I've been thinking lately about narrative traps. Where it appears on the surface that the narrative has done one thing but upon further examination a different interpretation or direction reveals itself.
I want to talk about a couple of narrative traps that I've seen recently in Breaking Bad and Prime Suspect. The narrative trap in Breaking Bad is a more obvious and long reaching one and the narrative trap in Prime Suspect is more subtle but puts a whole different color on the first series.
I think a number of people hit a certain point when they watched the opening of the recent Season 5 episode of Breaking Bad, "Buyout". For them a final line was crossed and in the opening minutes of that episode Walt became a bad guy.
With the start of Season 5 of Breaking Bad Sandra and I went back to the beginning and started watching Season 1. It was good to go back to the start and see where things had been and how far they had come.
But we quickly realized something. The Walt from Season 5 was always there. When Walt was confronting Skylar about her plan in Season 5 and shooting all of her options down? He did that in Season 1 when Jesse wanted to kill Tuco.
When you first watch the show you feel like you understand where Walt is coming from and that he is a relatable, every-man character...on the surface. But the emotions roiling beneath that character lead him and the viewer to some very dark places.
So while there is a narrative trap of sorts in Breaking Bad it really is more of a case of something hiding in plain sight.
The narrative trap in Prime Suspect is a more devious one.
There are a series of events that make up the endgame of Prime Suspect. Tennison's chief detractor, Otley, is removed from the case. Tennison's old partner, Amson, is brought on to the case from a different department. They close in on and catch the bad guy. The cops under Tennison all sign a letter saying that she did a commendable job and they want her to stay on as boss.
All is well. Or is it?
A couple of small scenes that go by quickly and aren't brought up again deserve a closer look:
1) Before Otley's removal from the case Tennison demands a list of the cops who have slept with prostitutes.
2) Amson says Otley gave him the list.
3) Before Tennison's support is announced there is a very brief scene where Amson says something to three of the detectives ( I can't remember the exact line but it was something like "...and especially you three...").
These moments are all given their own time on the screen and I think they are intended to be linked liked this: Amson gets the list from Otley. Sees the names of the three detectives on it. Uses that knowledge to get their support for Tennison thus making the support appear unanimous.
This adds a much darker wrinkle to the narrative then the surface would indicate. That the support for Tennison wasn't wholly earned or honest but was manipulated behind the scenes. Further still, what if Tennison knew and used Amson as her henchman.
Do these narratives have traps in them? Do you like narrative traps? Even if they undermine the story?
Currently Reading: Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth