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 4 (part 4) – Even Trade of Characters & Promotion

Season 4

Dramatic Pace

Has two traits:

  • Even Trade, for your roster of characters
  • Promotion

Even Trade

In season 2, our previous separation/negative/deviation season, we had a change in our roster of characters with “new blood.” That meant we were bringing in new people – explicitly adding to the story’s roster of characters.

For an “even trade” in characters, this means…

We’re gonna lose some, and gain some, in equal measure.

What does this look like? Let’s take a peek:

In season 4 of Friday Night Lights they traded show regulars:

  • Street
  • Lyla
  • Smash
  • Tyra

for

  • Vince
  • Luke
  • Becky
  • Jess

That’s 4 for 4. That’s a straight even trade.

Glee did the same thing. After season 3, most of the glee club graduated. And while we kept up with some of them, like Rachel, Kurt, and Santana – others fell by the wayside, only making the occasional appearance, like:

  • Mercedes
  • Quinn
  • Mike

With a lot of the group having graduated, the club needs new members. So in come:

  • Jake
  • Marley
  • Ryder
  • Kitty

Generally speaking, that’s an even trade. Out with the old and in with the new, as life goes on.

An even trade of this size works best on large ensemble shows. The smaller the cast, the smaller the trade.

Promotion

What this means, is a little difficult to pin down. But basically:

The quality of your show has to go up. The show has to get better.

You’re giving your story a “promotion” in the eyes of the audience. The show was good before, but now it’s really killin’ it.

Why? Why do we need to specifically make the show so much better than before? Well, it’s been 3 full seasons now. Most shows don’t last even that long.

If your show is going to go for a second era, then you’ve got to show your audience that there’s more story to tell. You’ve got to open up the story to bigger and better things. You’ve gotta show them that the best is yet to come.

Let’s take a look at a story that really nailed the promotion:

LOST.

For the first three seasons, LOST was doing fantastic things with the stranded-on-an-island idea. But to “promote” the story, they moved past the mysterious island angle and opened up the story to bigger and better things. We’re shown that in the future, some of the survivors get off the island. Things get weirder, more complex, as mystery upon mystery teases itself into the future. More intricate mythology, and deeper, wider reaching questions, about not just the island, but: Why these people? Why go back to the island?

This is what we mean when we say “promotion.”

They even took it one step further in promoting not just the story content of the show, but the format as well. Season 4 ditches the flashback format from the previous era, and instead utilizes the flashforward format in the new era. That’s a definite promotion. Good work, LOST.

A more subtle example would be something like Dexter.

Season 4 pushed the quality of the show to new heights. The first three seasons were quite good, but season four really hit its stride and arguably achieved the series’ high point: Rita’s death.

Now, we understand this “promotion” idea can be fairly subjective. Especially when one of its main components is:

“Hey, make it ‘better.'”

But keep in mind, the general idea of the promotion is to open the show up to greater possibilities. Breathe new life into the overall story by leaving behind what’s already been explored – search out new vistas. Specifically new, cooler, more interesting vistas. Season 4 should feel like the meaningful culmination of everything that’s come before.

It’s like reinventing the show in a way. By season 4, you need to communicate to your audience that not only is there more story to tell, but better story to tell.

But what if you don’t promote. What’s the harm? Well, then you’ve got what we call a:

Slump

If the quality of your show was solid all through seasons 1, 2, and 3. And then you stick to the same general level of quality in season 4, then you’ve “slumped.” The show can’t stay the same level of quality. Because even if they don’t consciously realize it, the audience unconsciously needs things to get significantly better after the first era’s over.

Promoting isn’t an option, it’s a necessity for the longevity of your story.

If season 4 doesn’t take the story to new heights, then it’s no longer building with forward momentum, it’s sliding backward into inferiority. The best days of the story will be behind you and your audience will feel it. They will lose interest and stop watching. They’ll be thinking:

“The show peaked, what’s the point?”

It makes sense right? The first chunk is over, and they want the next chunk to be that much cooler. They want it to be an improvement upon the foundation set by the first era. If it’s just more of the same, they’re going to lose interest.

A lot of shows have suffered a slump in their season 4, and then never really recovered from the lost momentum:

  • Nip/Tuck
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Rescue Me

They all had more seasons, sure. But the quality of the show never really recovered. Nobody really loved the show as much as they did previously.

They all coasted too much in season 4. These season 4’s weren’t necessarily worse than seasons 1, 2, or 3. But not explicitly better either. As a result, you’ve got no “promotion,” but a “slump” instead.

You can recover from a slump, but it’s an uphill battle.

Arguably The Sopranos did it. Season 4 was not great. It was too much of the same from the past 3 seasons. The circumstances weren’t very different, no real shake-up, nothing bigger, badder, more interesting, higher stakes. It was just continuing on from season 3, still playing out things that probably should have been wrapped up last season. As a consequence: it’s a slump.

Not a huge one. But a noticeable one.

Season 4 was arguably their weakest season, when it needed to be one of their strongest. But, season 5 got things moving again. It’s arguably one of their strongest. It picked the quality back up, and things worked out in the end.

What if your season 4 isn’t the same level of quality, but noticeably worse?

Oh boy…

What if you’ve “run out of ideas” and season 4 is worse than any part of the season 1, 2, 3 era? That’s a true slump that’s very difficult to recover from. A noticeably bad season 4 is a show breaker.

So when putting together your season 4, make sure to swap out an even number of characters for new ones. And go out of your way to up the quality of your show. Open it up to new ideas, grand new story threads, and a general sense of everything getting more meaningful and even better than ever before.



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.