"Ever notice how something dramatic seems to happen around here every eight minutes? I can't be the only one noticing this."
Oh no! A bad guy has walked in on a member of a group running an Impossible Mission
, or something has otherwise Gone Horribly Wrong
in the plan.
This happens right before a commercial break
, usually about 40 minutes into an hour-long show. Fortunately, right after the commercials, the hero or team will quickly dispose of the crisis and it will have no effect on the rest of the episode. Note that this can
be done well, as repeated uses in quick succession can lull the viewer into a false sense of security so that when the real
crisis strikes, it's more serious.
It also sometimes happens in The Teaser
to get the audience interested in the show, in which case it's resolved early in the first act.
In especially egregious
cases, there's no reason for the main plot to present a Pseudo Crisis, so instead a Big Lipped Alligator Moment
will force one.
May lead to odd moments if you watch it on DVD without commercials.
A subtrope of Cliffhanger Copout
open/close all folders
- In one Corn Pops commercial, a man is eating cereal on a balcony with skyscrapers in the background. The cereal box, on the rail, suddenly begins to topple and fall. In dramatic slow-motion he reaches for it but is too late, screaming, in a deep voiced, slow motion, Noooooooo!. Then it turns out that he wasn't on a balcony at all, he was just on a hill overlooking the city and the ground was right on the other side of the rail.
Anime and Manga
- In Busou Renkin, Kazuki sends himself and the villain Victor up to the moon at the end of an episode, effectively "killing" the both of them. The other characters spend an entire episode angsting about it, until the beginning of the next episode, when they simply send some people up to get him. Of course it doesn't end that easily, but you have to wonder why they didn't just do that in the first place.
- A possible reason might be that bringing either of them back to Earth would allow them to suck the life force out of anyone and anything nearby, which makes one wonder why they decide to go get him at all.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, a commercial break (or in extreme cases, the end of a two-parter episode) would often hit just as Yugi/Joey/whoever we're rooting for appeared to be panicking over the seemingly unstoppable card their opponent du jour has just pulled out. When we returned, our hero would then quickly produce just the cards needed to win, earlier fear forgotten.
- Subverted and played straight in one issue-ending cliffhanger of Amazing Spider Man. The issue ends with Spidey in quicksand. The next issue opens with him using his web-shooters to latch on to a tree branch, immediately ending the crisis...until the tree branch breaks and falls on him, which also causes his web shooters to jam. Fortunately, immediately afterwards, Ka-Zar swings by and helps.
- Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever. The first issue ends with Edward Grey and Morgan Kaler getting attacked by a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bison. In the first page of the next issue, Kaler says "Knock it off, Isaac," and the "monster" is revealed to be just Kaler's friend in a mask. (Beforehand, there was a subtle reference to Morgan Kaler having an unseen friend—so Isaac's existence was definitely planned, rather than ass pulled.)
- Parodied (along with the Cliffhanger Copout) in The Black Ring. Vandal Savage has wired Lex Luthor's building with explosives. During a fight he drops the remote. It falls button-first onto the ground right at the end of the issue, implying the bombs are going to detonate. Next issue we learn that the button did not depress deep enough and everyone seem rather relieved.
- The newspaper strip version of Spider-Man pulled this off a few times. For instance, Peter Parker/Spiderman is about to have his medical examination, but criminals are outside and Spiderman's intervention is needed now! What to do? Come next installment, the criminals have been captured off-screen, so the problem's neatly solved itself.
- In Ocean's Eleven, one of the 11 is tasked with sneaking into the vault, jumping to avoid the sensors in the floor, then placing explosives on the door to let the other robbers in. During the last bit, he gets his hand stuck, leaving him without cover, right as the guys are on the other side of the door about to blow it. After playing it for all the suspense they can...the detonator's batteries are dead. Then, once that's been resolved, they blow the door open...and find their inside man safe inside, wondering what took them so long.
- Babel was guilty of this trope: showing the nanny verging on panic when she realizes the children she was looking after have run away. Cut to another scene. Cut back to the nanny, now in a police station. Policeman: "You sure are lucky we found those kids, ma'am."
- An in-universe one was a focal point in the movie Misery, when Annie remembers seeing an old movie serial where the hero was caught in his car as it exploded, only to find next week that he got out of the car ahead of time. This triggers her Berserk Button in a serious way.
- Almost every chapter of the children's series The Werewolf Chronicles ends like this. Gasp! Someone's grabbing the hero from behind! ... oh, wait, it's only a tree branch. Never mind.
- Goosebumps did the exact same thing. Example, from Why I'm Afraid Of Bees: Kid who's been turned into a bee gets bitten in half by a dragonfly! ...Except it was just his overactive imagination.
- And Galaxy of Fear. Lampshaded by an editor.
Every single chapter of those books had to end with a cliffhanger
. It was the law. A chapter would finish with "Tash stepped off the spaceship and heard a blood-curdling scream!" Then you'd read the next chapter and it would say "But apparently it was just a bird."
- The Hardy Boys was also exceptionally good at this. End of chapter 8: "A car was hurtling right for Joe!" Beginning of chapter 9: "Joe dodged the car..."
- The novella No Score by Chip Harrison starts In Medias Res just as Chip is about to score with a girl, only to have her fiancée burst into the room and shoot him at point blank range. After a bunch of backstory recapping his life up until that point he rejoins the action - and the next chapter, in its entirety, is "THE GUN JAMMED." Harrison then spends the next chapter justifying that. "Look, it was a scary situation but that's what happened. You want me to make something up? I've been trying to think of something else but there's no other way to get from there to here. Either the gun jammed or he killed me and I'm writing this from beyond the grave, so deal with it."
- This happened in virtually every episode of Mission: Impossible. The IMF always planned for such possibilities, and sometimes intentionally worked the reveal into their con game.
- The Amazing Race is absolutely horrible with these. Occasionally there will be a real Commercial Break Cliffhanger, but for every other commercial break, there well be a Pseudo Crisis.
- In particular, whenever a strong team on a season finale finishes the final task way ahead of everyone else, they will show as much as they can of the first-place team struggling on the final task and/or while making the trip to the finish line. Meanwhile, they'll also show very little footage from the second-place team, to make it look like the second-place team is catching up and might overtake the leaders at the last minute. They never do.
- In one episode of the '70s version of Battlestar Galactica, at the end of the episode the cast were hiding in a snowy valley, while a group of Cylons passed by in single file. As the last one was passing by, Muffin the dagget barked. The Cylon stopped and looked towards the noise... TO BE CONTINUED. Next week, the Cylon just wandered off.
- Something similar happened in the newer version, without the dog.
- The original Doctor Who did this incessantly between parts of their serials.
- At one cliffhanger in "The Ice Warriors", the Doctor is in the airlock of the Ice Warrior ship trying to open up negotiations with them. The Ice Warriors ask him who he is. He responds evasively. The Ice Warriors tell him that unless he reveals who he is they will drain the oxygen out of the airlock. We see the oxygen pressure gauge draining - !! ...and the next episode has the Doctor immediately just tell them who he is, so the Ice Warrior switches the air back on.
- One Third Doctor-era cliffhanger culminates in the Master throwing a knife at the Doctor!! ...with the next episode revealing it just casually missed.
- Perhaps the most infamous example came in "The Deadly Assassin", when an enemy grabbed the Doctor from behind and started to drown him at the end of an episode. The next week, the man lost energy for no apparent reason, and the Doctor threw him off with ease.
- And "Genesis of the Daleks", where Sarah loses her grip of a ledge and screams as she plummets... actually, no, there's a ledge six inches below her, and she continues to climb.
- In "The Brain of Morbius", one episode ends with Sarah pulling back a curtain to reveal a horribly deformed headless frankenbody that sits up and appears to lunge. Cue screechy end of episode riff and goose bumps. In the next episode, the body is merely twitching a little and Sarah barely registers surprise. She doesn't even scream. Sarah Jane Smith doesn't scream. Weak.
- One of the most egregious: "Dragonfire", where in the last few minutes of an episode the Doctor puts himself into a literal Cliff Hanger ending situation, for no apparent reason. He suddenly leaves a perfectly safe path to clamber off a high ledge - at which point he finds himself dangling by his umbrella handle, looking horrifiedly down at the yawning chasm below... Then at the start of the following episode he makes it back up again with no real difficulty.
- It's hard to find a two-part episode of the revived Doctor Who that doesn't do this. Of note is the beginning of "The Impossible Planet": at the start of the episode, the Doctor and Rose are wandering though a planetary base and are suddenly cornered by a crowd of Lovecraftian-looking aliens chanting "WE MUST FEED! WE MUST FEED!" and we cut to the opening credits. When we cut back:
- At the end of the episode "Aliens of London", the doctor is electrocuted with a lethal amount of electricity! At the beginning of the next episode... turns out that amount wasn't lethal for Time Lords, or even enough to seriously inconvenience them for any period of time.
- In the made-for-TV adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, a commercial break comes just as Meg, her father, and Calvin have landed on the planet Ixchel, just barely escaping from the grasp of The Black Thing. Suddenly, over the horizon comes horrible eyeless monsters! The music rises, oh no! Commercial. Come back, and Calvin and Dr. Murry are calmly discussing their plight with the sightless creatures, whom we automatically understand are just really ugly good guys.
- Played for laughs in one episode of Police Squad! Just before commercial break, Frank Drebin drinks from a glass as he speaks with a woman who we saw drug someone in the teaser. Suddenly the music cues up as he starts gasping and clutching at his throat. After commercial break, it is revealed that his drink went down the wrong pipe.
- Happens Once per Episode, and is arguably the only source of tension, on Destination Truth.
- One happened in the third season of Dexter. An episode ends with Dexter suddenly becoming the target of the season's Big Bad, and then being violently bound and shoved into the trunk of a car. Cut to credits. Well, it looks like this season's finally starting to heat up! Next episode, it turns out that he was being taken to his bachelor party.
- In Angel, the title character completely despairs of being able to do good in his Crapsack World, and has sex with his old flame Darla hoping for a moment of perfect happiness that will end his curse and let him be the evil, soulless Angelus again. The episode ends with him clutching at his chest, just like he did the last time his soul was removed in parent show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but in the next episode we find that he still has his soul: not one moment of happiness that whole night! No reason for his chest clutching is given (beyond Angel's implied love of melodrama while having a personal epiphany).
- Some viewers remain convinced that Angel was just screwing with Darla's head, but then decided he didn't want to admit to being that petty.
- Midway through the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Anne," Buffy gets hit by a car. At the end of the commercial break, she gets right back up and keeps walking.
- Parodied on SCTV's Six-Gun Justice (a parody of old Western movie serials, the type that were not only made, but set, during WWII). An episode ends with the heroes tied up and yelling in fear as a bomb is dropped on them. Next episode: the hero says, "Lucky that bomb was a dud!"
- John Wayne made his TV debut in a 1950s episode of "Screen Directors Playhouse" directed by John Ford. Wayne plays a sportswriter covering a scandal about a baseball player. The Pseudo Crisis occurs at the Act Break, when a character we've never seen before (played by Janet Leigh) bursts into Wayne's office and, without saying a word, aims a pistol at his head. Immediately after the commercial, Wayne simply disarms Leigh, and she sits down and explains herself.
- In Hell's Kitchen if a chef gets so much as a scratch on their body, the producers will frame a commercial break around it. Nineteen times out of twenty, they're back in the kitchen 3 minutes later (and the other one time, yeah, they're badly injured).
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had an epic one in an episode that was more focused on diplomacy rather than any urgent situation (i.e. no battles or powerful evil forces). Right before one of the commercials, Worf spontaneously faints on the bridge! After the commercial break, it is revealed that he just came down with the Klingon equivalent of measles. (The resulting B-plot is actually pretty all right, but still, talk about a Pseudo Crisis).
- There's also a rather famous one after the first episode of "Best of Both Worlds", which worked fine when there were months between part I and part II, but kind of falls flat if you watch the series on DVD or streaming. The end of Part I has Riker ordering Worf to fire their jury-rigged weapon they expect will be able to destroy the Borg cube, sacrificing the captured Picard in order to try and save Earth. The beginning of Part II shows the weapon did squat, because the Borg knew about it before it was fired (due to taking Picard's memories, rendering all of their preparations are null). This threat escalation overshadows the drama of Riker's decision to sacrifice Picard and the topic isn't really brought up again. Until, in a drawn-out inversion, Riker reversing the decision by launching a rescue mission for Picard leads to the Borg's defeat just as they reach Earth.
- Star Trek: The Original Series did this a few times.
- In the episode "The Apple", Spock pushes Kirk out of the way to save him from the darts of a deadly-poisonous plant, but ends up being hit by the darts himself and falling unconscious. McCoy's serum fails to help, and he says Spock must be beamed back up to the ship immediately. As they try to beam out, the transporter promptly fails, stranding the crew on the planet - implying a serious risk to Spock's life. Fortunately, after the commercial break, Spock comes to and is quite alright.
- 'Episode "The Trouble With Tribbles". In The Teaser the Enterprise receives a Priority One distress call from space station K7, indicating a disaster has occurred. During the first act, they learn that a Federation bureaucrat sent the message because he thought a cargo of grain at the station was endangered.
- In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Visitor", an elderly Jake Sisko says that he's dying... and after the commercial break, adds that "at my age, that's what everyone feels like."
- Except he actually is dying, as he's deliberately poisoned himself. We don't find that out until the end of the episode though.
- The NCIS Episode "Mind Games" has one of the characters tied up by a serial killer right before a commercial break... The next we see, she has a broken arm and the serial killer is dead.
- Happens often on Prison Break.
- Not uncommon on Firefly, eg. "Mal's dead" (he's revived immediately).
- True Blood tends to do this with its cliffhangers on every single episode. One particularly annoying one had Bill walking into the Queen's room, only to see a bloody leg hanging off the side of the chair, and Bill staring in shock. End episode. Turns out, it was just sex/lunch.
- Used regularly for commercial breaks in Ace Of Cakes: usually by playing a sarcastic comment from one of the bakers that sounds like a Drama Bomb out of context, or by making it look like the bakers are late/lost during a delivery.
- The end of the first season of Andromeda had every major character incapacitated, trapped or unconscious as evil aliens attacked. The second season opens with most of them getting back up rather anticlimactically.
- How I Met Your Mother ended a season 7 episode with Robin telling Barney, in no uncertain terms that she was pregnant. Next week, she clarifies that she was only a week late and hadn't even seen a doctor for confirmation. Turns out she wasn't pregnant.
- The Speed Channel game/reality show Car Warriors did this a few times in the second season. One of them was when one team's paint artist airbrushed a mural on the trunk showing host Jimmy Shine as the Grim Reaper standing over the graves of the other team. In a preview of the judging portion of the show (before going to a commercial), Jimmy looks over the mural and says "Is this a joke? Do you think that's funny?" In the actual judging portion, he does say this. After a Beat, he says "Yeah, I think it's funny too."
- King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride alternates gameplay between Queen Valanice and Princess Rosella. At the end of the first chapter Valanice is threatened by a giant monster. As you play as Rosella for chapter two you worry how you're going to get Valanice out of this situation. Start chapter three and you realize that you can just feed a desert fruit to the monster, and he'll go away. Talk about a blatant plot device for the sake of a cliffhanger...
- In the Darkwing Duck episode "The Quiverwing Quack", DW, Goslyn, Honker, and Launchpad are all hanging by a rope suspended between buildings. Negaduck cuts one end of the rope with a knife, our heroes start swinging towards the side of a building. Cue closeup of Darkwing's panicked face, cut to commercial... and when we return, they almost immediately crash into the building, followed by Negaduck cutting the opposite end of the rope and letting the heroes fall.
- The original Spider-Man cartoon. Half the time he's falling to his death, the other half a villain's attack is approaching him. Would you guess he usually escapes using his web? 90% of the time he swings away. The other 10%, he turns his web into a shield or sling or parachute or trampoline or something.
- The fourth Futurama movie ends with the main characters of the show about to go through a warp hole that will take them to a random place in the universe, most likely never coming back to known space. The fifth season starts with Professor Fransworth explaining to Fry that they went through the hole... and ended up back at Earth.
- The Mega Man cartoon uses this trope in the final episode.
- In the Looney Tunes cartoon Hare Remover, Elmer Fudd is trying to create a Jekyll & Hyde formula and tests in on Bugs Bunny. After going through a few seconds where it seems the formula worked, Bugs just looks at Elmer and says, "No soap, Doc."
- In the Littlest Pet Shop episode "Dumb Dumbwaiter", Blythe, Minka, Zoe and Pepper are stuck inside a Dumbwaiter halfway up the wall, it's up to Penny, Vinnie, Sunil and Russell to save the day... but wait, Mrs. Twombly sees them climbing into the Dumbwaiter door and puts them in a cage to keep them out of trouble... how do they escape? Penny just opens the latch... though granted, this show tends to parody a lot of things and was probably making fun of this trope itself.