Unforgettable Story Moments

I was thinking of Magnum PI today because I’ve just read that Glen Larson died. Magnum was only one of his many creations, but it sticks in my mind because of one moment that was so devastating, I even remember the name of the episode. And it makes me think about what makes a story moment so powerful, so iconic, that it stays with you forever. I think most examples probably come from film, but there have been moments in books when I sat up and gaped at the page, not just because they were such plot game-changers, but because their impact was so huge on my perception of that character.

If you haven’t watched “Did You See the Sunrise?” skip the next couple of paragraphs.

SPOILERS START HERE:

I first saw “Did You See the Sunrise” in 1982, so I was a jaded old married lady by then. Magnum was a fun show to watch: Tom Selleck and John Hillerman snarking at each other made up for the lame mysteries, and the show had a strong cast and story community. There were some brutal Viet Nam flashbacks that I think were there to set up why Magnum was so serious about pursuing a good time now, but generally the show didn’t move anybody out of their comfort zones.

And then they did “Did You See the Sunrise?” Magnum’s Viet Nam past comes back to haunt him in the form of Ivan, a Russian assassin, who blows up Magnum’s car just as one of his friends (and long time recurring cast member and therefore a friend of the audience) says, “Did you see the sunrise this morning? Beautiful.” Bang. At the end, Magnum has Ivan alone in the jungle in this moment. And that was the end of the episode.

The reaction to that was phenomenal. Heroes did not execute people, even assassins. They killed in self defense, to save people in immediate danger, they did not shoot unarmed men in the face. And Magnum was one of the great, iconic heroes of the decade; how could he possibly have done that? And yet, you wanted him to. The scene made the audience complicit in its brutality, its understanding that sometimes fair play is for suckers, and it’s flat-out endorsement of murder as a solution. But mostly, it’s the first time you really understand who Magnum is. The Viet Nam flashbacks tell you how horrible the war was, the hell he went through, but it isn’t until you see those normally laughing eyes go cold that you realize there’s a whole ‘nother dimension there.

It reminds me of another iconic moment I’ve played over and over, the end of Life. Just as the Magnum series kept hitting the damage the war had done to its title character, so Life kept hitting the damage prison had done to its protagonist. You see him healing in the broken places throughout the series, but the cracks are always there, you just don’t know how deep they go until the very end when he says, “Do you know how I survived twelve years in prison?” and transforms into a savage killer before your eyes. A moment later, a corpse beside him, he’s normal again, but your perception of the character is changed forever. (And my admiration for Damian Lewis as an actor went into the stratosphere.)

SPOILERS OVER.

I love those moments. They mean I can go back and read/watch the same story and have it all be completely new. Great episodes have those moments that change everything that came before in that episode/chapter (“Gordon, you’re wearing my shirt”), but the truly iconic moments change entire books/movies/TV series because suddenly the characters have dimensions you never saw before. And of course, I’m trying one of those now in the book I’m doing, so I’m fixating on that.

Which brings me to my question of the day: What are your iconic story memories, the moments when your mouth dropped open and suddenly everything was different, richer, deeper, better?

(Spoilers encouraged, so if you’re a spoiler phobe, don’t read the comments.)

90 thoughts on “Unforgettable Story Moments

  1. Highlander. Season Two. The Darkness. SPOILERS

    I spent Season 1 and the first part of Season 2 falling in love with Duncan and Tessa’s relationship. It was such an adult relationship without the dumb games (remember Moonlighting?) that a lot of tv shows were doing at the time. Tessa was not an immortal but she could stand her own ground and they laughed together. In bed.

    Then came the Darkness. And they killed Tessa.

    In those days I didn’t have a VCR recorder so I kept trying to run through it in my head. It wasn’t one of those – he loves her so she has to die shows like Bonanza (or any other Western or cop show from the 1970s) They had an actual relationship for a season and a half and they killed her for the story. And she didn’t disappear the way dead lovers usually did – she’s actually grieved for both in that show and in later episodes.

    But it made the story stronger and as much as I hated it at the time, I remember it made the story stronger.

    It also made me worry about any character I liked in Highlander -because it didn’t matter how long they had been on or how much you liked them – Highlander would and did kill anyone for the story.

    The Magnum episode was wonderful. Thanks for reminding me. Did you see the one where Mac’s doppleganger comes back and at the very end it’s Mac’s ghost?

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    1. Man, Tessa was awesome. I still remember that episode when some insane immortal came to kill her and she was basically all, “THANK GOD you’ve come to kill me!” and then somehow crazily managed to talk him out of it while still going along with his delusion. Genius.

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    2. I thought that was such an unusual (and good) choice they made at the start of that series, that the goodlooking romantic hero was in a serious, longterm relationship. They’d already been together a dozen years when the show began, and they also behaved together like a real couple, including arguing heatedly at times, lightly bickering at others, etc., and were a happy and committed couple.

      I also really liked the actress they chose for that role. Lots of character and layers. But she had auditioned for the role without (I gather) realizing it would mean spending half a year away from her family every years for a number of years, and it also sounds like she may have gotten a little bored with the role–she has said in interviews that she decided it was time to step down when she ran out of new ways to say, “Mac… be careful.”

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  2. OK, How many seasons of Magnum do I have to watch to get caught up on this thread? 😉
    I would have watched Magnum, but it was on TV on a night that was bad – remember when life was like that? However, with a setting in Hawaii, it would have been on the family schedule, because my mom loves Hawaii.
    Anyway, I actually saw an episode in a Mass Communications theory class in college. I didn’t have any context, because I had never seen an episode, but I remember coming in cold and thinking “Wow. There’s a lot going on in the TV show that I had no clue about.” I still want to watch it.

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    1. You may still want to watch Seasons 1 and 2 or at least a good number of them before you watch it.

      Because it’s what Jenny was talking about in her post – it’s not just this episode (which was good)it’s the change. It’s that Magnum is this goofy kind of guy with a Vietnam vet past but still a kind of light hearted guy through most of the episodes and then there’s this one where his friend dies. He’s serious about solving the crime, he gets beaten up or not, but he’s not really a suffering hero through most of the series up till now. His biggest problems are money problems where he’s bumming rides off TJ or drinks off Rick or annoying Higgins.

      And believe me, you want the Russian dead. You know having watched all of the Magnums up to this point that Thomas will just be frustrated and the Russian will get away and you want him dead.

      And then Magnum changes – shifts into the guy who went through Nam as a Naval intelligence officer. And as powerful as that moment is – it’s the shift from what you think you know to what is possible that gives this episode its power.

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  3. That moment in Life always gets me, it’s why I’m glad they ended it when they did even though I miss it terribly.

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  4. Ancilliary Justice…when you realise that what looks like a suicidal and pointless act of rebellion is actually very carefully planned and will shake the universe.

    Lucifer the comic by Mike Carey where somebody goes from being a tortured soul in hell to holding both heaven and hell temporarily, purely by strength of character (and good sword-fighting), and when a character that has been mute through both Sandman and Lucifer finally speaks. Also a character demanding that she be the god of everything *except* hedgehogs.

    Come to think of it, the end of “the girl with all the gifts” also by Mike Carey.

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  5. I remember that ep of Magnum, and thanks, Jenny. I felt guilty for not feeling guilty that I was unsympathetic to Magnum killing that man. I also enjoyed Magnum’s tragic romantic turn in the episode, “Memories Are Forever”. Magnum shot and laid bleeding in the street as he loses the woman he loves…again. It moves me every time I see it.

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  6. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, has a plot that goes along — it’s a fun adventure plot, with intrigue and character interplay and revelations and changing dynamics, all meshing neatly into a pattern — until near the end, when the author gives the story a quarter-twist and suddenly everything you’ve seen is part of a *new* pattern, that now makes perfect sense even though you never suspected it.

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    1. Rozasharn,
      Exactly! The Thief is one of my top favorite books ever (and that’s saying a lot; I have several that fit that criteria but The Thief is way up there in the list)

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      1. I love that book, but it felt to me like she was unrolling the story and every, Every, EVERY time it looks like one thing, BOOM, it twists again. I loved it for the twistyness.

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    2. I just re-read Whalen Turner’s 4 novels. I love picking up things that I missed the first time. And the 2nd and 3rd time too. She layers her details well.

      The Thief is a great example of an author who manages a great twist while never having the narrator lie to the reader. The trust isn’t broken.

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  7. In Gone With The Wind, when Scarlett and her family are starving, someone knocks on the door and offers to buy Tara. He gloats that he knows that back taxes are owed on Tara and that Scarlett’s family is broke. Scarlett reaches down, picks up a handful of dirt, throws it in his face, and says, “That’s all of Tara you’ll ever get.”
    Scarlett seemed so shallow at the beginning and I think this scene shows the depth of her strength — she won’t be cowed by people who knows she’s broke. And of course it’s rude to throw dirt in someone’s face but it feels so right here.

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    1. Here’s the thing that has always struck me about Scarlett: she is very self involved and not a pleasant person. Melanie is the sweet, likeable one. And yet Scarlett is the one who Saves Everything, and we end up wanting to slap Melanie silly. That movie has always struck me as being a good mirror on life, actually. I know people like Melanie; but when the chips are down, it’s Scarlett I want on my side.

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      1. I always thought that was why they were friends, Scarlett was Melanie’s friend cause Melanie was a truly good person and Melanie was Scarlett’s friend cause Scarlett was a survivor, she had that sheer steely strength underneath to do what needed to be done, Melanie didn’t have it but needed it. Even when Melanie gave food away, it was Scarlett’s food

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  8. It’ll be cliched, but The Usual Suspects and Memento. The reveals there absolutely fit the narrative and the character, and if the audience pays attention, they were invited in on the answer in the first viewing.

    For TV shows, Criminal Minds seems to be fond of shifting audience expectations. “100”. Hotch, the quiet, studious guy listens to his wife’s murder, then kills a serial killer with his bare hands to keep his son safe. He spends a lot of time dealing with it, but he’s still Hotch, just… shifted a bit. In other episodes, seeing Reid’s mother explains a lot about him, and having Morgan go back and deal with his childhood rapist- how many other shows would dare give a their big, muscled guy that backstory?

    NCIS: Tony, the happy-go-lucky, movie-quoting wiseass has a season long relationship… that is all an undercover operation. Complete shift of my understanding of the whole 4th season. I also like the repercussions: he fell in love with her, and it’s broken almost all his relationships based on trust. He has to choose whether he tries to fix his relationship with the woman, or with the NCIS team.

    Scandal. Holy shit. Huck, Quinn, Jake, Olivia’s dad, Mellie, Cyrus, OLIVIA. Everyone goes darker and edgier because they feel the circumstances call for it, and the aftermath is all a matter of watching them try to get back to who they were before, or keep their demons on a leash. (Though, I am so over Fitz and Olivia.) I think apparently squeaky-clean Jake’s reveal that he’s been spying on Olivia was a small step, but the his clear-eyed, level-headed acceptance that he would be doing horrible things may be the most amazing characterization I’ve watched. Then watching him ask Olivia to save him from himself… yeah. Need to get that on DVD and study it.

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    1. The scene where Hotch & Reed are interviewing a serial killer in prison and the guy tells them – guards are changing and you’re stuck in here with me for 10 minutes and I killed her in 3.

      and Hotch takes off his suit jacket and says “But I’m not a little girl…”

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  9. I heard this news on All Things Considered, and was bummed out. Gary Larson also produced Knight Rider, which was one of my favorite shows at the time. Talking car that does snark? YES! I don’t remember anything else from the show besides the buddy-buddy give and take between the car and his human.

    And now, in 2014, my GPS does talk to me. I wish it were more like KITT, except I’d probably crash it into a tree if I had to deal with that kind of back talk in real life (and in traffic).

    I tip a glass in honor of Mr. Larson.

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  10. Spoiler for Agents of Shield – when Ward turned around and shot Agent Hand and everyone else on the plane except for Garrett. I literally sat up, hand on face, swearing in amazement.
    Did not see that coming, and it was a clear cut case, there was no way it was an undercover thing.

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    1. That was when SHIELD stop being awful and became amazing. I kept thinking, “She was Hydra, right? RIGHT?” Nope, Ward is an evil, unhinged bastard who really is in love with Skye. Then they took part of Fitz’s brain away and made Mary Sue go undercover in Hydra, and May (who had always been fabulous) slammed the faux-May’s head into the coffee table, and it’s now one of my two must-see shows, almost as good as Person of Interest, which is another show that does an outstanding job of ending each season with a reversal that makes the series a whole new ballgame in the next year. How they’re going to top last season’s turn is beyond me, but I say that every year and they always do something astonishing. That show has probably opened up my plotting more than anything else I’ve read or watched. They’re fearless.

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      1. Agents of SHIELD actually turned around and became good? Is there a particular episode that I can jump in on, and skip all the other not so good ones? I’d given up on that show after a half dozen episodes, despite it being Joss Whedon affiliated.

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        1. It was wretched until The Winter Soldier came out. Then it took off and it’s been pretty amazing ever since.
          I’d say start at episode 16 The End of the Beginning. You’ll miss some stuff, but the shows are so excruciatingly bad up until then, it’s not worth it. Read recaps. Once you find out that Ward is an evil son of a bitch and the team is stripped of everything and thrown into the wilderness on their own, it becomes really good comic book fun.

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    2. OMG, yes, I did the same thing, mouth hanging open saying “I did not see that coming”. Boy, that was a good one. Love SHIELD anyway. One for me too, was when they shot Kate on NCIS. I couldn’t believe it. But then our Ziva came onboard. I still expect she will return when she finishes her mini-series.

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      1. Kate’s death was a shocker. I didn’t like the actress or the character and it was still a shocker.
        Much worse was losing Carter on Person of Interest. That was devastating, and they still haven’t recovered fully from it.
        Buffy’s mother’s death was another shocker. That’s one of the best TV episodes I’ve ever seen, and one of the best portrayals of grief in any media.

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        1. Oh my goodness, that was a great episode of Buffy. So, so good. I remember crying myself when Anya sobbed about not understanding why Joyce would never “eat pancakes or brush her hair ever again”.
          Yep. Didn’t see that coming.

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        2. It’s the fact that when Buffy realized her mother was lying there that she said “Mommy” instead of “Mom”. I tear up every time.

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        3. The problem with Carter dying was that I didn’t feel like it was to further the story, just to allow the actor to go on to other projects. I like how they have made Lionel step up though. He went from a bumbling everyman character to more of a hero. Makes you feel that anyman/woman can do it if necessary.

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  11. I wonder if it’s harder to do the big switch moment in a novel, because you see what the POV character is thinking. If you pull back from deep POV to make it work, is that cheating the reader? Usually it feels like cheating to me.

    SPOILER: Mockingjay has a moment where Katniss goes to see Peeta after he’s been rescued. Instead of being glad to see her Peeta, who has loved her all along, tries to strangle her. It makes perfect sense because he’s been brainwashed, but it’s unexpected, because we are always in Katniss’ POV, and she’s been fighting to save him.

    I’m racking my brain trying to remember a moment of character change in a novel such as you describe for Magnum. Once again, I think for it to surprise, you’d have to see it from outside the character, but I can’t come up with any examples this morning.

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    1. As long as it’s not a POV character, it will be outside the character. But I’m like you, I can’t think of a lot of them. Some of Heyer’s romances have some reversals, and a lot of mysteries do, of course.

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    2. Force 10 from Navarone. The follow up novel to the Guns of Navarone. There’s a pair of characters in there that switch from one type of character to another to a final and each time I thought, of course that makes sense. (Basically from cute colorful characters to one of them is cute colorful and the other is a spy to both of them are actually leaders of the Resistance.

      But Alistair McLean did that a lot in his earlier novels where you could never be sure who was friend and who was foe.

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    3. The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan does a great job of this, but to explain any more would be a massive spoiler.

      I think mysteries often do it, just not about the narrator; to do it with a pov character, they’d almost have to be an unreliable narrator.

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    4. I love that the big shock for Katniss becomes that the one person she counted on to love her unconditionally starts to voice all her deepest held fears and worst interpretations of herself. He’s become the voice of the Capital, but because he’s saying what she’s really feared all along about herself she can’t dismiss it and it guts her. The attempt to strangle her was just icing on a nasty cake.

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    5. I think books lend themselves to big switches because of unreliable narrators – when you the reader realize you believed someone in the book that you shouldn’t have, or that you saw something from a limited perspective because of the narrators’ pov and suddenly your understanding of a character or a situation changes.

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  12. The Sixth Sense movie is one I’ll always remember for the truth revealed at the ending, and for how it made that movie different when I watched it again.

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      1. Not from the tagline because I wasn’t paying attention, but from the shooting. When I told my roommate after the movie, I thought she was going to shoot me.

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        1. At least you waited until after the movie. Around minute 15, I blurted out to my husband, “Doesn’t it seem like he’s actually dead?” By minute 30, he said, “I can’t believe you ruined the whole movie for me,” which he repeated approximately every 5 minutes until the end of the movie.

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      2. Nope, I knew too. Same with The Crying Game. People, if there’s a huge plot twist in your movie/tv show/book don’t advertise it. Seriously. Saying “There’s a huge plot twist” just makes people figure out what it is.

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  13. Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief is a gorgeous example, and there is some of that twist to the following books as well.

    I know you disapproved of the final Leverage episode, but watching that the first time, and then watching the retelling of it was powerful for me; basically seeing each of the characters come back to life again was so reassuring and also devastating.

    There were a bunch of SFF books that were written feeling like one thing and then shown to be from the alien POV when humans arrived. My favorite of those is C.J.Cherryh’s Pride of Chanur. All the Chanur books are a series of breakneck doublecrosses and unexpected reveals, with aliens and matriarchal space-faring lions.

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  14. The very end of the very last episode of Forever Knight. Our intrepid hero Nick Knight, homicide detective and vampire, has spent three seasons trying to be a good guy and not kill people. His longtime ally and romantic interest, Dr. Nathalie Lambert asks Nick to turn her into a vampire. Nick takes too much blood and she dies. After everything else Nick has lost, this is too much. He begs his sire and occasional arch-enemy, Lucien Lacroix (Nigel Bennett, love him!), to kill him. Lacroix argues with Nick but in the end, picks up a stake and says very calmly “Damn you, Nicholas.”. And blackout.

    This was so unexpected and sudden and over, I still remember how stunned I was. I’ve seen other shows since then but I think that this was the first time that a TV show pulled the rug out from under me and left me with nowhere to go.

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      1. I agree with you about The Sopranos ending. A great ending to a great show. I think people didn’t get the ending because, like the ending of Forever Knight, it left them with nowhere to go. Did Tony survive? Was he killed? No neat little ending all wrapped up in ribbon. Folks are uncomfortable with ambiguous but I’m glad that there was never another Forever Knight series. And I hope they never do a Sopranos movie. Some things should remain a mystery.

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  15. The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith is not for everyone (trigger warnings for violence, including sexual violence), but I found it compelling, especially the resolution at the end (which is not completely resolved, actually, but the protagonists can see enough of the future to be going on with, especially as long as they have each other).

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    1. I read that book last spring and I loved the part (SPOILER ALERT) where she kills that guy with a blojob. It was so out of the box and it was such an “I’ll use everything I am and everything I know to survive” moment. And definitely warnings for violence of all stripes, not to mention graphic interspecies fraternization. It was just a hair off dino-porn.

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  16. And I just realized that I don’t mention the twist in The Last Hour of Gann that brings things together. It’s not a realization about the real nature of a character, but the characters’ realization about the real nature of the world they’re in/on and being faced with decisions about what they can and should do with the new (to them) information. I like where they go with it.

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  17. Also saw the Larson news and spent a moment appreciating him. That’s my second favorite Magnum episode. It ran a year after we adopted the abused kids and this former pacifist had changed to the point of seeing murder as an acceptable solution for some humans.

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  18. For those of us with very long memories, there is an iconic episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, whose title I can’t remember, in which a solitary elderly woman battles two tiny alien creatures in spacesuits who have invaded her farmhouse. Since I haven’t seen this episode in fifty years, I can’t recall all the details, but I still remember my shock in the final moments when the camera draws into the miniature space ship to reveal the NASA insignia and you hear one of the dying aliens radioing to his command that they should stay away, this planet is peopled by hostile giants…

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    1. Or in the Twilight Zone – the original one – where Burgess Meredith plays a religious person persecuted by an anti religious state (it’s assumed to be the US in the future).

      Mainly a two man show with him and his prosecuter where Meredith plants a bomb (supposedly) in his apartment and locks the two of them in.

      There is a bomb and he lets the prosecutor out. And the prosecutor is even more destroyed than if he had been blown up.

      Burgess Meredith is responsible for some of my favorite TZ episodes.

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    2. The Twilight Zone episode I remember is after an environmental or maybe nuclear disaster, a lone man is wandering, I’d guess around New York, and in the end stumbles on a library in ruins, but the books remain. He is so thankful he cries. Then his glasses fall off and break. Heartbreaking.

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    3. I remember reading a short story in high school called How to Serve Man, which was also made into a Twilight Zone episode. Aliens come to Earth and offer to take select groups of humans to their planet for some good sounding reason – the main character is a translator who works for the UN and works on the alien language. He’s translating a book of theirs he found – the title is How to Serve Man. And at the end of the story / episode, when he’s about to get on the alien ship, he realizes the book’s a cook book.

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  19. A long long time ago, I read Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles and was blown away by the richness of those novels. Six books set in…I think the 17th century. (My memory, it fades…) I had accidentally started with the second book and years later, went back and read the first, which was densely written. It’s great, I might not have completed the series if I’d started there.

    SPOILERS
    Anyway, there are so many shocking reversals in that world, since Lymond is a spy. He’s given up everything that he is–his reputation, his wealth, his family, and, in fact, encourages their belief that he is horrible and a villain, in order to get into the places he needs to get into and do the things he needs to do… and he’s made sure everyone knows he doesn’t give a damn about his family so that they can never be tortured and used to stop him from what he needs to do to save them and his country. He’s just an absolutely remarkably drawn character, and there are two moment which stands out to me all these years later.

    There’s a young woman, a friend of the family, and he’s known her since she was a child, and she’s kidnapped. They’d had some interactions before that, and he knows that’s why she’s been taken–to be used, very badly, and to try to get to him, and even though she isn’t anyone special to him, he tells himself, he goes into an awful situation to save her. There’s this moment when it hits him that he’s completely, shockingly, in love with her, and that moment poleaxes him in such an amazingly simple moment. Just poleaxes him, and now his world just got a helluva lot more complicated.

    There’s another moment where there’s another type of shocking reveal, and when I read it, it was, and remains, the only book where I set the book down and sobbed. It had to be done, and it was terrible and so beautifully rendered, and he changes so much as a result, that it’s just an amazing choice by Dunnett. And she’d been building to that moment for five books. I was floored.

    The language is dense and beautiful, and the plotting is intricate and detailed, but the characters are where Dunnett truly shines.

    I want to re-read them, but I’m almost afraid to. I’m 20 years older now from when I read them, and what if they don’t have the same “wow” factor now? I don’t want to ruin that… but I want to see them all again… hmmm. The dilemma…

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    1. They still have the wow factor! I was mesmerized, and horrified, and crying – such an intense set of stories all following so hard on each other. If you want other Dunnett, there are the the House of Niccolo, which are just as intense, and set in older times, so the differences (and the similarities, actually!) to modern life and even more haunting.

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      1. Niccolo Rising, first book of the House of Niccolo series. The last page of the book inverted the assumed reader viewpoint operating from the first page. Plus, Dorothy Dunnett knew how to construct arcs, both of individual books and of series. She was so subversive.

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        1. Rob Thurman writes science fiction/urban fantasy/paranormal books that blow me away. Her book “Trick of Light” has to be one of my favorites for the twist at the end which I did not see coming. Recommend all of her series but this book fits this request best.

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    2. Dunnett is phenomenal at those shifts. Lymond, Niccoló, even the Johnson series – the world building is so lush and the characters manage to be both true to themselves and startlingly, shockingly fluid. The choice Lymond makes during that chess game; Niccoló in Byzantium, the way Rita becomes whole – Dunnett’s work is so solid, I reread and am still shocked by the changes. I just got King Hereafter in ebook and am about to reread for the first time in 20 years. Yay!

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  20. I just realized that this Magnum P.I. episode is what Archer referenced in the episode “Placebo Effect”.

    Selleck is really good here. The shift from normal, very good-looking guy, with dimples and amazing facial hair, to same looks but darker, is subtle and well done.

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  21. In Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow she does this. The characters find out the truth or the “twist” as the readers do, so it plays fair. And it’s very sobering and thought-provoking and definitely a sort of “oh, shit” moment that recasts everything. And that I, at least, didn’t really see coming.

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  22. I think Radar’s announcement of the destruction of Henry’s plane in the M*A*S*H episode ‘Abyssinia Henry’ was it for me.

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    1. Oh yes. Radar’s face – you knew something bad was coming. And the scene ended perfectly. The moment of utter silence, the dropped equipment, and the slow resume of business as usual. Heartbreaking.

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  23. I’ve been watching Justified for the dialogue and Margo Martindale, love her. There are a few moments which have left me with my mouth open, especially the first season in which she was a main character. She played such a tough, almost emotionless character, one who had seen everything and treated her children with such vile behaviour. I haven’t seen the last season yet so am hoping the writers have done it justice.

    Remember the Magnum episode, it was a moment where we wanted him to kill him and didn’t think he would.

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    1. I’m still not sure if Raylan just wasn’t paying attention or if it was just a small act of mercy on his part.

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    1. I am obsessed with The Blacklist. I blame my friends on this blog for it.
      Last week’s fall finale had a reversal that made me… just… Oh, come ON!

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      1. Raquel, I know the one you mean, and I was like, NO EFFING WAY. Because that reversal doesn’t (yet) make sense with what that particular secondary character had been saying and doing for a while, but… knowing them… they’ll make it work.

        If ever there’s a need for an example for an immoral / bad main character being absolutely compelling and likable in spite of his actions and able to carry an entire story, Raymond Reddington will be right there at the top of that list.

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        1. Absolutely. Raymond Reddington is riveting, and I firmly believe I would feel quite differently about him if he were portrayed by someone other than James Spader.

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          1. I’m rewatching season 1 right now, and making notes. I’m waiting on season 2 until I can see it properly on dvd.
            SPOILER
            It’s early on, so I don’t know if it counts for the purpose, but the moment when Lizzie stabs Red in the neck with a pen. That was a definite “Whoa! She ain’t no twinkie!” moment for me. But I love Lizzie for that – every time you make the mistake of thinking she’s a bambi-eyed victim, she goes and does something that reminds you of what she’s capable of… all without losing that vulnerability.

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  24. One of my favorite moments in cinema is at the end of THE WIND AND THE LION, when the Risuni’s trusted co-chief enumerates everything they’ve lost and the bad things that will happen to them now. And the Risuni says, “Ah, yes, but has there never been one thing in your life for which it was worth losing everything else?” And the two of them start laughing, and it’s initially rueful, and then it’s joyful. And this story which moments ago had seemed to end tragically, with the underdog hero defeated, disgraced, and abandoned, instead ends on what feels like a celebration of human spirit, as their laughter goes on and on, happy and carefree.

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    1. Oh, just thought of another. This one is similar to the Magnum scene in a way. Before he was a sexy vampire on TRUE BLOOD, Stephen Moyer played Kazik in UPRISING, quite a good miniseries about the Jewish Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943. Kazik is a light-hearted fellow in extremely dark times, a bit of a rogue and a ladies men, jokes a lot, etc. Eventually, 4/5 of the way through the story, he’s in the sewers under Warsaw with a Pole whom the Jews have paid to show them an escape route (without knowing the way, they’d die in the miles of sewers). At a certain point, the Pole decides he’s risked enough and is leaving. So light-hearted Kazik, suddenly wearing the face of a cold-blooded killer, pulls out a gun, points it in his face, and gives him a choice between showing Kazik the rest of the escape route or dying here and now.

      As the Pole gives in and turns his back to continue the job, we see the gun in Kazik’s hand shaking so hard he can barely put it back in his holster, and the expression on his face suggests he was so scared he might have soiled himself. He rose to the moment because he had to, and would have put a bullet into someone because this was a matter of life-or-death to the few survivors left in the ghetto–but it sickens him into near collapse as soon as the moment has passed.

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  25. The Terminator (first movie) was the most unique romance. Basically a horror/thriller (Arnold Schwarznegger was SO scary) wrapped around a romance with a hero sent from the future to save the life of the mother of the future savior of the world. Except the hero becomes the father of this child – this child that sent his father back into the past and to his death, to save her. Just an amazing story wrapped in a shoot em up.

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    1. I love, love, love the Sarah Connor Chronicles for some of the storytelling moments and the character growth. And there are some amazing moments that leave you going “Wow!”
      SPOILERS
      Some of the moments when Cameron (Summer Glau) does, or allows, some horrendous things without blinking, and you’re very firmly reminded that she is a terminator that mimicks human emotion, sometimes convincingly, but she’s still a killing machine.
      The moment when John Connor shows that he knew that his girlfriend was really sent from the future to influence him, and you suddenly see the leader he’s becoming.
      And Shirley Manson… I could watch the whole series just for her.

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  26. Way OT but I have to tell everyone I know: Slings & Arrows is now on Hulu Plus. Or it’s been on HP and I just found it. What a treat.

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  27. Jenny, I remember that you, too, like Things.. Both the iPad and iPhone versions are currently free in the App Store. Finally I don’t have to use the iPhone version on my iPad!

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  28. I remember that episode of Magnum. I saw it on repeats after school and it made me gape. I’ve remembered it for years. Recently I Netflixed Magnum PI and saw it again. Even though I knew it was coming, it still got me. Also that his pals were involved in the setup.

    Just caught the end of Life. If you watch the episode again, notice the use of the lighting. Half of Crew’s face is in shadow for many of the shots, there is a constant play of white and black, shadow and light. You don’t need to do that for TV, and they did it anyway. Sign of a good show.

    For another great show with the most perfect ending, if you haven’t seen it, catch the british version of Life on Mars. It’s only two series, but wow, wow, wow! Fan-tas-tic.

    L

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  29. We didn’t meet Boo Radley until the end of the last act but his character was very much part of the story. He was boogeyman. And then the bedroom door swung open, and the light fell on his face, and he wasn’t the boogeyman. That reveal took my breath away. Still does.

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  30. The episode ‘War Zone’ in season 6 of The Closer when Brenda, Gabriel and Sanchez drive a gang member back to his house and leave him as he’s slowly closed in on by his very angry gang. She tells him “Don’t worry Tyrell, I’m sure I’ll be looking into your eyes again very, very soon.” and then climbs into the car and makes Gabriel drive away. Right up until they drive away you think she’ll relent and let Tyrell revoke the deal but she doesn’t. It’s unsettling and it throws a different light on her.

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  31. Well, movie-wise, No Way Out is a favorite. The one that I recall in literature is reading The Vampire Lestat after reading Interview with the Vampire. But of course, that was a second book with a second POV.

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  32. I love that you dropped in a Sports Night reference!

    Dollhouse was so very twisty, practically the entire series kept my jaw dropping, as did the movie Memento, especially at its ending/beginning. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora also constantly surprised me. The resolution of Once and Again’s “The Gay-Straight Alliance” episode was marvelously memorable. The movie Latter Days had a really striking second-to-last scene that deepened the meaning of prior scenes and changed, well, everything. So did the ending of Matt Myklusch’s Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation. What happened with the character of Ziri, from the events of the second into the events of the third book of Laini Taylor’s Gods and Monsters series, was so intense. I could go on but will stop there. =)

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  33. I know this is an old post and it’s possible that no one will see this comment, but hope springs eternal and your question immediately made me think of two examples.

    First, the singing episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy died saving the world and her sister, and her friends finally succeed in finding magicks that bring her back from the dead. There is much rejoicing. The world was not the same without its hero and her friends’ couldn’t really live without her either. But she’s back and everything gets back to normal. Except Buffy doesn’t seem to bounce back. And in the singing episode, in the very last words of the very last song, Buffy sings that the place she had been pulled back from was not a hell dimension (like where Angel was banished) but was in fact Heaven. She had been happy. And at peace. She had done her job, saved the world and the people she loved and was rewarded and not having to fight anymore. And the people who loved her couldn’t let her go. Buffy says “I was in Heaven. I think I was in Heaven.” And suddenly you see that her friends’ actions completely anew.

    I was shocked.

    2. Remember the scene towards the end of the movie Firefly where Mal is fighting with the government assassin? The assassin worked for people that essentially kidnapped, tortured, and brainwashed gifted children like River and were the jackbooted thugs Mal had fought against in the war. Up to that point we had watched the assassin kill people on his own team, activate River’s programming turning her into a killing machine just to make her easier to find, kill Mr Universe just to stop him from helping Mal, threaten to kill a woman Mal loved, and worst of all killing an entire community of innocent people (men, women, children and priests) and every other person who ever helped Mal just to make sure Mal had no where to hide. So we loathe this man with everything in us. I want very bad things to happen to him. Very bad.
    Then during the fight, he and Mal banter. Assassin says he is doing what he must to make a better world (long story to explain how this could be true) and Mal retorts, “So me and mine gotta die so you can get to live in your better world?” The assassin says something like, “Of course not. There’s no place for me in that world. I’m a killer, Mal.”
    And I was shocked. Like being hit in the head with a hammer. I already knew the assassin had a code of honor he believed in, but I hadn’t thought that he understood how reprehensible his actions were and did them anyhow because he believed he was creating a better world, but not for himself. The idea of this kind of self sacrifice in a villain was startling.
    I often think of these two moments and still try to puzzle out why they are so intriguing to me. Did anyone else find them interesting (if anyone sees this)?

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    1. I loved both of those.
      I thought one of the biggest weaknesses of Serenity was not keeping that antagonist front and center. He was terrific.

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