Sharp writing, well developed characters and solid plotlines make for engrossing and entertaining television but nothing ensures people tune in for a season premiere like giving them a finely crafted season finale cliffhanger. Whether killing off a main character or completely changing the direction a character is headed, television has seen some amazing cliffhangers. Let’s take a look back at five of the best. Needless to say – spoiler alerts abound in this one.
Episode Title: Pittsburgh
Original Airdate: October 30, 2006
Summary: Weeds is known for some fantastic cliffhanger endings. At the end of season one, we learn Nancy Botwin (Mary Louise Parker) has somehow ended up with a DEA agent for a boyfriend. At the end of season four, we learn Nancy is pregnant with Esteban’s (Demian Bichir) child, preventing him from killing her as he’d planned. At the end of season five, we get left with the image of Nancy’s fifteen year old son, Shane (Alexander Gould), killing Nancy’s rival Pillar (Kate Del Castillo) with a mallet to the head and who can forget the end of season six when Nancy confesses to that crime to avoid being murdered by Esteban and Guillermo (Guillermo Diaz). All excellent cliffhangers but nothing quite tops the season two finale that finds Shane kidnapped by Andy’s crazy ex, Kat (Zooey Deschanel) and Nancy finds herself in a rather dangerous situation of her own.
Episode Title: The One with Ross’s Wedding (2)
Original Airdate: May 7, 1999
Summary: You might not think of sitcoms when you think of cliffhangers, but there have been a few great ones. The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother both had pretty good finales this year, but as far as sitcoms go, no one has done the cliffhanger better than Friends. In The One With Ross’s Wedding we not only were shocked to learn Monica and Chandler hooked up (something no one some coming, I’m sure) but also got to watch one of the most awkward and awesome phrases ever uttered on national television: “I Ross, take thee Rachel… uh, Emily.” It was the moment Friends fans had been waiting for and it was worth it. Great way to end the season.
Episode Title: Exodus (Part 2)
Original Airdate: May 25, 2005
Summary: It’s been a while now since the last episode of Lost aired and even still, I have no idea how I feel about the finale. For me, the ride was worth what felt like a too abrupt ending. Over the course of those six seasons with the show and its characters, nothing quite did it for me like that first season though. The pilot was incredible. The twists and turns throughout the season were well written and intriguing. The season finale, though, is where Lost really got me. After building up to the discovery of what was in ‘the hatch’ all season, cutting away just as Jack (Matthew Fox) and John (Terry O’Quinn) look down that deep shaft was absolute perfection. That’s not even considering the massive cliffhanger on the water with Walt’s kidnapping, Sawyer’s shooting and the raft being blown up. And the beach? Who are The Others and why do they want the boy? Is the French lady friend of foe? Did Lost answer all of those questions? Nope, but they definitely kept us watching.
02: Sons of Anarchy/Dexter *TIE*
Sons of Anarchy
Episode Title: NS
Original Airdate: November 30, 2010
Summary: It’s no secret that I’m a huge Sons of Anarchy fan. I loved the entire third season. It allowed the characters to grow and develop in a way that hadn’t really been allowed in the more fast paced seasons before it. While the season two finale was loaded with shocking moments (poor Half Sack) and the cliffhanger ending with Jax’s son Abel’s kidnapping would be on this list if I intended to make it a bit longer (perhaps even in the top ten), it was really the season three finale that earned a spot on this list. Everything in the season built to this moment. It was perfectly written, acted and revealed. Never once did the viewer think there was more going on than what was on screen but there was and it was revealed at the perfect time. Beautifully done. So beautifully done, in fact, I won’t even spoil it. I would’ve put it higher on the list – at the top – had it not been for Dexter and Grey’s. To be honest, the Sons finale was better than them both, but perhaps not quite as memorable to those who don’t watch the show. If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy you’re missing out on incredible television.
Episode Title: The Getaway
Original Airdate: December 13, 2009
Summary: Rita. Died. What? After building up their relationship for four seasons, having them get married, giving them a child, they just kill Rita (Julie Benz) in the bathtub? Wow. That takes balls and honestly, it worked really well. It was one of those jarringly shocking finales that people were talking about for weeks. Watching the video again, I’m reminded of how unexpected that last moment really was. There was absolutely nothing leading up to it that would tip off viewers to Rita’s untimely demise. When Rita’s phone starts ringing and Dexter (Michael C. Hall) sees it in the house, you know something unfortunate has happened, but the sight of her lifeless body in the bathtub and their infant son on the floor surrounded by her blood – nothing could prepare you for that. Was the Sons finale better? Yes, but only by a little bit and only if you watch the show. Have I mentioned that you should be watching Sons of Anarchy?
01: Grey’s Anatomy
Episode Title: Sanctuary/Death and All His Friends
Original Airdate: May 20, 2010
Summary: I haven’t watched Grey’s Anatomy since the end of the first season but even I was glued to the television for the season six finale. It was intense. It was dramatic. It was emotional. Everything about this two part finale was unbelievably well done.The plot starts long before the finale. Gary Clark (Michael O’Neill) is introduced episodes earlier as a man whose wife was taken off life support by Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). He sues the hospital claiming negligence but the claim is dismissed. Feeling justice has not been served and wanting to make Derek pay for the death of his wife, he returns to the hospital with a gun and chaos ensues.
Watching the gunman in the elevator with Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) is nail-bitingly tense as you’ve just seen the same man shoot and kill Dr. Reed Adamson (Nora Zehetner) for being rude and dismissive. Christina is helpful and her life is spared, but those chilling moments stay with you for the rest of the episode.
After April (Sarah Drew) discovers the body of her friend and colleague Reed, April rushes to Doctor Shepherd’s office to tell him what’s taken place. While every performance in this episode is incredible, Sarah delivers an especially powerful performance as shown in the above clip.
The intensity continues to build as Clark continues looking for Shepherd. When Clark finds him, it’s genuinely shocking to see him shoot Derek in the chest just as you think he’s going to surrender. Part two of the episode lost a little bit of that intensity, but it made up for it in emotional impact. Quite a way to end the season.
The Grey’s Anatomy season six finale takes the top spot on this list simply because you didn’t have to be a Grey’s fan to get caught up in this one. Writer Shonda Rimes did an incredible job of building tension and drawing in viewers. When Dr. Percy (Robert Baker) dies, it’s heartbreaking and I may have even shed a tear or two even though I had no idea who Dr. Percy was. Brilliantly done, even if it did piss off a lot of long time fans of the show.