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>Hell’s Bells: The Ten Greatest Weddings in Cult-TV History

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It’s that time of year again.  Spring has sprung, flowers are in bloom, and lovers of all ages are busily preparing to tie the knot.   The months of May and June are traditionally amongst the most popular for nuptials, and so I figured this is a good time to survey the most famous (and infamous…) weddings in cult-television history.    
Before we get to my top ten selections, I should note that there are other contenders for “greatest cult-tv wedding” beyond those featured in the countdown.   These episodes, while entertaining, are bridesmaids but never brides, you might conclude.
Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1992-1996), for instance, saw Clark Kent’s (Dean Cain) wedding day spoiled when bride Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) was replaced at the altar by a frog-eating clone.  The real wedding took place a season later and was not only uneventful, but sort of an anti-climax.

On Star Trek: Voyager’s   (1995 – 2001) “Course: Oblivion,” Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) and B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson)were married in the Delta Quadrant, but the ceremony viewers witnessed turned out to be that of a duplicate or “alternate” crew that was fated to die.   Because of this plot twist, the wedding felt like just another gimmick in an already gimmicky narrative.

Weddings have been a staple of other genre programs too.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Prom” teased an Angel/Buffy wedding day that quickly became a nightmare, and The Greatest American Hero’s (1981-1983) “Newlywed Game” saw Ralph (William Katt) and Pam (Connie Sellecca) tie the knot under some less-than-ideal circumstances.
As much as I enjoy all of these series, I suppose you could say I have “cold feet” about including them in this particular wedding party. So without further ado, here are — from ten to one — my selections for the best cult-tv wedding days in history.
The Ten Greatest Weddings in Cult-TV History
10. Star Trek: “Balance of Terror” (1966)
Two young crew-members aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Angela Martine and Robert Tomlinson, celebrate their joyous wedding day aboard ship.  Scotty (James Doohan) gives away the blushing bride, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) officiates at the ceremony,  Yeoman Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) at his side. 

Kirk’s opening words: “Since the days of the first wooden vessels, all ship masters have had one happy privilege: that of uniting two people in the bonds of matrimony.”

Unfortunately, Kirk’s happy duty is interrupted by a crisis in the Neutral Zone that separates the United Federation of Planets from the Romulan Star Empire.  A “ghost” ship is destroying Federation outposts one by one, leaving carnage in its wake.  The ship is really a Romulan Bird of Prey, armed with a devastating cloaking device and a new plasma weapon.   What ensues is a battle between two equally-matched opponents and commanders.  Kirk is victorious in the space battle but, as always, there is a price for such conflict.  The young groom, Tomlinson, is killed in the final battle, leaving a heartbroken fiancee, Angela, behind.
“Balance of Terror” reminds us that even in victory, there is often loss; that every time war is the solution to a political problem, the cost comes in human lives.  The ship’s teaser involving the wedding is a perfect reminder of this fact.  In this case, a couple’s dream of future happiness is the victim of the Romulan/Federation conflict. 

And for noble Captain Kirk, he must reckon with the fact that though he handily completed his mission (destroying the Romulan vessel and her weapons), it was by no means a painless or easy campaign.  As he knows too well, a Captain is responsible for his crew, and here he loses two young people who should have been destined for happiness.  Weddings are universally about the future, about bringing together promising tomorrows.  In “Balance of Terror,” the wedding only precedes a terrible ripping asunder.

09. Buck Rogers: “Escape from Wedded Bliss” (1980)
The Draconian Princess, Ardala (Pamela Hensley) returns to Earth with an orbital doomsday weapon and demands that Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) marry her, lest she destroy the world.  The Earth Defense Directorate surrenders Buck to the Princess aboard her flagship, the Draconia. 

There, Buck learns the rules of Draconian courtship and marriage.  In short, he must battle Tigerman in the arena to prove he is worthy of a Draconian princess.  Then, in the final stages of the wedding ceremony, Buck is to wear not a traditional wedding ring, but rather a wedding collar which constricts and tightens around his neck when he displeases his new bride.  This “shotgun wedding” is averted at the last instant, and Buck destroys the doomsday weapon, leaving a jilted Ardala at the altar.

“Escape from Wedded Bliss” is a primal male fantasy.  A gorgeous, powerful and sexy princess will destroy the world unless you and only you agree to make her your bride?  What red-blooded American guy wouldn’t be in favor of that arrangement?  Then again, there’s the wedding collar to think about…

But all kidding aside, this episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century does a pretty fine job of revealing how sad and lonely a figure Princess Ardala truly is.  As a member of Draco’s royal family, Ardala feels isolated and alone, and suspects that Buck — because of his “out-of-time” nature — might feel those emotions too. 

Joining up makes sense, at least from Ardala’s perspective.  Forcing Buck Rogers to marry her isn’t the answer, but this is one Bridezilla who you can really feel compassion and even admiration for.  Ardala knows what she believes will make her happy, and goes for it, doomsday weapon, wedding collar, combat-to-the-death and all.  In short, “Escape from Wedded Bliss” humanizes one of the series’ recurring villains in a very sympathetic way.  It also reminds the viewer that marriage is best left for people who are truly and irrevocably in love.  And as Buck reminds Ardala (with surprising tenderness) in “Escape from Wedded Bliss,” he just doesn’t love her.

08. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “You Are Cordially Invited” (1997)
Pour the blood wine. Serve the steaming hot g’agh. It’s Dax’s Big Fat Klingon Wedding.

On Deep Space Nine — in the midst of the galactic war with the Dominion — Worf (Michael Dorn) and Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) plan to wed in a traditional Klingon ceremony.

There’s only one hitch in this plan: the mistress of the House of Martok, Sirella, isn’t exactly keen on having a non-Klingon such as Dax as a family member. Dax refuses to humble herself for the proud Sirella, and it looks like the wedding won’t come off unless she changes her mind.

Klingon bachelor parties aside, this episode of Deep Space Nine gazes at the underlying meaning of marriage: the total combination of two lives and the total dedication of one life to another. Dax shouldn’t exactly be surprised that her hubby-to-be, Worf, so deeply desires a traditional Klingon wedding, and she shouldn’t be surprised that she must jump through some hoops to win over her future “in-laws,” given Klingon pride and xenophobia.

With a little help from Captain Sisko, Dax realizes that she must give her soul-mate the wedding he wants, and that it is actually only her own pride standing in the way.  There are plenty of times in marriage when the only way to get over a problem is to tuck away the ego and make a sacrifice for the spouse, and this episode understands that fact.  If Dax is going to be part of the family, she has to respect family tradition, and again, that’s something that all prospective brides and grooms realize.  It would have been interesting, however, to see Worf doing some compromising too, however.  Would he have done anything for Dax to experience a traditional Trill wedding, I wonder?

07. Battlestar Galactica: “Lost Planet of the Gods” (1979)

While the rag-tag, fugitive fleet faces two problems, a deadly plague and a strange “void” in space, Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch) and former news-woman, Serina (Jane Seymour) select a date for their “joining” ceremony, to be officiated by Commander Adama (Lorne Greene).

Apollo and Serina’s “sealing” ceremony is celebrated in a candle-lit chamber beneath the darkness of the starless void, but at the height of the nuptials, a star appears to guide the Galactica and her wards to a planet called Kobol, the very world from which all Colonial life sprang.

Apollo and Serina explore the planet with Adama and encounter Baltar — and tragedy — on the planet surface.
“Lost Planet of the Gods,” like so much of Battlestar Galactica’s canon, concerns a Manichean universe of light and dark; a theme made all the more explicit by the episode’s plot element of the starless void. But even in a universe of moral absolutes (rather than the moral relativity of the recent re-imagination…), the Gods may yet be fickle. The “joining” of Apollo and Serina seems pre-ordained and sanctified by the sudden, almost divine appearance of Kobol’s star.  But what the Gods give, they can also take away.

In the last act, when Serina dies from Cylon attack, there’s not any talk of signs or portents. There are no bright stars guiding anyone to happiness.  Instead, it’s a very human tragedy, and the last scene in the episode — Apollo and Serina’s son, Boxey (Noah Hathaway) saying goodbye to the beautiful wife and mother — never ceases to affect on a human level.

A lot of people claim Battlestar Galactica was just a Star Wars rip-off and the characters were only carbon copies of Star Wars characters. A lot of people were  wrong. 

“Lost Planet of the God’s” tragic ending proves that rather conclusively.  I often liken Battlestar Galactica to Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons in Space: every week a family tragedy, and a family overcoming that tragedy together.   The last shot of “Lost Planet of the Gods” is heart-wrenching, but also a testament to the strength of family bonds: Adama, Tigh, Starbuck and Apollo’s other friends all stand outside Serina’s door, waiting for him, and silently supporting him and Boxy through their difficult loss.

06. V: The Series: “The Rescue” (1985):
The bride wears scales.  The priest is a lizard in cardinal hat.  And the wedding banquet consists of gerbils, spiders and rats.  The bride, Diana (Jane Badler) and groom, Charles (Duncan Regher) share not a delicious wedding cake, but rather “a ceremonial mouse” at the lovely reception.
Yep, it’s just another day aboard the Visitor mothership in V: The Series

Here, Diana is manipulated into marriage by her rivals Lydia (June Chadwick) and Charles.  Surprisingly, however, Diana and Charles actually seem to fall in love, or at least in lust.  This development outrages Lydia, who then plots to kill Diana with “cat poison.”  The murder attempt goes wrong, however, and it is Charles who ends up dead on his wedding night.

From start to finish, “The Rescue” is utterly outrageous.  It’s high camp and V: The Series knew it.  Why?  Well, consider that on July 29, 1981, a very different Charles and Diana were wed at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London before a global TV audience of one billion people.  “The Rescue’s” Charles/Diana nuptials were not viewed by nearly so many, but it was worth a try, wasn’t it? 

The fun of this episode (and of V: The Series in general) was in watching the wicked, wicked machinations and tactics of Lydia and Diana as they forever sought to one-up each other, all while devouring small rodents and other terrestrial creatures.

 “Peel you another goldfish?”

05. Dexter: “Do You Take Dexter Morgan?” (2008)

In the finale of season three, sociopath, serial killer and blood spatter expert Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) finally marries Rita (Julie Benz), but only after tying up some serious loose ends regarding his “Dark Passenger.” 

These loose ends involve the final disposition of Miguel (Jimmy Smits) and Ramon  Prado (Jason Olazabal), two men who had learned his secret.

Dexter Morgan remains one of the truly great characters in modern television history, and “Do You Take Dexter Morgan” asks many important questions about Dexter’s nature. Is he capable of love? Is he capable of participating in an honest and open relationship with anyone given his murderous nightlife?

Surprisingly, the answers to both those questions seem to be yes, at least with a few caveats. In the course of the story, Dexter learns that Rita is keeping secrets too. She has been married twice before, not once before, as he believed. But Dexter decides not to confront Rita about her lie when he realizes the truth of the marriage’s circumstances.

Already then, Dexter has taken a critical step towards compassion and mercy. One thing about marriage: you have to permit your spouse a few secrets and a few fantasies. After all, Dexter’s hiding a few things too, right?  Marriage is not just about romance, but about acceptance and forgiveness.  If a sociopath can learn that simple lesson, we all can.

04. Smallville: “Promise” (2007)

In the spring of its sixth season, Smallville reached a pinnacle of darkness.  Lana Lang (Kristin Kreuk) had accepted Lex Luthor’s (Michael Rosenbaum’s) marriage proposal and rejected Clark Kent (Tom Welling) over his penchant for secrecy.

“Promise” takes viewers through the Lex/Lana wedding day with a surfeit of surprises and heartbreaking twists.  

Lana finally learns Clark’s secret and has serious second thoughts about marrying Lex.  Meanwhile, Lex’s secret about Lana’s pregnancy threatens to come to light, and leads him to commit bloody murder…in the chapel.  Clark makes a last minute play for Lana and considers proposing to her.  Finally, Lionel Luthor (John Glover) steps in and blackmails Lana into marrying his son.  Trapped in a loveless relationship, Lana leaves Clark abandoned and rejected on a particularly sad wedding day.

In the first seven seasons, Smallville was both the epic heroic journey of Clark Kent and the tragic fall of Lex Luthor.  Thus Clark and Lex were deliberate mirror images; a reminder in some fashion that parenting can make all the difference in the path a child takes towards adulthood.  Showered with love and nourished on bedrock Kansas family values, Clark grew up feeling loved…and so could become a hero.  Lex, on the other hand, had every monetary advantage anyone could possible get, but his father never loved him, and this absence of love sent him down the dark path.

In “Promise,” the wrong man clearly wins Lana’s hand.  Through manipulation, exploitation and ultimately murder, Lex takes away from Clark the woman he loves.  On the other hand, it’s not a great victory for Lex, either.  Lex must resort to brutal murder with his bare hands to keep his wife-to-be, bloodying his white tuxedo shirt on his wedding day.  Their marriage is also predicated on a lie of his making, regarding her unusual pregnancy.

And then the kicker: even after murder, the love of Lana is not assured for the young billionaire.  In the end, Lana only remains with Lex because of Lionel’s blackmail.  Lex Luthor may be on the ascent in “Promise,” but he is  an authentically tragic figure, doomed to always be alone because of his suspicion and controlling personality.

But “The Promise” thrives because it demonstrates how lack of trust can scuttle a marriage from the get-go, from the words “I do.”  Lana and Lex’s wedding night is certainly bound to be uncomfortable, given that Lex is a murderer and Lanais staying in the relationship only to protect Clark’s life…

03. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Hell’s Bells” (2002)
In the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander (Nicholas Brendon) is finally about to marry former wish-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) when he encounters a mysterious future version of himself. 
This old, hunched, “Future Xander,” shows his younger self  disturbing visions of an unhappy married life, and Xander gets really cold feet.
In truth, Future Xander is a demon seeking revenge against Anya, but his real identity is beside the point.  Rattled, Xander leaves a heart-broken Anya at the altar, leading her to resume her career as a demonic destroyer of men.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s season six was all about real life as the “Big Bad.”  Buffy had to take a job at a fast food restaurant to support her family, Giles left for England, Willow developed an addiction (to magic), and Xander and Anya went through the “Hell’s Bells” marriage disaster. 
The point is that making big life choices — even without the involvement of the demonic or supernatural — always has unintended repercussions.  And weddings, of course, have repercussions too.  Xander has the proverbial “cold feet” in “Hell’s Bells,” but he lets his fear sway him, and breaks the heart of a woman who loves him dearly. 
This one act of betrayal leads Anya back into the demon fold, and promises more trouble for Xander and the scoobies.  But again, this is real life.  You don’t leave a person at the altar without creating some serious bad blood.  How often have we seen that amongst former spouses, now estranged or divorced? Someone you loved so passionately becomes someone you hate more than anyone else in the world. Love and hate, not so far apart?
02. Star Trek: “Amok Time” (1967)
“The Trouble with Tribbles” may be funnier.  “City on the Edge of Forever” may be more tragic. 

But Theodore Sturgeon’s “Amok Time” is nonetheless one of Star Trek’s finest and most memorable hours.

In “Amok Time,” Spock experiences Pon Farr, the Vulcan urge to mate.  This biological drive is so strong that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) will die if it is not fulfilled.  Acting as a friend and disobeying orders, Captain Kirk takes the Enterprise to Vulcan. so Spock can marry…and mate.

Spock asks Kirk and McCoy (De Forest Kelly) to attend the wedding ceremony on Vulcan’s surface, officiated by the great T’Pau (Celia Lovsky).  There, the Enterprise triumvirate also meet Spock’s intended, the lovely T’Pring (Arlene Martel). Unfortunately, T’Pring has no desire to marry Spock, and in an ancient ritual, forces Spock to fight for her hand in marriage.  Her chosen champion?  Captain Kirk…

It’s funny that the logical Mr. Spock should be carried off to the altar, essentially, in a swirl of irrational, uncontrollable emotions.  But that happens to men and women on Earth too.   And if so many of the episodes on this list indeed detail the passionate emotions that swirl around weddings and marriage, “Amok Time” is a nice reminder that not all marriages emerge from feelings of love.  T’Pring has no desire for Spock, no desire to be the wife “of a legend,” and would rather see him die in a ritual than spend her life with him.  She is a cool, cruel, callous “thinker” who believes she has found a “no lose” scenario for herself.  And in the end, she’s absolutely right; she is victorious. 

The callous T’Pring is strongly contrasted in “Amok Time” with the dedicated friendship of Kirk/Spock/McCoy.  While T’Pring thinks only of herself, the Enterprise trio are a textbook case of one for all/all for one.  This is a reminder, perhaps, that there are other kinds of real love besides romantic/sexual love.

and finally…

01. Smallville: “Bride” (2009)

It’s the day of Chloe Sullivan’s (Allison Mack) long-awaited wedding to cub reporter Jimmy Olsen (Aaron Ashmore).  The location of the nuptials: the Kent farm in Smallville, Kansas. 

While an anxious Lois Lane (Erica Durance) organizes the event, Chloe receives distressing voice mails from Davis Bloome (Sam Witer), who has only recently acknowledged his love for Sullivan.

At the wedding reception — and caught on digital video — an inhuman beast called Doomsday lays siege to the barn and abducts Chloe, leaving Jimmy bleeding to death.

Bride” arrived at a time of  tremendous dramatic resurgence for Smallville. The episode moves at light-speed, yet still finds the time to develop the burgeoning Lois-Clark (Clois?) relationship.  It balances this new love with  a story of love rejected, in the case the love for Chloe of the “monster,” Doomsday.   Additionally, “Bride” often adopts the first person perspective of wedding video footage (think Cloverfield [2008]) as the monster arrives to take his bride. 

Given the narrative details (and title), this episode of Smallville is also rife with allusions to monster movies such as Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  The visual of the monstrous Doomsday carrying Chloe in her wedding gown to the Brainiac-infected Fortress of Solitude is one straight out the genre’s golden age, and enormously resonant in this context.  Doomsday sets Chloe down on a bed of black ice, and her eyes glitter…not with love; but with the inhuman glare of Brainiac.

Besides the powerful imagery, technique and characterizations, “The Bride” somehow still finds time to re-introduce Lana Lang to Smallville (thus setting back Clark and Lois six months or so…) and  then ends with the revelation that Lex Luthor is alive, and bent on vengeance.  Clark and Lana?  Clark and Lois? Jimmy’s Dead? Doomsday? Brainiac? Lex Luthor?   “Bride” is a prime reason why Smallville’s fans are still so die hard.  When the show hits on all thrusters, it’s like a Kryptonite kick to Superman’s gut.

“Bride” is truly apocalyptic, a wedding day gone straight to Hell.  And the episode is so dramatic, so fast-paced you won’t be able to catch your breath until the end credits roll. If marriage is about being swept away by love, “Bride” sweeps you away in love gone horribly wrong.

So that’s the top ten cult-tv wedding list.  Speak about it now, or forever hold your peace

>The Five Most De-Humanizing Rituals in 1970s Dystopian Cinema

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I’ve been devoting considerable space here lately to science fiction cinema’s unforgettable dystopias; those dark worlds of the imagination in which mankind takes a wrong turn on the road to a better future.  
These memorable and often haunting films dwell on such matters as overpopulation, food shortages, eugenics, and collectivist societies that snuff out all individuality and even humanity.
We’ve had great dystopian movies with us now for many decades.  In the 1960s we saw The Tenth Victim (1965) and Fahrenheit 451 (1966).  In the 1980s we saw Blade Runner (1982) and The Running Man (1987).  And recent decades have brought us such fare as Gattaca (1997), Minority Report (2002), Gamer (2009) and Surrogates (2009).
But the Great Age of Film Dystopias is unquestionably the 1970s; our nation’s very own “crisis of confidence” decade.  The Energy Crisis, Watergate, the Vietnam War,  the Manson Family, Three Mile Island, Roe vs. Wade and the Iran hostage situation all became part of our national dialogue in what I often term the disco-decade. 
In terms of film history, those years between 1970 and 1979 also gave the world THX-1138 (1971), Z.P.G. Zero Population Growth (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Zardoz (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975), Logan’s Run (1976) and many other examples of the genre.
In the days ahead, I hope to lay my hands on such harder-to-find dystopian efforts such as The Last Child (A 1970s TV movie), Amerika (a 1987 TV miniseries about a Soviet-takeover of the United States) and the grand-daddy of such dystopian imaginings, the not-currently-available-on-DVD  1984 (1984), an adaptation of Orwell’s seminal literary work.
But before we get to such movie reviews, I wanted to pause here and acknowledge some of the qualities that make these cinematic speculations about our future so intriguing, and often so frightening. 
I looked back across my postings and saw that almost every 1970s film about dystopian futures shares one element in common.  All these films feature governments or other systems of control that turn human against human; man against his brother.  And they each do so, universally, utilizing some kind of futuristic technology or futuristic application of technology.
These films might thus be viewed as speculative endeavors and also as warnings about the shape of things to come; of future science or technology “run amok.”  In all these future societies listed below, the government has created a new social “ritual” (a continental race, a form of legally-sanctioned punishment, a religious service, a public service, etc.) that actually runs counter to all that moral human beings currently hold dear.
So without further description, here are The Five Most De-Humanizing Rituals of 1970s Dystopian Cinema, by my assessment.
5.  THX Visits A Unichapel in THX-1138 (1971).  
In the future world of THX-1138, the act of going to Church and sharing worship with a community has been deliberately subverted by the government. 
Single-serving Unichapel kiosks instead service the worship needs of a vast subterranean city’s population.  Although decorated with images of Jesus Christ, these unichapels offer platitudes and “Blessings of the Masses” rather than legitimate spiritual guidance. 
In fact, the Unichapels serve as a surveillance tool for the State because here citizens can unload all of their secrets, and thus Big Brother learns of them.  Off your drugs?  Falling in love with your roommate?  Now the State knows it all.
The Unichapel confession is so upsetting and de-humanizing a ritual, in my opinion, because it turns the focus of religion away from the needs and aspiration of a community (and doing good deeds) to a more selfish plateau.  The Unichapel sits just one.  There’s no room for the community in it.  Worse, in adopting the “confessional” approach, the Unichapel actively turns penitents into informants.  And worst, those informants may actually be testifying against themselves.
4.) Make Thy Neighbor Suffer: ZPG Zero Population Growth (1972). 
Happen to know anyone in the neighborhood who may be in violation of the World Deliberation Council’s Zero Birth Edict? 
Well, if so, just telephone the police force and it’ll send a futuristic helicopter over to drop an air-tight inflatable tent over the violators (usually a Mother, father and infant)! 
Trapped in the death tent, these nasty law-breakers will expire of asphyxiation over the next 24 hours, and you get to see it close-up since the tent is transparent!    Another bonus: for doing your civic duty, the State provides you extra food rations
Again, the idea here is of a neighbor being turned into a “rat” to squeal on his or her neighbors.  The State not only encourages such spying and informing, it provides incentive in the form of rations. Perhaps even more disturbing is the notion that an (illegal) child or infant could be punished for his very existence.  Like many dystopian ovelords, the State in ZPG wants people numb to the idea of killing for a so-called “common good.” 
Once more, something immoral (the murder of families…) is ritualized; part of the legal law-enforcement process; and a duty of every citizen.
3.) The Trans-continental race: Death Race 2000 (1975). 
In the year 2000, in the United Provinces of America, the President decrees that the trans-continental race is “the American way of life,” “no-holds barred.” 
But drivers in this race compete to become the new American champion by running down innocent pedestrians.  They do so explicitly for points.  A female pedestrian is worth 10 points, a teenager is worth 40 points, children under 12 are worth 70, and senior citizens carry a whopping 100 points.
So, around the country, TV viewers watch with blood-thirsty glee as their fellow citizens are run down by the death racers.  This set-up is no doubt meant by the filmmakers as the equivalent of gladiatorial games and Roman bread and circuses.  While the President luxuriates in foreign palaces and the American economy stumbles after the “Crash of 79,” the public is distacted by bloody road games.    The Running Man is a variation on this theme as well. 
But think about it: a favorite weekly TV show is nothing if not a “ritual,” and the bloody ritual of the cross-continent “death” race is essentially murder as entertainment; as must-see TV. Life is supposed to be precious, but viewers of the race are meant to cheer when their race runs over a team of doctors, or an old lady.  How de-humanizing is that?
2.) “Going Home:” Soylent Green (1973). 
In the overpopulated, undernourished city of New York in 2020 (where 20 million people are unemployed), you can have privacy and anything else you desire…but you have to die to get it. 
In particular, government centers (called sleep shops in the literary version of the material) euthanize the citizenry. 
But hey — before you die, you can live like a king, able to enjoy you favorite music and a montage of lovely images.  It’s like Sarah Palin’s Death Panels meets an IMAX theater.  Who wouldn’t want to enjoy that?  At least once…
Again, in order to solve desperate problems (food shortages and overpopulation), the State has devoted itself to the death of its very citizenry.  It’s highly disturbing to think that the only way to enjoy life’s pleasures in this future world is to embrace death.  And death by sleep shop is a sanctioned ritual of this future world.
1.) “Carousel:” Logan’s Run (1975).
In the shopping-mall, sex-on-demand, plastic-surgery-on-demand 23rd century of Logan’s Run, you can have anything your heart desires…except your thirtieth birthday. 
On your “LastDay,” by order of the computer that runs the City of Domes, all would-be-30-year olds must report for “Carousel.” 
And what is Carousel?  On the surface, it appears to be a joyous religious ritual in which the old folks compete for re-birth or “renewal” by floating to the top of the heap in a weird gravity pool with glowing lights.  In reality, the assembled citizenry of the city watch and cheer in the stadium as Last Day participants are disintegrated by ceiling-mounted laser devices.
Again, Carousel represents the most hideous and de-humanizing idea of this dystopia.  It is state-mandated murder (or population control), but Carousel is even more immoral than the sleep shops of Soylent Green, because it masquerades as a mystical, religious tradition.  Thus citizens are uninformed, and believed they are witnessing re-incarnation, not disintegration.  Here, it’s the deception that is so ugly.  The State has made a religious ritual out of population control, and the people are so ignorant that they cheer for death. 
Of course, in the case of Logan’s Run, at least there’s the Love Shop (and lots and lots of sex…) before you have to die young.
Your mileage may vary on these cinematic dystopias, but which of these 1970s worlds do you believe offers the most de-humanizing ritual, and why?

The Ten Greatest Cult TV Endings in History

Television series are designed, pretty much, with the hope that they last forever. 

No one involved with the production of a TV series wants to ponder too much or too deeply about how a given program might end because the name of the game in Hollywood is to run for years and years….or at least 100 episodes, for syndication purposes.

And yet, across the long years, cult television has nonetheless provided the audience some utterly remarkable endings, or final episodes.  Some of these goodbyes have made dedicated viewers weep; other endings have proven terrifying…and inescapably dark.

Not that long ago, cult TV series usually shuffled off the air without any kind of definitive ending or closing punctuation whatsoever. 

We never saw the Robinsons get home in Lost in Space.  We don’t know how the five year mission of The Enterprise finally ended, on Star Trek.  We never found Sanctuary with Logan, or Evoland with Varian and his friends in the Bermuda Triangle.  The Alphans never discovered that elusive new planet to call home on Space:1999, and we don’t know if Buck Rogers ever found those “lost tribes” of Earth.

Still, in some senses, those older programs that ended without any narrative closure are really the lucky ones.  Lately, the series finales of popular serialized programs such as Battlestar Galactica, Alias, and Lost have only ended up polarizing viewers and creating schisms, at least to to some degree, in fan affection. 

When there’s the promise of a “plan” at the beginning of a journey and that promise is repeated week-in and week-out for years, audiences do expect a pay off; and they expect it to be one that plays fair, and make sense.  I think expectations are pretty high for serialized programs, and they are generally difficult to meet.

After gazing across some fifty years of cult television initiatives, the titles listed below are my choices for the “ten greatest series endings” in history.  Some of these selections were not meant to be final chapters at all; they were but cliff-hangers to be resolved…but the resolution never came

Contrarily, some of my choices were indeed designed as last chapters, and function ably (and emotionally) as such.  Closure comes, and it satisfies.

Another selection below is merely ambiguous.  That doesn’t make it a hedge; it just makes it delightfully opaque, in the tradition of the preceding series.

My ten choices are based on several criteria: how well the endings represent the nature of the series; whether they challenge perceptions, if they are inventive (but consistent), and how artfully they are executed.

Now, given that this is a list involving endings of TV series, many, many spoilers are discussed below.  Please be aware of that fact going forward…and read accordingly.

10.  V: The Series: “The Return” (1985)


In 1985, the NBC series V battled the CBS powerhouse Dallas in the ratings on Friday nights.  It was a losing proposition, and the sci-fi series about reptilian alien visitors invading Earth faced an uncertain future (and eventual cancellation).

But for the season’s final — and series-ending — nineteenth episode, writers David Abramowitz and Donald R. Boyle threw what amounted to a remarkable Hail Mary Pass.  The Leader (of the Visitors) came to Earth to declare an abrupt end to inter species hostilities and to marry the Star Child, Elizabeth. 

So “The Return’s” final scene witnessed a mesmerized Elizabeth — in wedding gown — stepping aboard the unseen Leader’s shuttle, while the evil Diana (Jane Badler) informed Lt. James (Judson Scott) that she had secretly placed a time bomb aboard. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s human lover, Kyle (Jeff Yagher) stowed away on the self-same shuttle, hoping to be reunited with Elizabeth, the love of his life. 

“The Return” and V: The Series ended on that crazy, cliffhanging note, with the camera majestically retracting, up, up and away — forever — from the series leads. 


What did the Leader really look like behind that glowing light on the shuttle?  What were his true motives in coming to Earth?  Would Diana’s violent plan succeed (killing the Leader, Elizabeth and Kyle?)  And what about true love?  Would it triumph over the desperate need for interplanetary peace?

You can’t get much more epic than that.

To this day, the breathless cliffhanger ending of V has never been resolved. Yet “The Return” understood something vital about V that other installments of the one-season wonder failed to capitalize on: it was a soap opera played out on a grand level, with only modest sci-fi trappings.  The best episodes all played on soap opera plotting and characterization, not on hard science concepts.

And by ending the program on that exaggerated, over-dramatic, gut-busting soap opera note, V reached an apex of storytelling audacity and drama that — for most of its run — eluded it.

9. Surface: “Episode 15” (2006)

It’s a new world,” a stunned scientist, Laura Daughtery (Lake Bell) declared during the explosive denouement of NBC’s one-season cult-TV show, Surface in 2006.

This pronouncement was voiced from atop a church steeple as a dramatic CGI pullback revealed that Wilmington, North Carolina — and indeed the whole South East sea board — had been devastated and flooded  in a “tele”-tsunami caused by the series’ giant, man-created sea monsters.

It was a portentous moment. The Earth had changed…forever (and yes, this change was clearly meant as a metaphor for global climate change).

By culminating on a catastrophic and apocalyptic note, Surface ultimately proved to have the courage of its nutty convictions. It would have been tempting to end on an easier, less-expensive note, one that wouldn’t turn the Earth’s surface upside down.

But instead, the writers and creators of this inventive short-lived series (The Pate brothers) chose the hard way, and followed-through with a narrative about the price of continuing damage to our environment.

Thus the series — in the grand tradition of the best science fiction — serves as a precautionary tale about ambitious scientists, corporate interests, and government agendas pushing ahead of personal responsibility.

The big loser, suggests Surface‘s ending…is the Earth herself.

And after the BP Oil Spill last year, who can really doubt that’s a true observation?



8. Mystery Science Theater 3000: “Diabolik” (1999)


In the final scene of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s last episode, Mike Nelson takes his place between ‘bots Crow and Servo…on a couch, in a tiny apartment. 

Though finally free of the Forresters (Clayton and Pearl) forever — not to mention TV’s Frank, Bobo and Brain Guy — these former-denizens of the Satellite of Love nonetheless find themselves taking up old habits, namely skewering an old movie.  They wanted to escape this fate for so long and yet, here they are. Doing the same thing; just in a new way.

In this case, that old movie being skewered is The Crawling Eye, the first movie that Joel, Crow and Servo riffed on when the series transitioned to Comedy Central a decade earlier.  So the ending in “Diabolik” is both full-circle — back to the beginning — and also an acknowledgment that the experience of riffing on bad movies is universal. 

You don’t need to be part of some mad scientist’s experiment to do it.  You just need a sofa, two buddies, and a TV set.


This ending is funny because also — at least subtly — it playfully acknowledges there are better uses for your time. Mike and the Bots seem to be living on the edge of poverty here, barely scraping by. By comparison, the bot Gypsy — who ran the Satellite of Love and took care of everyone there — has become a multi-millionaire founder of a company, ConGypsCo.  Sometimes actually making something, actually building something, is better than mocking the efforts of others.

So you have everything here — in these final moments — that made Mystery Science Theater 3000 special to so many people.  There’s a tribute to how it all started; an ending that suggests the task of calling out bad movies is universal and will thus continue unabated, and even an embedded critique of the very process through which the show achieved such cult popularity.

7. Millennium: “Goodbye to All That” (1999)



Back in 1999, you probably couldn’t find many Millennium fans who were entirely satisfied with the way the series ended after three fantastic seasons. 

And, at face value, the conclusion of the 67th episode is, in a sense, maddening.  The Millennium Group has not been stopped or even outed, and Emma Hollis (Klea Scott) betrays her beloved mentor, Frank Black (Lance Henriksen).

Given this situation — plus the apparent murder of Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn) — Frank takes his gifted and imperiled young daughter, Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) and hits the road…not to be seen again until an appearance on The X-Files.

And yet “Goodbye to All That” indisputably culminates with one of the most beautiful, expressive and artistic compositions I’ve ever seen on television. 

It’s a picturesque view (pictured above) of Frank and Jordan fleeing for hopefully greener pastures.  In Frank’s SUV, they are on a long road which symbolizes the road to the future.  There are storm clouds roiling overhead, representing the terror of the approaching Millennium (and Y2K!), but also — importantly — sunlight is starting to break through one patch of clouds. 

The sunlight, naturally, is representative of hope; the hope that people like Jordan (“we’re all shepherds,”) can construct a better world than the conspirators of the Millennium Group did.

Are all your questions about the Millennium Group and its nefarious plans answered here, in “Goodbye to all That?”  Not in the slightest

But this beautiful image, of a man and his daughter facing the open road, and a future of  sunlight or storms (or likely both), is evocative of something telling about the human condition.  We don’t always get all the answers we seek.  Sometimes, we just have to look forward to better days; sometimes we just have to hope for sunshine. 

By ending in vague, but visually gorgeous fashion, Millennium once again shares that important idea with its audience.  We can’t tell you what’s going to happen folks; or even why things are like this.  We’re just going to go out with this message; that tomorrow brings new possibilities.  Good or bad.  It’s up to you, and children like Jordan to determine the specifics.

6. Twin Peaks: “Episode 29”



David Lynch’s TV masterpiece Twin Peaks ends in the most horrifying, nihilistic fashion imaginable.  I still get goosebumps thinking about it, actually. That bright beacon of goodness and integrity, Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) enters the sinister Black Lodge…and loses himself to Bob, the murderous spirit who killed Laura Palmer.

Much like the Millennium ending, Twin Peaks ends without much narrative closure and opts instead for a powerful, resonant image; though in this case it is one devoid of hope.  After losing himself in the labyrinth of the Black Lodge, Bob-as-Cooper comes back to our world and bloodies his head against a mirror. 

The mirror is seen cracked in spider-web formation; and the Bob Spirit form is seen in the twisted, broken reflection.  This is order overturned; Evil triumphant.  Bob-as-Cooper snickers and laughs, undiscovered.  The Evil is loose in the world once more. 

This is nightmare fodder, pure and simple, and it reflects one of Twin Peaks’ dark central themes.  The program is all about a descent into total chaos and madness from which there is no escape and no reprieve.  This evil — this chaos — gets inside of you (like it did Laura’s father; like it does Cooper) and it changes you.  It destroys you from within and exposes you to madness, paralysis, loss of reason, stabilitiy and everything else that makes you human.

Knowing David Lynch’s thematic predilections, we could rightly expect nothing else but a dark ending for Twin Peaks.  But this — Cooper lost, replaced by a monster — is just about the darkest ending conceivable.

 

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Chosen” (2003)


In Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s final episode, Spike (James Marsters) sacrifices his life to save the world, the “First” Evil and his army of super-vampires are defeated, the Hellmouth is destroyed, and the mystical powers of the Slayer are passed from one individual — Buffy — to hundreds of young women the globe around.

For the moment, forget about Spike’s long-deserved redemption and tragic goodbye (an achievement soon undone by Angel, Season Five), “Chosen” is a deeply affirmative message of individual and collective “girl power,” always a strong subtext of the series anyway, but a magnificent note to go out on.

It isn’t just Buffy who has the power to defeat Evil…but all womanhood too, or so this episode informs us.   When a woman somewhere is beaten or teased, the episode reveals in emotional montage, she may summon that “Slayer” strength within…and fight back.

This is also an appropriate place to end the personal and heroic journey of Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar). For seven seasons, she has carried the “weight of the world” on her shoulders as The Slayer, and longed to lead a normal life. Now, finally, she has the opportunity to…live. “Just get to be like a person. How does that feel?” Faith asks her.

To Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s everlasting credit — since words would never do —  Buffy doesn’t answer in dialogue. Instead, the camera pushes in for a lovely close-up of this iconic hero, and her forehead uncreases…the pressure finally slipping away, finally receding.  Her lips curve upwards into the smallest, most gorgeous, most innocent smile.

Cut to black and it’s all over.

This hero has completed her journey, and Buffy’s reward is that she gets to finally rejoin the human race…and “Chosen” reminds us how precious that gift is.



4. The X-Files: “The Truth” (2002)

Those who endlessly repeat the myth that The X-Files somehow got tired and old in its last two seasons, obviously weren’t watching it during that spell to speak truthfully about it. 

Case in point, the final episode of the series: “The Truth.” It not only featured a terrific demise for the most iconic villain of 1990s television, The Cigarette-Smoking Man, the episode also brilliantly summarized a decade’s worth of conspiracy clues into one  relatively concise and clear-cut “courtroom” trial, as Mulder was prosecuted by the F.B.I..

But if you take away the brilliant narrative structure, what really makes “The Truth” sparkle so much is the final, intimate scene between partners and friends Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). 

Importantly, it takes place in a motel room, which Mulder notes is the same locale where he first tried to convince his new, inexperienced partner, about  he world of aliens and government conspiracies.  So, much like the MST3K denouement, there’s a “we’ve come full circle” aspect to this final episode.  The end brings us back to the beginning.

But the importance of the final scene, finally, comes in what Mulder “wants to believe.”  He speaks to Scully in earnest, beautiful, thoroughly human terms:

“I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us,” he says.  “That they speak to us as part of something greater than us; greater than any alien force.  And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen to what’s speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves.”

This beautifully-worded, passionately-delivered monologue is the heart and soul of The X-Files: the universal human yearning to believe in something greater than what we see and hear around us everyday.  

The truth is not out there, it’s in here…in the hearts of Mulder and Scully, and in the love they share for each other.  That too tells us something important.

When you can’t believe for sure in Ultimate Knowledge; it helps to have someone you love very much who believes in you, and vice-versa.  That’s the note that we leave this wonderful series on: that if Scully and Mulder can’t believe in UFOs, aliens, or even God, they can take solace that they believe in each other. 


3. Sapphire and Steel: “Episode VI” (1981)

Sapphire & Steel shares with audiences another dark ending, and truly, those are the ones that often seem to resonate the most deeply.  When a movie features an unhappy ending, it’s sad, of course, but there’s not truly the same level of investment involved (unless, it’s a series of movies, I would qualify). 
But a TV series is something you live with week-in and week-out — that you invite into your very living room — and when it takes all of your built-up affection, admiration and enjoyment and then goes dark…
…well, the results can be incredibly powerful. 
Sapphire and Steel is surely an example of that.  This series concerns two alien investigators, Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) and Steel (David McCallum) as they attempt to repair breaches in the fabric of time and space.  Dark, monstrous things seem to dwell outside this fabric, always trying to break in.  Our titular characters, these enigmatic, human-appearing “Elements,” are reality’s last line of defense.
In the final serial, Sapphire and Steel arrive at a small cafe and gas station isolated in what seems to be a pocket universe; in outer space itself.  They attempt to help the strange denizens trapped there, only slowly learning that unseen “Transient Beings” are operating against them.
Using her skills, Sapphire sees into the future and can see only desolate outer space.  “Hours will become days and months.  And years will become thousands of years.  There is nothing but space.”
Later, Sapphire realizes she was seeing her own future with Steel.  This strange “box” is their eternal prison.  “This is the trap.  This place is nowhere, and forever” explains an enemy.
The last shot of the episode — and thus the series — finds Steel and Sapphire gazing out a window onto infinity…their view forever here after.  When the eerie theme music kicks in — and you realize this is the end — you’ll get a terminal case of the shivers. 
Sapphire and Steel were so concerned with accomplishing their mission, with helping others, they could not see that they had walked into a trap…an eternal trap.  They were someone else’s mission all along.  And that is amazingly creepy.

2. The Prisoner: “Fall Out” (1968)



This final installment of The Prisoner is one of the strangest hours of science fiction television ever produced, and also one of the finest. 

Our hero, Number Six (Patrick McGoohan) has been held in a mysterious Village for months, unable to escape.  He has been interrogated, tortured and prodded by a series of men — always tagged “Number Two,” — but without success.  He never breaks, and  every one of his nemeses wants to know the reason behind his resignation from the British secret service. He…will…not…tell.

In “Fall Out,” The Prisoner ingeniously moves from the realm of the literal-minded to the metaphorical.  The Prisoner survives an ordeal and finally meets Number One.  Who is Number One?  Himself, only wearing a monkey mask!  The Prisoner then escapes from the Village and returns to London, a free man.  Or so it appears.

Instead, however, the finale of The Prisoner visually suggests that Number Six remains imprisoned — as we all are — in a much larger “village:” the 20th century technological society of social security numbers, credit cards numbers and advanced data-gathering.

To get across this point, the word “Prisoner” even appears over an aerial image of London, as Number Six returns to his home, in his car.  Make no mistake, this is not a simple title card.  This is a “label.”  The people who live here, like Number Six, are prisoners of the incipient Information Age.

In the closing shots of The Prisoner’s final episode, Number Six is depicted again in a familiar pose, racing his sporty car down an endless road.  This is the self-same image that started the program some seventeen episodes earlier.  The inference is that though he now sees himself as free, he is still a prisoner in a society that makes him a number in a computer, rather than a man. 

The opening interrogation of The Prisoner, played each and every week during the opening credits becomes clear and newly meaningful with the advent of this finale, “Fall Out,” as well.  When Number Six angrily asks “Who is Number One?” a voice responds “You are Number Six.” 

This was thought by viewers to be an evasion, an establishment of McGoohan’s identity as Number Six. 

To the contrary, after “Fall Out,” the answer to Number Six’s Question “Who is Number One,” is, simply, You Are, Number Six.”  Number Six is Number One.  He’s imprisoning himself.  He is both master and slave; both prisoner and jailer.

This is a perfect ending to a quirky series, and one that asks those of us who are supposedly “free” to question the level and depth of that freedom.  Are we just numbers?  If we aren’t free, who are our jailers?


and


1. Blake’s 7: “Blake” (1981)

The final episode of Blake’s 7 begins with Avon (Paul Darrow) and his group of space-age rebels on the run. Their only base has been destroyed, and so they take their ship, The Scorpio, in search of their lost leader, Blake to the lawless world of Gauda Prime.

The Scorpio is badly damaged in a space battle and it crashes on the frontier world, leaving Avon’s avengers without even modest transportation. They find Blake – scarred and battle-weary – but Avon fears that his old friend has sold him out to the Federation Security forces. Blake and Avon endure a final confrontation, and only one man survives.

Then, the Federation troops arrive to put down the insurrection once and for all, and there is a devastating shoot-out between Federation shocktroopers and the survivors of Avon’s squad

This fiery, violent finale takes the conclusion of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid one step further. There’s no polite freeze-frame here. No sir; not in this unsentimental, caustic (and brilliant) series. Instead, there’s a slow-motion shoot-out and the dramatis-personae you have grown to care for over the course of four years….go down hard.

And that’s after the stunning confrontation between Avon and Blake.

Basically, this is the Blake’s 7 episode where your hopes come crashing down. All throughout the series, audiences have followed Blake on his “impossible” dream to topple a space-spanning Federation. At times, you might have actually believed that Blake – the idealist and hero – can accomplish this. Even though it seems an impossible task.

The final episode “Blake,” makes you right your expectations. You were deluded, buddy.  There’s no way this thing is going to have a happy ending.

In fact, the strange smile that forms on Avon’s face just before the end of the episode may well be his final understanding of this fact. His bemused recognition that he too — the ultimate cynic — bought into a futile dream. You don’t fight City Hall and win. You might disrupt it for a while, but you’re just not going to beat a Galactic Federation. 

Blake’s 7 remains true to its story line by expressing this idea with “Blake,” a ballsy, gut-wrenching, truly apocalyptic finale. The series was always unromantic, and so the final episode lives up to that tradition.  It is cosmically unromantic.

Some fans hate the ending of Blake’s 7, and I can understand why.

As fans, we always want to believe that “the adventure continues.”  We want to believe that our heroes survive to fight another day. But that’s really — if you examine the program closely — not ever what this program was really about.

Blake’s 7 concerns desperate men fighting a desperate battle, and on this day – and in their last adventure – the law catches up with them. 

Again, a perfect ending to a brilliant series.  With all due deference to Shakespeare, sometimes all’s well that doesn’t end well (for the characters, that is.)