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The "All Is Forgiven" Effect

So I just finished the season finale of Castle, and joined the collective voice of millions of other Americans saying, "Squee! Rick and Kate together at last!"

I probably would have "squeed" louder if I hadn't been waiting for it for, oh, the past four years. But especially this season, when the writers were clearly upping the melodrama to lead up to a big boom. Unfortunately, that melodrama was not well done. They were contriving ridiculous misunderstandings; people were acting out of character all over the place; ratings dropped like a rock...it wasn't pretty.

But after watching the ending scene (five times, thereabouts) I scrolled down to see the "squees." Note that up until a couple of weeks ago, most of the comments went like this:

"This show's really gone down the tubes. I keep watching, hoping it will recover its original quality, but this season has been so frustrating! WTF, writers?"

Last week, when Rick took a break from being a petulant wounded teenager to help Kate hunt down a "zombie" killer, the reactions were more along the lines of:

"I loved this episode because it was like the ones from earlier seasons, before the writers started sucking."

But now, of course, Becket and Castle have had some passionate confessions and a make out scene bordering on porn, and all is forgiven. The comments for this last episode:

"This was the best season so far! Beautifully done! I lovelovelove you, Castle writers!"

The "All Is Forgiven" effect is common in fiction, and not only when viewers have had a week or two to forget how much they hated it last month. In the span of 300 pages or two hours of film, an audience's opinion of a character or story can swing from "terrible" to "awesome" (or vice versa). Examples:

1. Darth Vader (Star Wars)

The entire story: Strangles subordinates. Blows up planets. And, in later prequels, massacres some villages and beheads some younglings.

The last half hour: Throws the evil emperor into a reactor core because he sees him torturing his son. Takes off helmet for sentimental heart-to-heart. Dies.

Verdict: That poor, shriveled old man! Aww, look at him so cute and happy with the ghost of the mentor he murdered. He's really a good guy!

All Is Forgiven.

2. Frederick Wentworth (Persuasion)

The entire story: Gossips about Anne to mutual acquaintances. Treats her like she's part of the wallpaper at parties and essentially calls her old and ugly. Flirts with pretty young neighbors in front of her, then gets jealous of her handsome cousin and sulks.

The last pages: Writes flowery letter to Anne about how much he still loves her, despite being old and ugly. Whisks her away from the horrible family he abandoned her to eight years before.

Verdict: A true 19th century gentleman! Why can't men today be that chivalrous?

All Is Forgiven.

3. Lee Jin-pyo (City Hunter)

The entire story: Steals baby to use in intricate revenge plot. Trains him up child-soldier style to trust no one, feel nothing, and kill at the drop of a hat. Makes fortune from cocaine trafficking and Thai gang wars. Uses fortune and child soldier to assassinate major South Korean political figures.

The last episode: Claims responsibility for murders to save kidnapped "adopted" son. Drops magazine from handgun and gets executed in dramatic bloodbath.

Verdict: All Is...Well, you get the idea.

There are some standard tricks to achieve this effect. Men can be cold, cruel, and callous, as long as they're handsome (*Mr. Darcy cough cough*). People can do stupid, selfish, mean things to each other as long as they're friends and/or lovers in the end. And all manner of crimes are fine as long as the protagonist is doing it for revenge.

So now I'm thinking that I need to take advantage of this phenomenon in future works. At the very last second, I'll have a hitherto complicated hero do something demonstrative for the heroine to ensure that even if everyone hated him before then, they'll feel sticky sweet inside to see them happy together. Conversely, if the heroine is a bit too far on the whiny side, I can make her have a change of heart and run in for hugs à la the annoying brain-dead gold digger in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Or make her Audrey Hepburn—that fixes everything.

Comments

Anonymous (May 9, 2012, 9:48 am)

Now be fair -- Wentworth and Anne have a "prequel" that explains quite a bit. So "City Hunters" is Great Expectations?

T.K. Marnell (May 9, 2012, 3:13 pm)

Yes. When they were young and stupid, Anne told Wentworth her family didn't like him and maybe they shouldn't marry after all. Then, instead of persuading her back (since she was clearly easily swayed), he huffed away to make money bombing people at sea and stayed bitter about it for the next decade. I've already forgotten all of my adolescent grudges...you'd think a man at thirty plus could get over his.

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What is the first letter of "Tennessee"?