Shows end on cliffhangers all the time, some by design and others by cancellation. Regardless, every time it happens, it leaves factions of fans wondering “what if” and “where were they going?” Sometimes, we as fans eventually receive answers in the form of a revived series or a showrunner spilling the beans. However, much of the time, cliffhangers are left in limbo, never to be resolved and sure to drive fans crazy.
We’ve taken a look at 12 of the most frustrating TV cliffhangers of all time. These are cliffhangers that never resolved key threads or left viewers in confusion. These are the cliffhangers that, years later, are still making us wonder what the series had in mind for its characters. Plot points from the finales are listed in the paragraphs, but if there’s a show on this list you haven’t seen, you should be able to scroll through and avoid reading up on the cliffhanger by skipping the text.
The Sopranos, HBO
The Sopranos ended with the mother of all cliffhangers, with Tony and his family sitting down to dinner but nothing seeming quite right. The camera moves to follow a man in the diner wearing a jacket, then cutting back to Meadow who is trying to park her car. Then, it fades to black, leading us to wonder what happened. Never have we been more on our seats since J.R. was shot (and at least that plotline was resolved years later). Sopranos creator David Chase will never tell us where that cliffhanger is headed (although he once sorta clued us in).
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fox
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is an example of a show leaving us hanging thanks to the cancellation axe. At the end of Season 2, the Lena Headey-starrer sent Sarah’s son John into the future, leaving our heroine in 2009. That wasn’t the only cliffhanger of the episode, but it was the big one. Unfortunately, a month later the series was cancelled and showrunner Josh Friedman has had no desire to explain where everything was going.
Twin Peaks, ABC
Twin Peaks, like Sarah Connor Chronicles, was given a second season to explore its story. Unfortunately, it still left plenty of loose ends behind when Season 2 wrapped up. Dale Cooper was trapped in the Black Lodge and his evil doppelganger had taken over in the town. Some of this plot was sort-of resolved during Fire Walk With Me, but I’m not sure the real Dale Cooper ever got another damn fine cup of coffee.
Moesha had a solid run after switching from CBS to UPN. It was so successful for UPN that I don’t think anyone expected the series to get cancelled after Season 6, which ended with a positive pregnancy test being found in Moesha’s dorm room and Miles getting kidnapped. Moesha later apologized for the ending, but she still doesn’t know what was supposed to happen.
The WB’s Angel had a pretty lengthy run, all things considered. The Buffy The Vampire Slayer spinoff aired for five seasons on the network, but was cancelled following Season 5, in a move that shocked both fans and creator Joss Whedon. Because the team hadn’t planned on a cancellation, the Season 5 finale ended with Angel, Illyria and the rest of the company cornered and set to fight an onslaught of other-dimensional creatures. Angel then says, “Let’s get to work.” Tantalizing, but we never saw what came next.
My Name Is Earl, NBC
NBC’s comedy followed Earl J. Hickey, a lottery winner who spent a lot of episodes doing good deeds for others for the (originally) selfish reason of extending his “karma.” During the Season 4 finale, creator Greg Garcia wasn’t expecting a cancellation and flippantly threw a “to be continued” cliffhanger at fans. Tragically, NBC nixed the series that spring, and while we learned Darnell is not Earl Jr.’s father, we never learned who the father was. It’s a mystery not even Maury could solve.
Alcatraz was a one-season series produced by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot company. The show focused on a bunch of Alcatraz prisoners who disappeared in 1963, only to pop back up in present day San Francisco, where a government organization was tracking them down. In the finale, prisoners began reappearing all over the country, setting up for a wider plotline the next season, and the death of a lead character seemed convenient, thanks to magical healing silver. Tons of other sideplots had yet to fully be unraveled. Nor will they ever be.
Carnivale was clearly not ready to go as it wrapped up its second season on HBO. The Season 2 finale ended with Clancy Brown's baddie Brother Justin and Nick Stahl's Ben in a confrontation, with Justin getting stabbed and revived, but feeling far less powerful. Ben was knocked out, which would have made him lose most of his own powers. The series was initially envisioned by Daniel Knauf to be six seasons, so there was a ton of stuff that didn’t get wrapped up and even more ideas that never even got to be explored. As a two-season series, Carnivale is still a standout, but we wish we could have seen what happened next.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, ABC
The ABC superhero drama was a bit ahead of the superhero craze, but still managed a fairly nice four-season run on ABC. Despite having to deal with a ton of network politics, the show went ahead and ended the show on a cliffhanger. “The Family Hour” featured Lois and Clark attempting to figure out whether or not they would be able to have children together. Toward the end of the episode, a baby shows up on the doorstep, wrapped in a superhero cape. Oh, nineties dramas.
Caroline in the City, NBC
Caroline in the City was a witty NBC comedy that nabbed plenty of fans during its first couple of seasons on the air. By the end of its fourth season, however, fans were less enchanted with the sitcom and ratings were down. Which is why it was so confusing that the writers decided to end Season 4 on a cliffhanger. In the final episode, Caroline is about to marry Randy, when Richard shows up with a baby in tow. We are left thinking she’ll probably pull a Runaway Bride, but we never found out what happens because NBC cancelled the show.
Southland started on NBC and then hopped over to TNT, where it enjoyed a lengthy five-season run. The show’s Season 5 finale featured Ben getting branded a dirty cop and Cooper totally losing himself, violently beating a neighbor and then getting shot by the police. It was some crazy stuff, but I have no idea why the TNT series chose to go out on that note, considering there was a good chance the show would get cancelled. But if there’s anything Southland was during its run, it was gutsy.
My So-Called Life, ABC
ABC’s My So-Called Life was only broadcast for one season, but it later developed a cult following of fans. Unfortunately, it ended with an unresolved love triangle between Jordan, Brian and Angela. In the final episode, Angela ends up realizing a love note is from Brian, not Jordan, and for a second she almost stays to spend time with Brian, but then hops into a car with Jordan, anyway. It was a love triangle at its finest, and we never got to see how it eventually panned out.
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