So, recently you probably heard about this episode of Hawaii Five-0 (I watch Hawaii Five-0 sometimes, for a number of terrible reasons. Among them: my regular TV only gets three network TV channels; I never remember when Hawaii Five-0 is on so it keeps taking me by surprise; Grace Park is hot to death. I guess that last reason is an okay reason), where they had the audience text in who they thought the murderer was. The writers wrote THREE DIFFERENT ENDINGS, and the ending you voted on would be the one that happened! It’s like a choose your own adventure novel, except with Scott Caan infringing on the civil rights of murder suspects.
Here is the thing. I think this is not a bad idea.
It’s not a bad idea, but it’s executed with the staggering wrongheadedness of a production team that imagined that people would rather watch a show starring Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin instead of a show starring Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim (I MEAN COME ON). Here is what happens in that episode: there is a murder, and there are three different suspects, each with a motive (well, two of them have motives, one of them is apparently just an idiot), and then the audience votes and decides who it was who the actual killer was.
So, this makes sense if two things are true: 1) you’ve got a bad-TV-producer’s understanding of plot, which I assume is something like: “anything can happen! Cause and effect have nothing to do with each other! Actions do not precede as necessary components of a narrative!” and 2) you have no idea what a “mystery” is.
In the first place, of course, you’ve got to fail to understand that a well-executed plot is one that’s both surprising and inevitable: i.e., that you couldn’t have expected it, but now that it’s happened, you can’t see how it could have been any other way. And so it’s defeated on the first level because not only DID you expect it, but you specifically requested it, and it’s defeated on the second level because not only might it not have happened this way, but they flat-out said that it DID happen two other ways.
In the second instance, you have to forget that the reason that people like mysteries is because we like figuring out what happened. It doesn’t count as a mystery if you set up a scenario, ask me what I think happened, and then just agree with me. “I think the butler did it.” “Okay, well, you’re right! Hooray!” I haven’t figured anything out, I haven’t guessed right or wrong, I’m not smarter or stupider or anything. There is no right answer; all that it means if my ending is the one that airs is that several people agreed with me that it should be the ending.
So, this is plainly inspired by something like American Idol, but there’s a difference between voting on who is better when the better person actually is a real person who enjoys particular consequences of their victory. The three endings to Hawaii Five-0 are all the same, there’s no essential consequences. These people are all fucking made up, who cares which one was actually responsible for the murder of Professor Dumbass?
I know what you’re thinking now, you’re thinking, “Wait, Chris, didn’t you say you thought this was a good idea? You’re just complaining about it!”
And the answer to that is “no, no I actually think this could have been a fucking SPECTACULAR idea.” How? Let me explain.
Imagine this. Instead of three different endings in which three different suspects all turned out to be the murderer, there were three different suspects, and three different endings, but STILL ONLY ONE MURDERER. That is, of all the people that we see, one of them actually did it, and if you vote for him as the murderer he’ll get caught — and if you vote for the other two people, he gets away.
You end up right before the climax with three — actually let’s just make it easy and say two — two competing explanations for what happened, and one of the stories has a flaw in it. It’s got to be a noticeable flaw, the kind of thing that Columbo would realize at the last second or something, something that, if we’re on our toes, we can pick up on. And if you notice it, you’ll realize that one of the stories is bullshit, and you’ll vote for the other one, and the killer gets caught.
You see the difference, I’m sure. Now, we’re not being asked to do the writer’s job for them — we’re being invited to solve a mystery. And the two plots, because they hinge on one character noticing one thing, really can both proceed inevitably from the preceding elements — and they’re both equally meritorious endings.
Furthermore, I mean, think about what this means if your main characters actually keep fucking up throughout the show? The audience keeps guessing badly, and if the audience keeps guessing badly then there are actual consequences for the characters on TV — they can get fired, or suspended. If they miss an important clue and let a badguy get away, maybe now the plot starts to be about chasing that badguy around, as the cops get suspended from the force and try to redeem themselves, &c.
This is not to mention the fact that you’d actually be USING social media in the show, as opposed to just sort of having it. Every show wants a dedicated following of people who read posts and twitter and forum about things, et cetera. So, imagine that you’re watching Hawaii Five-0 and you notice the clue that solves the mystery, what do you do? You want everyone to vote with you, so you immediately get on Twitter and Facebook and start telling everyone about it (hopefully, it is not a red herring). The show transforms from something that I bitch about on Twitter because it’s stupid into something that I need to talk about on Twitter in order for it to end right.
Ooof, you guys. That could have been such a great idea.