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10 Painful Cliffhangers from Canceled TV Shows

Television shows often become more than just entertainment; they turn into parts of our lives, with characters and stories we grow deeply attached to. However, the abrupt cancellation of a beloved series can leave fans in a lurch, especially when storylines are left dangling off the edge of a nail-biting cliffhanger. Here, we delve into ten of the most agonizing cliffhangers that have left fans yearning for closure.

© Warner Bros. Television

1. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

1993 – 1997 | 4 Seasons | 88 Episodes | Originally Aired on ABC

The final episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, titled “The Family Hour,” concludes the series with Lois Lane and Clark Kent grappling with the challenges of starting a family. After numerous attempts and considerations of adoption, reflecting their deep desire to become parents, the couple faces the harsh reality of infertility due to their biological differences.

As they come to terms with their situation, the episode weaves in its usual blend of action and romance, with Superman thwarting another villain’s plan to disrupt the peace of Metropolis. Amid these events, the episode focuses on Lois and Clark’s enduring love and partnership, showcasing their resilience in the face of personal adversities.

The series ends on a mysterious and dramatic cliffhanger when Lois and Clark discover a baby left at their doorstep, accompanied by a note claiming the child belongs to them. This unexpected twist leaves viewers with numerous questions: Who is the baby? How is it related to Lois and Clark? What implications does this have for their future?

Unfortunately, the show was canceled after its fourth season, leaving this cliffhanger unresolved and fans speculating about the intended direction for Lois and Clark’s story. The abrupt ending has since become a memorable moment in television history, emblematic of the sudden and often disappointing conclusions of serialized storytelling.

© Netflix


2017 – 2019 | 3 Seasons | 30 Episodes | Originally Aired on Netflix

The final episode of GLOW, titled “A Very GLOW Christmas,” concludes the third season with the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling gearing up for their last show in Las Vegas. As they navigate personal resolutions and conflicts, Debbie reveals her ambitious plan to buy a TV network and produce their own wrestling content, showcasing her desire to take charge of her career. Meanwhile, Ruth grapples with her aspirations in acting versus her commitment to wrestling, ultimately deciding to chase her dreams in Hollywood, leaving her friendship with Debbie at a crossroads.

The season finale wraps with a festive yet poignant performance, leaving the future of GLOW and its characters in limbo. Debbie’s venture into television and the separate paths of the main characters raise questions about the survival of their relationships and the fate of the wrestling show. Personal storylines, like Sheila’s self-discovery and Carmen’s departure, are left unresolved, adding to the cliffhanger.

The unexpected cancellation of GLOW after its third season, despite an initial renewal for a fourth, leaves these storylines hanging, embodying the show’s themes of resilience and the pursuit of dreams, but with an unfinished narrative that fans had hoped to see concluded.

© Warner Bros. Television

3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

2008-2009 | 2 Seasons | 31 Episodes | Originally Aired on Fox

The final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, titled “Born to Run,” escalates the series’ intricate narrative of time travel, the battle against Skynet, and the fight to protect future leader John Connor. Sarah Connor, portrayed by Lena Headey, continues her relentless battle to prevent the rise of the machines and the future war. Amidst their ongoing struggle, the episode introduces a complex plot involving the development of a new T-1001 Terminator and the efforts to stop Skynet from ever being created.

The climax of the episode—and the series—occurs when John Connor, played by Thomas Dekker, and Catherine Weaver, a T-1001 Terminator with unclear motives, travel to the future. In a shocking twist, they arrive in a time where John Connor has no recognition or significance, and none of the expected allies know of his identity or his pivotal role in the resistance against the machines.

This cliffhanger leaves audiences with pressing questions: Why is John Connor unknown in this future? How will his presence there change the course of the war against Skynet? Unfortunately, the series was canceled after its second season, leaving these questions unanswered. The abrupt end has left fans and critics alike to ponder the potential directions and developments of a future that will never be seen on screen.

© MGM Television

4. Stargate Universe

2009-2011 | 2 Seasons | 40 Episodes | Originally Aired on Syfy

The final episode of Stargate Universe, titled “Gauntlet,” brings the series to a suspenseful and open-ended conclusion. As the crew of the Destiny continues their deep-space journey, they face an insurmountable challenge: a blockade of drone ships at every stargate, making it impossible to continue their planned course and resupply missions. With their path blocked and options running out, the crew devises a daring plan to ensure their survival and the continuation of their mission.

The plan involves putting the entire crew into stasis pods for an extended period, allowing the Destiny to fly on autopilot through the drone blockade, hoping to emerge on the other side unscathed. Dr. Nicholas Rush, the brilliant but enigmatic scientist, calculates the risks and oversees the execution of this plan. As the crew members say their emotional goodbyes and enter stasis, Eli Wallace, the young and resourceful member of the team, is left awake. He faces the critical task of fixing the last malfunctioning stasis pod within a limited timeframe to join the rest of the crew in suspended animation.

The series ends on a cliffhanger with Eli standing alone on the observation deck, contemplating the vastness of space and the uncertainty of his ability to repair the pod and survive. This moment leaves viewers in suspense, questioning whether Eli will succeed and what the future holds for the crew of the Destiny. The cancellation of Stargate Universe after its second season left this storyline unresolved, marking a poignant end to the Stargate franchise’s exploration of the unknown.

© 20th Century Fox Television

5. My Name Is Earl

2005-2009 | 4 Seasons | 96 Episodes | Originally Aired on NBC

The final episode of My Name is Earl, titled “Dodge’s Dad,” wraps up the fourth season with a significant revelation and an unexpected cliffhanger that left fans longing for more. Throughout the series, Earl Hickey, played by Jason Lee, is on a mission to right all the wrongs from his past, guided by a list of bad deeds he’s committed. This journey of redemption has brought humor, heart, and a host of quirky characters into Earl’s life.

In “Dodge’s Dad,” the storyline focuses on Earl’s quest to find the biological father of Dodge, Earl’s son, which leads to a series of comedic and touching moments. The episode cleverly intertwines Earl’s mission with flashbacks and interactions with familiar faces from his past, showcasing the growth and connections he’s made throughout the series.

The episode culminates in a shocking twist when Earl discovers that he is indeed Dodge’s biological father, a revelation that brings his journey full circle. However, just as this significant moment unfolds, the episode and series end abruptly with the appearance of another character claiming to have a list of wrongs influenced by Earl’s actions, introducing a new layer to the premise of the show. 

This cliffhanger was meant to set the stage for future episodes, leaving audiences eager to see how Earl’s influence has spread and how he would tackle this new development. Unfortunately, My Name is Earl was canceled after its fourth season, leaving the cliffhanger unresolved on a dreaded “To be continued…” screen that would never be resolved.

© CBS Paramount Network Television

6. The Dead Zone

2002-2007 | 6 Seasons | 80 Episodes | Originally Aired on USA Network

The final episode of The Dead Zone, titled “Denouement,” brings the series to a climactic and unresolved close, deepening the mystery and suspense that have characterized the show. The Dead Zone follows the life of Johnny Smith, who awakens from a coma with psychic abilities, allowing him to see into the past and future through physical contact with objects and people. Throughout the series, Johnny uses his powers to solve crimes and prevent disasters, all while grappling with the personal and ethical implications of his abilities.

In “Denouement,” the series finale, Johnny’s visions escalate, focusing on an apocalyptic future he has long sought to prevent. The episode intensifies as Johnny uncovers more about the impending disaster and his role in either facilitating or thwarting it. His investigation leads to a confrontation with his arch-nemesis, Greg Stillson, a politician Johnny believes is linked to the catastrophic future.

The series ends on a gripping cliffhanger, with Johnny facing a moral dilemma and making a critical decision that could alter the course of history. However, the outcome of his decision and the future he has worked so hard to understand remain shrouded in mystery. The cancellation of The Dead Zone after six seasons leaves the fate of Johnny, Stillson, and the world they inhabit unanswered, compelling fans to imagine their own conclusions to the unresolved narrative.

© Dinode Laurentiis Company

7. Hannibal

2013-2015 | 3 Seasons | 39 Episodes | Originally Aired on NBC

The final episode of Hannibal, titled “The Wrath of the Lamb,” brings the intense and visually stunning series to a breathtaking conclusion. This episode marks the climax of the psychological cat-and-mouse game between FBI consultant Will Graham and the sophisticated serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Over three seasons, their complex relationship evolves from hunter and prey to something much darker and more intimate.

In this finale, Will hatches a final plan to lure out and kill Francis Dolarhyde, also known as the Red Dragon, who has been terrorizing families. Will seeks Hannibal’s help, leading to their temporary escape from custody. The episode culminates in a violent confrontation with Dolarhyde at Hannibal’s cliffside home, showcasing a brutal and beautifully choreographed fight scene that ends with Dolarhyde’s death.

The series concludes with an emotionally charged moment between Hannibal and Will, as they acknowledge the depth of their connection. In a final, shocking twist, they embrace before Will steers them both off the cliff into the dark waters below, leaving their fates ambiguous.

This cliffhanger finale leaves viewers pondering the survival of the show’s complex protagonists and the nature of their relationship. Despite its cancellation, Hannibal remains a critically acclaimed series, celebrated for its artistic execution and the profound exploration of its characters.

© Paramount Television

8. Mork & Mindy

1978-1982 | 4 Seasons | 95 Episodes | Originally Aired on ABC

The second-to-last episode of Mork & Mindy, titled “Gotta Run (Part 3),” sets the stage for a dramatic and unresolved conclusion to the series, unlike the reflective nature of the actual finale. In this penultimate episode, Mork and Mindy face an extraordinary challenge that puts their future together in jeopardy.

The episode is part of a three-part storyline where Mork and Mindy are pursued by a nefarious Neptunian named Kalnik, who has malevolent plans involving Mork’s superior knowledge and abilities. The tension escalates as Kalnik attempts to capture Mork and Mindy, leading to a series of escapes and confrontations. The couple’s resilience and love for each other are put to the test as they navigate these dangers.

The cliffhanger is set when Kalnik, in a final bid to capture Mork, activates a self-destruct mechanism in Mork’s shoes that could potentially erase Mork from existence. The episode ends with Mork and Mindy in a desperate situation, facing an uncertain future as they are stranded in prehistoric times.

This suspenseful conclusion leaves viewers on the edge of their seats, wondering how Mork and Mindy will escape this dire predicament and get back to their own time. Unfortunately, the resolution to this cliffhanger is not directly addressed in the series’ final episode (which was a glorified clip show put together after news of the cancellation), leaving the outcome of their confrontation with Kalnik to the audience’s imagination.

© 20th Century Fox

9. The Last Man On Earth

2015-2018 | 4 Seasons | 67 Episodes | Originally Aired on Fox

The final episode of The Last Man on Earth, titled “Cancun, Baby!,” delivers a suspenseful and unexpected cliffhanger that leaves the series conclusion wide open. The show, centered around Phil “Tandy” Miller (played by Will Forte) and a small group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, explores themes of loneliness, community, and the human condition with humor and heart.

In this episode, the group has settled into a semblance of domestic life in a mansion, trying to maintain normalcy amidst the chaos of their situation. The storyline focuses on the dynamics within the group, their struggles with the challenges of their new world, and the joy of discovering they’re not alone on Earth.

The climax arrives when dozens of survivors suddenly appear on their doorstep, led by a character played by Mary Steenburgen. This unexpected development shocks the group, dramatically expanding their small community and introducing a multitude of possibilities for cooperation or conflict.

The episode and series end on this cliffhanger, leaving viewers with numerous questions: Who are these new survivors? What do they want? How will their arrival change the dynamics of Tandy’s group?

Unfortunately, The Last Man on Earth was canceled after its fourth season, leaving these questions unanswered and fans speculating about the future adventures and challenges Tandy and his group would have faced.

© Marvel Television

10. Agent Carter

2015-2016 | 2 Season | 18 Episodes | Originally Aired on NBC

The final episode of Agent Carter, titled “Hollywood Ending,” wraps up the second season with a mix of action, espionage, and unresolved narrative threads, leading to a significant cliffhanger. Set in the late 1940s, the series follows Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) as she navigates her role as a secret agent in a male-dominated world, fighting against the emerging threats in the aftermath of World War II.

In “Hollywood Ending,” Peggy and her allies face off against Whitney Frost, a brilliant scientist turned dangerous villain, who seeks to harness the power of Zero Matter to control the world. The episode is filled with daring missions, clever spy tactics, and the series’ signature blend of humor and heart. Peggy’s resourcefulness and leadership are on full display as she works to thwart Frost’s plans, leading to a climactic showdown.

However, the season concludes on an ambiguous note when a key ally, Chief Jack Thompson, is shot by an unknown assailant who then steals confidential files about Peggy. This cliffhanger leaves Thompson’s fate uncertain and raises questions about the larger conspiracies at play, hinting at deeper intrigue and potential threats.

The conclusion of Agent Carter was made more complex by developments in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and the seventh season of Agents of SHIELD in 2020. Characters from Agent Carter appear to contradict the show’s finale, as Captain America and key figures from Agents of SHIELD travel back in time to the period covered in Agent Carter. This time travel contradicts the narrative established in Agent Carter, creating a paradox in the storyline.

The cancellation of these shows has left a void in the hearts of fans who invested time and emotion into these characters and their stories. While some series find new life on streaming platforms or through fan campaigns, the unresolved endings of these particular shows stand as a testament to what could have been. They remind us of the fragility of television storytelling in a world where ratings often outweigh creative resolution.

There are certainly plenty more examples of TV shows canceled at the worst possible time. What shows did we miss that you think belong on this list? Leave us a comment below or let us know on our socials – @lovethynerd on every major social network.

Born and raised in West Philadelphia. No relation. I'm a lifelong gamer and an avid movie-monger. My favorite thing in life is sharing Christ through my geeky fandoms.

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