The Canadian TV show, “Slings & Arrows” is so good I almost can’t stand it. Three seasons, six episodes per season, and it is a gem. The writing, the acting, everything. There are many things worth talking about with the show, but my main focus, of course, is on the writing. I may return to this show in the future as I consider more of the techniques they use, but for this post, I’m just going to look at one particular thing Jen and I were discussing today. Very much spoilers, in case you didn’t notice the title of the post.
There is a delicious moment in the third season where Geoffrey, finally willing to see a therapist, sits down with Oscar’s ghost and has a conversation with him. The therapist wants him to pretend that Oscar is really there (obviously, he is) and they have that talk they’ve needed to have all along. It is heart-rending and hysterically funny, with the therapist making comments like, “You’re really good at this.” In a sense, it is the payoff we didn’t know we were waiting for since the Geoffrey-Oscar issues were introduced in season 1.
Note that: the payoff we didn’t know we were waiting for.
But then, in the last episode, something happens that makes me want to bow down before the writers as nothing on TV has since “Rome” pulled off the, “You too, mother?” thing. The payoff referred to above, which is complete, and elegant, and fulfilling by itself–turns out to be a set-up for the epilogue. Suppose I told you, “Then, at the end, one of the characters sits there talking to an empty chair and fills the viewer in on all of the ‘here’s what happens to the characters after the show’ stuff. Lame. Stupid. Artificial. Forced. Except, because of the set-up with the previous conversation, it is closure in several ways at once; it is breathtaking.
In other words, the writers manage to use a payoff as a set-up for the next payoff, which turns a cheap trick into an elegant device, all without the viewer realizing what is happening. It is a tour de force. I don’t know what I can learn from this beyond, “Some writers are really, really good,” but I know I’m going to be keeping an eye out for a way to pull that one off.