It was a bloody, brutal episode of Shortland Street tonight in the 2017 Christmas cliffhanger, after Dr Chris Warner's arch-enemy Mason Coutts put into motion his revenge plot on Warner's family.

The last episode ended with a masked shooter gunning down Frank Connelly, Chris' son. Tonight's episode opens with the bloodied Frank being rushed to ER by his dad.

The shooter, it emerges, has been sent by Mason, who is meant to still be in jail but has plotted an elaborate revenge on Chris.

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"He wanted to punish me," Chris says. "I thought he wanted to kill me but it's worse, he wants me to watch my family burn."

The gunman goes on a rampage through the hospital and puts a gun to the head of Chris' son Finn's head.

"Mason says Merry Christmas", the gunman says, before Dr Warner proves himself a hero, saving his son and pushing the shooter out an atrium window to his death.

The body pops "like a water balloon full of mince" and Warner confidently tells his son "it's all over", just nine minutes into the episode.

Meanwhile Mason has managed to escape jail and has stowed away on a catamaran with his son Jasper and his estranged wife, Chris's daughter Sass, in the middle of the Waitemata Harbour.

Mason gives Sass an ultimatum - return to her old life with him, or pay the price.

"Go to hell," Sass says.

"I've already been - I prefer here," Mason says before sailing the boat far out to sea.

Sass manages to fire off a mayday call but Mason catches her and attempts to throw her off the boat. Jasper begs for her life.

"She's poison boy. She'll get inside your heart, weaken it," Mason says. "But you and me, we can conquer the world."

Mason moves to throw Sass off the boat and is attacked by his son. Jasper is mortally wounded in the struggle.

Mason has a rare tender moment and lets Sass turn the boat around to get help for Jasper but it's too late - he dies in his father's arms.

"You did this," yells an enraged Mason before chasing Sass into the yacht.

Back at the hospital an escaped prisoner has taken young Dr Esther Samuels hostage with a pair of scissors. She's engaged to Finn but he seems to have resigned himself to her being gone for good.

However her old flame Curtis Hannah is still fighting to find her - it's clear that he loves Esther more than Finn does.

Curtis finds her tied up in a car and beats the kidnapper senseless. But the terror has proved too much for Esther - it appears her weak heart has stopped.

The sun rises on Sass still stuck in the catamaran. She gets herself a speargun and stalks Mason through the boat.

She finds him and he reveals he has sent a shooter to kill her family, before she spears him in the gut and he falls overboard, dragging her with him. They struggle and he sinks to the bottom of the sea. But the empty catamaran has sailed away and Sass is left treading water.

Meanwhile Chris Warner, oblivious to the drama out at sea and believing his family is safe, has gotten very drunk. He awakens with a terrible hangover to find Virginia at the bottom of the stairs, apparently lifeless. Did she fall after drinking too much or was she pushed?

We're left with the camera zooming away from Chris checking Virginia's pulse; Finn performing CPR on Esther as Kurtis looks on, and the camera zooming out on Sass, alone in the middle of the ocean.