Last night Trek fans across the country got to hunker down in theaters and watch one of the best cliffhangers in science fiction history play out on the big screen. The “Best of Both Worlds” theatrical event was the latest of several special theater screenings of Next Generation episodes, coinciding with seasonal releases of the remastered series on Blu-Ray. “Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” has pretty much set the bar for sci-fi TV cliffhangers since it first aired in 1990, but in the years that followed, some of our favorite genre shows have given that iconic Next Gen episode a run for its money. Here are seven sci-fi cliffhangers that left us screaming at the television.
Babylon 5 — “Z’ha’dum”
B5’s third season went out with a literal bang. After traveling to the Shadows’ homeworld of Z’ha’dum, Sheridan nuked their capital city and plunged, moments before the explosion, into a deep chasm. The war pauses while the Shadows regroup from Sheridan’s strike on their homeworld, but that doesn’t mean our heroes are in a good place. Sheridan is presumed dead. Garibaldi is missing, apparently abducted by a Shadow vessel. Ivanova and the rest are left with an uncertain future, one which, as G’kar’s closing monologue so elegantly states, will be born in pain.
Battlestar Galactica — “Revelations”
Battlestar Galactica’s third mid-season finale was a gut punch that served up one of the darkest, and ballsiest, moments of the series’ entire run. From the very first episode, the ragtag fleet of survivors have been searching for a new home, for a mythical world called Earth. It’s been the defining goal for the entire story, the flicker of hope that keeps the survivors of the Cylon attacks moving forward when things seem hopeless. But it turns out, they ain’t seen hopeless yet. Finally arriving at their long-sought destination, rather than a welcoming new homeworld, they find the radioactive wastes of a dead civilization. What now?
Doctor Who — “Utopia”
Some might pick “The Pandorica Opens” as a better modern Who cliffhanger, but “Utopia” packs more of a wallop, for me at least. It all comes down to the masterful — ahem — reveal, when the kindly old scientist we’ve been following throughout the episode suddenly remembers who he is. As the sound of drums pulses through the soundtrack, the newly regenerated Master absconds with the TARDIS to parts unknown, while the Doctor pleads with him to stay. Leaving the Doctor and company stranded in the future is a major cliffhanger, but the Tenth Doctor’s desperation to reason with the only other living time lord sets high emotional stakes for the episodes that follow.
Farscape — “Bad Timing”
As far as sheer, nausea-inducing emotional impact, this is the worst contender on this list, simply because at the time it aired, we all assumed it was the last we’d ever see of our beloved Farscape. John Crichton and Aeryn Sun, finally enjoying a romantic moment together on a beautiful ocean, are attacked by forces unknown, first crystalized by some sort of weapon, then shattering into a million pieces. I cannot overstate how frustrating and infuriating this final plot twist was, even though it was perfectly in keeping with the tone of the show: our heroes never could get a break. Thankfully we eventually got The Peacekeeper Wars, and the crew of Moya got a more proper send-off.
Lost — “Through the Looking Glass”
Lost was a show that served up countless jaw-droppers over the years, but I think this one may be the best simply because it was a major game-changer. For sheer emotional trauma, we see the death of Charlie, who uses his last moments to warn the others that the boat they’re counting on as their rescue isn’t what it appears. Meanwhile, the depressing flashbacks featuring a scruffy, off-the-wagon Jack are finally revealed not to be flashbacks, but rather flash-forwards. Not only does this establish that, at the very least, both Jack and Kate eventually escape the island, but we’re left with questions as Future Jack screams after Kate that “We have to go back!”
Space: Above and Beyond — “…Tell Our Moms We Did Our Best”
Another one in the vein of Farscape’s cliffhanger, this one is even more painful for fans of S:AAB because it was the show’s final episode, meaning we never got any resolution. Nor did it leave things in a cheerful place. Lt. West manages to save a bunch of colonists, but in the process most of the squad is left missing, presumed dead. Vansen and Damphousse bail out over an alien world so West can transport the colonists back to the Saratoga. Wong appears to go down fighting, blasting away at the Chigs right to the last moment we see him. In the end, West and Hawkes are left mourning their colleagues, with no certainty ahead of them but more war.
The X-Files — “Gethsemane”
X-Files had plenty of nail-biters over the years, but this was one of the most bleak. The episode opens with Scully identifying the body of an apparently dead Mulder, and then flashes back to see how we got there. After a frozen extraterrestrial body is found frozen in ice, Mulder finally has the hard evidence needed to prove the truth really was out there. But, of course, it’s not going to be that easy. In the midst of trying to figure out what’s going on, a Defense Department agent tells Mulder and Scully that the entire alien conspiracy is a hoax, perpetrated by government officials to cover up military-industrial shenanigans. He even claims they gave Scully cancer to fully convince Mulder. Distraught, we’re left with a depressed Mulder apparently committing suicide, as Scully testifies before an FBI panel that her partner is dead.