A good TV twist is rare. Quite often, writers can set something up with a “twist” that can be seen coming from a mile away. Other times, the turn can be far too sudden and not make any logical sense at all. But when a truly great twist comes around, it’s magnificent, able to transform a show majorly and elevate a series from just good to terrific or even classic. It can be well telegraphed but the best ones come out of nowhere yet in retrospect make almost perfect sense. True, it’s easy to list them as deaths, shocking losses of beloved characters and that pushes it on well. But you don’t always need to kill someone to create a shocking moment. It can be a character shifting allegiances, a long-kept secret coming to life or another bold move that turns a series on its ear.
There have been slews of examples as today, TV shows put on tons of twists to try and get fans going. The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones specialize in those with horrifying deaths and even returns. There’s also how several TV shows want to put big twists in their first episodes to win fans over. But even an established series can offer a turn that makes jaws drop and viewers reacting in various ways. It’s not just genre shows but dramas and even comedies that can pull it off. Here are 15 TV twists fans of the shows never saw coming and how they elevated their series up massively.
Quite obviously, SPOILERS for these shows.
15 Friends: Chandler And Monica?!
Almost since the start of the NBC comedy, the big romance was always Ross and Rachel. The geeky guy had loved Rachel since high school and spent the first season mooning over her with her oblivious to his feelings. She did find out and they teased getting together but a breakup. They finally did and it seemed to go great until, while “on a break,” Ross slept with another woman and he and Rachel broke up. They spent more time bouncing around with Ross getting engaged to Emily and flying to England with the gang to marry her. Deciding she wanted Ross after all, Rachel followed.
It would be easy to mark the shock being how Ross uttered “I take you, Rachel” when on the altar with Emily. But the true twist came earlier when Ross burst into Chandler’s hotel room to gleefully announce he was getting married, Chandler thrown in bed. Ross exits…and from under the covers, Monica pops up, worrying about Ross knowing she was there. The studio audience went insane, the sight of long-time buds Chandler and Monica having slept together a wild turn that wasn’t expected. But, in a genius move, the writers realized these two were really perfect for each other and this one-night stand turned into a great relationship. It may have been a wild turn for fans but it ended up giving Friends a longer life.
14 The Shield: Vic Crosses The Line
One episode helped change modern television. When The Shield debuted on FX in 2001, people figured you’d have to go to pay cable like HBO for hard-hitting drama. But this series helped pave the way for Breaking Bad, Mad Men and so many more. It was thanks to its premiere which played like an edgy cop drama with Michael Chiklis as Vic Mackey, head of a special LAPD Strike Force team. He looked the typical tough cop roughing up suspects and doing his own thing but honest. The first episode had Reed Diamond as Terry Crowley, a cop joining the team with the secret goal of finding out if Vic is corrupt. The series promised a tense cat and mouse game between the duo that would play through the show.
Which was why jaws dropped when, in the closing moments of the episode, Vic takes advantage of a raid to shoot Terry right in the face. It was a shocking moment that came out of the blue, showing Vic wasn’t just some rule-bending cop but so corrupt he was willing to kill a fellow officer. It instantly made the series a must-watch, leading to a great seven season run that earned Chiklis an Emmy. It also showed how basic cable could provide as many shocks as anything HBO could offer.
13 Lost: Flash Forward
From the start, fans of ABC’s show had their expectations rocked by one huge turn after another. There was the death of the crashed plane’s pilot; the revelation John Locke had been paralyzed yet somehow able to walk on the island; the coming of the Others and more. Yet one moment was so out of left field that fans today still talk about it. In the third season finale, the group is racing to get to a boat off the coast of the island. A gripping moment has Desmond dying and leaving a note to Charlie to tell him the boat’s crew is not to be trusted. Through it all, we see what appear to be the typical flashbacks showing a broken and bearded Jack on a plane drinking heavily. The final scene appears to be Jack making contact with the boat and ready for a rescue at last. He calls up someone and asks her to meet him. In an alleyway, Jack waits as a car pulls up to reveal…
Kate. Kate, who was established to have never met Jack before they got onto the island. Fans were confused, wondering if suddenly some secret meeting was being revealed. But then Jack and Kate began talking with Jack saying they made a mistake leaving the island and how they had to return. As Kate walked away, Jack yelled out “we have to go back!” Fans realized that all this time, they’d been watching a flash-forward to Jack, Kate and others getting off the island. It was a brilliant turn that ended up giving the show years of new storytelling life and how nothing could be expected.
12 Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Angelus Returns
From the start, Buffy loved to overturn fan expectations. That was shown as Buffy herself is aided by the mysterious Angel who turns out to be a vampire. When he was turned two hundred years earlier, a demon took over his body known as Angelus. For over a century, he spread chaos and destruction and feared even among vampires. But when he killed a Gypsy girl, her clan cursed him by returning his soul. Thus, he spent decades overwhelmed by the guilt of all he’d done. He and Buffy were soon romancing and finally, at last, getting together on her birthday. It was supposed to be the dream of fans…but turned into a nightmare.
See, in order to keep Angel suffering, the clan put a loophole in the curse: If Angel ever had a “moment of perfect happiness,” the curse would be broken and his soul lost. That moment happening with Buffy, Angel reverts to the murderous Angelus. For the next several months, he sets out to make Buffy’s life miserable, taunting her, killing popular character Jenny and breaking Buff’s heart. It led to the powerful season finale where Buffy restored his soul but had to send him to Hell to save the world. While Angel returned, he and Buffy could never be together or risk Angelus returning and a tragic element to this romance.
11 Supergirl: The Man From Mars
As soon as the characters of the DC comic book series were announced, fans figured they knew where it was going. Hank Henshaw was introduced as the head of the DEO, a government agency tracking aliens and shown not liking them much. In the comics, Henshaw was transformed into the murderous Cyborg Superman and fans figured the same would be here. It seemed confirmed in the pilot when Henshaw was shown with glowing red eyes and later using super-strength to stop a bomb. When an alien rampages around the DEO, Alex confronts Hank on possibly killing her father years ago and locks him up. But Hank somehow breaks out and ends up saving Alex’s life.
In private, the truth comes out. Hank Henshaw was a murderous xenophobe hunting a friendly alien on Earth. Alex’s father sacrificed himself to save that alien who Alex realizes is “Hank.” He’s a shapeshifter who decided to take on Henshaw’s identity and turn the DEO into a place to help aliens. He then reveals his true form: J’onn J’onzz aka The Martian Manhunter. For fans, the revelation that the apparent villain of the show was really one of the most iconic heroes of the DC Universe was a genius turn that elevated Supergirl majorly.
10 Orange Is The New Black: Morello’s Real Life
The joy of Netflix’s series has been how the various inmates of Litchfield Penitentiary get special flashback episodes that showcase their pasts. It helps humanize them and shows how many were really good people who made bad choices. But in one case, the flashbacks truly alter the perception of a character. In the first season, Lorna Morello is showcased as a tough Italian lady who plays up being from Boston and a bit upper-class (and possibly racist). She had a quirky style and humor that endeared her to fans as she constantly talked of her boyfriend Christopher waiting for her to get out of jail. She seemed rocked when she read he was marrying another woman and even taking advantage of a driving trip to break into his house and try on a wedding dress. Odd but it seemed to show how close she and Christopher were.
But then came her flashbacks which changed everything. It turned out that Morello and Christopher had gone on one date which led to nothing else. Cut to a trial where Christopher testifies on how Morello stalked him, forcing him to change jobs and homes twice, left threatening notes for his real girlfriend and then tried putting a bomb in her car. Through it all, Morello is just smiling and whispering that Christopher is “making it sound worse than it is.” It was a stunning turn, making Morello’s quirky behavior in the first season now the acts of a nutcase. For fans, it was rather rocking to realize the woman they’d dismissed as a funny lady could really be the most psychotic of the bunch.
9 Angel: Fred’s Dead
The spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had given fans plenty of shocks already from killing off major character Doyle in only the seventh episode to Angel becoming a father. Yet the fifth season threw a tragic turn for viewers as the gang took over evil law firm Wolfram & Hart to try and do some good with it. After years of teasing, geeky Fred and tough Wesley were finally getting together as a couple. Fred was so happy about it that she began singing. Lorne, a friendly demon who could read the futures of people by their singing, spun around with a look of horror just before Fred began vomiting blood. Realizing she was infected, the team worked fast to try and save her.
Traveling to England, Angel and Spike discovered that Fred was infected by the spirit of Ilyria, an ancient goddess who wants a new form. Fans expected the usual, a race against time before a last-minute save and Fred living on. But the show didn’t play by those rules. Instead, Angel and Spike discover that if they save Fred, it will mean the deaths of thousands of innocent people, a price they just can’t pay. Fred is with Wesley, tearfully saying goodbye and then dying in his arms. Her body suddenly transforms into a blue-haired, leather-clad figure that proclaims this body “will do.” Fred was gone and a Ilyria in her place, a stunning turn for Amy Acker and a dark time even for Angel.
8 Game Of Thrones: The Red Wedding
True, fans of the books already knew this was coming. But even they were stunned at how wild it became. Thrones had already rocked fans with the shocking beheading of Ned Stark in season 1, proving no one was safe. Yet fans still weren’t prepared for what should have been a happy occasion turning into a nightmare. Robb Stark turns down an offer to marry the daughter of Walder Frey to take the hand of Talisa. Frey still has the Stark party over for a grand wedding feast. As the band plays the song “The Rains of Castemere,” Robb’s mother, Catelyn, sees that Roose Bolton is wearing armor under his suit. She rises up to call out but it’s too late.
A man steps forward and brutally stabs Talisa in her pregnant stomach. Instantly, the other wedding guests pull out knives, swords and crossbows and proceed to massacre the Stark troops. Outside, Arya Stark has just come up when she sees her kinsmen killed and is dragged away by the Hound. They even kill Robb’s beloved wolf. Catelyn grabs Frey’s youngest wife and demands he let Robb survive. Frey coldly just tells her to do it Bolton stabs Robb with “the Lannisters send their regards.” Catelyn kills the wife as she sobs, devastated at seeing her son dead…and then someone comes up and slits her throat. Seeing the Stark clan almost totally wiped out was a gripping moment and even George R.R. Martin himself was amazed at how they made a dark moment even darker.
7 South Park: Cartman’s Revenge
This was the moment on South Park when Eric Cartman crossed the line from just a jerk kid to something truly evil. In “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” Cartman is conned out of money and his attempts to get back at Scott cause him to be humiliated and lose more money time and again. Cartman hatches a plan using the rock band Radiohead, intending to make Scott cry and humiliate him. Scott finds out and plans a wild plot involving putting a certain gross item into the chili at a cookout. Cartman chows the chili down while Scott eats some of his own then gloats at getting the best of Cartman again.
But then Cartman reveals he had this whole thing planned out. The chili he ate was actually Chef’s. He tricked Scott’s parents to go on a farm where the crazy farmer shot them dead. He then chopped up the bodies and put them in the chili. Cartman gets on the table to laugh “I made you eat my parents.” As Scott sobs, Radiohead comes by, not knowing the situation and makes fun of Scott as a crybaby. He sobs more as Cartman literally licks his tears off his face. Everyone just stares, as shocked as the audience and showing a very dark turn for an animated show.
6 The Exorcist: Regan Reborn
One of the bigger surprise hits of 2016, Fox’s series seemed a fresh reboot of the classic horror movie. Oscar-winner Geena Davis played Angela Rance, a woman who comes to a priest named Father Tomas believing something deeply wrong with her daughter. At first thinking her paranoid, the priest soon discovers Angela is right. The girl is possess by a demonic force and it seems to be infecting their home. He seeks out a former priest broken by a previous possession to find out more and they find a true horror in the place. The series won over critics and a cult audience with a fresh spin on the mythos and pushing it well.
But then, at the end of the fifth episode, after a harrowing attempt to exorcise the demon goes badly, Tomas is nearly broken. Angela comes to him to talk and relates how she knew her daughter was possessed: because she’d been through it before. She talks of how she tried her best to ignore it but the memories kept coming back. She reinvented her identity, thinking naming herself “Angela” could somehow protect her but now knows it’s the same demon that attacked her when she was known as…Regan MacNeil. The show is actually a direct sequel to the original movie with Davis playing the grown-up version of Linda Blair’s character. It helped make the show an even bigger hit and no doubt why it was renewed for a new year to build on a classic horror legacy.
5 This Is Us: The Connection
Buzz had been building over NBC’s new drama with critics warning of a twist so amazing they refused to spoil it. As the series begins, it looks to be a simple anthology about people who share the same birthday: Rebecca is expecting triplets with her husband Jack but goes into premature labor. Meanwhile, Kevin is an actor who goes on a meltdown on set, tired of being treated just on his looks. His twin sister Kate is wrestling with being overweight. Also, hard-working dad Randall has finally found William, his birth dad who abandoned him as a child. It looked like little connection between them as Rebecca loses one of her children in birth.
As Jack looks at the newborn twins, he talks to a cop who was dropping off a kid found abandoned at a fire station. The cop then lights up a cigarette, a bizarre sight in a hospital. The camera then pulls back to show folks in old-fashioned clothes while a television has Walter Cronkite reporting on news of the Iranian revolution. Finally, the truth comes out: Rebecca and Jack are living in 1980; their twins will grow up to be Kevin and Kate; and Roland is the baby they adopted to fill the spot of their late child. Suddenly, the series turned into a brilliant family drama that became a huge hit and keeping the secret helped it impact viewers majorly.
4 Alias: An End And A Beginning
From the start, J.J. Abrams’ spy series had fantastic twists and turns. There was the very first episode as Sydney Bristow discovers that rather than a branch of the CIA, her SD-6 group is part of an evil organization. Then there was Sydney discovering her mother was alive and a deadly crime boss. But the second season finale was something else. Months before, Sydney had managed to help destroy SD-6 although main foe Sloane got away. What Sydney didn’t know was that her best friend Francine had been murdered and replaced by an exact double. This double used Sydney’s other friend Will, brainwashing him into being her source of info and framing him for murder.
Sydney figures it out when she tricks “Francine” into eating an ice cream she’s supposed to hate. This leads to a brutal knock-down, drag-out fight ending with Sydney stabbing her dead before collapsing of her wounds. Suddenly, she wakes up on the streets of Hong Kong. Sydney races to a phone to call the CIA and waits at a hotel room. In comes boyfriend Vaughn, shocked to see her and embracing her. Sydney is baffled at his reaction and when she sees he has a wedding ring on one hand. Vaughn finally breaks it to her that it’s been two years since that fight and everyone thought Sydney was dead. Even for fans used to turns, this was something else.
3 Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Hail Hydra
During its first season, the Marvel series seemed to be lacking a lot of action and drama. Fans thought it seemed held back somehow and not hitting the notes it should, the SHIELD team facing random threats. However, it turned out they were being pushed to hold back for a reason. Episode 17, “Turn, Turn, Turn” takes place during the event of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and brilliantly uses that movie’s twist: For decades, Hydra has been infiltrating SHIELD and now explodes into the limelight. SHIELD is torn apart as Hydra loyalists come out of hiding to attack. Coulson is rocked to discover that long-time friend Garrett (Bill Paxton) is a Hydra agent. He’s captured with others as director Victoria Hand hints to Ward that they’re better off with Garrett dead. He nods, takes out a gun…and shoots her dead and frees Garrett.
Fans were shocked, assuming Ward was going deep undercover. Instead, the next episodes made it clear that from day one, Ward had always been Hydra. Every move he’d made through the series had been to gain the team’s trust to push his true mission (he even pretended to be a Patriots fan when he hated Tom Brady). Naturally, the team was shocked when they found out and to its credit, the series didn’t pull back from it as Ward nearly killed Fitz and Simmons. The second season had Ward seemingly on a quest for redemption only to find the team was never going to forgive him what he did and Ward became a huge villain. For fans to realize they’d been rooting for a traitor all season remains a genius turn even for Joss Whedon.
2 Newhart: All A Dream
It’s been hailed as one of the greatest series finales of all time. After eight seasons, the popular CBS sitcom signed off with a special finale where a Japanese businessman buys up the quirky town with only Dick (Bob Newhart) staying with his wife. Five years later, the townspeople return for a reunion marked by how the nutty woodsmen Larry, Daryl and Daryl have gotten married to three obnoxious Long Island ladies (one played by an unknown Lisa Kudrow). When the three are screeching at each other, the two Daryls break their series-long silence to yell “QUIET!” causing the audience to go nuts. As the gang all talk and babble Dick declares he’s had enough and walks out just as a golf ball hits his head.
Cut to a bedroom as Dick sits up in bed and asks his wife to wake up. The light goes on and his wife rolls over only she’s played by Suzanne Pleshette. Their talk reveals the genius twist: The entire Newhart series was all a wild dream in the mind of The Bob Newhart Show’s Bob Hartley. He babbles about the dream of “running an inn in this crazy little town in Vermont!” as wife Emily tells him no more Japanese food. He makes a remark on being married to a beautiful blonde which she takes exception to as the theme of the old Bob Newhart show plays. A fantastic turn that makes this one of the best series enders ever.
1 M*A*S*H: Blake’s Farewell
This remains one of the most epic shockers in TV history, not just to the fans but the actors themselves. For the first three seasons of the hit series, Lt. Colonel Frank Blake was the easygoing commander of the 4077th med center in the Korean War. It was interesting in that he actually seemed to know he was in way over his head and just trying to get by, notable for always wearing a fishing hat and it was easy for Hawkeye and Trapper John to get away with slews of practical jokes and whacky behavior under his watch. Blake was a loveable buffoon who made no secret that he was simply trying to gain enough “points” to finally get discharged.
It happened in the third season finale as the gang at the 4077th threw Blake a farewell party, noting that, despite all his goofy antics and their clashes, they did like and respect him. He leaves and everyone seems happy. In the closing moments, the team is working on wounded soldiers when a pale Radar walks in and announces that Blake’s transport plane was shot down over the ocean with all on board killed. The producers actually kept this totally secret from the cast to make their shocked reactions look real and they were so down they canceled MacLean Stevenson’s planned farewell party. It was a gripping turn to remind fans that, comedy or not, this was a series showcasing how unfair war could be.
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