The Lure and Lull of Hella Long TV Plots

14 Aug

Some mild spoilers for Voyager (kind of), SVU (a little), and Damages (a tiny one). 

I’m always looking for something new on Netflix.  And I always want to start a new show that I’ve heard is amazing, but then I don’t.  I end up going back to something formulaic and episodic.

The thing is, sometimes I’m just not ready to commit to something for eternity even though the idea of it consistently makes me put things of this nature in my instant queue–things with rich mythology and evolving characters and moral dilemmas and twisty political plots.

For example, currently I’m stuck mid-season 3 of Battlestar Galactica.  I love the characters, and I’m intrigued by the story, and I want to know everything about the mythology, but I’m finding myself impatient.  Which is totally weird for me.  I love surprises!  I can wait for almost anything.

But I love the ideas in the show so much that I went online to research other people’s analysis, and I ended up half-accidentally uncovering a lot of spoilers.

I know, Cylon Xena.  That’s how I feel about it, too.

And now I’m having trouble watching the show because I know who the Final Five Cylons are, and I hate it because it does’t make any sense to me.  I mean, I want to know how the show handles this, and I’m on the edge of my seat every time I think maybe they’ll reveal some clues, but I’m still just upset with myself for being overzealous in my research.

I’m still committed to the show, but it’s just so taxing knowing that it all builds to one conclusion.  Like a movie that is days long.  And a lot of times, I just don’t have the energy to give the show its proper amount of my attention.  It’s like sitting down to read Middlemarch–there are so many plotlines and characters and expositions to remember and care about!  When all I want is just to know it already!

“Hi, I’m Seska. Remember that time I tried to seduce Chakotay with mushroom soup when all along I was cheating on Voyager with the Kazon (even though they have coral reefs for hair)?”

Unlike something like Voyager or SVU where you can watch any episode from anywhere and pretty much feel satiated.  Sure, you’ll know what season it is by Janeway or Benson’s hair, respectively, and you’ll get reminded about some vague, ambling plot arc that you’d totally forgotten about, like Seska’s nonsensical/awesome betrayal and Stabler’s short-lived partner-affair when Benson was undercover or something.

Hey, Benson.  In what season do you have a braid?…  YOU’RE NOT BENSON!!!

Eureka!  I think I’ve found the source of my frustration:  dramatic irony.

Dramatic irony–knowing stuff the characters don’t–can be so gratifying, but it can also be awful.

When you know that  Seven of Nine won’t be reassimilated in season 5 because you know she’s in season 6, it’s still nerve-racking to see her confront the Borg Queen, but it’s comforting knowing she’s in no real danger.

When you know that weird CSI is the killer in season 10 of SVU, you look for clues all season to see if it fits with his character and deliciously realize that it does.

When you know that Patty Hewes killed Terrible American Accent’s dog and blamed it on Frobisher, and then you see Patty give her a new dog all sweet and innocent-like, it makes your stomach churn and it makes you shout at the screen, “WTF, PATTY?!”

But when you know who the Final Five Cylons are and you know they’re probably not going to tell you until the last second when they’re throwing stuff together to end the show, it makes you feel cheated.  And also, that’s the stuff you’re most interested in–Cylon culture and history and religion and command structure and all that–but they always have to put Baltar in all those scenes even though he is the most annoying person on any show ever.

So maybe what I’m saying is that naturally revealed dramatic irony (à la Damages) and rewatch-dramatic irony (à la any show ever)  enhances a viewing experience because it helps a viewer connect more fully with the characters and invest in their lives enough to shout at the screen and feel confident knowing you know what will happen next but thrilling in the fact that the characters perpetually do not and perpetually make the same errors.

Forced dramatic irony–reading spoilers before you’ve seen the show–might detract from a work’s appeal because they take away your sense of urgency and agency.  You didn’t work hard watching the whole TV series to have the knowledge you have–you read a summary somewhere.  You didn’t suffer with the characters to get to this point.  And you aren’t in on any special structure.

I just don’t know.  Like I said, I’m usually very patient.  And I usually really like dramatic irony.

Maybe it’s just that the plot is too long for me.

I really like the structure of Damages for this reason.

There’s one big thing that happens each season, and you have to keep track of a million tiny details to put the big thing together, and there’s a lot of dramatic irony and foreshadowing and symbolism and all that lit class stuff, and then you can put that plot away for the next season–except for the emotional turmoil caused by that big thing, of course, which drives character development and other lit class stuff.  It’s the perfect size for me.

Battlestar Galactica, on the other hand, might just be a size too big.

Don’t worry, Madame President. I can’t abandon you. I haven’t even seen you in this awful haircut yet!

Or maybe I just haven’t been in the mood for it because I know it doesn’t really have a happy ending, and all I want to watch, because of my current kick, is Mama Janeway bringing people back from the dead infinity times, uttering really ’90s dialogue, solving everybody’s problems, brandishing ludicrous firearms, and wearing crazy outfits.

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