Cliffhangers

Or, Making the audience wait for closure

Or, oh Sherlock, what did you do? (in my best Mrs Hudson voice)

Before I start this post properly, I should offer a warning: I will probably include the phrase ‘in my day…’, but I’ll try to put it off for as long as possible.

benedict_cumberbatch_filming_sherlock_cropped2I’ve watched Sherlock since the very beginning. If you love it as much as I do, you can imagine the excitement that occurs when a new series is imminent. I tend not to pick it apart as much as many people do, especially on Twitter, but I do love to see what other people have said about it – afterwards, not during! One of the main comments after this week’s episode (S4, E2 – The Lying Detective) was the cliffhanger.

Indeed, one tweeter went as far as saying it was the biggest cliffhanger she’d ever seen in her life.

(I’ll just point out here, while you’re digesting the last sentence that at the end of Season 1, Moriarty was pointing a gun at Sherlock, and at the end of Season 2, he ‘died’.)

But it got me thinking about the bigger picture.

People aren’t good at waiting anymore. In my day (see… I told you!), by which I mean when I was a girl (is that any better?), we had to wait until the following week or the following series, there was no option. Can you remember the whole ‘Who Shot JR?’ thing? We had to sit down, at the actual time the TV station decided to air the programme, and watch it – without pausing for toilet breaks, or popping to the kitchen for a snack.

When Doctor Who returned, a lot of those episodes were two-parters – I remember at the end of the programme, my kids and I would turn to each other and oooh with glee and excitement. I loved that oooh moment – it gave us a shared moment where we could revel in all the things we didn’t know yet.

I once heard that Russell T Davies asked his young daughter what she thought of his new Doctor Who creation and she told him she didn’t like waiting for the concluding part, so from that point on all the episodes became stand-alone stories. I don’t know how much of that is true, but it makes my point. WE HATE WAITING.

But waiting is part of life, whether it’s for a bus, the next episode, the next book in a series, a reply from a publisher.

By not waiting, by having box-sets on tap, we lose that sense of excitement and anticipation, we come to expect everything to be where we want it when we want it – which won’t always be the case.

How do you feel about cliffhangers – TV or books, or in daily life?

 

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30 thoughts on “Cliffhangers”

  1. Anticipation of what happens next is exciting! I watch The Walking Dead as it airs. (No pausing. Go to bed kids and don’t interrupt.) Similar to what you stated happened with Sherlock, with TWD, viewers were so angry that they didn’t know who died at the end of the last season. There was an uproar on social media. The expectation of instant gratification has plagued our society on so many levels.

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  2. Hi Annalisa – waiting is ‘the hardest part’ – but so necessary … we can’t be instant successes, we have to go through school and perhaps Uni, we need to write chapter by chapter etc … so we wait – always have done … I’d rather wait! I tend not to watch back – if I miss it … then it’ll pop round again at some stage and I’ll catch up then. Perhaps I just have a different take on life … just enjoy – cheers Hilary

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  3. I don’t mind cliffhangers or to-be-continued episodes, for the most part. Sherlock’s cliffhangers for example, have never bothered me, but The Walking Dead lost me as a viewer (something over which I’m sure they’re heartbroken) after their season/series 6 finale.

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    1. The Walking Dead thing is interesting – you’re only the third commenter and already I’ve got opposing views on it. I wonder if anyone’s studied the box-set culture… I hear there’s big money in research 😉

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    1. But after binge-watching season 1-4 (say), isn’t the wait for season 5 to air all the more frustrating? Or do you make sure you’re all the way to the very end? I’m not sure I could avoid programmes I’d be interested in until the series is complete.

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  4. Who shot JR was such a big thing back then. I can handle a cliffhanger in a show, but not in a book. I want books to stand alone on their own merits and not force the reader to buy the next book.

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  5. First, thank you for our Benedict moment. Second – I’m fine with cliffhangers on tv shows. I enjoy discussions of what could happen, etc. It’s a bit tougher with books because it seems like it takes longer for the author to write the sequel,etc. I understand but it can be maddening and I’m more likely to have forgotten bits. TV on the other hand churns faster and they show key plot points to bring one up to speed again. It’s a tricky business and also annoying if the return show is a dud/let down.

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  6. I’ll admit I’m not the world’s biggest fan of cliffhangers … but if everything is all neatly wrapped up at the end of an episode/book, then I’ve got no reason to look forward to the next one, do I? There has to be the promise of something unexpected and wonderful waiting in the future, even though I’d rather that strange and wonderful thing not involve someone pointing a gun at someone falling off a cliff. 😀

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  7. I actually don’t mind them as long as some plot points have been closed… but to leave the book completely open kills me bit on the inside haha Could just me that i invested in a book and I want to see how it ends…

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  8. I love cliffhangers in TV shows: it gives me a chance to come up with (often crazy, usually wrong) theories about what I think will happen next. I’ve watched both episodes of Sherlock twice this season, and on the second run through there is always something new that I notice 🙂
    I can’t wait for the next episode, but I am dreading it too. I want to know what happens, but I also fear that we will lose another character this season. I just hope that it’s not Mycroft, since he is my favourite!
    There’s also the inevitable wait between seasons, but I think, as die-hard fans, we are used to it by now! It’s strange, because normally if I am in a line at a shop, or waiting for the bus, I am the most impatient person in the world!

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    1. I’ve watched them both twice too! And they’re saved for a third viewing in a couple of months’ time 🙂 Mycroft is brilliant – I loved that scene last season (?) where he and Sherlock were playing Operation. I think the wait between seasons is as much a part of the hype as the programmes themselves. (I heard a rumour that there might not be another series, but I hope I’m wrong.)

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  9. I like cliffhangers if they aren’t so big. lol I like enough to keep me wanting more, but not so much where I’m agonizing over it. RedLagoe’s example of TWD is actually perfect. Viewers saw someone get murdered but had no idea who it was. We had to wait until the new season started. It was torture…but, yes, it was worth it.

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