When the game is good, it’s good. Sometimes, however, the season can be stagnant or just needs a big moment to turn the tide in your favour. This is what’s known as game-changing; introducing an element or factor that requires a new approach to be taken. Bringing on a new, fresh substitute in Football is often an indicator that a manger is attempting this, or when a tennis player strains a muscle trying to reach a difficult ball. Both can cause a shift in the game. It’s not always a physical change either. Even just a change in morale can make a difference even if on the outside nothing has really altered.
This is just as true in television and film as it is in sport. When watching a show that has been running for a long time, the audience can sometimes get the sense that it’s just going through the motion. Episode to episode, you’re engaged and you’re watching but five minutes after it’s over you can’t remember a single detail of what just happened. You can blame it on the fast food, digital download culture of today’s audiences but often there’s just as much blame to be shared by directors and producers whose shows just don’t seem to be as good as they once were.
One of the most common game-changing techniques was employed twice in the past week as far as television shows are concerned. Just as an injury can create an opening for victory in sports, the death of a character can create an opening for new and enthralling storylines. Take, for instance, Boardwalk Empire. As a HBO series, it is regarded as above the average quality for a television show but this third season has felt rather empty. Oh, it’s been interesting to see Nucky succeed at trapping a political opponent, and make some new contacts in the bootlegging business, whist he’s being out gangstered by Gyp Rosetti and Joe Masseria. Unfortunately, that has only accounted for the previous couple of episodes, with much of what came before being dominated by Nucky’s affair and attempts to be the ruthless gangster that he thinks he needs to be and Margret’s continued affair with Owen Slater.
Looking back, I can help but imagine that someone in that boardroom looked at the outline of the season and thought it seemed slow and without many major events. I understand why it had to be so; without sufficient build up the war with Masseria would have come out of nowhere and might have seemed cheap. Knowing that doesn’t make the show easier to focus on and it appears that someone behind the scenes knew that and wrote this episode to be a game-changer. And then they killed Owen Slater.
He’s been a character in the show since the second season. He’s grown close to Nucky and become intimate with Margret. He was Nucky’s main body of protection, a man he could trust and would willingly risk his life and get his hands dirty. Nucky actually has no one else in his life that can really fill that role. Not even his brother is trustworthy enough to fill that position. Some might say that we can’t really know if it’s a game-changer until we watch the next episode but given Owen’s significance in the show, it’s pretty obvious that this will be instigate a big change in Nucky’s operations. Even if he has to find a new man to get his hands dirty (cough Richard Harrrow cough), will Nucky have the same level of faith in that man as he had for Owen Slater? This wasn’t just some two-bit defender that went over on his ankle; this is like a star striker getting a red card. He’s out of the game and won’t play for the rest of the season. That kind of player is hard to replace.
Similarly, last Sunday’s episode of Misfits had a game-changing episode and changed the whole game with the unexpected death of Curtis Donovan. I’ll admit to have never been the biggest fan of his character but that was a damn good way to send the character packing. To me, Curtis has always come across as arrogant and unlikable, even when he was trying to do the right thing. He’s always been the straight man to either Nathan or Rudy and it has felt odd for him to still be in probation after all this time. He even managed to get a job. As a character, he just never seemed to fit with the rest of the group.
Clearly, his was a character for which they had run out of ideas. I mean, he still had the zombification power, for goodness sake. It came in useful for post-mortem interrogation but why exactly did Seth let him keep the power? Seth can hold an unlimited amount of powers but can’t use them himself, presumably can’t be forced to part with a power and when he dies, it would seem likely that all the powers would die with him. Since a power like zombification seems like a legitimate threat to humanity, why wouldn’t he hold on to it himself? It’s a moot point now that Curtis is dead and the power is gone but it’s a point that bugs me all the same.
Yet, although it seems that the writer’s had no clue what to do with Curtis in season four other than kill him, his death will ripple throughout the show can cause changes. Perhaps it is his death that motivates Seth to hang around for the rest of the fourth season. The loss of a friend is also bound to impact Rudy, the most sensitive and insecure of the group. Other than the promised second storm, I suspect this will be one of the biggest game-changers of the fourth season.
On the flip side, a game-changing move doesn’t always have the desired result. Sometimes a substituted player can just fail to make the right impact or the team misses vital opportunities to capitalise on the morale drop. Similarly, some directors and writers don’t follow up on game-changing moves. I can’t possibly think of a better example than Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 2 in which there is a battle between an elite group of vampires and a rag-tag band of vampires and werewolves. This is certainly a game-changing moment as it deviates from the novel and kills off some main characters. But it turns out to be a dream one character has that they avert. Dreams are very sloppy writing, especially when it takes something game-changing and relegates to a ‘what if’ scenario. There are plenty of films of novels which have deviated from the source material and ended up being all the better for it. This was the final movie in the franchise. This was their chance to make those tweaks without deterring the existing fanbase from watching the next instalment and they failed.
Whether the effects of the impact are good or bad, game-changing is often a good sign. It shows that the manger or the director is still trying to perfect their craft. The tactics might not always work but the audience get to enjoy the ride at least. It’s when they seem to be going down with the ship and not making any effort to change or better the show that viewers should be worried. Twilight, at least for now, is over, so no worries there and I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about in regards to Boardwalk Empire and Misfits. So my suggestion is to sit back and enjoy the game, and all the changes that come with it.