 to be the only Buffy season to truly end in a cliffhanger. And even then, at least the Evil Willow threat was resolved. I always liked the Buffy didn't normally take the cliff-hanger route when it came to season finales – seems like kind of an easy out for me, and not really fair to the audience (J.J. Abrams, on the other hand, seems to enjoy ending seasons that way - i fully expect Lost to end on a cliffhanger).
Angel season 3, of course, was textbook cliffhanger. As was the end of Season 5 (in fact, one of the only ones that really fits that textbook definition you use, SNT). For me, it completely worked as an end to the series, but it was, definitely, a cliff-hanger!
As for the "Gift," – If the series had ended there, it would have been satisfying and complete. I agree with those who said there were questions because viewers knew BtVS was coming back in the fall, but the story arc that ran through Season 5 was finished. Buffy died. There will always be questions about the next season, but there weren't any unresolved points for what happened to Buffy or the other Scoobies in terms of Season 5.
Still, nice, as always, to see Buffy getting a mention in the mainstream press.

And as far as ending seasons on Cliffhangers goes, last night's Gilmore Girls finale did a pretty good job of it (in the way I most dislike, but it does make me curious about next year!)
"Of all time"
I've only seen half of them. Besides the gift was more a closure that a cliffhanger to me. Important answers were already given.
Beaten by Cartman's Mom?

"Who IS Eric's father? Officer Barbrady? Mr Garrison? The 1989 Denver Bronco's?"

In the Buffyverse I'd put Becoming II as the biggest cliffhanger. We had Buffy emotionaly wrecked, Angel dead, Kendra dead because of Buffy's mistake, Joyce rejecting Buffy, the cops after her, expelled from school... All had major consequences for the future. Joss may be pro girl power but he sure likes his girl to suffer!
I can see the points about how maybe season five is not a cliffhanger. But then some of you say that season six and season two are cliffhangers. To me, none of these three instances are cliffhangers in the traditional sense, but all are in that they leave something unresolved for fans to debate before the next season begins. What I don't get is how Buffy leaving town can be considered a cliffhanger, but Buffy leaving, erm, the planet, cannot.
I don't think Becoming Pt. II is a cliffhanger for the same reasons I don't think The Gift is. And the only part of Grave that I consider a cliffhanger is Spike getting a soul - and even that is not a traditional cliffhanger, as you say bonzob. But, if my crude test is whether one can see (or picture) a "to be continued . . . " message, then that part would qualify - it's dramatic, it appears to place Spike in some form of peril, and it leaves us unresolved as to his future. I mean, sure, there's always *something* left unresolved, but Spike newly ensouled is on a different order, IMO, than Buffy leaving town or even dying having saved the world. The former creates tension, the latter two a feeling of (here's that word again) closure. But, I admit that my test is a little nuancy around the edges . . .
Regarding The Gift. Some fans didn't know that Buffy was moving to UPN. Other fans were desperate to know if or how Buffy was coming back, what were the ramifications for the Scoobies and how a season 6 would deal with all this.

I mean when the lead character jumps to her death at the end of a season, it's a hell of a cliffhanger and a terrific lead in to the next season.
Well spoken, Simon. I couldn't have said it better.
The Gift seems a bit more like cliff diving than cliff hanging, but then... (Sorry, couldn't resist). Good points all, though.

Surprised they didn't include Farscape, there's a show that thrived on them.
Farscape seasons always finished on a cliffhanger, seasons 2 and 4 were particularly good (well I'm sure I would have enjoyed the end of season 4 if I wasn't throwing stuff and and cursing the SciFi Channel).

And, though the show has it's faults, the cliffhangers at the end of seasons of Smallville are always pretty good, last years "almost everyone dies" was great.

The South Park cliffhanger was good, if only for the fact that they aired a Terrance & Philip episode on the date they'd promised to air the resolution, which apparently didn't go down at all well.

Only the season 6 finale of Buffy really felt like it could have had a "to be continued..." to me. Angel could have had more, season 1, with the reveal that Darla had been brought back could have supported one, as could the end of season 3, and season 5 if there'd been a 6th season.
Yes, Biff - Aeryn dead, John a babbling vegetable - that's quite a predicament. But back to topic... Personally I find cliffhangers to be a sign of insecurity - why do producers think that viewers will only tune in next season if we're left in suspense? Why not just make a good show & promote it well? I really hate cliffhangers that are fixed easily. That's what I appreciated about season 6 - it took all year for Buffy to truly get out of her grave.
I get that, gingeriffic, they do seem to express some anxiety. I wonder whether they are used to commit the viewers or whether they're sometimes a way to challenge or show up TV execs. Seems like Joss did that with Angel in seasons 3 and 5.

I like cliffhangers in a show that's already good but that they don't make up for other failings. So I have no problem with them happening, but don't miss them if they don't occur.

[ edited by Biff Turkle on 2005-05-19 14:18 ]
I generally don't like cliffhangers - they tend to be too random. Heck, on Star Trek, a season finale is typically a normal episode right up until the last moment, where somebody blows up, or gets captured by alien nazis (and yes, that actually did happen once). IMO the Alias S2 cliffhanger falls into this category. Sure, it's neat that Sydney is missing two years of her life, but how is that relevant to anything else that happened in S2? It adds nothing to the story that came before (and I daresay, after).

At the other end of the spectrum, the 3 big Buffyverse cliffhangers (Buffy leaving town, Spike getting re-ensouled, and Angel taking a dip) were great because they *weren't* random. They tied into the main themes/arcs of their respective seasons. For example, everyone knew that Buffy and Angelus would have a showdown. The big twist wasn't the Buffy/Angelus fight - it was that Buffy ended up having to kill the *real* Angel. It was a hugely subversive way to end the season, and yet we probably should've seen it coming!

We weren't asking, "What the hell just happened?" but rather, "What the hell happens next?!" That's a much better way to keep the audience interested. :)

And for what it's worth, I thought the Alias S1 cliffhanger was beyond brilliant. The characters spent 22 episodes assuming Sydneys mom was dead, and yet it never crossed my mind that she *might* still be alive. It just makes you slap your head and say, "why didn't I think of that?!" Lol.

[ edited by kipron on 2005-05-19 07:48 ]
I think a cliff hanger is any situation where there are issues which have yet to be resolved. So whilst "The Gift" resolved many of the major plotlines (such as getting rid of Glory, saving Dawn, saving the world) there were still many unanswered questions.

Had we thought that was the end of Buffy then her death wouldn't have been a cliffhanger. We would have accepted it. However most people knew it was going to come back for a sixth season so it was likely that she wouldn't stay dead, so it became a cliffhanger. Will she stay dead? If not, how will she be brought back to life?

But there were important minor issues that hadn't been dealt with. Willow's ongoing misuse or casual use of magick had been shown since season two and we had yet to reach the inevitable stage where it would become a bigger problem. Xander and Anya had only just become engaged, so we didn't know whether they would get married and whether it would work out. Spike was redeemed to a certain extent but we didn't know where his character was going.

I think that all good season finales should have a few things in common. They should provide some satisfying resolution. Many of the events of the season should be clarified and explained so that you can watch with a greater understanding of what happened. However, there should also be some things left unanswered, so that there is something left for viewers to look forward to.

I think that generally Buffy and Angel have been very successful at this. There have been a few major cliffhangers, season two and six of Buffy and seasons two,three and four of Angel. Every other season ending seemed to have reached an ending where everything came together and there were still questions and plots we had yet to understand.

Take any season finale at random and I think they all have some clear resolution and the promise of future episodes. "Graduation Day" for example, ending with the gang having completed High School and Angel leaving, but we still wondered about their future, how Buffy would cope without Angel. A season finale has to be satisfactory as an ending for the show, but also offer promise for the future.

I think seasons three and four of Angel were very big cliffhangers, and certainly would have been dissatisfactory had the show not lived on to a fifth season. I'm pretty sure they already knew there was going to be a fifth season by the end of the fourth season, but I'm not sure about the year before that.

I thought "The Gift" and "Chosen" worked as the ultimate endings. Extremely emotional, action packed, and filled with character moments and references to previous episodes. Satisfactory that the main villain is defeated, yet we feel it is not the end for any of the characters.

I also think that there were a lot of episode endings throughout each season that worked as fantastic cliffhangers, maybe more so than season finales. Almost every episode of season four of Angel ended on some sort of revelation that kept me, for one, desperate to see the next episode. Most seasons also have a similar buildup in the final few episodes, but it was incredibly dramatic and constant through Angel season four.
As to Alias, I thought that the season one finale was ruined a little bit whenever Sydney realised in "Q and A" that her mother could have survived the 'accident' in the same way she did. I just thought that she wouldn't come up with the idea unless it turned out to be significant, and of course it did.

Season one of Alias was fantastic for cliffhangers though. I think only the first episode had no real cliffhanger, but everything else ended in some moment of surprise. I loved "Parity", especially the ending with Sydney and Anna gazing in shock at the contents of the suitcase.
I have to come down on the side of big cliffhangers fan (must stress the S, not such a fan of the movie ;) )
I love(d) all the Alias cliffhangers, especailly in s1. As Biff Turkle said they only work for me in a show that's already good. All the cliffhangers in the world couldn't get me to watch Charmed.

I think good cliffhangers are easy to write, actually. Doing one every 22 pages is simple. It's TV shows like BUFFY and ANGEL that usually have an incredible cliffhanger every commercial break that amaze me.


As written by Brian Vaughan in a interview that was linked to on this site. I never really noticed since I've never really watched either with the commercials in place but since reading that I paid attention to when the mini-cliffhangers occurred and it's just another reason to praise the writers and our Boss (Not Bruce S.)

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