In a world where our eyeballs are pulled left and right from our TV screens to our laptops to our cellphones, its hard to enrapture an audience for a full sixty or even thirty minutes. That is, unless you’re Game of Thrones or Westworld, where if you move your eyes for even a moment from Tyrion or Bernard, you’re left in an abyss of confusion and death stares from your fellow friends. Raise your hand if you're that friend that asks all the questions. Anybody?
Today’s TV structure is turning to new gimmicks to hook viewers to demonstrate they are different and worthy of being mentioned by our coffee makers and in heated group text messages. One of the latest gimmicks of structure that’s caught my eye is the presence of two timelines of the same barebones story. We’ve seen this structure in How to Get Away With Murder, Quantico, This is Us and The Affair, to name a few. There may be more I’m forgetting, by all means list them below. I dare you.
This structure of two timelines going at the same time might be thrilling to watch but it’s a cheat. I may oh and ah over who eventually ends up in bed together in the future, but there’s still something missing. With this structure, there are little to no stakes in the earlier timeline. When we already know what happens in the future, it lowers the importance and excitement. Take for example something that happened in a recent episode of Quantico (FAIR WARNING: There will be spoilers), Leigh, one of Alex Parrish’s CIA recruit gal-pal, was killed in the later timeline, but still thriving and quite likable in the earlier timeline. When characters can be killed in glimpses of the future what makes us want to emotionally invest in her character for future episodes? Part of me is just waiting for the inevitable to happen because she has no other outcome. Investing in characters and their futures is half of the reason why we watch television programs to begin with. There’s a reason why I’m still holding out hope for Klaus and Caroline to get together in The Vampire Diaries, because there isn't a future where they aren't. It hasn't happened yet, there's still some mystery.
Stakes are pivotal and with this new structure they are weakened and twisted. Sure there’s a mystery. To name a few: Who framed Alex Parrish in Quantico? Who killed Sam in HTGAWM? But there’s a certain essence that’s lost. We know something with this future timeline we wouldn’t have otherwise seen unfold on our screen naturally. We now have a bit of the future endpoint and have to come up with wild scenarios that could have happened to lead our characters to do those things at that future point. We’re robbed of that OMG moment. Sure, we still get a smaller moment of who done what, but we miss that big big moment. The facts are presented out of order and because of it lessens the importance of that future final shocker.
What is the importance of stakes in this new world? Why should we care about a character or a relationship if we already know they’re gonna work it out in the future? Am I the only one who isn’t on board with this latest trend, despite voraciously soaking up every episode of Quantico and HTGAWM? I want to care. I want the mystery back.