When fans heard that Todd Margaret was coming back to IFC for a third season, they were more than a little bit surprised. Not because the David Cross-led series isn’t great, which it is, but because of the surprising cliffhanger that ended the show’s second season. Todd seemingly caused a nuclear holocaust, making a third season a tall order. And yet, Cross has found a way to bring the show back for a third season, premiering tonight at 10P on IFC. That explosive ending got us thinking about some of the other great cliffhangers in television history. Whether they’re played for laughs or horror, the cliffhanger is one of the great gifts of episodic television. Here are the best, as we see it, TV cliffhangers. Oh, and obviously SPOILERS AHEAD.
10. Battlestar Galactica, “Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2”
For a show filled with great cliffhangers (The Cylons can take human form! Who did Boomer just shoot?! Starbuck is a Bob Dylan fan?!), the second season finale will surely go down as its best. With the vagabond fleet finally settling on a planet, we jump a year into the future. While sudden time shifts have become a go-to move on television lately, at the time it was a revelation. Having made the leap, we then watched a seemingly happy ending turn into a dystopian nightmare. First, we watch as our favorite characters grow feckless and, in the case of pretty boy Apollo, downright husky. Then Cylons, the robot army our heroes had been furiously fleeing, show up, taking over the planet and the human population that’s trapped on it. This cliffhanger pretty much had it all, and had us yelling “One more episode!” just like Fred and Carrie.
9. Dynasty, “Royal Wedding”
When Dallas shot one of their lead characters, causing a sensation, the writers of Dynasty thought, why not just open fire on everybody? That’s how a wedding between two of the show’s leads, Amanda and Prince Michael of Moldavia, turned into one of the biggest bloodbaths television had seen up to that point. As the show’s fifth season faded to black, the majority of the cast was left littered on the ground, seemingly lifeless. It would take months to realize that only a couple minor characters were killed, but by then everyone was so happy to have their favorites back for another seasons of backstabbing and shoulder padding, that no one really seemed to care.
8. The Walking Dead, “Days Gone Bye”
Here’s another show whose cliffhanger game is on point, (we’re still reeling over Glenn’s recent close call) even as far back as the intense pilot episode. Right up to the end of the first episode, we’d followed Rick, a terrified sheriff who awoke from a coma to a world filled with the literal walking dead. As the episode came to a close, he was surrounded by zombies, and out of options. That is until a voice crackled through a radio, showing him that his life may not have been quite as screwed as he thought it was. Never have the words “Hey, you. Dumbass…” been more chilling.
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Becoming, Part 1”
This episode marked the point that Buffy the Vampire Slayer transformed from a quirky show for teens into one of the greats of its era. Always dripping with metaphor, the show’s second season mined the idea that boyfriends can turn into monsters after you put out. That’s certainly what happened here, with puppy dog vampire Angel going full psycho after finally getting to, uh, “stake” a Slayer. As Season Two came to an close, evil Angelus started really wreaking havoc, torturing and killing those close to Buffy. Kendra, a fellow Slayer whose one weakness was a bad accent coach, was murdered ferociously. The episode comes to a close as Buffy discovers her body at the exact wrong moment, setting up what may be the most heartbreaking finale in the show’s history.
6. Friends, “The One with Ross’s Wedding”
By the time the fourth season of Friends wrapped up, Ross and Rachel seemed destined to forever be “on a break.” That is until this cliffhanger brought America’s favorite sitcom couple back together with a shocking twist. A twist that, reportedly, came from an honest mistake. Actor David Schwimmer, who played dopey Ross on the show, accidentally called his character’s new girlfriend “Rachel” during a take earlier in the season. Show runners David Crane and Marta Kauffman instantly recognized the potential of such a Freudian screwup, and crafted the season finale around it. Seemingly one “I do” away from a lifetime of bliss with English beauty Emily, Ross accidentally calls her his former flame’s name, reigniting Ross and Rachel’s tumultuous love affair one more time. The show went one to squeeze another six seasons out of their “will they or won’t they” romance.
5. Lost, “Pilot”
That hatch. The flash-forward. “We have to go back.” Here’s yet another show that took the cliffhanger trope to a new level. But all those twists and turns owe a debt to the brilliant pilot, which instantly hooked us with a question we’d spend years of our lives trying to dissect. “Guys. Where are we?” It turns out no one, including the writers of the show, had any idea, but in that moment, all that mattered was getting some answers.
4. The Simpsons, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?”
It took six seasons before The Simpsons tried to put their stamp on the cliffhanger, and it’s no shock that the episode, aired during the show’s Golden Age, became an instant classic. Fans were prepared going in, so no one was shocked when Mr. Burns took a bullet, but discovering who fired the gun became a sensation. A 1-800 number (remember those?) was set up over the summer of 1995, where fans of the show could offer their own theories. FOX even aired a special called “Springfield’s Most Wanted” before the show’s seventh season premiere, breaking down all the different theories. In the end, Maggie Simpson was revealed to be the culprit, which just further proves the point that babies are out to get us.
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Best Of Both Worlds, Pt. 1”
In its early years, Star Trek: The Next Generation had sputtered out of the gate, trying to live up to its namesake. It took three seasons for the show to really hit its stride. Still, no one could have been prepared for the season three finale, in which Patrick Stewart’s indelible Captain Picard was captured and assimilated by The Enterprise’s most vicious foe, The Borg. With no good options, acting captain Riker ordered his ship to fire on The Borg vessel, and his own captain. Stewart’s contract was actually in negotiations at the time, and no one knew for sure if he would be returning. That confusion led to one of the great cliffhangers of all time, and helped ST:TNG go from good to great.
2. Breaking Bad, “To’hajiilee”
In the history of television, has there ever been a show that’s blown our minds more consistently than Breaking Bad? Just when we think we know what’s happening, sh*t really hits the fan. The fact that Breaking Bad was nearing its end when they dropped this classic episode on us just further illustrates how incredible this show was, from start to finish. As “To’hajiilee” comes to a close, it seems that, after years of trying, DEA agent and wacky brother-in-law Hank finally has his man. We’re left to wonder how Walter is going to get out of this scrape, as he has so many others. And then the cavalry arrives, whether we want them to or not. Made up of pissed off drug dealers, armed to the teeth, they have no intention of letting anyone live. The fact that this episode just stops midstream, leaving us white knuckling our seats, desperate for answers, helped to make this episode a modern classic.
1. Dallas, “A House Divided”
If Kim Kardashian’s butt broke the internet, than this episode of Dallas broke people’s minds. It seems almost quaint now, but in the summer of 1980 all anyone could talk about was who shot J.R. It took eight long months before the show finally revealed who shot the irascible rancher, with 350 million people watching worldwide. While the cliffhanger had been toyed with before, this was a dawn of a new era, and what many consider to be the beginning of serialized storytelling in primetime. When you’re talking the best cliffhangers of all time, there can be only one.