A completely fightable rule about storytelling that I am laying down regardless
Flash-forwards are not dramatic tension
Est. Read Time: 5 minutes. Read Time brought to you always by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections.
Hello Sternal Journalists!
Disclaimer: I try not to do too too much unfounded criticism of other people’s art because I’m in what will surely be a years-long process of trying to unlearn my quickness to talk shit for shit talk’s sake, and it’s not good for that.
I also believe that very few to no people actually knowingly or willingly perform below their abilities. So when one (I) talks shit about a show or a movie or a book or a song, they (I) are saying “Hey, that thing you put your soul into and worked hard to execute fucking sucked.”
And nobody should ever really do that. It’s mean, nobody learns from it, everybody involved leaves feeling more bitter, the world does not become a better place—rather, it probably becomes a bit worse.
There still needs to be a place for critical revelation. And what I mean there is that sometimes I think creative-decision-makers of every type—independent unregulated blatherers like myself, industry-proven high-achieving ar-tistes, and even people who are more on the business side but provide the money to creatives and therefore have bought a little privilege to give notes, I’m talking everyone here!—occasionally fall into habits and patterns not because said habits are evolving a medium or telling a story very efficiently, but because that’s what appears to be conventional.
And when that happens, we’re all only snapped out of it in one of two ways:
The habit/pattern falls out of style gradually. This takes a really long time and nobody learns their lesson.
People start pointing out if they notice that the habit/pattern is pointless. This is messier, but rights the ship a lot quicker. Plus, anyone who is engaged by the pointing-out at least does some mecum-serious thinking about the topic.
So this is all to say that flash-forwards are fuckin’ dumb and nobody should do them anymore. Okay, okay, that’s not what I mean. Or that’s not how I mean it at least.
But I just finished season one of Tokyo Vice, a show that I really enjoyed watching pretty much all the way through. It’s not perfect, but it was a very engaging journalism whodunnit set in the Yakuza underworld, each element of which I was very down for.
But—and I really don’t think this is a spoiler because it’s about the opening scene—the whole thing opens with our protagonist, a young journalist played by Ansel Elgort joining a badass cop played by Ken Watanabe in some sort of… sting? Negotiation? Whatever it is, it’s a meeting of sorts where some scary men tell Elgort’s character to stop reporting what he’s reporting or else they’ll hurt his family. But he just mean mugs and asks if he can smoke, and then?
We flash to two years earlier! This is not inherently a problem, though. What is a problem is that at the end of the first season, we still don’t know what that scene was about. This guy reports multiple stories, he’s threatened multiple times, we just don’t yet get to find out what this one was about.
So why have it in there? I assume somebody somewhere thought the pilot was too slow or didn’t get spicy enough and they needed to make clear that there would be some capital T Tension here. But at what cost? You really gonna tease some drama that we never get to see?
And even if they had resolved it, it’s still pretty fuckin’ dumb. Exhibit B: White Lotus. I really liked White Lotus. My only issue with it was that they ruined the surprise that somebody was going to die by having the first scene be whatsisname assface sitting all sad in the airport and telling some nice people to shut the fuck up when they asked him if he stayed at the place where “didn’t someone die?”
We didn’t need to know that! It could have been a surprise! It was a good show! With a lot of compelling characters and titillating plot and twists and turns! One of which you just ruined by revealing in the first scene.
Sure, there can be good reasons to have a flash forward just as there can be good reasons to use or invent any storytelling device, but if the only reason is “If we tease this really juicy detail about something that happens way later, people might stick around through the slower beginning,” you’re de-juicing the later detail and muddying the probably very cool slow burn beginning you have on your hands.
Have some confidence. You told the thing this way for a reason, it’s gonna work. If it doesn’t, you still tried your best. Which is way better than making something great and then making one tweak so annoying that it’s the only thing I talk or think about when talking or thinking about that thing.
Anyway, do we agree with this? What are the examples of good flash-forwards? I am willing to believe they’re out there.
Winning Time. Television Show. I don’t know that this HBO show about the rise of the Lakers dynasty was good (I know a lot of people think it wasn’t), but I know 600% more than I used to about the Lakers and I had a good time learning it. Also I think some genuinely phenomenal performances, regardless of whether they were accurate to the people or events.
Wraith. Song. New Chance and Vic Mensa. Feels like a prologue.
Mario Kart Arcade GP DX. Arcade Game. I had the pleasure of being in an arcade this weekend, an experience that I’ve literally almost never not loved. But this time, they had a full bucket-seats-steering-wheel-gas-pedal-brake-pedal MarioKart game and it was glorious. If you’re a Kart fan and weary of it not living up to the hype, it completely does. Do it. you must. Plus you get to see yourself as your favorite characters. Not realistic at all, but very fun:
Anyway, wishing you a wonderful week in which nobody unnecessarily flashes forward just to trick you into not enjoying some more nuanced life experiences!
P.S. I spend anywhere between two and twelve hours a week on the Sternal Journal. If you enjoy receiving it (and are RICH) consider becoming a paying subscriber. For just a few bucks a month, you can provide me with a bit more time to come up with fun topics, poems, and interviews; and you with probably fewer typos.