Thursday, May 30, 2024

Let’s Talk Destructive Expansion

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Picture this. You find a rookie tv/streaming/book series and you fall in love with it. The plot, the characters, their struggles, relationships… you finish the season and can’t wait until the second season/installment.

But then, the second season blows the door open on its world-building. New locations and characters abound! And maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, but all of this new material sucks up all the narrative oxygen in the room and the plot/characters you fell in love with fall to the wayside and you’re heavily ambivalent on the new material. Or, even if everything does fit together, you suddenly realize this story is growing and growing and growing and now you have no possible idea how it could satisfactorily wrap everything up.

This is destructive expansion. The creators get deep in that writing juice and lose any inhibition on the story they get to write, potentially losing sight entirely of what made people fall in love with it in the first place. They go so far in world-building, they write themselves into a corner where the only way out seems to be to keep building, because how could you possibly resolve everything at this point?

Sadly this trope has happened to some of our favorite series that once showed tremendous promise. Or sometimes it just happened to shows we at least had a little interest in, before they snuffed it out. And, worst-case scenario, those stories just went bonkers and lost the plot entirely because of it. Below are some examples of destructive expansion either severely compromising, or ruining a story altogether.

Plus! One bonus example of a show that knew when to keep its plot and characters contained.

A Song of Ice and Fire

The current grand-daddy of destructive expansion, this saga was originally planned as a trilogy with its first entry, A Game of Thrones, published way back in 1996. As GRRM likes to state, he is a “gardener” type of writer, which means his plots are subject to change as he writes and grows his world. And, look, we love us some House Martell here at the Fandomentals. I honestly do greatly enjoy the world-building he’s done to Planetos. It’s a spectacularly fun sandbox to invent in. But it’s hard, at this point, to deny that it seems like the author is more interested in playing in this world’s sandbox with expansions and lore, than finishing the original story he started writing nearly 30 years ago. This isn’t even taking into account the actual main series that is now a Gordian Knot of plots and characters that somehow need to be wrapped up. He might finish the series, he might not. What most of us are left with is that burnt turkey of a show ending, which we’ve already discussed at length.

Motherland: Fort Salem

It’s a ~decision to, after your first season ended and one of your leads came out with her own story of horrific racism, decide to have the highest-ranking Black family in your series be systematically slaughtered, have your only Black lead character be assaulted and experimented on, and then have her be “not special” while her two white teammates are either super gifted or the literal “Chosen One”. While we expand the whole world to do what? Make the original Spree terrorists look not so bad because of other genocidal terrorists? What was even the point of revealing Willa was alive to kill her the next season and squander all of that potential? We waffle with this series because we can see the promise it has, and we can even admit, after destructively expanding in the second season, the show did manage to bring its second outing back to a more narrow and effective focus by the end. Time will tell on season three and Motherland’s ultimate verdict.

Sleepy Hollow

Not only did they decide to super expand the lore, they notoriously chipped away at Abby and treated her actor, Nicole Beharie, shamefully behind the scenes. This show gets no love for ruining its lore by diving into a completely different plot pool to magically focus on new demons and Ichabod’s family, and all the side-eyes for how it treated its Black lead.

The 100

Multiple other issues aside, what the hell happened with the plot here? This started out as a sci-fi-tinged commentary on power, clashing cultures, and the need to cooperate for survival. Not even counting THAT incident, this show went off the rails and just completely went full-on super science fiction with space colonizing, literal aliens, cults, and some form of spiritual ascension. A far, far cry from a show about teenagers being dumped in a survival scenario thanks to reality-based politics.

Fast & Furious Franchise

Now, I know YMMV here. This series is completely removed from its original premise, street racers mixed up in street-level crime. Now it’s the Dom is a superhero show and a group of street racers have magic powers to defy physics in their cars to save the world repeatedly. Some people might say it’s better this way. I say it’s found success, but at the cost of sidelining a lot of other interesting characters to mainly focus on Dom, Hobbs, and Shaw saving the world.

The Wilds

Amazon’s The Wilds focuses on 8 teenage girls who are stranded on a deserted island as part of a very twisted social experiment. The end of season 1 teased the existence of a similar island populated by boys. Many first-time watchers’ initial reaction was that of resistance. As time has passed, casting was announced and behind-the-scenes content for the boys surfaced, some fans have acclimated to the idea. The quality of the writing in season 1 promises that the boys’ storylines in season 2 will be nuanced and poignant. Even so, there is still a weariness in the fandom as eight new characters will be taking up screen time, inevitably reducing the focus on the original cast of characters the audience has become attached with, and about whom there is still a lot to know.

Wynonna Earp Knew Its Limits

Now let’s take a look at a show where the showrunner, Emily Andras, knew her limits and how to keep the story fresh but contained. I’d argue that the character focus elevated the story more, and let the audience have far more room to emotionally connect, than just the seasonal arc of “which demon we need to defeat” because by focusing on mostly Purgatory, the town and its citizens became their own vital characters that we loved to watch every week. The show even ended with WayHaught basically staying in Purgatory for the rest of their lives. Sometimes grounded is better.

Did we basically write this entire article to try and work out our anxiety of which way season two of Warrior Nun might go?



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