BLOG Game-Changers

Steven Ellis loves it when everything changes and the show you thought you knew goes off in new directions

You know when you’ve started following a show and you’re enjoying it, but it’s not amazing? You’re entertained enough to keep with it, but it’s not essential. Then it goes and does something that makes you sit up and pay attention. The whole show changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes completely, but it does something to make you look at it differently than you did before. You know the sort of thing; the shocking death of a character, a huge plot twist you didn’t see coming or a revelation that changes everything…

Some shows have your attention right from the start while some start slowly and eventually find their feet. I’m not talking about that. I mean the ones that you think are pretty good already, the ones that let you get comfy with them and then they shock you. I mean the ones that slowly creep up on you and then hit you over the head with a big stick.

I think the first time it happened for me was with Star Trek: The Next Generation in “Best Of Both Worlds” when the Borg turned up. The Borg were a very scary enemy and they seemed unbeatable. Then they went and turned Picard into Locutus. I’d been watching the show since the start and I enjoyed it but it never really grabbed me. I watched it because it was one of the few good sci-fi shows on at the time. But the way they ended season three… Phew, that was a cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers and thank God I didn’t have to wait too long to see the resolution.

This was before the days of the internet, there were no spoilers, there was no online debate, and when Locutus stared out from the Enterprises bridge screen with his little red laser, I honestly didn’t have a clue how this would end. That the resolution wasn’t as good as the set-up didn’t matter; the show had changed in my eyes and I paid at lot more attention after that and that it never quite reached the high of that cliff-hanger wasn’t really important.

Read SFX’s 20 Greatest Sci-Fi Game-Changers

It happened again years later with Buffy the Vampire Slayer . I watched the show on BBC2 and I watched it alone; no forum, no geeky friends to share it with. Just me and the telly. I’d missed season one of the show. I’d found it accidentally a couple of episodes into season two on BBC2 one evening and it interested me enough to stick around. I liked the premise and the characters, the stories and dialogue were snappy. The arc of season two – the idea of Angel turning bad – was interesting and all, but the show hadn’t grabbed me.

Then “Passion” happened. The murder of Jenny Calendar. No, not just her murder – the whole episode had a sense of impending doom: from the murder itself, to Giles discovering the trail of petals leading to Jenny’s body, to Angelus watching through the window as Buffy and then Willow silently receive the news of Jenny’s death. This episode upset you and then it hit you with that pain again and again.

And then the show did it all over again early the third season in the episode “Faith, Hope and Trick”. It’s a very straight forward episode with the introduction of new characters and a fairly standard plot for the show until the very end; just after Buffy’s emotional scene about finally letting go of Angel we fade to black for a beat, and then we fade back in to see Angel return and we know everything is going to change again. Buffy did this many times over the series run but those two events were when the show really made me sit up and pay attention.

The most recent show to do it was Fringe with the season one finale “There’s More Than One of Everything”. I’ve said before that I liked the show from the start, but I didn’t love it. The best thing about it was Walter Bishop, he was great, but the show itself was a little hit and miss during that first season. It didn’t have my undivided attention until that final reveal of where exactly Olivia had met William Bell – an alternate frickin’ universe! What a cliff-hanger that was. The show changed from an X-files revamp to something with a much bigger potential and the idea of that potential grabbed me. And thank God the show has done so much with that potential since.

So what about you? Ever been hit over the head by a show you’d gotten comfy with? What episode of what show do you remember making you sit up and pay a little bit more attention than you did before?

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.