Who was glued to their TV screens last week, eagerly picking up where their favorite series left off?
*raises hand* Two words: The Blacklist. Cheesy lines and improbable scenarios abound, but I’m in it for James Spader and the mysteries. Like many TV series, each episode tends to complete one smaller story arc, only to end on a cliffhanger, which makes me frantic for the next episode. And in typical dramatic TV fashion, the season one finale of Blacklist ended on a giant WHAAA….??
Cliffhangers. I can’t seem to escape them.*
Last week, I hunkered down to finish what I thought was the THRONE OF GLASS trilogy by Sarah Maas. I re-read book one, sucked down CROWN OF MIDNIGHT and raced through HEIR OF FIRE. At the 93% mark in book three, I experienced my first twinge of doubt. How was the author going to tie up the entire story in such a short time? I dismissed the twinge and read on, but at the 99% mark, the truth proved inescapable. THRONE OF GLASS wasn’t a trilogy like I’d thought, but a five book series. And book three ended on, you guessed it—a cliffhanger.
I wanted to both curse and call the author, demanding to know HOW COULD SHE DO THIS TO ME? (Thankfully for Sarah, I didn’t have her number handy. My hounds’ ears weren't so lucky). Several minutes later though, a strange thing happened. My initial horror morphed into glee. I might not have a resolution to the series yet, but I still had more bliss-filled hours of reading to anticipate! More Celaena and more Rowan; more Prince Dorian and more wyverns. Suddenly, the open-ending was full of win.
I’m far from the first reader or TV watcher to have a visceral reaction a cliffhanger. Why? I can only speak for myself. I know that when a cliffhanger is used in lieu of resolving a story arc, I tend to feel incredibly frustrated and manipulated. All that reading, for nothing! But mine's not a one-size-fits-all reaction. I think successful cliffhangers abound. For me, they’re found in books where at least some of the existing loose ends are satisfactorily tied up by the end of the story, and the cliffhanger merely serves as a way to introduce suspense for the next installment of the over-reaching series arc. (I think the THRONE OF GLASS series does this very well).
Beyond that, I wonder how much of my knee-jerk howl at the end of a cliffhanger is due to impatience? I’m a product of a society that prizes instant gratification: I want things, and I want them now. It’s challenging to realize that I’ve invested time and emotion into something, only to be put on hold for the ultimate pay-off. In that sense, maybe cliffhangers are good for me—a lesson in the lost art of patience and positive anticipation.
How do you feel about cliffhangers, and which series are you howling to see continued?
*(The author, Debra Driza, realizes she is surrounded by cliffhangers partly because her last book ended on one. The. AGONY.)