"The bad guy stuck [Rocketman] in a car on a mountain road and knocked him out and welded the door shut and tore out the brakes and started him to his death, and he woke up and tried to steer and tried to get out, but the car went off a cliff before he could escape! And it crashed and burned, and I was so upset and excited, and the next week, you better believe I was first in line. And they always start with the end of the last week. And there was Rocketman, trying to get out, and here comes the cliff, and just before the car went off the cliff, he jumped free! And all the kids cheered! But I didn't cheer. I stood right up and started shouting, 'This isn't what happened last week! Have you all got amnesia? They just cheated us! This isn't fair! HE DIDN'T GET OUT OF THE COCK-A-DOODIE CAR!'"Cliffhangers tend to be a vital part of any serial story. They stop the action or drama right when tension is at its highest, leaving an audience on the edge of their seats in anticipation of a conflict resolution and wanting to stick around to see what happens next. The best cliffhangers pick up the story right where it left off and provide a clear resolution based off of everything that was shown to have occurred to viewers in the previous installment. And then there's these... Unfortunately, sometimes writers may discover that they've written themselves into a corner with no way to resolve a cliffhanger based on how the prior episode, chapter, film, or story ended. When this problem arises, the writer may make a saving throw to cheat his way out of the problem in one of a few ways:
— Annie Wilkes, Misery
- Facts about a character's circumstances are retroactively Hand Waved between installments (e.g., the hero tied to a chair in a building rigged to blow up who wasn't able to even break his bonds prior to the building exploding at the conclusion of one episode is seen breaking free and escaping at the beginning of the next before the bombs go off). Depending on the circumstances, this can lead to some pretty glaring Plot Holes.
- What is seemingly promised to happen at the conclusion of one installment turns out to be something else entirely or an Unreveal at the beginning of the next chapter.
- More egregiously, the Story Arc leading up to the cliffhanger is aborted and/or explained away as All Just a Dream.
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Anime and Manga
- Macross Zero: At the end of Episode 4, the island where the protagonists are getting fuel is air bombed (or something). By the start of Episode 5, the heroes have already been rescued except the native girl who has been captured. Also, flying submarine aircraft carriers.
- Dragon Ball Z: Goku claims he saw a pod ship near Freeza's spaceship and took off before Freeza's spaceship hit the lava. The episode where Freeza's spaceship falls into the lava clearly shows Goku watching Freeza's ship fall into lava up in the air and then the planet explodes. Note that in the manga, that scene doesn't happen.
- Naruto gives us the Great Snake Escape. Deidara decides to self destruct and take Sasuke with him, setting off an absolutely enormous explosion, and Sasuke is out of chakra. The next chapter reveals that Sasuke somehow summoned Manda the Boss of All Snakes and most powerful of the Summons, mind controlled it, jumped in its mouth, and teleported it away; all things take large amounts of chakra, which Sasuke had just been shown to be out of in the previous chapter, and he did all this in the time it took the explosion to reach him when it had already gone off right next to him.
- Tenchi Muyo!: Played for Laughs during Kiyone's introductory episode in Tenchi Universe. Pre-commercial break, Kiyone has Ryoko at gunpoint with an epic battle apparently about to start. Post-break, they're calmly eating lunch together. Seconds later, Kiyone lampshades that this makes no sense and challenges Ryoko again.
- In Fairy Tail, Wendy gets hit by a spell and vanishes into thin air at the end of the chapter, and at the start of the next she's just inside Hologorium, who conveniently popped up right then and is clinging to the ceiling. Pretty funny that, before we realize that Wendy is safe and not hit by Hades' attack, Hades keeps a very calm face, as Wendy disappearing was supposed to happen. Shouldn't he be like 'What happened to my spell?'
- Happens frequently in Nisekoi. The end of many chapters, particularly in the second half of the series, suddenly steers that chapter's story towards one of the many series-long mysteries, such as the identity of the girl who promised Raku she'll marry him, the locket with the missing key, or the children's book with the torn-out final page. Except for the last dozen chapters or so, the beginning of the following chapter will invariably lead the characters to a Red Herring, lead them to a dead end, segue to a Cryptic Conversation that goes nowhere, or get interrupted by a different problem requiring the characters' immediate attention.
- In issue 24 (Volume 2), the kids have finally dragged Chase back, they've beaten their foes once and for all, and they're tired and weary as they arrive home... To find Iron Man and a bunch of mooks waiting. In Issue 25, they begin by... Meeting with the Kingpin. Word of God tells their appropriate response: They ran away.
- At the end of their ongoing series, the last shot is of Chase getting hit by a truck, away from the rest of the group. He apparently survives and reunites with the others off-screen, and he is totally fine by the time they run into Daken in his series. Daken even asks what happened to him and all Chase answers with is "I got better."
- Inverted in a 1960s Captain America story. At the end of one issue, our hero jumps out of a plane, wearing a parachute. At the start of the next issue, Captain America is falling through the air with no parachute (and no explanation of where the parachute went). The first few pages explain how the Captain survives this. Stan Lee later admitted that when he wrote the later issue, he had forgotten how he ended the earlier issue.
- One old Incredible Hulk issue ended with The Leader pushing a button that would launch a missile. The next issue started with him saying something along the lines of "Now, when I push the button a second time, the missile shall launch!"
- One issue was a hugely emotional for Peter Parker; him asking his clone to take care of his wife, and in general as heartfelt a sendoff as you could ask for a beloved character. The first thing that happens in the following issue is his corpse convulsing back to life with his super-powers restored.
- The "Gathering of Five" arc ends with Green Goblin receiving a massive power boost and killing Spider-Man. The following issue it's revealed Gobby had gone crazy and most of the previous issue had been his hallucinations.
- In the middle of the X-Men storyline The Dark Phoenix Saga, Cyclops is struck down by a psychic bolt. The issue ends with the other X-Men exclaiming, "Cyclops is dead!" The next issue begins with Cyclops staggering back up, and the other X-Men saying, "Look, Cyclops is alive!"
- Wolverine v3 #46 ends with a Mandroid about to sever Logan's neck and spine with an adamantium buzzsaw. The next issue opens the same way, except the Mandroid realizes the buzzsaw he's holding isn't made of adamantium and can't cut through.
- In Countdown to Final Crisis, one such instance features Wally West employing a Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique on Pied Piper and the Trickster by yanking a pair of cuffs attached to the two that's programmed to shock the both of them if something happens to it, and threatens to continue it until they tell him what happened to his murdered cousin Bart Allen. The following issue reveals that Piper and Trickster just imagined Wally pulling on the cuffs.
- Green Lantern vol. 4, #3 had Hal Jordan fly into the Yellow Central Power Battery with a Green Lantern (the object), with the goal of basically forcing the thing to enter its failsafe mode and shut down once a Green Lantern enters it. This plan was even devised by Sinestro himself, who created the Yellow Central Power Battery. Instead, the Power Battery disintegrates him, with it even saying "disintegration compete". The next issue instead opens with the Power Battery recognising that Hal isn't Sinestro, and instead aborts its attempt to transport Hal to the anti-matter universe (why it was doing this is not explained).
- Turnabout Storm: Part 3 - Phoenix ends with Phoenix starting to ask a favor to Twilight's owl before cutting to black. Come Part 4, and it's revealed that it was just to help him get books to study more about Equestria on his own. Useful, yes; but not the case-changing development that would be expected.
- The Lawnmower Man ended with the villain transferring his mind into cyberspace and causing all telephones in the world to ring, to inform people of his new condition. In the sequel, that scene is shown again. From the following scene and throughout the entire movie, the villain is back in his actual body.
- Lampshaded in J-Men Forever, which ends in a montage of Cliffhanger cop-outs, showing that the J-Men supposedly killed during the Gag Dubbed movie were all Not Quite Dead.
- Bullshot spoofed this by having the hero caught in an overly complicated inescapable deathtrap, only to appear later with an equally complicated explanation of how he escaped.
"When you directed Dobbs to the room where I was paralysed there was one small thing you hadn't accounted for — that he would be wearing a regimental club tie which is 100% silk! The static electricity temporarily neutralised the forcefield, giving me time to take advantage of the inflammable properties of the brandy that you offered me earlier. Within the small amount of neck movement available to me under the magnetic paralysis, I formed my nasal cavity into a type of Liebig condenser, thereby concentrating the alcohol fumes in one place. I then forced the fumes down each nostril with such intensity that they were combusted by the lighted end of the dynamite, thus forming a natural blowtorch which completely severed the fuse, rendering the dynamite totally harmless. The rest was easy."
- The Batman cliffhanger serials of the 1940s were very much guilty of this time and time again.
- Chapter 13, "Eight Steps Down", ends with Batman stuck in a Death Trap where spiked walls are closing in on him which is cut away from just before the walls are about to crush our hero with no hope in sight for rescue. Then, the beginning of Chapter 14, "The Executioner Strikes," shows Robin appearing much earlier during the same scene with more than enough time to slip Batman a crowbar to brace the walls moving in.
- In turn, the conclusion of Chapter 14 shows Batman locked in a box and dropped in an alligator pit only for the next chapter to show that Robin managed to break Batman free in secret much earlier and had put a hapless Mook back in the box in Batman's place.
- The conclusion of Chapter 10 and beginning of Chapter 11 show something very similar to what's described in the page quote, with Batman miraculously jumping out from a car before it careens off a bridge and bursts into a fireball.
- Another particularly bad one: Batman falling several stories and visibly slamming into the ground is resolved by it not being Bruce in the suit, but a minor villain who decided to put it on for no apparent reason. This was actually telegraphed in the scene right before the cliffhanger actually showing Bruce walking away and putting on his hat, but it's blink-and-you-miss-it.
- Another episode ends with Batman in a plane that crashes in a fiery explosion. The next episode shows him just staggering out of the wreckage a little dazed while the mooks who were also on the plane both died from the crash.
- This was so common in the Undersea Kingdom serial that Wikipedia keeps a list of these. When Joel and the Bots watched the first two chapters in the serial where the cliffhanger saw Crash and Billy trapped on top of a cliff while it collapses underneath them from missile fire, the resolution in the following installment shows Crash and Billy climbing back down from the cliff before the collapse, prompting Tom Servo to reference the line from Misery, "How did they get off the cock-a-doodie cliff? This is wrong!"
- The Purple Monster Strikes (Republic, 1945) has quite a few of these, but the most insulting is the cliffhanger to Chapter 7, "The Evil Eye": a bomb is wired to an electric eye in a doorway, with the Love Interest Bound and Gagged inside. The Hero arrives, and we clearly see him step into the electric eye, which triggers the 5-second timer and the building blows up. In the next episode, we're shown that the Damsel in Distress manages to de-gag herself and alert the Hero just before he steps into the electric eye, and he then jumps over it. A moment later, once safely out of the building, he turns and shoots a Mook back in the building, and he falls into the electric eye and sets off the bomb. Cop out, indeed.
- Close second would be the end of Chapter 9, "The Living Dead", which featured the Hero in a closing spiked cage similar to the Batman example above. The cliffhanger showed the spikes closing in nearly to the point of puncturing the hero's body... the next episode backed the walls up considerably so the hero could use his gun as a stopper, holding the spiked wall at bay until the pressure broke the cage.
- In Mystery Science Theater 3000, when Joel and the Bots had to view chapters from the Commando Cody Radar Men from the Moon serial, Joel would always make some kind of comment whenever it came time for the Hand Wave of the previous chapter's conclusion to reveal itself. For instance, during Chapter 4 (aired alongside Robot Monster) note :
Joel: That scene wasn't in last time...
Crow: That's cuz they didn't get the film back from the drugstore yet.
Servo: (announcer voice) Upon further review the refs find that Cody is dead. The play stands: Cody is dead.
- This happens in Chapter 2 as well, when Cody just manages to roll out from behind the panel just as Retik shoots it.
- The Green Hornet Serials had plenty.
- From "The Green Hornet"
- Chapter 3 ends with the Hornet in a crashing plane. In Chapter 4, the Hornet somehow acquires enough time and altitude to bail out safely. Having a parachute in the first place is not a copout, as we see him put it on in Chapter 3.
- At the end of Chapter 7, the Hornet and his opponent are in the back of a truck when the bridge gives out underneath them. At the start of Chapter 8, both men fall out of the truck just before it reaches the bridge.
- In Chapter 9, the Hornet is trapped by Axford and Jenks. Axford shoots through the door of the storage closet the Hornet is hiding in, breaking some chemical bottles. The chapter ends with the Hornet passing out from the fumes. When Chapter 10 starts, Reid has enough time to ditch his disguise before pretending to pass out.
- Chapter 11 ends with the Hornet and a crook fighting in a caboose, which derails when the other crooks uncouple the end cars. They are clearly seen in the caboose as it tumbles. Chapter 12 shows both men falling out of the caboose before it derails. For bonus copout points, the crooks wanted to uncouple the cars to put pressure on a shipping company. The recap scroll says the company’s cars were uncoupled, but when one crook reports back to Monroe he says the train broke apart behind the target cars, and the shipping company’s cars got through safely.
- Chapter 12 ends with the Hornet and an extortionist fighting in a burning office. When Chapter 13 starts, there's no sign of fire...and both the Hornet and the crook have forgotten about last chapter's confession.
- From "The Green Hornet Strikes Again!"
- Chapter 5 ends with a warehouse full of illegal munitions being bombed, and the Hornet at Ground Zero. Chapter 6 starts with the Hornet having enough time to take cover in the basement.
- Chapter 7 ends with the Hornet’s plane crashing after being an accidental test subject for a new antiaircraft weapon. At the start of Chapter 8, he has just enough time for a no-parachute bailout.
- In Chapter 11, the Hornet and some truck hijackers are fighting when the truck goes over a cliff. There's a different camera angle spliced in for Chapter 12, showing the Hornet jumping out at the last minute.
- There’s another warehouse with illegal explosives in Chapter 12. The chapter ends with the Hornet ramming a racketeer's car through the warehouse door, hitting the explosives, and big boom. Chapter 13 gives him enough time to see the crates of explosives and dive out before the car hits them.
- Chapter 14 ends with the Hornet and a racketeer fighting in the racketeer's open car, which goes off the road and wrecks during the fight. Chapter 15 starts with the Hornet being knocked out of the car just before the accident.
- From "The Green Hornet"
- One Buck Rogers serial ended with Buck's friend Buddy collapsing after being shot as he was about to jump out of a window. The next serial starts with the shot missing, and Buddy escaping out of the window.
- In-Universe: Annie Wilkes of Misery absolutely hates it when authors do this, telling the story about her favorite cliffhanger serial from when she was a kid, quoted above, to Paul Sheldon after he did a similar thing while writing the manuscript for Annie's personal Misery novel. Paul had ended the last novel with Misery's burial, so Annie insisted that the new novel would start with a way of getting the heroine out of her grave, fair and square.
- Garth Nix's Seventh Tower series is also guilty of this. A particularly annoying one in the first book involves the main character falling over backwards at the end of one chapter and being caught immediately at the beginning of the next, which also means mining an utter non-event for drama in the first place just for the sake of not having it come to anything.
- Garth Nix actually does this quite regularly in his novels. There's a Cliffhanger at the end of pretty much every chapter, and it usually comes to nothing.
- Another particularly annoying one occurs in Lord Sunday. Dr Scamandros, while tending to the injured Leaf, takes his hat off. Suzy is under the impression she has died and he took it off as a sign of respect. The chapter ends there just to fool the reader into thinking the same thing.
- A meta-example occurs in the Harlan Ellison short story "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?"; the protagonist, locked in an inescapable interrogation cell, recalls a magazine serial he'd read as a kid in which the hero has escaped between installments via the use of this trope, and how disappointed he'd been. And then, this:
"Later, comma, after he had escaped from the interrogation cell, Enoch Mirren was to remember that moment, thinking again as he had when but a child: what a rotten lousy cheat that writer had been."
- The Rolling Stones: In Robert A. Heinlein's story inside a story, "Scourge of the Spaceways", John Serling ends one season in an unsurvivable Death Trap. He starts the next season out of the Death Trap and, hero that he is, is too modest to tell people how he managed to escape. Then the next adventure starts.
- When The Book of the New Sun was first published as four separate books, each of the first three books ended with a cliffhanger. In each case, the next book began some time after the resolution of the cliffhanger, with what exactly happened never explained in detail. This may have been a protest on Gene Wolfe's part against the novel being Divided for Publication.
- From the Captain Underpants series, book 9 ends with Tippy Twinkletrousers apparently killed from being stepped on by a giant zombified student. Book 10 reveals the former left out a scene between, in which it turns out the giant zombie was so incredibly slow that Tippy had time to scream three times, go shopping, then buy a giant novelty ketchup pack and place it beneath the foot.
- When Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail had a disagreement with a publisher, who owned the rights to his Rocambole novels, he ended the last novel with an unresolvable cliffhanger — the hero was chained, locked in a cage and dropped to the sea. Newly hired authours tried to write a believable sequel, but any attempt to extricate Rocambole looked too far-fetched. The publisher had to renegotiate with du Terrail. And what did the original author do? He just started the next novel with Rocambole swimming to the shore.
- Parodied in Bored of the Rings. Wizard/flim-flam artist Goodgulf is last seen plummeting to his death. Later in the story he suddenly reappears, but is oddly cagey about the circumstances of his uncanny resurrection. Legolam the elf excitedly demands the story of how he survived the clutches of the ballhog, lived through the flames, recovered from the fall into the boiling pit, and escaped the bloodthirsty narcs to find his old comrades.
- As the stars grew brighter in the velvet sky overhead, the elf, dwarf, and Ranger gathered around the radiant sage to hear the tale of his miraculous, impossible salvation. "Well," began Goodgulf, "once out of the pit..."
- Dexter. Several instances of something occurring that could have completely damned Dexter or caused problems were resolved a minute into the next episode. Of course, just as many times they were legitimate problems that Dexter spends the episode dealing with, but that just makes the Cliffhanger Copout and Pseudo Crisis events stand out all the more.
- A number of cliffhangers on Heroes would pique viewers' interest that one thing would happen and then would give them something entirely different.
- The episode "Truth & Consequences" from Volume 2, for example, ends with Hiro charging at Peter, who refuses to believe Hiro's claims that Adam Monroe is dangerous and is even willing to protect him, suggesting that the two characters were going to fight each other. The beginning of the following episode, "Powerless", shows Hiro, after his charge, deciding to just teleport around Peter and try and talk to him some more to convince him that Adam is evil.
- One episode ends with a powerless Sylar directly in the sights of a sniper rifle while kissing Elle. The next episode starts with Sylar and Elle in bed naked, clearly having had sex in the interim, and the sniper is still waiting.
- Doctor Who has done this numerous times, largely due to volume. Every non-terminal episode of the classic series ended in a cliff-hanger, and terminal ones sometimes did too.
- The most (in)famous, not to mention literal, example is probably from "Dragonfire"; in which the Doctor dangles himself over a precipice for no obvious reason other than because the episode was coming to an end, and just... climbs out of it next episode. Of course, given the episode never gave the viewer any reason to believe the Doctor couldn't just climb up, this is less of a copout and more just confusing. The new series pulled an Author's Saving Throw on this one, revealing it as one of several cases where the Great Intelligence altered events in the Doctor's timeline to try to kill him.
- Also, famously, in "The Caves of Androzani", when you actually see The Doctor and Peri get shot, execution style, and fall down dead. The following episode resolves the conflict ten seconds in, when it is revealed that the executed parties were actually robot look-a-likes.
- The Peter Davison era in particular was mocked for the number of cliffhangers which had the Doctor and/or a companion about to be killed by a Dragon or Mook, only for a superior villain to turn up as soon as the next episode started and order their lives spared.
- The new series episode "The Name of the Doctor" suggests an in-story justification for every single case where a seemingly inescapable death was resolved in anticlimactic fashion: the Great Intelligence trying to sabotage the Doctor's timeline only for one of Clara's temporal doppelgangers to undo the damage.
- Part Two of "Genesis of the Daleks" is another well-known example. Sarah Jane is leading a prison escape up a giant scaffolding tower, when she slips and falls in a dramatic freeze-frame. Unfortunately, Part Three begins with her landing on a previously-unmentioned plank just below. The most frustrating thing is that she clearly fell on the outside of the tower, but the plank could only have been on the inside.
- The 2005 series episode "Aliens of London" ends with the Ninth Doctor and every other person in the room electrocuted by the Slitheen at a lethal level. Within seconds of the following episode the Doctor manages to rip off the badge that carries the shock, tells the Slitheen that since he's not human it's not lethal to him, and runs off.
- At the end of the 4th series episode "The Stolen Earth", the Doctor is shot, dragged to the TARDIS by his companions and starts to regenerate, meanwhile Sarah Jane Smith is facing down two Daleks unarmed. 15 seconds into the following episode, series finale "Journey's End", the Doctor heals himself using the regeneration energy without changing, 15 seconds after that two characters who haven't appeared for two seasons appear to rescue Sarah Jane. This is helped a bit by the show later confirming that it did indeed count as a regeneration, bringing the Doctor one step closer to true death after his thirteenth life.
- This happened in regards to Donna in "The End of Time". The Doctor had previously wiped her memories of him and warned if she ever started to remember she would burn to death. At the end of episode one she starts to remember and her head starts to hurt... and at the beginning of episode two she just gets knocked out. Turns out it was all just a defense mechanism.
- "The Impossible Astronaut" ends with Amy shooting the person in the spacesuit...aka the little girl. In "Day of the Moon", it turns out that she missed, and the episode begins six months after the event.
- The Ninth Doctor and his companions are cornered by a horde of childlike gasmask zombies. The virus seems to pass by touch, so one touch will turn them all into zombies. The conclusion opens with the Doctor telling the zombies to go to their room, and it works.
- "The Pandorica Opens" ends with the Doctor locked in an inescapable prison specifically designed to hold him. Next week, the pre-credit teaser actually adds an extra cliffhanger to the excitement by revealing that somehow Amy and the Doctor exchanged places. Post credits, the Doctor from the future, already out of the Pandorica, just goes back in time and lets himself out (putting dead Amy inside the preserve her). He only got out in the first place because Rory was able to let him out using the Doctor's sonic screwdriver (which only happened because the Doctor got let out).
- At the end of "Rise Of The Cybermen", the Doctor tries to convince the Cybermen who've cornered his group that they're surrendering, only for the Cybermen to ignore this and ominously chant "Delete! Delete!" as the episode ends; when the following episode "The Age of Steel" begins, the Doctor suddenly pulls a tool out of nowhere which kills the Cybermen then and there. Because if the Doctor had this tool at his disposal, there was little reason to try and surrender and even less to hesitate for about 10 seconds before killing the enemy; they don't even suggest that he was possibly trying to buy enough time until the tool was fully charged to destroy the Cybermen, which actually make sense if it's the case. This is justified by the "tool" actually being the TARDIS's charging power cell, whose use as a weapon started the charging process all over again. For obvious reasons, the Doctor was reluctant to cut off his ultimate escape route.
- Played with in "Heaven Sent": the Doctor finds himself in peril, only for the story to cut back to him entering the TARDIS, safe and sound. If turns out he is still very much in peril, but that imagining himself back in the TARDIS explaining to his companion how he got out of that tight spot is his method of finding out how to actually do it.
- The Time Tunnel sometimes changed the context in which a cliffhanger took place at the beginning of the next episode. For example, you find that the heroes weren't in as much danger as you thought they were, or, at least, that it was a different kind of danger than you thought.
- Near the end of the 4th season finale of The X-Files, the audience sees Mulder alone in his apartment, crying hysterically with his gun in his hands. We cut away just before hearing his gun go off. The next scene is a flash forward in which Scully has apparently been called to his apartment to identify the body of a white male who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She identifies it as Mulder. The next season begins by revealing that Scully was lying, the body is not Mulder's, and the whole crying holding his gun thing was not related to anything.
- Made even worse that Chris Carter lied to Gillian Anderson when instructing her how to play that final scene, telling her that Mulder was alive, but Scully genuinely thought he was dead. Since Anderson is a great actress but Scully isn't, her tearful and quite moving statement about Mulder's death feels very cheap in retrospect.
- Parodied in Made In Canada. A series of Cliffhanger events were made at the end of one season. The first episode of the next season had one of the characters, Richard, narrate that at the end of each season when a series might get cancelled, the characters are usually put on cliffhangers as a means to ensure that the series has closure, but if the series continues, it results in the authors being written into a corner as they make lame excuses. Richard then enumerates the lame excuses for the last season's cliffhanger.
- The first season of Prison Break ended with the main characters running through a field after their getaway plane left without them, while cops close in from almost every direction. In the beginning of the second season, it's revealed that they got away by...running through a forest and maneuvering around a moving train, which stops the cops from chasing them. It's made worse by the fact that the first season ends at night, but the second season begins during the day, raising the question of what, exactly, happened in what must have been several hours between the episodes.
- The second episode of Twin Peaks ends with Agent Cooper having a dream from which he learns the identity of who killed Laura Palmer. Cooper immediately wakes up from the dream to call up Sheriff Truman that he knows who the murderer is but teases that the answer could "wait 'till morning." Come the next episode, taking place that following morning, Cooper recaps all the events from the dream that ended with Laura Palmer whispering the name of her killer in his ear. Then, once he's asked who the killer is, Cooper nonchalantly responds "I don't remember."
- Reno 911! ended every season with a cliffhanger, and more often than not would start the next season with a cop out.
- Season 1 finale: Jones Faking the Dead causes all the deputies to kill each other in surprise.
- Season 4 finale: Dangle is about to enter into a gay marriage-analogue with another man when Garcia comes in, professes his love, and steals him away.
- Season 5 premiere: He was just kidding, and would like to remind Jim that gay marriage is illegal.
- Season 5 finale: All the deputies are riding on a squad car they decorated as a float as it drives into a massive fireball. The final shot is of a police funeral.
- Season 6 premiere: Garcia, Clementine, and Kimball are all dead.
- Red Dwarf had several episodes ending in cliffhangers, and resolved the majority of them with Cliffhanger Copouts:
- The first series' third episode ends with Lister triumphantly saying he passed the chef's exam, and thus now outranks Rimmer. The next episode reveals in Holly's Opening Narration that he was lying.
- The series 2 finale ends with Lister becoming pregnant after sleeping with his female Alternate Universe counterpart. This was briefly explained in the Series III premiere as part of an Opening Scroll of Unreadably Fast Text, which also resolved the foreshadowing from the first series' second episode that Lister will eventually have twin sons.
- The writers did intend to spend the Series III premiere resolving that cliffhanger, but found that they couldn't make it funny enough and decided to just skip ahead. They also took the opportunity to explain away Kryten joining the cast and Holly changing appearance.
- Series VI ended with the entire crew aboard Starbug as it was destroyed by their future selves. A quick gag at the beginning of Series VII reveals that this caused a paradox which hit the Reset Button.
- Although one of the outtakes videos also included an Alternate Ending in which Rimmer destroys the time drive himself, causing the future selves to disappear as they no longer had a time machine with which to travel back.
- The cliffhanger ending of Series VIII — in which Rimmer is trapped aboard Red Dwarf as it disintegrates from a metal-eating virus and the rest of the crew have abandoned ship or escaped into the Mirror Universe — was emphatically not resolved by the miniseries Back to Earth, which instead begins with a title card saying "Nine Years Later". Given that the ship is intact and all the main characters are present and/or accounted for, it's ambiguous whether Back to Earth even follows the cliffhanger or if it follows an Alternate Ending.note
- The Series X finale, "The Beginning", finally addresses the Series VIII cliffhanger, with Rimmer claiming credit for saving Red Dwarf. He is interrupted before he's able to explain how he did it. Twice.
- A season finale of 3rd Rock from the Sun involved Harry being kidnapped by a deranged man played by Phil Hartman. By the time the next season started, Phil wasn't with us anymore. The show had no choice but to gloss over the circumstances of Harry's kidnapping with no real resolution.
- Martial Law had a Re Tool-induced copout. The end of season 1 saw Sammo and Big Bad Lee Hei falling out of a helicopter over the ocean. Sometime during the summer, though, it was decided to retool the show, and instead of season 2 picking up off where the first had ended, it opened with a regular episode, with only scant allusions to a resolution to the previous events—Sammo asking if someone who's trying to kill him with a bomb is seeking vengeance for Lee Hei's death, and a fellow officer asking Sammo, "Hey, you fell out of a helicopter into the Pacific and survived... how much worse could a bomb be?"
- The third season of 30 Rock ended with Jack having just discovered his real father, played by Alan Alda. He reveals he needs a kidney, so Jack creates a "We Are The World"-esque fundraiser to get him one. Then the next season starts and none of this is ever mentioned again. We eventually catch a glimpse of a published copy of the book, From Peanut To President, that Alda's character would only have had time to finish writing if he got his kidney. So presumably it all worked out somehow. Similarly, Kenneth must have somehow escaped the Chinese assassin in the second-season finale, since he's alive in the third season.
- A fifth-season episode confirms that Jack did manage to give his father a kidney - Elvis Costello's.
- As some of the the Film Serial examples may suggest, whenever the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watched back-to-back chapters of an old serial short film, someone would always point out the copout.
- Tom Servo will always go into Annie's "He didn't get out of the cock-a-doodie car!'' speech as well, with Kathy Bates' inflections.
- At the end of the second season of 24, President David Palmer is infected with a virus transmitted by an assassin who shakes his hand as he's getting into his limousine. As the season ends, he's lying on the ground dying as Secret Service swarms over him, and the last sounds heard are his fading heartbeats. Cue the opening of the third season, and it turns out that Palmer's fine, and that he found and "punished" those responsible. (The intervening events are covered by the tie-in PS2 game.)
- In the series finale of the original Dallas, JR Ewing takes out a gun after being convinced by a reflection of the Devil in his mirror that his life is meaningless now that he's lost Ewing Oil. JR holds the gun in his hand, and his brother Bobby hears a gunshot from downstairs. Bobby runs up, opens the door to JR's room with a look of shock on his face... and as the TV movie "JR Returns" would later explain, JR shot the mirror and climbed out the window, then fled to Paris to hide out for six months.
- Season 3 of Charmed ends with Piper and Prue seriously wounded and Phoebe, Leo, and Cole trapped in the underworld with Phoebe having given her oath to stay there forever. Season 4 opens with Piper and Phoebe in the attic discussing Prue's death. How did the three trapped in the underworld escape? How did Leo get home in time to save Piper? Were there any consequences for Phoebe breaking her oath? The latter two questions get some explanation at the beginning of Season 4, but the exact details of the characters' escape from the underworld itself are never made clear. The whole thing is justified in a meta-sense since Prue's actress Shannen Doherty left the show in between seasons so any plans the writers may have had were thrown out the window.
- Discussed in Stargate SG-1's infamous "200" episode. The alien scriptwriter has the characters running away from some aliens with 11 seconds to get to the gate. The team runs up to a cliff face and see a massive army of Jaffa between them and the gate. The real SG-1 call the writer out on such an obvious copout and provide the page quote for Viewers Are Geniuses.
- Mitchell: Okay, this could be a problem.
(Cut to the team safe and sound in the gate room...)
Mitchell: Wow, that was close, huh?
Daniel: Oh yeah.
The Real Daniel: (voice over) Are you serious?!
Martin: (voice over) What?
- The Wonder Woman TV Series episode "Phantom of the Roller Coaster: Part 1" ends with Diana Prince (Wonder Woman depowered Secret Identity) inside her car looking back, just before an enormous truck smashed it... with her inside. Part 2 begins with an already transformed Wonder Woman outside the car lassoing the perpetrators.
- Smallville: Season 3 ends with Chloe's house exploding the instant she closes the door upon entering it, but a flashback in the first or second episode of Season 4 shows her escaping, with the time between closing the door and the explosion miraculously expanding to fit Lex's men getting her to safety.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Lampshaded in the holodeck program The Adventures of Captain Proton! (a homage to 1930's sci-fi Film Serials) where the players gripe over how the Previously On segment dramatically shows their rocketship bursting into flame.
Kim: We didn't burst into flame in the last chapter! Why are these recaps so inaccurate?Paris: Well they brought people back to the theaters.Kim: Cliffhangers!Paris: The lost art of hyperbole...
- The first season of One Hundred Deeds For Eddie Mc Dowd ended with a cliffhanger wherein Eddie was faced with a choice between saving Justin or himself. The second season opened with absolutely no acknowledgement or resolution to that cliffhanger.
- Power Rangers Zeo: In the two-part premiere, "A Zeo Beginning," Alpha's solemn final line at the end of Part I suggests that something happened to Zordon in the Command Center's implosion. This line doesn't make it to the beginning of Part II, where Alpha instead cheerfully reveals that Zordon is just fine.
- Episode 3 of Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger ends with Mitsuki announcing that she's leaving the team, and her comrades reacting in shock. Episode 4 opens with Mitsuki clarifying that she's leaving the team...for a three-day martial arts course, and she'll return as soon as it's over.
- Then there's the transition between seasons 1 and 2 of the show. At the end of season 1, everyone figures out that they're in a TV show and try, unsuccessfully, to keep the show from ending. When the show did eventually get a second season, it would be pretty hard to keep a good plot going with the characters actively trying not to resolve the plot, so the second season began by shamelessly Retconning out all the metafictional stuff from the first season's plot and changing the ending entirely. Only at the end of the second season is the fictional nature of the world brought back into play.
- JAG: The 3rd season cliffhanger in "To Russia with Love", has the Mig-29 with Harm and Mac in it being hit by a missile, while the plane from the viewer’s POV was inside a cloud. In the next season resolution, in "Gypsy Eyes", we see that they managed to eject before the plane exploded.
- Community: The second season ends with Pierce declaring he's done with the study group and walking out on them, leaving audiences to wonder what this would mean in the next season. The resolution is... Pierce walking into the study room, explaining he'd changed his mind, and asking them to take him back. Probably deliberate, since it wasn't considered likely that Pierce would be gone from the group for good. Hilarious in Hindsight seasons later when Chevy Chase's strained relations with the rest of the cast and crew finally broke, leading his character to get in the way of a passing bus.
- A regular feature of the '60s Batman series. Famously, every other episode would end with the Dynamic Duo in a diabolical Death Trap, struggling against their bonds, desperately casting about for a means of escape, or glaring in fear and/or determination at their impending destruction while the narrator fretted about their certain doom. The next episode would begin with the Caped Crusaders escaping the trap, sometimes through legitimately inventive means, but just as often through copouts like "someone shows up to rescue them," "they'd prepared something earlier in the day and we didn't show you" or the ever-popular "they use a Bat-gadget they have on them for just such an emergency that they apparently briefly forgot they had during their moment of panic at the end of the last episode." If they were unconscious at the end of the previous episode, they'd generally just wake up. On one occasion they were saved by a power outage; on another, by an eclipse.
- A particularly notable instance was a Crossover with The Green Hornet, in which the Hornet and his sidekick Kato are actually fed through a machine that turns them into human-sized postage stamps! The cliffhanger is that the villain's thugs are about to do the same to Batman and Robin. The next-episode solution is ... they fight off the thugs. And it turns out the Hornet and Kato managed to roll off the conveyor belt going through the stamp machine and were hiding inside it. Where did those human-sized stamps with their images on them in the previous episode come from?
- One episode of Stargate Universe has a small group of people stuck on a planet with no way to get to the ship where the rest of the cast is on for various reasons. Next episode a brief mention is given to them but nothing is done to solve the problem, however the ship breaks down around a third of the way through and suddenly the characters reappear no worse for wear.
- Game of Thrones does this twice with encounters with the White Walkers.
- In the opening scene of the series, a ranger of the Night's Watch comes face-to-face with a White Walker who had just killed his two comrades. In a following scene, he's running around the North, with no explanation for how he escaped. This is an Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole, because in the books his character is never spotted by the White Walkers.
- The second season finale features Samwell Tarly hiding ineffectually behind a rock as a horde of White Walkers and their undead Wight minions advance towards the Fist of the First Men. The opening scene of the third season has him running through the wilderness before being attacked by a single Wight, who still nearly manages to kill him before he's saved by Ghost and Jeor Mormont. While most of the actual battle had to be skipped due to budgetary reasons, it still leaves you wondering how Sam managed to sneak past an entire Undead army that had already seen him.
- Angel sleeps with Darla despite the Gypsy Curse that says he will turn evil if he has a perfect moment of happiness. At the end of the episode there's a Call Back to the last time this happened, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with Angel waking up in bed clutching his chest in pain. The following episode explains that it wasn't quite perfect happiness, so Angel kept his soul, but no explanation is given for his physical symptoms.
- The Season 4 episode "Release" ends with Angelus defeating Faith, drinking her blood, and declaring that he's going to turn her into a vampire. The following episode, "Orpheus", opens with a flashback of Faith drugging herself with the titular drug as a back-up plan for defeating Angelus.
- seaQuest DSV ended Season 2 on a Bolivian Army Cliffhanger, with the ship being sunk in a war on an alien planet, and most of the remaining crew trapped aboard an alien sub that's about to go full Death Star—so they blow it up while still aboard. When the show was Only Barely Renewed, all but a couple of the regulars were returned to Earth intact: they'd been swept out into the alien sea, which somehow put them into healing comas rather than drowning them, and were rescued by the friendly alien rebels. Meanwhile, the underequipped rebels somehow restored the blown-apart seaQuest to mint condition, dumped it in an Iowa cornfield, and were never heard from again.
- London's Burning subverts and uses the trope straight in the same situation. One episode finished with a sewer explosion knocking one of the firemen on his back and sending a manhole cover flying into the air. Viewers saw a shot of the cover flying end over end... and landing straight on the hapless firemen's head, all from his point of view. The next episode opened with the same shot but finished with him waking up, as it was All Just a Dream. Then it turned out it really had happened (subverting this trope), but the cover only landed near him despite how it looked previously (looping back to play the trope straight), causing him to have recurring nightmares.
- On Babylon 5, one episode ends with Sheridan imprisoned on Mars, being psychologically tortured in an attempt to brainwash him, with no hope of rescue or escape in sight. The next episode opens with Sheridan, no worse for the wear, sitting calmly in his quarters with Dr. Franklin, sipping coffee and discussing his daring escape. Then it turns out that it's all a hallucination, and his interrogator has drugged him to the gills hoping he'll reveal valuable intelligence on the Resistance.
- Spoofed on The Goodies when our three heroes escape a Death Trap set up by Mad Scientist Rat Fink Petal via the entirely unexplained use of Graham's fruit peeler. Unfortunately Petal is waiting outside the door, so they end up strapped to another deathtrap and have to escape on screen (though no less improbably).
- The second episode of True Detective's second season ends on a completely unexpected cliffhanger that had people talking for a week, as it seemed as if Colin Farrell, billed as the star of season 2, was killed by a man in a bird mask with a shotgun. In the next episode it turned out the shotgun was loaded with riot rounds, leading several critics to call the show out for turning a game-changing twist into a total copout.
- Person of Interest: One episode in season four ended with Finch looking at a street camera and telling The Machine that it was time for him and it to talk. Come the next episode... and it was like the cliffhanger had never happened. No mention is made of the conversation, it's not even revealed how they could have had a conversation, and it's never brought up again.
- The Flash (2014): The episode "Enter Zoom" ends with The Flash brutally beaten by Zoom and his final words of the episode are Barry telling his friends in a blind panic that he can't feel his legs cut to the start of the next episode and the first shot is Barry walking again (albeit only a few steps before tiring) and a couple of throwaway lines about how much he's healed in a week. While it is worth noting that the majority of the episode is spent with Barry still healing, the immediate cliffhanger of Barry being crippled is totally jumped.. Watching the episodes back to back leads to the "cliffhanger" lasting as long as the closing credits.
- The "Moldavian Massacre" on Dynasty is an (in)famous case of this. At the end of the fifth season, two major characters (Amanda and Prince Michael) get married in a ceremony attended by nearly the entire main cast in the country of Moldavia (an archaic name for Moldova). However, a group of terrorists crash the ceremony and spray the entire audience and newlyweds with bullets, with the final image of the season being everyone lying on the ground motionless. This cliffhanger was done ostensibly so the producers had an out if any cast members wanted to leave. When the show, returned, however, it was revealed that only two minor characters had died. This is often cited as the reason for the show's ratings decline, as it slid from first to seventh place after the conclusion to the cliffhanger was revealed.
- At the end of one episode of the second season of Bron|Broen, a group of armed Animal Wrongs Group terrorists attack Saga in her hotel room. At the beginning of the next episode, she curb-stomps them in seconds.
- Arrow had one of its own in Season Three when the Mid-Season Twist showed Ra's al Ghul thrusting a sword through Oliver's chest, then kicking his lifeless body off the side of a mountain. When the next episode aired, somehow the stab wound moved to the shoulder area, and Oliver managed to land on a nice soft snow bank not too far down the mountain side.
- The midseason finale of The Walking Dead Season 6 showed Rick and company escaping from their house into a herd of walkers. As they try to silently move past the walkers, Sam starts calling for his mom, causing the walkers to become louder and more angry. Later, the midseason premiere opens with scenes from the previous episode, again showing Sam calling to his mom, only this time the noise isn't suggested as provoking the walkers, and the group manages to evade the herd without incident.
- The first series ends with John and Sherlock at gunpoint from all angles with no possible escape in sight. In the next series, the bad guys decide to let them go for unexplained reasons.
- The second series ends with Sherlock having faked his death, the cliffhanger being exactly how he pulled it off with zero preparation, given that he clearly wasn't expecting to have to go through with it, which means he came up with the plan in the span of about thirty seconds. The third series reveals he just magically knew every minute detail of Moriarty's plan all along, retroactively destroying any of the tension in the S2 finale and pushing his detective skills to ridiculous Mary Sue levels, as the faked suicide was accomplished through a needlessly elaborate scheme that would require multiple days of prep time and for him to swear multiple people to secrecy, while never actually telling us how he figured out what Moriarty's plan was. The most irritating aspect of this is that during the long gap between seasons fans put forth multiple possible ways Sherlock could have pulled it off without needing to resort to this trope.
- The third series ends with Sherlock being arrested for murder and Moriarty returning. In the series 4 premiere, Moriarty's return is brushed off as old video footage (despite us having just seen a character impossibly fake their death in the last cliffhanger) and Sherlock's murder charges are dropped and unceremoniously swept under the rug. His actions at the end of the previous series result in no consequences, and the Moral Event Horizon he crossed by shooting an unarmed man in cold blood is never addressed.
- Several episodes of Raw in 2012 built towards a storyline involving Zack Ryder, John Cena, Kane and Eve Torres. Kane was trying to get Cena to "embrace the hate" and did so by targeting his friend Zack and Eve who was Zack's girlfriend. One development of this had Eve being held prisoner in an ambulance so Cena could save her. She kissed him in the heat of the moment...conveniently enough for Zack to walk by and see. Afterwards she tearfully broke it off with him, claiming they were Just Friends. The entire scenario screamed Kane manipulating Eve to mess with Cena and Zack. But the next week...
- Eve out of nowhere claimed that she had been using Zack all along to further her career and was intending to do the same with Cena. Kane disappeared from the storyline completely. Fan theories state that Kane being behind the whole thing was the original idea...but the live crowds gave Eve an insane amount of heat for kissing Cena. So the writers likely saw potential and decided to turn her heel instead.
- Due to his constant schedule slips, the writer of the BIONICLE web-serials was forced to abandon quite a few arcs he set up as the big cliffhangers of the story chapters. The most notable cases are:
- The League of Six Kingdoms being reformed (this time by four members), and leading their colossal army against the city of Metru Nui. When we cut back to them, they have apparently given up on their plans, and continued to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the story.
- Bionicle's Spiritual Successor Hero Factory is not much better at it. Two consecutive storylines have ended with cliffhangers (Von Nebula acquiring the plans of the Hero Factory and the mind-controlling Brains still being around) that have been subsequently ignored. Instead, the 2014 story ended with yet another Cliffhanger, unrelated to these.
- The 4th Episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two ended with the main characters in a Mexican Standoff against another group of survivors. The protagonists outnumbered them, but despite this the other survivors were highly intimidating, implied to have once been connected to the Russian Mafia, and before anything can happen, one of your teammates dies of exhaustion and turns into a zombie. In spite of this, the only deaths at the start of the next episode were minor characters on their side. All the protagonists walked away alive.
- The morphE webcomic had to go on a brief hiatus in 2014 while the creators dealt with a couple conventions and prepared a large amount of content for a coming update. Prior to the hiatus the comic ended with one of the main characters, Billy Thatcher, being shot in the head. After the hiatus the scene is reversed and it is revealed and replayed with Billy getting shot in the shoulder instead, revealing Amical had turned back time "one turn" and altered his actions.
- Invoked in a front-page article on Something Awful in which an irate fan of a radio serial vows to never tune into the program again after the latest chapter had the hero's arch-nemesis kill off several main characters... until the show's writers "fix what they had done", "like they did when the mummy stole the rocket, but it turned out Joyce was on a different rocket".
- Parodied in the Strong Bad Email "cliffhangers", where Strong Bad is asked to "resolve all the cliffhangers, please". Coach Z trips before he can unmask the Thnikkaman, approaching meteors turn out to be old avocados, and Homestar is reminded that he can't be pregnant because he's male. Then the cartoon ends with an actual cliffhanger when Strong Bad's computer gets "Lappy-napped".
Strong Bad: Sweet Lady Irony, why do you mock me?!
- Happens frequently in Shaggy Dog Stories, where many episodes (especially earlier ones) will end on a cliffhanger, and the following episode turns out to be totally different.
- In one Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode Dr. Robotnik ties up Tails' tails, making it impossible for him to fly. He then throws him and Sonic into a volcano, with Tails saying something like "I can't untie my tails!!" After the break, Tails unties his tails and they both escape.
- The Simpsons invokes the trope at the end of a chapter from a "Radioactive Man" film serial from the 1940's being screened at a comic convention. Earth is shown in the middle of an Earth-Shattering Kaboom, already clearly split in two by an atomic bomb when the action freezes and a narrator asks, "Will Radioactive Man be able to save the Earth in time?"
- In the 1980s My Little Pony 'n Friends series, the cliffhangers in all multi-part stories were invariably resolved about 10 seconds into the next part - often while showing the short recap and having a character doing something they had not previously been doing (such as escaping being bound) or standing in different positions. Frequently, any cosmetic changes to characters (such as being covered in gunge or wearing different than usual clothes or their hair being styled differently than normal) were not carried over into the next episode, as each episode was seemingly produced by a different group of animators.
- Parodied in Clone High. Abe is launched out a high window by a bean-can explosion and sad music plays while he plummets. The scene pauses just as he is about to hit the ground with his face. When they come back, Abe is seen hovering just over a pool, where he falls in harmlessly.
- The Transformers:
- The two-parter "Desertion of the Dinobots" from the G1 cartoon does this. The first episode ends with Spike and Carlie in the space bridge, with Shockwave shooting into the opening doors, causing a massive explosion. The beginning of part two has him firing a single shot that simply makes their car disappear, with no explosion at all.
- In the episode "Day of the Machines", a robot grappling with Optimus Prime slaps a control circuit card on him that puts him under the control of a Decepticon-hijacked supercomputer, which gloats about its victory over the Autobot leader as the scene goes to commercial. Upon returning to commercial, the computer has a couple more seconds to gloat before Optimus reveals he'd swapped out the control card the drone was wielding, with an inert one. Despite the fact that no opportunity for such an action had been visible during the prior struggle.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series. Often, a weapon aimed at Spider-Man indicated he was in immediate danger before cutting to a commercial break; following the break, Spider-Man simply jumped out of the way.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) pulled them on a regular basis, such as in the episode "20,000 Leaks Under the City", where Splinter is clearly seen falling down a waterfall, and when the show returns from the commercial break it rewinds and he's caught before he falls.
- This is very common in Rocky and Bullwinkle, as the animation has little continuity within the same episode, much less between them. One specific example: an episode of the Upsidaisium arc ended with Bullwinkle holding a chunk of Upsidaisium and floating off into the sky. In the next episode, Rocky suggests Bullwinkle use his pick to break bits off of the chunk until he descends slowly, and he lands safely. In the previous episode, Bullwinkle was not holding a pick.
- Many Transformers Rescue Bots episodes start with one, to the point where it could be a Running Gag.
- Subverted in Rick and Morty. After Season 2 ended with Rick put into an intergalactic prison, Season 3 starts with him at a Shoney's, saying "And that's how I escaped from space prison!" to his family. However, he then asks Jerry to fold himself 12 times, which he does. It then turns out that Rick hasn't actually escaped yet, and he's been placed in a simulation based on his memories.