Despite their tonal differences, the first season of Daredevil had a lot in common with the original Iron Man movie. Both were entertaining and well-received, made the public-at-large care about long-ignored central characters, and opened the door for a whole cinematic or televised universe. I guess, then, that it’s not too surprising to see season 2 of Daredevil reflect so many of the flaws seen in Iron Man 2. Each sequel splinters its narrative in order to service the storylines of future movies/TV series’, and neither holds together particularly well as its own thing.
The most problematic storyline in Daredevil’s second season is the rise of The Hand. No matter how big we’re told the stakes are, it’s simply hard to care about a clan of ninjas looking for a ‘weapon” called black sky that will give them unlimited power (or perhaps REAL Ultimate Power) The writers try to get our attention by tying in minor season 1 characters Stick and Nobu, but the whole thing just feels divorced from the world set up in the show’s first year. I’m sure that The Hand will play a big role in the Defenders series that will eventually premiere on Netflix, but they’re just not interesting here, and devoting the majority of this season to glorified foreshadowing was not the right call.
If there’s one thing that’s worn out its welcome in Hollywood, it’s the found-footage horror genre. If there’s another, it’s M. Night Shyamalan. The latter started out incredibly strong, with The Sixth Sense still being regarded as a classic, and fizzled out so spectacularly that he hasn’t directed a good movie since 2004 or 2002, depending on your thoughts on The Village (mine aren’t very positive). So you can’t blame people for writing off Shyamalan’s return to horror, a found-footage horror/comedy about a couple of kids visiting their grandparents. But somehow 2015’s The Visit isn’t only Shyamalan’s best film in over a decade, it’s probably his best since The Sixth Sense.
Maybe it was the low budget ($5 million, according to Box Office Mojo). Maybe it was the focus on family dynamics, which drove some of his best work in The Sixth Sense and Signs. But The Visit successfully operates on so many levels that it’s hard to see how the same man could have created a travesty like The Last Airbender.
There are two different moments in Better Call Saul’s second season in which a character defends Jimmy McGill to his brother Chuck while knowing that Jimmy i in the wrong. First, it’s Kim Wexler insisting that Jimmy did not alter the address of Chuck’s Mesa Verde documents, and then in the finale, it’s Chuck’s assistant Ernie claiming that he called Jimmy to help Chuck after his accident. In neither case is the audience actually told that the defending character knows what Jimmy is up to, but based solely on how well the characters are defined, we know that they’re aware. Beyond that, we understand why they lie. As sneaky as Jimmy is, and however unfair or illegal his methods, we know where he’s coming from, we like him, and it’s not at all surprising that the characters in the show feel the same way.
Like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul is sometimes subtle but rarely ambiguous. Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and the whole team of writers, directors, and editors are masters at getting complex characterizations across in the most direct (and often visual) ways. They use color, and montages, and careful scene construction to establish the tone of the show and the motivations of the characters.
Quantum Break is a highly-experimental, groundbreaking attempt to fuse the worlds of video games and television. It’s not the first time that some sort of synthesis was attempted; just three years ago Syfy and Trion Worlds tried a similar thing with TV show/video game project Defiance. However, Microsoft and Remedy Entertainment’s Quantum Break really goes all-in on the connection between the two by packaging them together and placing the episodes at particular points in the game’s narrative.
The result is far more effective than I expected going in. While the episodes occasionally feature awkwardly-written dialogue and have trouble introducing the show’s central characters mid-narrative, later episodes are very engaging, and the production values and aesthetic are roughly what you would expect to see in a Fox TV show. The two mediums are used to inform each other in some really cool ways. While somebody could play the game without watching the episodes and still follow the events and character motivations, playing it with the episodes lends a lot of extra insight and depth to the proceedings. Certain moments are far more significant because of the background information gleaned from the TV show.
The sequencing of scenes in a narrative is one of the most important and oft-overlooked elements of storytelling. As South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker have talked about, one of the best ways to form an engaging narrative is to look at your consecutive scenes, and if the only way they’re linked is that one happens “and then” the next happens, rethink things so that they are linked with the words “therefore” or “but.” For a storyteller, it’s a simple way of reminding yourself that causality matters, and that if your story is just a series of things happening with no obvious relation, then, in the words of Trey Parker, “you’re fucked.”
Of course, in complex narratives, it is not always possible to do this with every single scene transition, but it should always be a goal. The biggest problem in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’s laundry list of issues is that it so seldom manages any sort of connection between its consecutive scenes. While you can look back at most of them and justify their necessity in the story, they’re so haphazardly thrown together that it becomes nigh-impossible to care about anything going on onscreen. It’s just scene after scene of shit happening, “and then” more shit happening for completely different reasons.