Episode Seven

Have you noticed the new formula of every Netflix / Amazon / whatever streaming "genre" show?

  • Ep 1 + 2: The Mystery.
  • Ep 3 - 6: Fambly and Crying.
  • Ep 6: Mild cliffhanger.
  • Ep 7: DEEP FLASHBACK: prequel episode exposits the entire mythology.
  • Ep 8: Resolve Ep 6, but set up several more cliffhangers for a Season 2 that's probably not going to happen.

Seriously, it feels like this Episode Seven hack has been in almost every series I've watched in the last several years.

Once you see it, you won't be able to un-see it. I'm sorry.


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29 Responses:

  1. Krisjohn says:

    I think there's a rule at Netflix that they can't greenlight anything where the whole season has been written. The last couple of episodes must be struggling and ultimately end up weak enough for you to question why you watched any of it.  Disclaimer: We canceled our Netflix subscription a couple of months ago and haven't missed it yet.

  2. It's like what they tell golfers. "You can come to the course every day, but I can't move the fuckin' holes."

    • Koleslaw says:

      I hate to be "that guy" but the one thing golf courses do to change it up is move the location of the holes on the green.

  3. prefetch says:
    Confirmed. The "hmmm - upgrades" version of the four act play. At least the acts are broad enough to allow plenty of leeway and variety to hit the required mark, whereas these days "YOU ARE NOW WATCHING THE FLASHBACK EPISODE".

    One list that's stood the test of time is Van Dine's '20 Rules For Writing Detective Stories' (1928). It's fun to tick them off while watching genre-conformant shows ("the deader the corpse the better"):

        1. The reader must have equal opportunity with the detective for solving the mystery. All clues must be plainly stated and described.

        2. No willful tricks or deceptions may be placed on the reader other than those played legitimately by the criminal on the detective himself.

        3. There must be no love interest. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal altar.

        4. The detective himself, or one of the official investigators, should never turn out to be the culprit. This is bald trickery, on a par with offering some one a bright penny for a five-dollar gold piece. It’s false pretenses.

        5. The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

        6. The detective novel must have a detective in it; and a detective is not a detective unless he detects. His function is to gather clues that will eventually lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter; and if the detective does not reach his conclusions through an analysis of those clues, he has no more solved his problem than the schoolboy who gets his answer out of the back of the arithmetic.

        7. There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. Three hundred pages is far too much pother for a crime other than murder. After all, the reader’s trouble and expenditure of energy must be rewarded.

        8. The problem of the crime must he solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic se’ances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.

        9. There must be but one detective — that is, but one protagonist of deduction — one deus ex machina. To bring the minds of three or four, or sometimes a gang of detectives to bear on a problem, is not only to disperse the interest and break the direct thread of logic, but to take an unfair advantage of the reader. If there is more than one detective the reader doesn’t know who his codeductor is. It’s like making the reader run a race with a relay team.

        10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.

        11. A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn’t ordinarily come under suspicion.

        12. There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders: the entire indignation of the reader must be permitted to concentrate on a single black nature.

        13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. A fascinating and truly beautiful murder is irremediably spoiled by any such wholesale culpability. To be sure, the murderer in a detective novel should be given a sporting chance; but it is going too far to grant him a secret society to fall back on. No high-class, self-respecting murderer would want such odds.

        14. The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure.

        15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it. By this I mean that if the reader, after learning the explanation for the crime, should reread the book, he would see that the solution had, in a sense, been staring him in the face-that all the clues really pointed to the culprit — and that, if he had been as clever as the detective, he could have solved the mystery himself without going on to the final chapter. That the clever reader does often thus solve the problem goes without saying.

        16. A detective novel should contain no long descriptive passages, no literary dallying with side-issues, no subtly worked-out character analyses, no “atmospheric” preoccupations. such matters have no vital place in a record of crime and deduction. They hold up the action and introduce issues irrelevant to the main purpose, which is to state a problem, analyze it, and bring it to a successful conclusion. To be sure, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

        17. A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. Crimes by housebreakers and bandits are the province of the police departments — not of authors and brilliant amateur detectives. A really fascinating crime is one committed by a pillar of a church, or a spinster noted for her charities.

        18. A crime in a detective story must never turn out to be an accident or a suicide. To end an odyssey of sleuthing with such an anti-climax is to hoodwink the trusting and kind-hearted reader.

        19. The motives for all crimes in detective stories should be personal. International plottings and war politics belong in a different category of fiction — in secret-service tales, for instance. But a murder story must be kept gemütlich, so to speak. It must reflect the reader’s everyday experiences, and give him a certain outlet for his own repressed desires and emotions.

        20. And (to give my Credo an even score of items) I herewith list a few of the devices which no self-respecting detective story writer will now avail himself of. They have been employed too often, and are familiar to all true lovers of literary crime. To use them is a confession of the author’s ineptitude and lack of originality. (a) Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect. (b) The bogus spiritualistic se’ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away. (c) Forged fingerprints. (d) The dummy-figure alibi. (e) The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar. (f)The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person. (g) The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops. (h) The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in. (i) The word association test for guilt. (j) The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unraveled by the sleuth.

    • jwz says:

      Reading that list makes me never want to watch or read anything even remotely related to a "detective" story again. That's just a mad-lib.

      • david konerding says:

        That's just the rules for the subgenre that is "for the folks who like to solve mysteries while reading".  If you followed that list exactly, then The Big Lebowski wouldn't be a detective film ("[Dude]: Oh, man - my thinking about this case had become very uptight! Yeah! Your father!" and the brother shamus scene)

      • prefetch says:

        It's surprising readable considering it's pushing 100 years old, and even more so when learn its heritage (written by an author who had just been bedridden for two years recovering from overwork/cocaine addition, reading hundreds of detective novels out of frustration and boredom during).

        And vastly superior to the other, more famous list, Knox's '10 Commandments of Detective Fiction' (1929), by a writer who went on to form a mystery writer's club with the likes of Agatha Christie:

        1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

        2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

        3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

        4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

        5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.*

        6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

        7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

        8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

        9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

        10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

        The long form is decidedly more painful to get through.

        * More positive than it seems - a call to stop using Asian stereotype characters prevalent at the time.

    • thielges says:

      #9 completely ruined Scooby Doo for me.  Thanks a lot man!

      But seriously my favorite detective series, Vera, violates about half of these rules.

    • bq Mackintosh says:
      Applying all 20 of these may well qualify your work for a very narrowly defined niche. Or put it another way, violate one of them and I suppose one could argue that your work is not of this very narrowly defined niche.

      For example, I'd argue that the X-Files was certainly of the detective genre and even just its premise violated items 9, 13, and 14 at minimum. Blade Runner violates items 8 (the Voight-Kampff test, e.g.) and 4 (I'm one of them!). I'm not sure how many of these Memento violates but it's, you know, a lot of them.

      That said, I think there's a subset of these that are pretty solidly true of any piece of fiction premised on unraveling a mystery. Number five, in particular, stands out to me (emphasis added):

      The culprit must be determined by logical deductions — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated confession. To solve a criminal problem in this latter fashion is like sending the reader on a deliberate wild-goose chase, and then telling him, after he has failed, that you had the object of his search up your sleeve all the time. Such an author is no better than a practical joker.

      In some ways, purposefully violating this precept is the entire premise of the aptly title Infinite Jest. It's a practical joke on the reader, and if the reader is game, it'll be a fun ride. But you're gonna get your chain pulled a lot.

      I'd also argue this is the flaw in Severance. (Noting that our host disagrees with me on this point in characteristically pointed fashion.) The whole thing is predicated as a mystery, namely, What's going on here exactly? Evidence is provided but it doesn't matter, it's all smoke screen, and in the end it will be revealed that nobody knows what's going on here. I'm pretty sure that includes the screen writers.

      My personal predicate is that if you're going to tell a story about a mystery, the solution needs to come together in such a way that the viewer/reader can say, "Oh wow! Yeah, ok, I can piece that together!" If you draw someone in with a mystery and then resolve the mystery with something the viewer/reader could never have seen, it's not a mystery.

      • Mc says:

        and 4 (I'm one of them!).

        Wait, what?

        • bq Mackintosh says:
          1. Come to think of it, that'd explain why I keep failing those Prove you're not a robot tests, wouldn't it?
          2. …but less entertaining, eh, that parenthetical should have been targeted and deleted in the editing process but apparently escaped scrutiny and arrived unscathed. Clever little fucker. The parenthetical is the replicant! Etc.
    • Those rules are actually suggestions for how to write genre-twisting detective stories by breaking exactly one of them.

  4. Ben says:

    Yep, and if Season 2 does happen it's usually terrible.

    In fact Season 2 is the often terrible even if the show didn't follow the formula. I call it Netflixitis.

    So many of these ideas would have made good movies instead.

  5. Joe says:

    WandaVision was the same, just in the 8th episode instead of the 7th. But it still gets points for execution that most Netflix series don't.

  6. Carlos says:

    Also: the characters stumble around for the first 6 episodes, acting randomly with no damn good reason for anything.  If they acted sensibly, the big conflict would have been resolved by episode 3.

    • Eric TF Bat says:

      I too used to believe that the stupidity of characters in these fictions was implausible at best, and lazy writing at worst.

      Then I saw 2020.

  7. CSL3 says:

    When my brother changed his Netflix password years ago, I had a feeling I wasn't missing out on much anymore. Now I'm sure of it.

    And I even saw the shit Quibi had to offer.

  8. bob says:

    There's the occasional episode 7 where the flashback is better than anything in main show, and you wish you'd seen that episode and nothing else. Yes, I'm looking at you Mythic Quest.

  9. Chris says:

    Is "fambly" just supposed to mean "family" or is there some meme I'm missing?

  10. Dan Hon says:

    Tired: Hero’s journey
    Wired: Streamer’s Journey

  11. pakraticus says:

    How much has this diverged from "Save the Cat"?

  12. Eric TF Bat says:

    At least these short seasons avoid what I call the Mirror Darkly effect, which is when a series (for example, Enterprise) does something new and different that demonstrates just how much better it could have been if whoever came up with the idea for that episode had been given free rein to do more on the show as a whole.  There was a flashback episode on Heroes that had the same effect, and I expect it shows up a lot with flashback episodes but not exclusively.

    • jwz says:

      I read somewhere that if Enterprise hadn't been cancelled, they were considering doing an entire season in the Terran Empire.

      • Eric TF Bat says:

        In a sense, that's what the back half of S1 of DISCO was, which proved pretty conclusively that it wasn't anywhere near as awesome an idea as the Enterprise episode made it seem.

      • Why couldn't they have just done the Romulan war like we wanted and avoided the pebble people?

        Sorry, I'm currently working through DS9 and enjoying the Dominion War so I'm extra bitter.

  13. Thomas Annandale says:

    Can someone please list the shows? I don't know of any other than "Lost".