We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
There are moments in television that will forever be engrained in our minds.
When we found out that a group actually left the island on Lost. The Red Wedding in Game of Thrones occurred. Every time someone died in Grey’s Anatomy.
What these moments have in common is that they were – for the most part – completely unexpected. They came out of the left field to make the audience’s jaws drop. They were all plot twists.
Plot twists are probably the most important trope in television as the existence of them keeps television on their toes. We don’t want predictable and boring television shows – we want shows that will keep us at the edge of our seat for an hour. We want shows that continue to evolve and reinvent themselves.
According to Literary Terms, a plot twist is a “turn of events in the story that completely changes the direction or outcome of the plot.” A plot twist must be completely thought out because the last thing a television show needs to do is deploy a plot twist just for mere shock value. For a plot twist to be truly excellent, it needs to be needed in the first place.
Lost, for example, is known for its twists and turns throughout the six-season run of the show. From the moment we found out there were other people on the island to when Michael shot and killed Libby and Anna Lucia, Lost continued to push the boundaries of their show. Perhaps the biggest twist of them all happened at the end of season three.
Up until that point, we only hoped that our favorite island dwellers would get off the island. Nothing was confirmed until we see Jack and Kate interact in what we thought was another flashback. Jack yelling “we have to go back” will forever live as the most iconic plot twist line.
Some plot twists we can see coming, however. When Alison DiLaurentis was revealed to be alive in Pretty Little Liars it was a plot twist we all knew was going to happen eventually. It was a plot twist, but not one that punches you in the gut – which is what all the good ones do.
One of the best plot twists that extremely benefited the show moving forward was when Grant Ward turned out to be a Hydra agent in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. I will die on the hill that argues that introducing Hydra to the series was the best move they could’ve made. And having one of their own betray them was an important way to make the characters grow up sooner rather than later.
The quickest way, however, to age your characters while also delivering a huge twist is by introducing a time jump. I already wrote about my feelings about time jumps here. Long story short, I generally am not a huge fan. We spend years with characters – getting invested in their stories and relationships. To abruptly uproot us and drop us into their lives years later is a huge blow.
I’m not saying all time jumps are bad – sometimes they are necessary. As I discussed in that article, One Tree Hill and Sons of Anarchy were great examples of how time jumps are needed to progress a series.
Time jumps are probably the safest of all plot twists. Viewers are used to them and they are often necessary. Plot twists that literally no one could ever guess are the best ones of all.
I’ve only seen one season of American Horror Story and that happened to be the first season which contained the holy grail of plot twists. The first season of American Horror Story took place in what was called a “murder house”. Basically lots of people had died in the house and their ghosts live on to haunt current inhabitants of the house. One of the house’s newest residents was Violet Harmon and she began getting real close to a guy named Tate. Little did she know that Tate was, in fact, one of those ghosts.
When Violet found out that Tate was not only a ghost but a mass murderer, she overdosed. Fortunately, Tate got to her just in time to save her life. But did he? Well, that’s what we were led to believe until it was later revealed that Violet had died and that she, too, had become a ghost in the murder house.
Plot twists like those – ones that really make you question everything you have just watched – are the true MVPs. Plot twists that make you question why you watched the series at all is another story.
One of the most recent plot twists to happen in television involves another character’s departure in Grey’s Anatomy. When Justin Chambers wanted to leave the show after sixteen seasons, the writers were stuck trying to figure out what to do with his character, Alex Karev. Being Grey’s Anatomy, one would easily assume that they would just kill him off as they’ve done countless other characters.
But in proper Grey’s Anatomy fashion, they opted to instead reveal that he went to be with Izzie. That’s right, Katherine Heigl’s Emmy Award-winning character who left back in season six. Turns out, Izzie had two kids using his sperm and never told Alex up until now. Despite having a wife and a job back in Seattle, Alex decided to leave everything behind to be with Izzie and the twins.
Suffice to say, that was a character ending few saw coming. Better than a plane crash, but still not how I personally wanted to see Alex’s story end.
That’s the thing about plot twists, though. If you saw it coming, what’s the point of them at all?
Plot twists can be hits or misses. Their effectiveness and whether they were justified are subjective depending on the viewer. You can’t please everyone so might as well give it everything you got and — as they say — risk it for the biscuit.
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