So here’s the problem with last acts: You have to pick up after the splat of the crisis (“Oh, my god, we’ve lost!”) and show how the protagonist charges back into action without stopping to explain too much. My favorite solution to this is one from an old radio series (although this may be apocryphal) about Jack Armstrong who, at the crisis point, falls into a tiger pit and is surrounded by snarling cats who advance on him . . . followed by “Tune in next week!” Then the next week begins, “After Jack Armstrong got out of the tiger pit . . .”
But 2016 has a much pickier audience than the 1930s, so there’s no “after the Machine Gang escaped from the Samaritan forces,” PoI has to show how they did that, which gives us “B.S.O.D.” aka, “The Blue Screen of Death,” which is what you get when a computer (and a big plan to save the world) crashes. Continue reading
The last two episodes that make up the fourth season finale of Person of Interest, “Asylum” (Andy Callahan & Denise The) and “YHWH” (Dan Dietz and Greg Plageman), are another crisis point, which brings up the problem of the long-running series: How much worse can things get without the turning point of the season finale being just one more horrible thing that happens to people we love? Continue reading
We’ve been talking about time in story so much, I thought “Terra Incognita” would be a good episode to look at to discuss time and reality disruptions, specifically the differences among flashback, memory, dream, and hallucination, and how they can break or–in this case–make a story.
My love for “The Devil’s Share” as great emotional storytelling will probably never be surpassed, but “If/Then/Else” gets my vote for the most mind-boggling forty-five minutes of scripted TV I’ve ever seen. And it’s all because of point of view, the wonkiest of writing techniques.
Point of view is a pain in the ass to navigate because it’s always a win/lose choice: Continue reading
One of the major problems of this season is that it’s so damn complex. Finch has to be a professor and deal with students, Shaw is still selling perfume and driving the getaway car for thieves, Reese is buried under paperwork while trying to save people, and only the Machine knows what Root is doing. And then there are the numbers . . .
“Nautilus:” Samaritan is recruiting, luring a brilliant young mathematician into danger to dismantle a Blackwater analog that’s in competition with Samaritan. Finch tries to save her, but in the end, it’s Samaritan who rescues Claire and enlists her on its side. This is not good.
Which brings us to “Wingman.” Continue reading
In any long-running series, no matter what the medium, writers come up against the same conundrum: People want the same but different.
They want the same things that have made them love the story over the course of several films/years/books, they don’t want anything they love to go away (SAVE BEAR!).
But at the same time, everything they love about the story is the reason it’s starting to feel shopworn: we’ve been here before. “Didn’t they do that in Season Two?” “I love X, but if she says/does Y one more time . . .” “Really? Another number of the week to save?” Continue reading
One of the conceits I’ve been working with here is that Person of Interest is a five-act novel, each season finale acting as a turning point, an event that swings the story in a new direction, raising the stakes, changing character, and escalating the conflict by hurtling the plot forward. If you prefer a classic screenplay structure, then Season One is Act One and the upcoming Season Five is Act Three, leaving the middle three seasons as the arcing middle act with the devastation of Carter’s death hitting at the midpoint/point of no return.
But act/turning point designations don’t have to fall into a rigid pattern. They’re there to make sure that a long-form story keeps reinventing itself, not to make a fill-in-the-blanks framework for story. So I’d argue that there are two crisis points in the Person of Interest novel: this episode which defeats the Gang, and the climax of Season Four, which defeats the Machine, a one-two punch that sets up the desperate final act, which begins next Tuesday (May 3), a shortened stretch of narrative that raises the reader/viewer’s anxiety about the story to a fever pitch before providing catharsis in a final story-changing climax.
Well, I’m worried, anyway. Those PoI writers will kill anybody. Continue reading
When I chose the episode and craft topics, I did it by memory. As a fan of the series, I loved “RAM,” so I thought it’d be a good way to talk about “good backstory.” Watching it now as a writer, it’s still an excellent story on its own (another written by Denise The), but in the context of the series as a whole, it has two main purposes: explain what happened in the past and provide fan service. The problem is, while it’s fun to know what was happening to Finch and Reese before they joined forces (even more fun to see Shaw at her murderous best), there is nothing in the story that we needed to know. It’s a good episode, but if you were editing the season as a novel, this episode would go. Back story kills, people, no matter how well it’s written.
Previously on Person of Interest: Continue reading
One of the most heinous crimes a writer can commit in relationship stories is the Big Misunderstanding. After spending many chapters/episodes building a strong relationship that the reader/viewer can invest in, instead of looking at the very real, character-driven problems that might test a bond, the crisis descends into a misunderstanding that any solid relationship would defuse with an intelligent question. If you want a strong story, forget the “I saw you kissing that woman” “That was my sister” stuff; give your relationship a real test, something that just talking won’t solve. That kind of test almost always goes to character: In this situation, no matter how much this character believes in this relationship, he or she has to walk away. Continue reading
Previously on Person of Interest:
“The Perfect Mark” is one of those everybody’s-crooked con stories that was probably pretty good, but by this point, the HR story is so compelling that it just got in the way of the good stuff, culminating in the shootout in which Lasky dies, Carter shoots his killer, and gets the dying crooked cop to point out the head of HR: Quinn. Best part of the entire episode: That fistbump between Reese and Carter in the car. It’s a beautiful thing. Continue reading