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?