Crazy, implausible, far-fetched and insane plot turns, twists, and holes have been a part of the primetime television landscape for decades, but there was a time when it had been typically relegated to nighttime soap operas, like Dallas or Dynasty. However, those ridiculous plot turns have not just creeped into tv lately, they have transformed television narratives. There’s a line of television shows that owe their influence to The Sopranos, like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Breaking Bad, but almost on a separate plane, there’s another line of shows that have been more influenced by the works of Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, shows that start out as one thing, but twist and turn themselves almost into different television shows.
FX’s Nip/Tuck was one of my first memorable experiences with this phenomena: It began as a really amazing, heartfelt, often devastating drama about two plastic surgeons and the stories that developed with their patients, but within two seasons, it had become about something else: The Carver, a serial rapits who disfigured his victims. Nip/Tuck completely went off the rails, and after a couple of seasons, it was unwatchable, thought it ran for another four seasons (that I didn’t watch).
That kind of writing has been popularized in recent years, and thanks to the popularity of shows like Scandal (which I loved for a season and a half), everyone is adopting this approach. Don’t like where your characters are headed? Exhausted your premise? Have you written yourself into a corner? NO PROBLEM. Just contort the narrative in an implausible, unrealistic way, and then ratchet up the twists, and viewers will forgive all, right?
Mostly, but sometimes, a plot development, twist, or turn gets so out of hand that it actually damages the show. That happened all too frequently in 2013. Here’s the 10 most ridiculous examples. SPOILERS, obviously.
10. Breaking Bad — The best series on television — and maybe, the best drama in the history of all of television — didn’t go out with a completely perfect season. One episode, “To’hajiilee,” ended in a Mexican stand-off in which no one — initially — was killed. The writers wanted to end the episode in a big cliff-hanger, but in order to do so, the final scene required some unrealistic gunplay. The series, obviously, moved past it, but not without some minor controversy, as some called it the worst shoot-out in television history. It was a minor misstep in an otherwise brilliant final season.
9. Downton Abbey — Granted, the ridiculous twist was necessary because of a contract dispute, but the season three finale of the Julian Fellowes series saw them kill off one of the major characters, Mathew Crawley, suddenly, tragically, and without warning. Not only did it come after killing off another major character (Lady Sybil) in a series that’s not about character deaths, but it was done in a way that didn’t really service the plot (Matthew is killed in a car crash on the way to see his wife, who had just had their baby), and more ridiculously, a letter is found six months later, written shortly before his death, that gives his estate to his wife. HOW CONVENIENT.
8. Girls — Many take issue with the episode in which a character played by Patrick Wilson (who looks like Patrick Wilson) had a two-day sexual fling with Lena Dunham’s character, but that was actually one of my favorite episodes of a somewhat disappointing second season of Girls (and I had no problem believing that a man in his 30s would have a two-day sexual affair with a stranger). The biggest problem I had with this season of Girls was the left-field, out-of-nowhere, revelation that Dunham’s character, Hannah, had obsessive compulsive disorder. There was zero groundwork for it, and no hint that it had been a problem for the character, and it had never been mentioned before in a series where the characters talk about everything. Suddenly, out of the blue, Hannah had a recurring episode of OCD and had to repeat everything she did and said eight times, and it then became a major plot point for the rest of the season.
7. The Office — Though the means ultimately justified the ends (the last four episodes of The Office’s final season were fantastic), Jim and Pam’s entire arc up until the end made absolutely no sense: The writers attempted to pull them apart by turning Jim Halpert into a huge dick and Pam Beasley into self-doubting shrew. Through the first eight seasons, neither of these characters had ever betrayed any of these characteristics, so it was fairly preposterous for the writers to attempt to create tension by assassinating two of the most beloved characters on television, even if it allowed for a sweet ending to the series.
6. The Walking Dead — The entire first half of The Walking Dead’s fourth season turned out to be little more than a stall, allowing showrunner Scott Gimple to circle back around and pick up what the narrative missed from the comic book series at the end of the third season. To accomplish this, the writers attempted to redeem The Governor basically for the sole purpose of tearing him down again, and making him the villain again before doing what the series should’ve done at the end of last season: Kill him off (like Breaking Bad above, the bad marksmanship in finale shootout in The Walking Dead also strained credulity). It was a needless plot turn written not to advance the plot, but to correct last season’s mistakes.