It’s one thing for a character in a movie or TV show to make a mistake that costs them dearly: pick the wrong door, dial the wrong number, or cut the wrong wire, and something bad happens. If no one made a mistake, then the story would never advance – or, if it did, it would be very dull. So… mistakes happen, and the writer needs for them to happen.
It’s another thing altogether, however, for a writer to take his character from the realm of mistake to that of mind-numbingly stupid in order to advance his story. That is unacceptable; it ruins the tale.
Case in point: The other night, I was catching up on episodes of Criminal Minds, a generally very good series about a team of FBI profilers who ride to the rescue to catch serial killers and mass murderers. My writing partner and I have been following the show with the idea of writing a spec script for it.
The episode in question was titled “Roadkill,” from late last season. The killer murders his victims by running them down with his truck. Not a bad idea; it has kind of a “Christine” vibe to it. Trouble is, in each of the killings we see, the victims have to be unbelievably moronic to advance the story:
- Victim #1 is caught alone on a narrow rural road, her car broken down. A truck pulls up, and she thinks help has arrived. When she realizes the driver instead intends to run her down, she flees. Up to this point, fine. No problem. Her escape is simple, right? Just run off into the nearby woods where the truck cannot follow her. So, of course, the writers have her run along the road ahead of the truck, eventually meeting her grisly death
- Victim #2 is caught in a multi-level parking structure. When he realizes the psycho is trying to run him down, does he run into the nearby public stairwell where the half-ton pickup cannot go? Nope. Does he hide behind other cars, using them for cover until he can escape? Nah, that would be too logical. No, this fool runs ahead of the truck down a spiral ramp until he’s crushed against an elevator door.
In both cases, the victims were so dumb that I was left with little sympathy for them. They deserved to die. And the writers deserve to be mocked mercilessly.
The problem with mandated stupidity is that it breaks the suspension of disbelief. Instead of being caught up in the story, the viewer is suddenly shaking his head and asking that famous question, “WTF?” And, as I mention above, you stop caring what happens to the characters. If you don’t change the channel, you keep watching just to see how much worse the cluster-frak before your eyes will get, like watching a train wreck happen in front of you.
And that is a moment of failure as a writer.
Both writers have excellent credits to their names, so how did something this bad get out of the writer’s room? I can only guess there was time-pressure to get the episode shot and in the can to meet the schedule, and that there was no time for an extensive rewrite. Whatever the reason, Roadkill is a good example for budding writers of what not to do.