Chris Philpott examines last night's explosive Christmas cliffhanger episode of Shortland Street.

Harry Warner is still the most annoying character on the show, his dad is gradually turning into an all-out weirdo, Brooke turns out to have a deep love of Christmas movies, and the melodrama seemed to be ramped up to 11 for an entire hour - but, damn it, there is something exciting about a Shortland Street Christmas cliffhanger.

The much-hyped episode promised three fatalities over the course of an hour - a fantasy for any Shorty naysayer - and even the excessive amount of cheesy Christmas music and a dancing Chris Warner couldn't put a dent in the tension as we led up to that explosive final act.

The finale took a while to get going. The first half-hour was a little slow, marked by sibling disagreements, a great deal of exposition, and a good deal of cheesy dialogue - "you're getting a kidney for Christmas!" - but it was balanced by some sneaky good direction (courtesy of industry stalwart Oliver Driver) and a couple of interesting, if not legitimately good, performances from the likes of Beth Allen and Sam Bunkall.

Heck, you could go as far as to say Chris Tempest managed to do some decent work as evil bomber Josh, even if he was constrained by the generic dialogue he was given in this one.


And then it was all undone by the sight of Chris Warner leading the cast in a rousing rendition of the Mutton Birds' Anchor Me, which might be one of the most bizarre things that has ever happened on Shortland Street, at least that I've seen.

I did like the final sequence, though - and not just because it appears poor Roimata is a goner. Shorty has always done a good job with these large scale season finales, and last night's was no exception. Oversold though it might be, the drama in that final scene, and the over-the-top nature of Josh's revenge, made for a pretty exciting ending.

As a fireball consumed the exterior deck of the Warner bach, and as a plethora of major characters fell into the twisted mass of wood and barbecue food, it felt like a big moment for the show.

The biggest question now, of course, is who the three fatalities might be. It seems clear that one of the deceased is Travis, the abusive ex-husband of Vasa played by John Tui - he turned up dead in the parking garage below Vasa's apartment, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run. I've not been a big fan of that particular storyline, but I'm more hopeful that a whodunit centred on Vasa (Teuila Blakeley) might prove more entertaining.

Dayna's braindead mother might be another. Dayna and Kane decided to pull the plug on their dear departed mum, gifting Brooke a kidney in the process, but she feels like too minor a character to count as one of the three. If Dayna's mum is one of the three promised fatalities, that is a bit of a cop-out from the writers.

Morbid as it sounds, I hope we lose two characters at the bach, even though the promo for next season implies only one person there is going to pass away. If I was a betting man, I'd guess the most likely candidate is Roimata: the long-running character, played by Shavaughn Ruakere, was pretty close to the explosion, and Ruakere has been spending a bit of time guest-hosting on Seven Sharp. It seems logical to me.

I'd imagine the other likely fatality at the bach is somebody who has fallen from upstairs. Chris and Rachel were both right above the explosion, and heartbroken Emma was in the background - plus, who knows who else was on the deck when it collapsed.

Chris Warner is an institution at this point, so I think it's more likely to be Rachel: star Angela Bloomfield has left the show before, and is working more behind the camera in recent years. It might be time to say goodbye for good.

It's a guessing game for the ages - and the only safe bet might be that we have no way of predicting who might have perished in the fire.

Luckily we've got over a month to figure it out, and a decent enough finale to pore over in the process.

* Who do you think are the three fatalities on last night's Shortland Street finale? What did you think of the episode?