Season 8 – Like a New Season 1

Season 8

We spoke about long form storytelling in the sense of it being a seven season structure. Seven seasons to tell your story, and then you’re done.

But what happens when you go beyond season seven? Plenty of shows do it. What then?

When you go past season 7, the whole seven season cycle starts over again.

So…

Season 8, is just a new season 1.

You’ll deal with all the attributes of season 1 again:

Identity

  • Establish Old Identities vs. New Identities
  • Establish Character Roles

New World

  • New Circumstances/Location
  • Fresh Start

Old World

  • Old Circumstances/Location
  • World Change

Establish (new) Core Conflict

Full Circle

Thesis

Beginning of 1st Era

Then, as you move forward:

If you’re getting crazy and you go past season 14, then the cycle repeats again. Season 15 would be a new season 1, etc etc etc…

So what exactly do we mean by “a new season 1?”

We mean that you’re going to take a look at all of the things a normal season 1 does, and do those things again here in season 8. But notice, what you’re establishing in this season 8, should be done in stark contrast to what’s come before – in the season 1-7 cycle of the show.

If season 8 is truly a new season 1, then you’ll have to have a world change, a fresh start, a new world, etc. And this new world should be markedly different from the world of seasons 1-7. As different from them as season 1 was from the “old world” that existed before the show started.

So season 8 is in a strange position.

It is, essentially, two things at once:

  • A separation/negative/deviation season, when looked at in the context of the show from season 1 onward.
  • A connection/positive/origin season when seen in the context of the new cycle of the show being established (seasons 8-14).

This season serves two masters.

In a perfect world, every season 8 you see would play out this structure and serve as a new season 1.

But the world is rarely perfect, so you’re gonna see a bunch of shows that do something a bit different.

Typically, when a season 8 isn’t a new season 1, then showrunners make it a generic separation/negative/deviation season.

They’re continuing to pulse the seasons between connection/positive/origin and separation/negative/deviation in an effort to keep the narrative alive.

They treat their season 8 like a new, different, version of season 2, 4, or 6. In place of any specific traits for their season 8 (identity, new world, old world, core conflict, etc.), they just do thematically relevant stuff that would fit in any season 2, 4, or 6.

Is this a great idea? No.

By definition it makes for a pretty generic season. There’s no real change or development. The narrative is now spinning its wheels, pumping out a new season without building toward anything.

Let’s look at some examples:

House, season 8!

At the end of season 7, we saw House drive his car into Cuddy’s living room. Season 8 picks up with House in jail. Foreman gets him out on conditional release and back working at the hospital. Foreman’s actually taken over Cuddy’s position as Dean of Medicine, because she’s split town. Back at the hospital now, House is starting over – putting together a new team. Including new characters Park and Adams, and reuniting with Chase and Taub.

So there’s “separation” – in that Cuddy is gone and House has empty seats to fill on his new team. There’s “negative” – in that House is heartbroken and on probation, one screw-up away from going back to jail. And there’s “deviation” – in that these circumstances deviate from previous seasons.

With all of these things in play, it’s definitely a new era. And it should be. The season 6/7 era is over, so it’s time for a new one.

But!

This is not a new story. It’s not a new season 1. Notice, we’re not starting over. House is still doing his differential diagnosis work at the same hospital with a cobbled together team. The world and location haven’t changed. The core conflict hasn’t changed. We did some character swapping but those who’ve stayed have pretty much the same identities as they did before. Things have changed (in an “era” sort of way) but this is definitely not a new season 1. They’re just squeakin’ out one more year before taking their bow. Squeakin’ out one more season.

Let’s take a look at another example:

Smallville ran for 10 seasons. They did treat season 8 as a new season 1.

We’ve got the new world/location: Clark moved from his home town of Smallville, to working and spending most of his time in Metropolis.

We’ve got the new core conflict: Clark spent the first seven seasons hiding his alien origins and his abilities. In season 8, the core conflict is now all about using those powers, but actively hiding his identity as “The Blur.”

  • “Will they discover that Clark is an alien with super powers?”

becomes

  • “Will they discover Clark Kent is the super powered ‘Blur?'”

It’s a subtle change, but significant.

Our characters get a roster change: Lex, Lionel, Martha, and Kara are all out (for the most part). Oliver Queen, Tess Mercer, and Davis Bloome (aka Doomsday) are all in.

And we’ve also got new identities for those characters stickin’ around:

Clark is now a reporter at the Daily Planet and masquerading as “The Blur.” When we see Lana Lang again she’s used Lex’s Prometheus technology to gain super-powers. She’s a hero of her own now.

Not everyone gets a new identity, but thematically, the season has plenty of focus on this (new) season 1 “identity” idea.

Structurally, Smallville’s season 8 is really solid.

So when building your season 8, go for a whole new season 1.

Start a whole new cycle of your show. You can squeeze out another mediocre year if you want, but really, that’s the bland, boring, way to go.

If you’re gonna go for season 8, really go for season 8. Do it right.



Season 7 (part 2) – Individuality

Season 7

Dramatic Structure:

Season 7 has 3 areas of concern:

Positive

Season 1 expressed its positive theme via “new world.”
Season 3 expressed its positive theme via “creation.”
Season 5 expressed its positive theme via “salvation.”

Season 7’s positive theme:

“Individuality”

We mostly see individuality expressed in two ways:

  • Loss/Gain
  • Mentorship

Loss/Gain

In season 7, characters either lose their individuality, or gain it.

We see some loss of individuality in season 7 of Smallville.

This season sees the arrival of Clark’s cousin Kara. She too is an alien from Krypton and has all of Clark’s powers here on Earth. Clark’s no longer the only super-powered survivor of Krypton. There’s now another, just like him. He’s lost his individuality.

We see some gaining of individuality in season 7 of Rescue Me.

In season 7, Tommy is being pressured to retire from the firehouse. His wife is asking him to break away from his crew and take a desk job – for the sake of their new baby. At the same time, the crew is a tight-nit group as it always has been, but everyone spends the season considering their singular, individual, futures. Everyone’s gaining their individuality.

You see this a lot in stories that are based around a team. As their story comes to a close, teams, groups, or families, tend to go their separate ways. They gain their individuality from the group.

Mentorship

This is really a special kind of “loss of individuality.” By definition, it is one person teaching another person everything they know, taking on a protégé and communicating all the wisdom they have to share. If they do their job right, then they’ve definitely lost their individuality a bit. They’ve purposely made a kind of copy of themselves.

Let’s take a look at this idea in action.

In House season 7, current medical student Martha Masters is put on House’s team. She’s young, green, overly naïve, and for moral reasons refuses to ever lie to patients. She is the opposite of House in every way. House, now put in the position of the reluctant mentor, spends his time demonstrating the value and necessity of deception and pessimism. He’s trying to teach the most valuable lesson he knows – that everybody lies. In his attempts to teach her this, he’s trying to make her more like him. Classic mentorship.

Sure, it’s an unusual type of mentorship. You could almost argue it’s a little negative, and corrupt-y. But it’s mentorship all the same.

If you want an example of your garden variety, more positive-based mentorship…

Take a look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7. All season long, Buffy plays mentor to the potential Slayers she takes in. Protecting them, teaching them, training them. And ultimately, magically sharing her Slayer power with all of them.

There used to be one Slayer (more or less) in all the world. Now there are hundreds of them. That’s a big loss of individuality, and definitely mentorship.

So in season 7, be sure to explore this positive theme of individuality. Loss, gain, and sometimes specifically expressed in the context of mentorship.



Season 4 (part 1) – Disbandments

Season 4

It’s a new era Animals!

Dramatic Structure:

Has 3 areas of concern:

First up, it’s all about that…

Separation

Here in season 4, this separation idea is expressed through:

“Disbandments”

We see all kinds of disbandments in season 4, but…

The most common types you’ll see are:

  • Partnerships
  • Marriages

Partnerships

The disbandment of a “partnership” would be like what we see on The Shield:

Season 3 ended with the Strike Team having a big fight over the cash they stole from the Armenian money train. When we pick up with them in season 4, the Strike Team has disbanded. Shane has transferred to another station and is working Vice with a new partner. Lem is working for the juvenile system. Vic and Ronnie are still at the Barn, but they’re basically on desk duty.

The Strike Team has been dismantled, separated, disbanded.

We see something similar on House:

At the end of season 3, House fired his diagnostic team. Now in season 4, his old team has scattered to different departments in the hospital and House spends the season putting together a new team.

The old one has been disbanded.

Marriages

In season 4 of Mad Men, we see a definite disbandment.

At the end of season 3, Don and his wife Betty called it quits. When we pick up with Don in season 4, he’s single, living in an apartment in the city, and basically dating every woman he’s ever met. Betty is pursuing a new husband in Henry, the man she met last year as her marriage was slowly falling apart.

For season 4, the Don/Betty marriage has completely disbanded.

We see an interesting example on Sons of Anarchy:

Most shows, will blow a relationship up at the end of season 3, and then move forward with a disbanded duo in season 4. Sons of Anarchy does it a little differently. They spend season 4 actively disbanding Clay and Gemma’s relationship. We get to see the “how” and “why” as their marriage slowly implodes over the season. It’s not a common way to pace this piece of story, but in S.O.A.’s case, it works pretty well.

So when dealing with this separation idea in season 4, make sure to pay attention to your disbandments. And if it helps, go ahead and express it through partnerships and marriages.



Season 3 (part 4) – Fallout & Point of No Return: Circumstantially

Season 3

Dramatic Pace

Season 3 has two traits:

  • Fallout
  • Point of No Return; Circumstantially

Fallout

The events that take place in season 3 as a natural and direct result of the events that occurred in season 2.

You don’t just start all new material in season 3. Instead, you want to dig into the fallout, the repercussions, the effects of all that occurred in season 2. If you did season 2 right, then you did a lot of major stuff: your “meaningful death,” “dragonslay,” etc. The “fallout” of these events are played out in season 3.

At the end of Supernatural season 2, Azazel, aka Yellow-Eyes, succeeded in opening a Devil’s Gate right before Dean shot him. When the Devil’s Gate opened, a whole bunch of demons escaped. Season 3 is then spent trying to take out these newly escaped demons. The Winchesters spend season 3 trying to clean up the “fallout.”

But it doesn’t end there, the end of season 2 also saw Sam getting killed, and Dean made a deal with a crossroads demon to bring him back. Dean has one year until that debt is collected and the hellhounds come for him. Season 3 is spent trying to get Dean out of this deal. More “fallout.”

Breaking Bad has an interesting amount of fallout in season 3.

Season 2 culminates with the death of Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane. Her distraught father is an air traffic controller, and his grief causes him to crash two planes into each other. Season 3 plays out the aftermath of this plane crash as pieces of the wreckage literally fall out of the sky. We’ve got some literal, and metaphorical: “fallout.”

Jesse checks himself into rehab trying to deal with his grief and his part in her death. That’s more “fallout.” Walt deals with his part in what happened. He could have saved Jane, but deliberately chose not to. While he does seem to be struggling with that choice (fallout), he’s doesn’t feel any real guilt. Maybe just a debt to Jesse.

The biggest form of “fallout” we see is with the Salamancas. In season 2, Hank killed Tuco the crazy drug dealer. In season 3, Tuco’s cousins come looking for Hank, to settle the score. That’s some big time “fallout.”

You get the idea.

Point of No Return – Circumstantially

Season 3 is the end of the season 1, 2, 3 era. And at the end of an era, you’ll always see a “point of no return.”

The moment that closes out the era.

A way of defining what’s come before, from what comes next.

For season 3, this “point of no return” is specifically about “circumstance.”

The first 3 seasons have some kind of unifying circumstance. At the end of season 3 you need to close out this era by leaving that circumstance behind. Like graduating high school or quitting a job.

At the end of House season 3, Dr. House fires his diagnostic team: Foreman, Cameron, and Chase. Up until this point, it had been the four of them solving medical mysteries. Their partnership had defined the first era. But now that House has fired them, he’s changed everything. It’s a circumstantial “point of no return” for the show.

At the end of LOST season 3, we see a flash to the future, and learn that some of the survivors eventually make it off the island. This is a big deal for the story. The show’s narrative then transitions from the flashbacks of the first 3 seasons, to flashforwards that will be used for the next era. For the show, it’s a “point of no return” in not just the events of the plot, but also the storytelling narrative itself. Impressive work.

So when pacing your story, make sure season 3 deals with the “fallout” of what’s come before, and lands on a solid “point of no return; circumstantially” in the end.