This hurts me more than it hurts you (dead shows have no feelings!), but after watching “Chapter One,” I have to say, it’s so awful that I think it’s best taken as an example of what not to do in an episode of television. Or, you know, ever.
Below, five excellent examples of things to avoid in episodic television writing, all five of which you managed to fit into under forty minutes. Um, well done?
1. Don’t make your hero too stupid to live. When a hero has to be saved by his dad’s old war buddy, a vanful of extras, and a God-sent dream in a single episode, he is officially not in the running for the hero any more. We enjoy a hero struggling with elements out of his control, but only when he has the intellect and fortitude to try to fight his way through. So far, David has manfully-ed around in a daze, kept from the gaping, hungry maw of death only by the literal grace of God. The hero of this series is Silas; your antihero is Jack. David is a living MacGuffin who has yet to make a decision of his own. When your “hero” is passed out on the train tracks, make sure your audience isn’t rooting for the train to do him in, is all I’m saying.
2. Don’t kill a good antagonist. For four episodes, Katrina Ghent has been moving to the fore as a powerful character, a major antagonist for Queen Rose, and a possible ally in Jack’s plans to steal the monarchy. Great setup for an antagonist who can go in any direction to the benefit of some and the ruin of others, show! Nice job writing her out. To kill her (offstage, no less) is a serious misstep, and a badly characterized one. (Are you telling me that the woman who plowed her way into the Cabinet, repeatedly outmaneuvered Queen Rose, and engaged herself to the Prince wouldn’t have any safeguards against assassination attempts?) Of course, she might have died just to narrow the field for the final showdown, which reminds me:
3. Don’t lose your subplots. Jack confronted his uncle about a promise made five episodes ago; a promise we haven’t heard one word about since it was made. Not saying there has to be a long scene in every episode where Jack cries about having made the wrong decision (he has plenty of those), but would it kill you to have a throwaway reference to their bargain every couple of episodes so people don’t have to sit through a car scene that’s 90% exposition and 10% slapping? (This would also cut down on Jack’s changes of heart, which currently occur just before every commercial break.)
4. Don’t waste characters. The Reverend shows up in this episode! and he has two lines. One of them is about how wind power won’t please God. Another day, another meager paycheck for the criminally underutilized Eamonn Walker. The show has yet to use the Reverend for anything more than Silas’s sometimes-confessor, which, given the way he was introduced in the pilot, is a total waste of a foil. Hint: if the character has no scenes except with your lead, consider dropping them. (I’m looking at you, King in a Basement.)
5. Don’t whip out a voiceover in episode 10. No one remembers Petey the Royal Aide from six episodes ago, okay? To have him narrate the course of the episode’s events (in past tense, no less) not only ruins your pacing and tension, it makes us think of The Wonder Years every five minutes, which is really not what you want, ever. And the big reveal that he’s written the Book of David and not the Book of Silas is not nearly as interesting as Little Petey seems to think.
Next week we deal with David being arrested for treason (I plan to throw a party) and the beginning of the end for this series that looked so good from afar, and up close was just 90% promise, 10% slapping.
And David said in his heart, I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape into the land of the Philistines; and Saul shall despair of me, to seek me any more in any coast of Israel: so shall I escape out of his hand.
– 1 Samuel 27:1