As my first non Vampire Diaries tv post on this blog, I want to discuss something that I keep doing recently, and I wish I could give it up: reading pre-air spoilers or spoilery discussion for shows where I think it doesn’t matter. I have enough self-control to prevent myself reading plot details for shows where the plots actually carry some weight. In previous years, for example, I was extremely spoiler-averse for shows such as Battlestar Galactica during the whole of their run – and with good reason, since knowing some of the major plot revelations there (who the final five were, what state ‘Earth’ might be in when they got there) would have drastically reduced the impact of those stunning moments which were amongst what made that such a powerful show. On such shows, I do my absolute best to stay away from any website promising tantalising hints of upcoming developments, and if I accidentally bump into some such details I shut my eyes and sing la-la-la until I manage to navigate away from the page. I know that I don’t want to know that stuff ahead of time.
On shows where the arc plot plays a much lesser role, though, I have been developing a tendency to read anything and everything available on the show, to sate my appetite for the show itself when no new episode is yet available. This applies to sitcoms, where the ongoing story is either relatively unimportant or entirely non-existent, and also to procedural-type dramas where the what of the plot is considerably less important than the how. The logic seems sound – knowing what happens won’t hurt my appreciation of seeing how it unfolds – and yet I am beginning to feel that finding out plot details ahead of time is lessening my enjoyment of the small character arc moments that are my main emotional connection to shows like these.
I don’t watch sitcoms or procedurals where I don’t care about the characters at all – they wouldn’t be the sort of shows that held my interest if I didn’t. Therefore, when I find out a new plot development, or a new recurring character role, or if I read an advance page of the script, my brain can’t resist the urge to play out all the potential ways that it could work, imagining the best possible version (according to my view of how the show should) and the most complex character work possible behind it. And the sad truth is that television – even the best television, and certainly not the low-stakes shows where I’m reading spoilers in the first place – can’t live up to that. Some of the nuances I imagined will fall by the wayside of shooting schedules, budget constraints or even actor limitations. Even more frequently, the show I want a show to be is not the show it actually is, and my imagined in-depth 10 minute dialogue between my two favourite characters would never even see the light of day versus a number of flashy action sequences designed to hold audience attention. But if I were watching the show with no foreknowledge, that wouldn’t be so apparent to me – I would treasure the 30-second exchange that we got between those characters in the middle of the action sequence, and be happy.
This has become particularly apparent to me over the last few weeks with one of my favourite shallow pleasures, White Collar. I want to write about season 2.5 in some more spoilery detail soon, but for now all that matters is that my viewing pleasure on the latest 3 episodes has been in direct inverse relationship with how much I knew about the episode going into it. As another example, I also adored last week’s episode of Castle, which returned to the arc mystery of Beckett’s mother’s murder, possibly because I had absolutely no idea that plot was on the cards. (The one thing I did know about ahead of time – a character arc moment – fell a little flat.)
And so, I make myself a new resolution. And I write a few hundred words about it and publish it on the internet in an attempt to make myself stick to it. I will not highlight spoilers, not for any show I watch, even the ones where I think it doesn’t really matter. I will not engage in hours of speculation about future plots on shows which cannot possibly live up to my best versions of them. I will, of course, still participate in overly in-depth post-episode analysis – which carries some of the same dangers in over-analysing something that looked good until you realise all the flaws in it – because there is absolutely no way I could stop myself doing that, and because it can give as well as take. (My next Vampire Diaries review, for example, will be considerably more positive than if I had written it immediately after watching the episode, thanks to the benefits of considering other people’s opinions.) But I don’t seem to gain any benefit at all out of spoilers, so… there. No more spoilers. *Scout’s honour gesture a la Veronica Mars*