Saturday, January 10, 2009

Backstory Like Shifting Sands

We've been watching Sanctuary, and, as with all new shows, we're still not sure about it but keep tuning in to see if this episode will be the one to win us over or scratch it off our DVR's To Do list. Now that its first season is done, I've figured out my biggest problem with this show: the backstory seems remarkably fluid.

With every revelation of how abnormals work or how Magnus came to be where she is today or what the Cabal is or how the Five interacted, it seems as if the details don't quite mesh together or have shifted to meet the needs of the current story rather than evolved from what we already knew of the characters and the world. In short: it feels like they're making it up as they go.

For example, first we learn about the Five, a group Magnus was part of that studied abnormals and injected themselves with pure vampire blood in order to make themselves abnormal, to varying degrees of success. OK, fine, neat concept. I can work with this. Then halfway through the season (maybe more?), suddenly we meet Magnus's father, and he's also turned himself abnormal (I think) and HE was the one who got Magnus interested in abnormals, and HE was a huge guiding, mentoring, interactive part of the Five. That felt a bit like a left turn.

Another example: a couple of episodes in, we meet the Cabal, some darkly secret group who wants to exploit abnormals for their own ends and will mow over anyone who gets in their way. This organization seems an unknown to Magnus, as if she's just hearing about it, but as the rest of the season unfolded, the entire cast (including the Five) seems to have some basic working knowledge and understanding of the Cabal as if they've been known enemies for decades at the least. Another left turn.

It makes this viewer frustrated because I never know which detail they give me will actually remain true to the context and manner in which it is given. So one week I might get excited about a hint they've given me, only to be disappointed the very next week when they twist that hint into something almost entirely unexpected.

Yet I'll be tuning in for the next season at the start. Mostly because the Five seems to bring out the best in the writing and acting (which is why I'm thoroughly bummed they killed off Watson; watching him interact with everyone--except Will; man do they need to do something with that character--was pure joy). And, if nothing else, this show is teaching me the flaws in revealing worldbuilding and backstory that I can avoid in my own writing. I'd prefer to be learning how to do something right, of course, but I'll take my education where I can get it.

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