Which Seasons Ended Satisfactorily?
All's well that ends well, saith the Bard. So who ended well this year?
Stipulate that some shows don't have season endings, or even series endings. The question before the house remains: which, of the genre shows that tried to make their last episode into something more than the requisite pause between penultimacy and oblivion, seized the brass ring, and which fell short?
Prosecution excuses Babylon 5 from contention, both because its season does not properly end until sometime in November (though one might be excused for checking the snow tires in the mistaken belief that November was already here, there having been no B5 episodes for lo, these past six weeks) and also because its previous season ender was thought, up until the last minute, to be its series ender as well. Claudia Christian certainly thought so, and who are we to dispute the divine Ivanova?
We must also excuse Voyager from the burden of self-defense, on the theory that one does not demand strenuous labor from stretcher cases. There remain The X-Files, Deep Space Nine, Xena, Hercules, and Buffy competing for the crown. DS9 hasn't finished yet, and Hercules didn't attempt to cap its season's events with a climax or foreshadow next year's with a cliffhanger, unless it did so with an oblique opacity that would wring tears of admiration from a Vorlon's mask.
Of the finalists, The X-Files was the weakest, guilty of the freshman writing error of telling without showing. Yes, perhaps it is true that telepathic prodigy Gibson Perez is the living key to all the X-Files, past, present and future. But given the prevalence of lies and false leads in this series, why should we believe this is so just on Mulder's word? He has, after all, been wrong before. Prophets there are in plenty, aye, but the ones worth listening to usually have signs or portents to back them up.
Xena certainly took some risks; in a bloody finale worthy of Conan himself, Xena killed her arch-enemy Callisto with a knife smeared with hind's blood, while Gabrielle, to destroy the despicable Hope, had to sacrifice her own life as well. Daring, yes, but there must remain in the mind of the widest-eyed innocent viewer the suspicion that Gabrielle, at least, is probably not going to stay dead. Without her, after all, the series becomes the continuing saga of Xena and Joxer. To state the possibility is hard enough; imagining the horrid reality is above and beyond even the loftiest conception of your humble columnist's duty.
Even if not all the passings, lamented and otherwise, on Xena hold up, they still raise that series within sight of the gold. But that first-place garland belongs to a kindred spirit to the Warrior Princess: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. For an entire season and change, Buffy has been falling in love with Angel, a genuinely heroic vampire. But vampirism is not a condition to be cured or overcome in this series; it's a curse, destined to bring heartbreak and death to everyone who touches it. Heavy stuff for an action series with a teenage cast, indeed, and doubly remarkable because the story doesn't, as so many have before, shy away from the awful climax to such a doomed love. All season, it seemed that Buffy was going to have to kill Angel, but television usually thwarts such expectations. Not this time; Angel's death at Buffy's hands was a genuine tragedy, prefigured months in advance, and rarer on television than the gold which makes up the medal Buffy has richly earned.
Unless, of course, Angel turns out not to be dead after all. In which case, it was a fine thrill, but less than it should have been, and the crown goes to Xena.
The measure of a cliffhanger has to do with whether the show is going somewhere or just jogging in place. The very popular Star Trek: The Next Generation cliffhanger "The Best of Both Worlds" wasn't really the series' best episode, nor even its best season-ender, but it changed the status quo: it left Picard with an experience that marked him indelibly, and showed Riker that whether he wanted to or not, he could command his own ship. The less-ballyhooed "Descent" similarly transformed both Data and the Borg; whether or not one likes the changes, one has to admit that it takes courage to take such risks as those.
Still, ever since Bobby Ewing turned around in Pam's shower and declared the previous season of Dallas to be a dream, we've all known better than to assume anything that happens in a cliffhanger - or on television in general - really means anything. This season featured some spectacular and moving deaths, but how many of those will hold up? Cancer Man's already back manipulating The X-Files, and I'd put even money that we'll see most of the following again:
Angel: Buffy slew her first lover just after he regained his human soul in order to put a stop to the chain of events he had started while possessed by evil, which would have caused the mouth of Hell to open and swallow the world had his blood not sealed it again. But it's unclear whether Angel actually died of that wound before being pulled into Hell. I'm betting that if the door to Hell can be opened once, it can and will be opened again before the series ends. Whether or not that means Angel can escape is a different question, but someone who's lived as an immortal for as long as he has can probably come up with some kind of plan. Great episode, but the real cliffhanger is whether Buffy will return to Sunnydale any time soon.
Blair Sandburg: When we left The Sentinel, Ellison's attempts to revive his partner from the evil machinations of new sentinel Alex Barnes had failed. The episode ended with the words "To Be Continued...", but then UPN went and cancelled the series. Does this mean that Blair is really dead, or that Jim and Alex and all the rest of them are really dead, too? In all probability, we won't know till the mid-season replacements are announced. Even had the series not gotten cancelled, I'd have to give this my vote as the best cliffhanger of the year; Blair's death and Jim's reaction to it were shocking, moving, and extremely relevant to the future of the series in a way which ensured that they could never go back to the status quo of last season.
Callisto and Strife are as dead as it's possible to get, stabbed by a knife covered in the blood of the Golden Hind, which can send even a god to oblivion. But we've seen Callisto obliterated before, yet she returned...and Strife was walking around contemporary Los Angeles with Ares to taunt Hercules weeks after his unfortunate demise. Since time has little meaning to the gods, either or both of these dead immortals could be back. As for Alcmene and Hera, one of the nice things about living in the ancient world is that you never really die without that hind's blood. If you're good, you go to the Elysian Fields, while if you're bad, you go to the Pit of Tartarus. The two most important women in Hercules' life are not currently among the living, but he's half god, and traveling between the worlds doesn't appear to be a big problem for him. So even though we saw Hercules bury his mother and toss his stepmother into the pit, it seems likely that Hell can't hold them.
Gabrielle and Hope: Xena's best friend and her demon daughter fell into a giant pit of lava. Since they're both played by Renee O'Connor and odds are extremely high that Gabrielle will be back, doesn't it seem probable that Hope, who has already returned from the dead once, will be back as well, even if she has to steal other people's blood and grow a cocoon to do so? Hope was pregnant with Ares' child, so he too has a vested interest in saving her. The question on this series therefore isn't whether but when, and how, the Amazon bard will be returned, and how much she'll have changed...and what having lost her will do to Xena. This is a superb setup; I hope the resolution isn't a letdown.
As long as we're talking about unfortunate demises, Byron is apparently really dead and gone from Babylon 5, like Marcus before him - if I were a guy with a British accent, I'd get the hell off the station - yet Sheridan's impending demise was foretold last season by Lorien, but when one has died and come back from Z'Ha'Dum, how bad can it be? I can't figure out how Straczynski makes decisions about who to save and who to kill - sure ain't fan popularity - so I don't know what to speculate about the possibility of seeing any of our faves again. Similarly, Kes disappeared from Voyager early this season, evolving into a higher lifeform...but given the rumors that the ship may be returning to the Alpha Quadrant via some deus ex machina early next season, I wouldn't rule out an unexpected appearance by the former resident elf.
Of course, we can't evaluate a season ender we haven't seen, but I'd bet money that the impending death of Jadzia Dax will blow the rest away. Sisko already lost Dax once, as Curzon, so it will be interesting to see how he mourns Jadzia while celebrating the symbiont Dax's ongoing life in a new body. As for the status of Jadzia's marriage vows to Worf once Dax is in a new body...according to the episode "Rejoined," the two can't remarry or even date one another without breaking one of Trill's biggest taboos. And will Worf be too busy avenging Jadzia to have time for the new Dax anyway? While Jadzia's beautiful face and penchant for playing Dabo may be gone from Deep Space Nine, this is merely one of many lives for the Trill coming to an end. In the past, we saw her perform a ritual which enabled Jadzia to talk to one of Dax's past hosts, so presumably a new host could do the same when the symbiont gets a new body. But I don't get the feeling we're ever going to see Terry Farrell again, which makes this a huge moment for Trek: the first death of a regular character far into the run of a series. I'm expecting to be in tears even if it's maudlin.
This column was originally written for AnotherUniverse.com.