It didn't always used to be the case but recently The CW's superhero shows have aggressively gone after the goal of ending all their series on cliffhangers. While Arrow
seasons 1 through 4 ended on pretty definitive notes, nearly every other series in the Arrowverse, except maybe Supergirl
, has left fans in the lurch as it closed its seasons. This past season was particularly noticeable as (almost) every show (it is debatable if Supergirl
ended on a cliffhanger or a tease) ended with some game-changing circumstance ... that will be undone incredibly quickly. The Arrowverse needs a cliffhanger intervention.
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Big Risks, Unknown Reward
There is nothing inherently wrong with a season ending on a cliffhanger. It's an easy but effective way to get fans excited and invested in the next season. Ending on a cliffhanger almost requires fans to tune in as quickly as possible to the next season just to get closure. With varying degrees of success, all the cliffhangers did this job.
At the same time, with the outrageousness of the cliffhangers, the shows are writing checks they can't possibly cash. It's hard to feel too attached the ideas that Team Arrow might be dead, the Legends of Tomorrow broke time or Barry Allen won't be The Flash anymore because none of these cliffhangers are going to stick. They are simply too outrageous to matter. They worked as cliffhangers but they aren't believable as new status quos.
Similar to how The Flash season 2's big cliffhanger (Barry going back in time to save his mother) informed season 3, the cliffhangers might be the premise for next season's storyline. Dinosaurs aren't going to be around roaming around present-day America on Legends of Tomorrow but season 3 could be about the team trying to repair the time fractures they caused. Barry won't be completely replaced as The Flash but when he does come back he could be entering a drastically different team that has been changed in his absence. Mon-El being sucked into a portal has to have some effect on Supergirl season 3 even if it is just Kara's attitude. It's harder to see how the cliffhanger of Arrow season 5 could impact season 6 because either the entire supporting cast is dead or it not, but there might be some fallout even if everyone makes it off Lian Yu alive.
The Danger of Shock Value
These "shocking" cliffhangers might not even be as shocking as first presented. This doesn't mean that they are useless. They are unnecessary. This might be just as problematic as if they were useless. These shows shouldn't have to resort to cheap gimmicks to wrap up their stories.
Arrow seasons 1 and 2 proved that the show didn't need a cliffhanger to entice people to watch the next year. Both season-long arcs came to a complete and satisfying end. Even if seasons 3 and 4 of Arrow weren't as satisfying, they were still complete. The next year didn't have to begin with wrapping up the last season's story; it could jump right into the new arc. Currently, though, Arrow, Legends, Flash and Supergirl are in a state of flux until they tie up the circumstances they introduced in the final moments of their previous seasons. The conclusions might be fantastic but all they exist as hypotheticals now.
This might be less of a problem, or not a problem at all, if only one or two series were struck with big cliffhangers. Arrow's tease that everyone but Oliver got blown to pieces might seem more impactful if Barry had gotten his happy ending with Iris. It might be more fun to speculate on how Mon-El will come back to Kara if Legends of Tomorrow didn't tease Sara Lance having to herd dinosaurs in downtown LA in 2017. As it stands, though, all the shows went for shock over satisfaction -- which isn't a bad idea, but it wasn't handled in the best manner. It gave the impression that none of the shows really knew how to end their seasons so they just went for a cliffhanger, which in the long run might lead to more frustration than excitement.
So what did you think of the cliffhangers? Were they too much or just enough to get you invested for next year? Do you think anything from them will stick? Which cliffhanger was your favorite?
(Image courtesy of The CW)