Season 5 (part 4) – Impossible Decision & Point of No Return: Emotionally

Season 5

Dramatic Pace

Has two traits:

  • Impossible Decision
  • Point of No Return; Emotionally

Impossible Decision

Your characters face a decision that just seems straight up impossible.

Usually it looks like this: Your characters are faced with two equally terrible choices, and are forced to pick one.

That’s the most common expression of this “impossible decision” idea.

In some rare cases, you’ll present your characters with two terrible choices, and they’ll engineer a third choice out of thin air. This works, when the third choice is just as terrible as the two being decided upon. It’s not as great, when the third choice is some kind of cop-out where the problem’s solved and everyone lives happily ever after. That undermines the stakes. And creatively, it’s a terrible idea.

The decision you’re presenting to your characters is impossible, because no matter what they choose, they can’t live with that decision.

Usually, you’ll place the impossible decision at the very end of season 5. But you don’t have to.

Examples!

At the very end of season 5 of The Sopranos, we see one hell of an “impossible decision.”

Back in the day, Tony Soprano grew up with his cousin Tony Blundetto aka “Tony B.” They were close. In the eighties though, Tony B went to jail – for 17 years. Now, here in season 5, he’s finally out. He tries to go straight, but falls back into crime, and kills the wrong guys in a New York power struggle. Johnny Sack, from New York, demands that Tony Soprano hand over his cousin. Specifically to be tortured and killed for what he’s done.

Tony’s got an “impossible decision” to make. If he doesn’t hand him over, he’s at war with New York. If he does hand him over, he’s sending his beloved cousin to be tortured to death. It’s a pickle. But Tony’s a smart guy, he comes up with a third option. His solution is to track down Tony B himself, and give him a quick, non-tortured, death. He then tells Johnny Sack where to find the body.

Tony B dies, but at least it wasn’t horrifically painful. And though they’re unhappy, Tony’s avoided going to war with New York.

A solid resolution to an excellent “impossible decision.”

Let’s look at a different example:

Season 5 of LOST.

We’ve learned by season 5, that there was an “incident” on the island that the DHARMA Initiative dealt with by building the hatch and instating the numbers and button-pushing protocol.

Now stuck back in the 1970s, Daniel Faraday theorizes that if they detonate Charles Widmore’s H bomb, in the right place, they can stop “the incident” before it ever happens. They can nullify the electromagnetic pocket completely. Meaning the hatch, the button pushing – it doesn’t have to happen. Desmond doesn’t fail to push it one day, and Oceanic 815 never crashes. Our characters never end up on the island.

The impossible decision becomes: should they do it?

Do they purposely detonate a hydrogen bomb? Doing so could alter the timeline and prevent all the death and tragedy they’ve suffered since the crash. They could completely undo the history of all the events up until this point. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? It could do absolutely nothing to the timeline and just explode in their faces and kill them all.

It’s a tough call. After a lot of debate, and back and forth, Juliet sets off that bomb.

In this case, there were two choices, and one was chosen.

Point of No Return – Emotionally

Close out the era, in an emotionally impactful way.

In season 3, we had a “point of no return” that emphasized circumstance. This time, we want a “point of no return” that emphasizes emotion.

We see this in season 5 of Rescue Me. At the end of season 5, Tommy encourages everybody to fall off the wagon and get back into booze. This results in a fatal car crash for Teddy’s wife. Teddy blames Tommy for her death.

For Tommy, this is a big “point of no return; emotionally.” He’s indirectly caused his Aunt’s death. And his beloved Uncle just put a bullet in him for it.

Moving forward, things are never going to be the same, emotionally.

Grey’s Anatomy season 5:

At the end of season 5, George gets hit by a bus. The doctors desperately try to save him, but his injuries are too great and he dies.

This is a big “point of no return; emotionally.” One of their own, a fellow resident they’ve been working along side this entire time, a dear friend, has died. Things will never be the same for any of them.

So when tackling your season 5, be sure to deal with your dramatic pace by creating a compelling impossible decision, and a point of no return that focuses on emotional effects.



Season 5 (part 3) – Formations

Season 5

Dramatic Structure:

Has 3 areas of concern:

Let’s take a look at that…

Origin

Season 5 expresses its origin theme via:

“Formations”

Typically this will be tackled through:

  • Relationships
  • Organizations

Relationships

We see this in The Vampire Diaries. In season 5, we learn the true origins of the doppelgänger bloodlines. We see how the lines were originally formed by Qetsiyah, the vengeful witch, seeking to curse lovers Silas and Amara, the “first” Stefan and Elena. And how all the subsequent doppelgängers are destined to fall in love with each other. That’s some deep history on the original formation of this destined-lovers “relationship.”

Supernatural season 5. We learn that Sam and Dean’s relationship as brothers was not random chance but divinely ordained. They were specifically birthed into the world as human vessels for the Angels Lucifer and Michael respectively. Two brothers, born to serve as earthly containers for two angelic brothers. Sam and Dean’s relationship as brothers has been redefined, the true formation of their relationship has been given new meaning.

These are larger-than-life fantasy examples, but you get the idea.

As an alternative, you could easily spend season 5 showing us how two people met and became best friends. Or how a character’s parents originally fell in love. Anything that elucidates the formation of a relationship.

Organizations

Plenty of stories have organizations in the background. Season 5 would be a great time to investigate them in an origin-themed way. Unfortunately, for a lot of shows, this is untapped juice.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 5 – They could have explored the formation of the Watcher’s Council.

Smallville, season 5 – they could have investigated the formation of the Veritas group.

Sons of Anarchy, season 5 – they could have gotten into the original formation of the club.

All of these stories had great opportunity to delve deep into their organizations. But they didn’t.

For actual examples let’s take a look at LOST season 5:

Our characters jump around in time, some literally getting stuck in the 1970s. They visit some of the pivotal moments in the history of the island and important pieces of the DHARMA Initiative’s origins as an organization.

This is what we’re talkin’ about.

In Angel season 5, we’re introduced to the Circle of the Black Thorn. They are a powerful cabal of demons operating as The Senior Partner’s instruments on Earth. The story doesn’t get into the original formation of the group. But the fact that they formed long ago, as one of the oldest evil organizations on Earth, is vitally important to the story and our heroes deciding to take them out in a blaze of glory. Their existence sheds a lot of light on the formation of Los Angeles’ demonic underworld, with the Circle of the Black Thorn at the center of it.

When constructing your season 5, take care to deal with your origins theme via formations. Typically you’ll see stories express it through relationships and organizations.



Season 5 (part 2) – Salvation

Season 5

Dramatic Structure:

Has 3 areas of concern:

Let’s take a look at that…

Positive

Season 5 expresses this positive theme through:

“Salvation”

This “salvation” usually comes in the form of:

  • Protection
  • Redemption

Protection

“Protection” is when one character is trying to save another. Give them salvation from harm.

We see this in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 5. Buffy and her friends spend the season protecting Buffy’s little sister Dawn, from the inter-dimensional god Glory. Glory is stranded in this dimension, banished from her homeworld, and Dawn is the key to going home. However, to use Dawn as her ticket home, it requires a blood sacrifice (sacrifice, Animals!), that will kill Dawn and unleash the Apocalypse. The entire season is spent hiding Dawn, providing her salvation from this fate. “Protecting” her.

The Shield – season 5. Internal Affairs has got enough evidence on Lem to put him away, but they want the entire Strike Team, especially Mackey. They try to flip Lem but he’s not having it – he’s loyal to the end. Lem spends the season protecting the rest of the Strike Team from going to jail. For better or worse. He is actively providing salvation for his friends. Protecting them.

Redemption

This is a different type of “salvation.”

Our characters feel they need to make up for some great transgression, or flaw. They feel the need to redeem themselves. And once they do, they will finally reach some kind of salvation.

This plays a large role in season 5 of Dexter. At the top of season 5, Dexter blames himself for his wife Rita’s death. As he should, he wasn’t innocent in what happened to her at all. He struggles with his guilt. But when he meets Lumen, he feels he’s found a way to use his special set of skills in service of finding some kind of redemption.

We see something similar in season 5 of Supernatural. At the end of season 4, Lucifer was freed from his prison – the direct result of Sam breaking the last seal. Now freed, Lucifer is trying to bring about the Apocalypse and everyone is blaming Sam for making his escape possible. If Sam and Dean can stop the Apocalypse, if they can put Lucifer back in his box, Sam can redeem himself.

So when crafting your season 5, be sure to pay attention to this theme of salvation. You can explore it however you choose. But commonly you’ll see it expressed as protection, and redemption.



Season 5 (part 1) – Family

Season 5

Dramatic Structure:

Has 3 areas of concern:

First, let’s address that…

Connection

In season 5, this connection idea is expressed through:

“Family”

The most common expressions of this idea that you’ll see are:

  • Loss/Gain
  • Sacrifice

Loss/Gain

“Loss/Gain” is exactly what you think.

Characters either “gain” family – through a marriage, a birth, an adoption, etc. Or characters “lose” family – through a death, divorce, disownment, etc.

Let’s slice up a plate of examples!

Smallville season 5. Clark loses his father, Jonathan. He dies of a heart attack. That’s some clear and significant “loss of family.”

In season 5 of Mad Men, Don is remarried to his former secretary Megan. He brings her into his family, and embraces hers. That’s some big time “gain of family.”

Sacrifice

Typically you’ll see this expressed as someone making a sacrifice for their family. But occasionally, it’s someone being sacrificed by their family.

Examples!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – season 5. Buffy sacrifices her life to save her sister Dawn and the rest of the world. Pretty cut and dry. She sacrifices herself, for her family.

Sons of Anarchy – season 5. Opie takes Jax’s place in a prison execution. One of them has to die and Opie sacrifices himself to save his brothers. He sacrificed himself, for his (motorcycle club) family.

Notice that when we say “family,” it doesn’t have to be actual blood relatives. Anytime you have a group of people, connected by some kind of shared commonality or caring – you’ve got a “family.”

Alright, both of those examples were people sacrificing for their family. How about the flip side?

We see this on The Shield. At the end of season 5, Shane kills Lem to protect the rest of the Strike Team. Shane sacrificed him, for what he believed to be the greater good.

We see the same thing in season 5 of The Sopranos. Tony sacrifices his cousin Tony B., in order to avoid going to war with Johnny Sack and the New York families. He killed his own cousin, sacrificed him, because he believed it to be the best possible outcome.

In season 5, you can express this “family” theme however you like, but commonly you’ll see people do it with a loss/gain, or sacrifice.