Ten classic season finales

Cliffhangers, attempted murders, and obscene amounts of money
By RYAN STEWART  |  May 25, 2006

J. R. Ewing
J. R. Ewing, shortly after getting shot

It's May, and couch jockeys everywhere know what that means: season finales. Here are ten classics. Oh, and if you haven't seen these shows, we'll warn you now: spoilers await.

1. Dallas: "A House Divided" (1980)
You probably don't need me to tell you what happened: the wildly popular primetime soap opera Dallas concluded its third season with a bang. J. R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the show's Machiavellian villain, was shot, and his assailant was not revealed until the following autumn. This is now referred to as the "Who Shot J. R.?" episode, and popularized the "cliffhanger" format for TV season finales. Turns out it was Sue Ellen's sister who pulled the trigger.

2. Twin Peaks: "Episode 29" (1991)
The fate of popular special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has never been resolved. At last look, he was heading out to the Black Lodge to try and rescue his girlfriend, who'd been kidnapped by his FBI nemesis. We know the evil "Bob" spirit "resides" there, but did it possess Cooper? And was that the plan all along? Fans of the show still debate it to this day.

3. 24: "11:00 P.M. to 12:00 A.M." (2002)
How many shows kill off the wife of the protagonist by the end of the first season? Very few. But after CIA mole Nina Myers killed Jack Bauer's wife while she was snooping around CTU, it was clear that 24 was not going to be your average primetime fare.

4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "The Gift" (2001)
To save her sister and prevent the portal to Hell from expanding in Sunnydale, Buffy jumps into the opening, killing herself in the process. The show switched networks after that, and she was revived through some strange witchcraft. Most would say the show jumped the shark around then.

5. The Simpsons: "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" (1995)
Mr. Burns bankrupts the elementary school and erects a sun-blocker to force the town into perpetual darkness. After a town meeting, at which many residents happen to be armed, Burns is shot and – wouldn't ya know it? – fans had to wait until September to find out it was Maggie. The solution to the mystery was buried in the episode, and those who watched it closely enough could have entered a contest, the winner of which has yet to claim his prize.

C. Montgomery Burns
C. Montgomery Burns, shortly after being shot. Note the hands.

6. Seinfeld: "The Pilot" (1993)
One of the closest things the show ever had to a running story arc: George and Jerry's pilot finally taped and aired on NBC, but in the meantime, George feuds with the on-air talent and frets over a "white discoloration" on his upper lip. And Elaine blows the whole deal by breaking it off with her NBC executive boyfriend.

7. Cheers: "I do, and adieu" (1987)
The end of Diane Chambers's (Shelley Long) run on the show when she leaves Sam at the altar to pursue her dreams of getting published. Some would argue the show was never the same again.

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