Lost Plot Device

Last night JQS was showing me an early episode of the X-Files on DVD. Our heroes, Scully and Mulder, were looking through old census records and birth and death certificates, on microfiche. Mulder even comments on how staring at all that microfiche whizzing by makes him seasick. The microfiche itself provides material for a little graphic montage, an interlude connecting two scenes while showing the passage of time and conveying a dreary necessity of investigative crime-fighting.

And I’m thinking, “Just Google it, baby.” But, of course, they couldn’t. That was then, in the time before internet search engines. It was barely five years later, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that Willow is able to pick up important clues by surfing the net or hacking into private databases.

Poor Scully and Mulder didn’t even have cell phones! Later in the show, when they are desperate to get in touch with each other, they can’t. They must resort to leaving messages on each other’s answering machines.

Think of how twentieth century TV shows and movies depended on the device of not being able to reach someone “in time”. A writer could strand a character in the middle of nowhere far from a phone, or have the bad guys cut the phone lines. Or the writer could let the phone ring unanswered, building tension and frustration as the two parties are unable to connect.

How do we know the murderer is lurking outdoors if we don’t pick up the phone and realize that the dial tone is dead (and we’re next)? Where’s the drama?

Comments are closed.

The surface and beneath the surface