The Big Reveal


I once watched ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ at a cinema in Putney, West London, when the film broke down just before the ending and the audience didn’t get to find out who did it. Not that anyone cared much – this was the first version directed by Sidney ‘Living Statue’ Lumet, famous for never knowingly moving his camera, and was even more boring than the two other versions that followed it. The problem, of course, is that it’s the most static of all Christie’s whodunnits, consisting of stereotypes being serially interviewed, and the solution is tiresome.

Without the solution, such films have no reason to exist. But ever since the writers of ‘Lost’ got away with wasting everyone’s time by not having any answers to the endless puzzles they set up over what felt like thousands of agonisingly slow episodes, writers have been dangling unresolved mysteries before their viewers and then having their shows cancelled.

The latest to be binned is ‘The OA’, a ludicrous farago of interdimensional bollocks about a blind woman who vanishes for seven years and returns as a sort-of angel with restored sight, who uses the power of interpretive dance to stop a high school massacre – ‘scorchingly tasteless’, the Guardian suggests. It’s all about pretty visuals, vague woolly-brained ideas, half-established plotlines and oh, a psychic octopus.

It follows ‘Sense8’, ‘The Leftovers’ and others in setting up what it can never deliver, but hey, that doesn’t matter because it has been canned. What writers are learning now is that adaptable-length episodes mean shows can be completed – so why are we still getting endless third-rate American SF shows with no real premise?

To some extent all writers have to work backwards, because a story is defined by the way it ends. I’m careful to provide satisfactory climaxes (steady, vicar) at the ends of stories because there’s nothing more annoying than a poorly thought-through finish. The partwork serial thrillers of the Strand Magazine allowed great talents to emerge in the 19th century. Will today’s showrunners learn that it’s not all about the first episode hook? Perhaps they should take a lesson from ‘Years and Years’.

42 comments on “The Big Reveal”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    Well said, sir.

  2. Ken Mann says:

    Could this be due to the growing size of televisions? It may seem an odd suggestion given that it is supposed to be a visual medium, but there are some writers who seem to think that a powerful image overrides the need to justify it dramatically later on. In practice it used to be rare that you needed to be actually looking at the TV to follow the plot (with the possible exception of Mission Impossible which would have long stretches without dialogue).

  3. Ken Mann says:

    Russell T Davies is not immune from this. Torchwood:Miracle Day had a very strong opening but the final episode revealed that they hadn’t actually worked out a resolution but somehow made the show anyway.

  4. eggsy says:

    But what about the opposite, when the network sees a cash cow and commissions more series (or doubles the length of the run mid-season – how on earth does the production team cope?) beyond the envisioned end. A decent team can re-boot the characters and basic scenario, but often you end up with shark-jumping, or the plot stuck in a holding pattern going through the same motions, delaying the resolution that was outlined in the pilot.
    Advantage of the “adventure” series and the procedural: there is no real plot arc for the series, each episode stands alone.

  5. Jan says:

    You know that silent film that won an Oscar a few years back, made in black and white, little dog in it, no dialogue…..
    Well I went see it @ Drimpton village Hall . Lots of village halls show films now Flicks in the sticks or some similar outfit. Well they couldn’t get the sound feature on the DVD to work so the film was (as advertised) properly silent.

    There followed a right row as the Drimps demanded their dosh back cos there was no sound with the silent film.

    After the subsequent best of three falls had taken place some ruddy 12 year old pressed the right button and we heard loads of jingly jaunty piano music. I nearly offered to sit right at the front and play a silent keyboard thereby the silent film experience could have really been reproduced in full.

  6. Brooke says:

    Think Ken is onto something. You can’t go a block in my city without encountering at least one humongous HD screen invading outdoor spaces with noise and flashy images or inside megacorporation glass lobby. These things are 24/7. Absolutely worst is Comcast Universal; parents bring children to watch–what? There’s no learning–nothing to construct, to play with, no running about (guards see to that)–kids don’t learn how the technology works–just watch a flashing screen. Are we being taught to live only thru images inside our heads?

  7. admin says:

    Jan – Drimps. Classic. Have you told them they’re called that? The film has a great soundtrack.

    Brooke – I despair when parents say they’re bringing their kids to London to go to…M&M World. Nothing to see there, folks, keep moving (and buying).

  8. Jan says:

    Not likely I haven’t I am entered in their how many tatas can you grown from one seed potato comp. I can’t be offending them. AND I’ve managed to grow my tatas in the wrong container Doh! Yet more aggravation!

  9. Jan says:

    M + M world is the business. Wots not to like? . If you knew the right people there were delightful sweets and chocolate to be had.

    If I had the backing I would set up flying saucer and Barretts Sherbert fountain world. With side orders of blackcurrant and liquorice and sherbert lemons. The place of dreams…my dreams at least

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Jan, get a grip! The only thing that assures me you are still functioning in a real world is the potato competition. How many have you grown from one seed potato? – how many plants or how many resultant potatoes? and how can there be a wrong container? We’re into fall fair season so those are important questions.

  11. Peter Dixon says:

    I get tired of good ‘set up’ shows that overrun their natural life. ‘The Man in the High Tower’ started off brilliantly but I gave up in the second series. The same with ‘American Gods’, why couldn’t they have finished at one series? And don’t get me started about ‘The Dome’.

    Obviously its got to do with advertising money and space buyers trying to predict or catch up on trends.
    TV gives us the ability to tell a long story, and nowadays without shaky sets, but good stuff deserves a meaningful end, not an endless soap opera.

  12. Peter Dixon says:

    Sorry, I meant ‘The Man in the High Castle’.

  13. Trace Turner says:

    A good premise, lots of style, and who’ll care about the ending? Isn’t there an expression – All fur coat and no knickers? I frequently stop watching shows after four or five episodes, just about the time the story lines slows down into the tedious problems in the lives of the characters. I confess though, that I am enjoying Stranger Things, but only one episode a night.
    I saw the film Jan mentioned, The Artist, and it made me think of one of my favorite aunts. She used to play piano for silent movies in the midwest.
    BTW, I liked Murder on the Orient Express

  14. Brian Evans says:

    When I’m in Town, I despair when parents say they are bringing their kids to London. Full Sop.

  15. Peter Tromans says:

    What’s M&M World?

  16. Jan says:

    Peter Tromans M+ M world is in the Trocadero centre between Piccadilly and Leicester Square. It’s a place full of big colourful characters, cartoons and chocolate. Lots of music. Wonderful place. Full of good cheer.

    Helen its very worrying to me that you believe I am anchored into some form of shared reality by a seed potato. It’s very dodgy reasoning Helen. I find this doubly worrying in that you are unaware of the firm Drimpton seed potato rule I.e. that you must grow your seed potato into a strictly regulated size grow bag so the size of the container cannot be said to be a variable in the potato growing competition. This is all stuff that I have been daft enough to ignore my seed potato is in a large plastic patio pot. Me and this Tata are going to get disqualified. After all our efforts.

    Never mind sod it. The real competition starts on August BHL Monday with the annual summer show. Last year I got highly commended for me sweet peas. The judge’s said they were wonderfully perfumed with sturdy stems. Bit like me really aromatic but sturdy pins.
    To think the only thing I ever used to worry about most August Bank holiday Mondays was getting through carnival in one piece now it’s the cut and thrust of village gardening shows. Just as dodgy in its way. Maybe not quite the same challenges perhaps. Challenges nevertheless there’s some really dodgy geezer who brings along sweet peas on stems so sturdy they are like young bloody tree trunks. There’s something happening there. Greenhouse grown or some similar scam. It’s not right at all.

    I’ve won prizes for jam making a few times and marmalade. And penstemons for some reason. You wouldn’t think there were Penstemon prizes would you?

  17. Jan says:

    Tata tipping out day is Saturday the 10/8/19. I’ll keep you posted.

  18. snowy says:

    Do they burn the winning grower in a giant Wicker spud?

  19. Wayne Mook says:

    The OA octopus was it related to Paul the Octopus? Could it predict football scores too?

    Went to Birmingham to do Cadbury world, does that count. Actually they did some of the history and how make it but mainly I was there for the chocolate, er for my daughter so she could have a fun time and eat chocolate with me and the family.


  20. Ian Luck says:

    Only thing I watched recently was all three seasons of the brilliant ‘Stranger Things’. And I didn’t feel that I’d wasted a minute. I also read ‘Rune’ again yesterday – some of the transmissions mentioned here sound a bit like the ones in that. Coincidence?

  21. admin says:

    Ian – Probs. I just started Stranger Things and I’m going, ‘Four kids on bikes solving mysteries, what am I, 7 years old?’ I assume it gets better.
    Another good recent silent film is ‘Blancanieves’ – the 20s-set story of Snow White retold with a female matador. It’s fab.

  22. Helen Martin says:

    Jan, being commended for sweet peas is getting right up there. That is a hot area of competition. Don’t think green house growing would make for strong stems – he’s feeding them something. And marmalade! February was always my grinding up citrus time ’cause it’s the only time you can get “marmalade” oranges. Shifted proportions and went for a bitter orange type. My Ulster mother-in-law would have enjoyed that potato competition – too bad about the container. There’s always next year.

  23. Adam says:

    My favourite recent series is Big Little Lies. The first series was based on Lianne Moriarty’s book, and was a faithful and engaging interpretation. I was worried that the second series would be a poor rehash, but it actually managed to add to the story arc and give further depths to the main characters. I thought Meryl Streep was amazing. Having said that, I was glad to hear there is no third series planned as the story and loose ends wrapped up nicely. Great soundtrack, too!

  24. Ian Luck says:

    Oh, it gets better. It has the feel that the brilliant early seasons of ‘The X-Files’ did, and the darkness and creeping dread of ‘Millennium’. Don’t get too attached to characters, either.

  25. Ian Luck says:

    In the manner of ‘Columbo’: One more thing – I’m just reading ‘Full Dark House’ again, and was pleased to see the reference to ‘Rune’ near the start. I read ‘Full Dark House’ long before I could get my hands on a copy of ‘Rune’, so the reference passed me by. Does this mean that ‘Rune’ is canon with the other B&M books? The characters in it are recognisable as the B&M that we know and love, but are definitely different in several ways.

  26. Jan says:

    At the risk of incurring Mr F’s disgust and displeasure…….you will find many similarities between 77 clocks and “Rune” !

    Basically it’s the same tale told twice once with an emphasis on horror and the supernatural and the second as a detective story. Do you ever remember an old Hammer horror film starring Roger Moore (of all people ) “The man who haunted himself” ? Well Mr Fowler could be said to be the writer have plagiarized himself. He’s probably sat underneath his desk now with clenched fists. Or looking for a doll to stick pins into….

  27. Jan says:

    Helen we use Seville oranges for marmalade only appear at Jan. Feb. Time. What oranges do you use? Surely not Seville? Apparently these oranges were that dreadful their only real use was marmalade making but they suited that purpose so well that they are now grown specifically for that use.

  28. Jan says:

    The first comment should have read “the writer to have plagiarized himself” I was thinking about marmalade oranges at the time. Sorry

  29. Jan says:

    Wayne I LOVED Cadbury chocolate world. I would have stayed a fortnight if I could.

    Did you know that chocolate is very sharp and brittle when it is fresh and they used to suss out who was dipping into the freshly made chocolate because it cut the girls tongues or inside of their cheeks. If I had been on that production line I would have been covered in claret. Severed me gums most likely.

    Bourneville is still supposed to be the happiest community in Great Britain. Garden suburb and a lovely workplace. Quakers weren’t they the Cadbury family?

    A bit like the Co Op wines and Spirits plant in Irlam where I’m from. Happiest production line for miles around workers could hardly be persuaded to leave on Friday afternoons. I lost me way early in life really. Why didn’t I stay in that little North West town? Madness of my youth to leave.

  30. Jan says:

    SNOWY They BAKE the winner inside a massive spud on top one of the millennium beacon thingies.

    I absolutely promise this is me last comment. Promise. Sorry Mr Fowler.

  31. Ian Luck says:

    M&M World is the entrance to the abyss, scented with chocolate to disguise the miasmal stench of brimstone, and the foetid stench of methane from the very arse of Old Nick himself.

    Seriously, though, the stench of chocolate wafting out of the doors of the place the last time I walked past, almost made me want to gip.

  32. Helen Martin says:

    Yes, Jan, Seville oranges and you have to search them out because there aren’t so many people making marmalade these days. I heard once that the ones we get are from Arizona where they are grown in some city as boulevard trees and the oranges are picked by volunteers for the benefit of the municipal coffers. Don’t know how true that is, but you’re right, they are only good for marmalade and only available at that one time of the year.

  33. Jan says:

    Actually that’s quite true Helen in Seville they grow as “boulevard” or streetside trees! I only know because I went on a walking tour of the place and the trees were pointed out to us.

  34. Jan says:

    Witnessed the tipping out of the spuds. Lots of eye rolling and remarks about i “I bet they were topped up with some from Morrissons” It’s cutthroat is this! Talk about competitive.

    Glad mine are still inside the planter.

  35. Helen Martin says:

    But next year, Jan? I’ll probably be still saying “next year” the fall before my death.

  36. Jan says:

    Helen what do you count as the start of the fall? Is the fall the same as we count autumn? In the UK there are two clusters of village shows spring shows normally mid spring and the next are in what we count as the last knockings of summer just before it turns towards autumn.

    Thinking on it I dunno how this counts in the far north. In the real northern English counties and in Scotland the p!ants are about three(3) weeks behind the far south. If you go up to the Lake district or to visit Hadrians wall in spring in effect you are going to see a 2nd show of daffodils they will have been and gone in Dorset, Devon or Cornwall when they are just coming ready in the north.

    Must be the same in Canada in fact even more pronounced as it’s such a vast country.

  37. Ian Luck says:

    When I look North-East on a clear night, in late July/early August, and can see Capella in the constellation of Auriga (The Charioteer), I know that summer is on the way out. When I can clearly see, with my naked eye, the two small stars (Hoedus I&II), that form an Isosceles triangle with Capella, then it’s autumn.

  38. Helen Martin says:

    Rather than just looking at the calendar, Ian? Things are past the peak once the Perseids appear. It was cloudy for the whole show this year.
    Garden groups have shows in the spring but the main events are in late August or early September. Part of it depended on what was being harvested, since you can’t take time off work in the middle of harvesting. On the Prairies it’s heavily grain, so Sept. is definitely the time.
    In B.C. it’s more flexible because… no, we’ll get into agricultural and sociological discussions at this rate. The provincial fair is the last two weeks of August and various regional fairs are one or two day affairs on a weekend. The big determinator is the opening of school (K all the way to university) the day after Labour Day. People from up coast come down to buy school supplies and clothes and go to The Fair. Last big weekend before fun stops.
    Fall is autumn, the two terms are interchangeable, but the one is easier to spell.

  39. Ian Luck says:

    I prefer ‘Autumn’. From that, you get the word which suggests so much: The slight chill in the air, bowls of hot soup, the crackle of leaves underfoot, the smell of soil after soft rain, apples, pears, greengages, quince jam, bonfires, the smell of coal fires: that word is ‘Autumnal’.
    Where I live, I very rarely get to see meteor showers – usually it will be clear all day, and then cloud up at night. Last year’s Perseids were touted to be a heavy shower for ages: I sat out on several nights, when not working, on the days mooted to be ‘the best’. It was consistently clear, and I saw four meteors. Two of them were not even from the direction of Perseus, which from my POV is high up and obvious. I cannot view them from work, as the light pollution is too great, sadly.

  40. Ian Luck says:

    Calendars? Calendars? I don’t need no stinkin’ calendars, Helen.

  41. Jan says:

    The Perseids weren’t totally clouded out here Helen. I was outside till about 0140 when cloud did stop play. I usually stay outside on the lead up nights and the three or four nights after the peak evening. Some years if it’s really warm I kip outside which is great. Fall asleep after watching some meteors wake up watch a few more…. I view from a sunbed parked up overnight. I live on a farm so its very good dark sky conditions. Bloody freezing this year so i was inside two cardis and thick sox and under a duvet. In wintertime specially the January showers I have been known to wear me old ski suit thick boots and shelter under a thick duvet. The wintertime meteors are better really clearer, sharper. It’s raining now i’m supposed to be going on a walk round some ancient barrows this aftetnoon. I could have worked today I blanked a work offer to go and get soaked.

  42. Helen Martin says:

    Jan, that is real dedication. I can only partially blank out the lights but we still get to see some. We went up a local mountain one year and watched to the accompaniment of oohs and aahs from the darkness around. We were at my parents’ one year and discovered my Mother didn’t know you could predict the appearance (by calendar, Ian). It was a marvelous year and she loved it. She called to my Father to “come and see this!’ He agreed to come out and see one. As he came out there was a humongous one flashing all across the sky. He remarked that, “fine, I’ve seen one” and went back in. He only did it to annoy.
    Do you work free lance, Jan?

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