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Ghislaine Emrys
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PostSubject: Cliffhangers   Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:41 pm

John Finnemore, the brilliant writer of BBC4's Cabin Pressure, who also plays Arthur on said show, posts entries on his blog about each episode that is broadcast. The most recent episode, and final one of the season, ended on a cliffhanger. Those of us who are devotees of the show know that the episodes were titled in alphabetical order. The last episode was called Yverdon-Les-Bains. (The other three characters are Carolyn the owner of the airline and mother of Arthur; Martin the pilot; and Douglas the first officer; and the airline they own/work for is called MJN Air--those are referenced below so I thought I should explain. Also, Steven Moffat writes Sherlock and Finnemore is referencing, in an inside-joke kind of way, a scene in that show.) I thought Finnemore's thoughts about writing cliffhangers were worth repeating here:

SPOILER ALERT!!!
If you are listening to Cabin Pressure and haven't reached the end,
DO NOT read any further!!!



Now then, for what it's worth, here are my rules about cliffhanger endings.

1) They're very powerful, but very annoying, so they should be used very sparingly, and only when there's a good reason. This is the first cliffhanger I've done in CP, and it seemed to me that the question of how Martin could manage to get a job offer from a major airline, given his particular strengths and weaknesses; and the question of what he would do if he got such an offer were both too big to be dealt with in a single episode. Plus, the issue of Martin's need to be paid to do the job he loves versus Carolyn and Douglas needing him to go on being unpaid in order to make MJN viable has become the central dilemma of the whole show (It didn't use to be, but the show has changed). It seemed like the question of whether and how that is resolved was worthy of a cliffhanger.

2) You can't use a cliff-hanger instead of an ending. Some shows do, but I think it's cheating. Any episode that ends with a cliffhanger must also have a satisfying conclusion in itself. Ideally, the main question of the episode should be answered - but the answer should then throw up an unexpected larger question, which provides the cliff-hanger. So, for me, the question of this episode is 'Will Martin get the job, and if so, how?', and it's only when that's resolved that we're reminded that the bigger question is whether he takes it or not.

3) The cliffhanger has to be an emotional one, or at least a direct dilemma for a central character or characters, not a physical or external one. The question left unanswered must always be 'What will he or she do now?' not 'What will happen to him or her now?' To take an example completely at random, a bad cliff-hanger would be 'The hero's been forced to jump off a roof! Will he survive?', but a good cliff-hanger is 'He DID survive! But how? And why's he hiding from his friend?' (Oh, but by the way, Steven Moffat is a terrific writer, and it's an honour to be compared to him. But he did not invent the idea of a cliffhanger ending. Writers have been doing it for really quite some time.) So, in this case, it would have been totally unfair to make the cliff-hanger 'Will they offer Martin the job or not?' firstly because it would break rule 3 above, but also because by then it's out of Martin's control. But 'He gets it! Does he take it or not?' seems to me fair game. Your mileage, of course, may vary...

And most importantly of all:

4) A cliff-hanger is a promise to the audience. It's implicitly saying 'I'm withholding the gratification of giving you the answer now, but trust me, when you get it, you'll think it was worth the wait.' And if you're going to make a promise like that, you'd better be able to back it up, or at least think you can. So, although I'm afraid I can't comment on the future of the show at the moment, partly because it's not only up to me, I will say this much, because to be honest I thought it was totally obvious, and I'm amazed there's any ambiguity over it:

It is not and never was my intention that Yverdon should be the last ever episode of Cabin Pressure.

I mean, come on guys, give me some credit. A to Y?


If you are interested in the whole blog, here is the URL for it:
http://johnfinnemore.blogspot.de/

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