3:10 AM So the last episode just popped into my inbox and I have to admit, I’m hesitating to watch it. Because that’s it, no more Person of Interest after tonight. Fingers crossed that it’s a great exit.
So it’s 9 PM on Tuesday, and I’m setting myself up here, talking about “.exe” as the last episode plays (I won’t see it until about four AM), but I’ve been thinking a lot about this since Sarah posted how unhappy she was with the “.exe” episode. I loved it. And I think it comes down to expectation at the climax.
This episode had to follow the cataclysmic events of last week, and it managed to do so in the least effective way possible. It’s as if the writers of this episode were more interested in moving plot than in character and consequence, and as a result, the entire forty-odd minutes fell oddly flat as the show moved people through their paces, checking off boxes without any real emotional arc or connection with the viewer. This would be a bad idea any time, but at this point in the series plot, it’s a terrible idea. HUGE things happened last week; if you’re going to drop that kind of weight on your viewer/reader, the impact has to have equal weight. Think of “The Devil’s Share” after Carter’s death: the grim weight of that story showed that Carter’s death mattered, would continue to matter. This episode shows that Root is now the Machine so she’s okay, and Elias never mattered at all. There are no consequences to last week, and that undercuts not only this week but last week, too. Root’s and Elias’s deaths should matter; attention should be paid. Continue reading
Yeah, I wanted a drink after that last episode, too. Continue reading
The last act of a story has to be lean and mean. The story’s first three acts (or two or four or whatever) have burned away everything but this final push, our protagonist is in the crucible, and there’s only one real mandate: Fight Back.
In a hundred-thousand-word book, my last acts are usually around 15K sometimes less. That’s seven, eight, maybe ten scenes, tops, for my protagonist to pick herself up, get to the antagonist, and end the damn thing one way or another. This isn’t just for pacing purposes, this is for the reader/viewer, too. She’s waited a long time for this, so I don’t stop for anything else isn’t directly related to getting to that climax. This is the top of the roller coaster; don’t slow down on the final drop. Continue reading
So the first move after the crisis is the reset: the protagonist picks herself up and charges back into the fray, changed irrevocably from where she began and now determined to bring down the antagonist and achieve her goal or die trying. (Since this is Person of Interest, “die trying” is not an exaggeration.) And the first three episodes of Season Five did this: the five remaining Gang members (I’m counting Bear) are relatively safe back in their undiscovered subway lair (or in Fusco’s case, the police station), the Machine is relatively back to normal (big asterisk on that one), and the numbers are coming again. So this is the time for the Gang to move from recovery to assault; this is the last act and it has to move swiftly. And with “6741” and “ShotSeeker,” it does. Continue reading
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