The "Fall finale" - or "Winter break," as it were - has become not just a rite of passage on network television, but also an art-form
Case in point: This past Fall's final 2018 episode of the CBS sophomore hit "The Good Doctor," where a quarantine has befallen the hospital, our titular doc is laid out on the floor mid-anxiety attack, and popular characters have begun dropping dead due to the disease literally wheeled into the E/R just hours earlier
When the credits rolled, so did eyes across the country, but will it pay off?
Many a midseason return has not delivered on said promise, while others have not only delivered - they exceeded audience expectation
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Scandal - Olivia Pope is Kidnapped
The ABC hit, starring Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, returned from its fourth season break with a whopper of an episode titled "Run." Olivia is kidnapped in her apartment by masked men, who take her across the hall to the neighbor apartment. She is then drugged. Olivia wakes up in a demolished cell and with a cell mate. What made this such a memorable midseason return was that what preceded it was such a lighthearted episode by comparison, with Olivia's love life front and center, and her ultimately choosing "her" over the two male options (with one not even truly being an option, as he is the President) and dancing wildly.
Gotham - Jim Gordon begins security detail at Arkham
Season One of the FOX hit ultimately established itself as "must-see" with its first midseason return. Having left off just months earlier with hard-scrabble, stalwart cop Ben Gordon reassigned to security detail at Arkham Asylum, how could the second half of the season do anything other than return with a bang?
Gossip Girl - Life after a car wreck can be challenging
The series that helped launched Blake Lively's career was a master of the midseason return, and might have never done it better than when it returned after Chuck and Blair lost their baby in a car wreck. The audience is teased, almost painfully, as drawn-out flashbacks convey the pact Blair made with God in order for Chuck to survive the crash.
The Flash - There are speedsters everywhere!
Season Two's winter finale was a whopper, with Joe's flesh-and-blood son (as opposed to his "kindred spirit " son Barry) serves up a surprise visit to his home. But the midseason return upped the ante like crazy. Joe and Wally don't get off to the greatest start, Barry's solid season two love interest, Patty, leaves Central City by episode's end (which absolutely no one saw coming), and a second evil speedster- who the audience already knew all too well - showed before all was said and done: Reverse Flash.
Walking Dead - Negan finally arrives, fresh from the pages of the graphic novels
The AMC blockbuster is another master of the midseason finale. Season five's saw Emily Kinney’s Beth suddenly die by gunshot and the Season 4 last show of 2013 had a double death with Scott Wilson’s Hershel beheaded by David Morrissey’s the Governor, who was killed himself in the December 1, 2013 ‘Too Far Gone’ episode. (With it being a zombie show, "dead" is loosely used here, it should go without saying.) Season six claimed Deanna but the post-credits scene set up the fruitful return: Negan was en route, the legendary villain from the comic that the series is based upon, and when he showed, none other than Jeffrey Dean Morgan was playing him.
Grey's Anatomy - Derek is gone, but the E/R be jammin'!
Season 11 of the ABC Thursday night bedrock returned from Winter break with multiple car crashes rendering the E/R one busy place in "Where Do We Go From Here," the January 29 episode after more than two months off the air. Meredith, of course, has an existential crisis to deal with on top of this - both Derek and Cristina will be gone by the time the credits roll.
How To Get Away With Murder - Annalise was shot, but that ain't enough to keep her down
Aside from maybe only "The Walking Dead," this show took its sweet time returning to air in the Winter of 2015. Returning mid-February, after going off the air mid-November with Annalise sustaining some gunshot wounds, it felt like a lifetime and was treated as such. She was home, recuperating yet hallucinating, and said hallucinations weren't helping her any in court, where she was testifying about her own shooting. Huh!?
LOST - Jack saves Ben's life while Juliet saves Sawyer's
Season three of "Lost" had us completely on the other side of the island yet still attached to our original survivors, thus skeptical - perhaps irreversibly - when Juliet kills Danny just as he is about to shoot Sawyer. Maybe it's because she forced Jack to perform a surgery to save Ben's life, only to later tell Jack that the reason why was by doing so Ben promised he would let her go home.
Vampire Diaries - Elena is in prison, and Stefan is on the prowl for a cure
Caroline and Stefan are frantically looking for a doctor who can "cure" Liz while Elena is held captive at the Mystic Grill. Caroline stumbles upon her own blood as a potential cure by injecting some into a cancer patient who then magically transforms into someone seemingly healthy-looking, Cut to her giving some to mom (Liz), only for those of us at home to see said cancer patient dying horrifically from the aforementioned "transfusion."
This Is Us - Toby's heart attack brings the Pearson's together
The Toby heart attack midseason finale was a big one (both figuratively and literally) for the NBC hit back when it was a freshman wannabe hit. The Winter of the growing fans' discontent was upon them (us?), and none other than former NBC star Helen Hunt had actually directed the episode. But the series returned with the Pearson triplets in the hospital waiting room, awaiting the green light to go see Toby. Each Pearson child got equal screen time, but Kevin's love triangle vied for attention against brother Randall's. You see, the latter's involved his newfound father and the newfound news that he was recently in love with a man who was now back in the picture.
Alias - "S.O.S." stands for Save Our Sydney
That Jennifer Gardner. She made Ben Affleck wait. She made "Alias" fans wait. One midseason finale left loose ends all the way until April! "S.O.S." was the kind of comeback episode only a guy like JJ Abrams could be involved in, albeit peripherally by now. It was season five and picked up packed up with a daring rescue, an old friend returning, and both an unexpected surgery and goodbye.
House - There may be new residents but House is up to his old tricks
Only House could air an episode called "It's A Wonderful Lie" on January 29, after a lengthy Winter break. Now with Olivia Wilde and Kal Penn on board as series regulars, our crotchety doctor is treating both a Maggie and a Melanie. The former has paralysis that just might be psychological in origin, and the latter winds up being a prostitute that he catches in a nativity play at episode's end. Playing the Virgin Mary.
Medium - Our titular heroine learns a lesson the hard way
Before the much-deserved Academy Award, Patricia Arquette did several seasons as a medium who helped the police solve crimes. The season two episode "Method To His Madness" had the show burst back into its time slot after a good two months off only to show that there really was no actual method to hers; she had gotten something major wrong, and now a killer that everyone thought was locked away for good was actually still on the loose.