Spoiling the spoilers

spoiler_alert_300_w2This post is not my usual theological fare but it is a question that is annoying me. What constitutes a spoiler?

There is a general social rule that says don’t talk about what happens in a TV show until a week has passed, in order to give those of us, like me, who watch shows online (legally, thank you very much) or who record it to watch it later enough time to watch. I am ok with that although I won’t insist on it. I’m not talking about timing.

I mean, what can we talk about?

I’ll start by saying I don’t mind spoilers. I don’t mind knowing the ending. I’m one of those who believe the getting there is all the fun. Walter died at the end? OK. Even if I know that, I can still enjoy watching the events leading up to that death. Will everything be resolved? Will he make peace with his family? Is he leaving someone holding the bag? How will the other characters respond? See, there is still a lot to enjoy when you know the main event.

I appreciate that others are not like me and the element of surprise is a critical element to a good ending. So we don’t reveal those. We learned our lesson from “Saving Private Ryan”, didn’t we?

I want to know what we can talk about. I want to talk to people on facebook without big capital letter warnings. I like live tweeting with friends across Canada and the US to discuss the finer points in real time.

Let me give you two examples of conversations that are not, in my opinion, spoilers.

1. At the beginning of last season’s The Walking Dead, I posted a facebook status about Rick’s beard. A friend freaked out. Said he was only at season 2 and not to spoil anything. Really? A change in hairstyle is a spoiler? What about the plot arc of that season of The Walking Dead did I reveal by making a note soliciting conversation about Rick’s beard? Anything you read that season about The Walking Dead had a picture of bearded Rick. So, in my books, not a spoiler.

2. This one is a bit more slippery because it is a bit more detailed and is about this past Sunday’s True Detective. Here is the dialogue I am participating in on a friend’s facebook wall. Does this constitute spoiler?

Friend: So……….four episodes in……it’s not quite as dark nor organic as season 1 but True Detective’s got me interested…..I also will be tracking down that song from the dive bar when it arrives on iTunes…I dig the melancholy 🙂

Me: Oh yeah. New episode. I think I will bring that to bed with me. The first 5 minutes of last week totally messed with my head.

Friend of friend: So good, eh. Last episode was awesome.

Now, clearly, no debate about spoilers here. We have not revealed anything about any events of the show. Simply aesthetics and reaction. We continue the following day–

Me: So somehow last night I fell asleep during that whole mess at the end. I watched it this afternoon. How strange it was to actually see remorse and trauma after something like that. Well, for some. We never see that. That last moment was beautifully done.

Friend of friend: I was thinking the same thing. Like, they look in shock and definitely afraid of the consequences. I was thinking, in other shows the cops look completely fine, just sorta tired. I was trying to think of CSI or something and how they look when guns go off. This was so different.

Me: Exactly. It is always treated as another day at the office. Definitely afraid of the consequences, but the shock was powerful.
Except for Paul. That was just plain chilling. Wow. And I loved how they made it a still at the end, as if to say, these are images that will never leave them. Just amazing.

Spoiler? Yes or No?

Many would say yes. We have revealed there is a “mess” at the end, probably something loud since I am surprised I slept through it, likely something violent since we talk about the trauma. Friend of friend mentions guns going off.

I say not a spoiler. Here’s why.

There is nothing surprising about the fact that something violent and traumatic happens in an HBO show about detectives. Or any HBO show for that matter. That is to be expected. If you haven’t figured that out by now you need to watch more HBO. And you should. Because their productions are amazing.

How can there be spoilers when we aren’t even halfway through the story? This is a 10 part story, not self-contained episode stories. When we are discussing a book events in the first half are fair game, aren’t they? We are still building the plot. None of us know where this is going so how can we be spoiling anything yet? When the direction towards the ending becomes clear, say episodes 7-9 then, I promise, I will be more careful, but at episode 4? Come on. Trust me, I have read George R.R. Martin’s books and didn’t spoil the Red Wedding for anyone and I managed to keep Joffrey’s death a secret from a friend for 2 years.

Let’s talk about the word, “spoiler”. It means something that spoiled the surprise. But does it really spoil your entire enjoyment of the show? If the only quality of the show is in the surprise and plot twists then I would argue the writing is poor (Which may be the case. Does anyone want to discuss that car scene between Paul and Velcoro? Good grief that was terrible!) and this show may not be worthy of your time and space in your brain.

Another thing. The conversation we are having on my friend’s wall is not exclusive to those who watch True Detective. We’ve opened it up. This scene leads us to discuss something much broader, the lack of traumatic or emotional response in police characters following a violent scene. And how Nic Pizzolatto manages to throw a critique at the whole genre of police drama in those last 20 seconds. You don’t have to know the show to engage in this conversation.

So, friends, if you are going to follow me on social media, you need to know I do not consider the following things “spoilers”:

  • Most events that happen before the halfway point of the series. There is usually a turning point which is obvious beyond which the conclusion of the narrative begins. It’s not necessarily the climax, but it rarely happens too early in the series. Anything before this is plot development is fair game, with a few exceptions.
  • Dialogue regarding topics other than events that push the plot forward. There is much that happens in a good story that does not directly push the plot along. And it is intriguing. We get to talk about this in real time.
  • Wardrobe and appearance. See above.
  • Anything based on historical fact. Discussing Alan Turing’s suicide does not spoil The Imitation Game. In fact, it is an important conversation that began long before the movie came out by people who were actually paying attention.

Finally, you get a year. If you haven’t watched a season before the next season begins, I won’t intentionally tell you the ending, but I am not going to keep it off my wall, either. The same goes for films. A year gives you enough time to see it in theatre or, if you missed it, to rent or buy a copy. If it takes you a year, were you really that invested in it?

You are the one who decides what spoils a show, but I would urge you not to disregard an entire season because you now know one event. Any good story is so much more than the ending.

What do you think? How do you determine what makes a spoiler?

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