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Do We Need Season Finale Cliffhangers Anymore?

by  in Comic News, TV News Comment

It’s that time again: When all of our favorite shows come back from their summer hiatus, and you suddenly remember that the majority of them had cliffhangers that you remember very little about. While Google undoubtedly thanks you for the business, it has to be said: Is television doing it wrong?

The thought came to me as I realized that Syfy’s Haven starts up again this Friday, a realization immediately followed by another one that I had absolutely no recollection of how the previous season ended. As in, none. There was some stuff about Audrey not being Audrey, and some tattoo stuff and maybe something about the police chief’s son (and new police chief), but other than that, my memory had nothing to offer. Now, maybe it says more about me than Haven, but I have to wonder whether a cliffhanger being so entirely forgettable means that it failed in its primary purpose. Shouldn’t a cliffhanger be the one thing the viewer is supposed to remember?

It’s not just Haven, either. I remembered that Brennan had gone on the run in Bones, but not why. When Warehouse 13 returned this summer, I could remember that the Warehouse had blown up, but not who was responsible (or, for that matter, that HG Wells had died in the explosion). Why are Dean and Castiel in purgatory? Who can remember! Even the more memorable cliffhangers (Once Upon A Time‘s “Oh, now there’s magic,” the overly-dramatic status quo shift in the CW’s Nikita) have details that are somewhat fuzzy, at best.

I understand the reason for doing a cliffhanger at the end of the season – Keep fans in suspense, so that they keep thinking and talking about the show, thereby making it a more visible ongoing concern in such a way that networks may be swayed when making renewal decisions – but I can’t help but feel as if it’s a strangely unnecessary convention these days. There are just too many shows to keep track of, after all, and too much possibility of cancellation (and therefore unresolved storylines – Anyone remember the final episodes of Awake or FlashForward as proof?) for it to seem like something along the lines of a good idea. Isn’t it better to try and follow the Leverage model of ending each season with an episode written as if it was the show’s final episode ever, with just the occasional plot thread left dangling in case renewal does happen…?

(That model may not work for shows that are based around centralized mysteries, but how many of those shows are there, still? The days of Lost seem so far away now…)

Am I alone in this, or are there shows that you like that have kind of lost you with their cliffhangers over the years? Has Wikipedia – or Netflix, or Hulu – become the place where you head for last-minute refreshers before the new episodes start?

(For those who were curious: “Sins of The Fathers,” the last episode of Haven‘s second season, ended with the revelation that Nathan had the tattoo that Duke’s killer was prophesized to have, with a scene of Nathan holding a gun at Duke followed by an exterior shot and the sound of a gunshot. Dun dun, and indeed, dun.)