Today, I explain why it is important for the danger you put your characters into to be reasonable.
This is the Cronin Theory of Pop Culture, a collection of stuff I’ve noticed over the years that I think hold pretty true.
I think it is fair to say that, for the most part, crime dramas strive for verisimilitude. The stories have to feel “real” for them to have any real impact (I mean, unless it’s science fiction, of course, but even there, there is a certain consistency you should strive for, like if your alien bad guy can’t be out in the sun without protection, don’t have the alien bad guy out in the sun without protection in a future episode).
And one of the areas where I often have the biggest trouble with crime dramas is that the danger the characters are put into are often very unreasonable. The latest season of Big Sky, in particular, has been driving me nuts regarding the treatment of Emily (Cree Cicchino), the teenage daughter of Sheriff Beau Arlen (Jensen Ackles, doing a special one-year stint on this series). She has been in constant danger throughout the season, and no one seems to be taking it seriously at all!
In the latest episode, “Super Foxes,” Emily’s step-father, Avery (Henry Ian Cusick) had been working with some crooks to retrieve some stolen money for them, and he tried to work out a deal to both get some money for himself AND protect his wife and step-daughter. It went poorly, and he was almost killed, but Bea was able to save him. Naturally, though, you would think, then, that the bad guys might be coming back for him, Emily or Emily’s mom, Carla (Angelique Cabral).
Beau specifically has a moment with Carla where he tells her that he will protect them. Meanwhile, Emily is hanging out at the private investigator’s office of Beau’s friend, Cassie Dewell (Kylie Bunbury), and the office assistant there, Denise (Dedee Pfeiffer), SEND EMILY OUT FOR COFFEE BY HERSELF!
And shockingly, she is then about to be kidnapped by the bad guys at the end of the episode (the preview for next week’s episode shows her crying with tape around her mouth in the back of someone’s car).
It’s just way too absurd. It breaks through all of the verisimilitude of the episode. I joked a few weeks back that Carla has all of the protective instincts of a house plant, that’s how little she seems to care about her daughter’s safety in this series.
And what kills me is that you can easily get the drama you want! You want Emily kidnapped? You can easily have her kidnapped! Just have the bad guys attack or kill her police escort, and kidnap her. See? Done! Easy breezy, it doesn’t take much effort to make the drama realistic, but you have to put SOME effort into things. The other negative side effect of doing stuff the haphazard way is that it makes your characters all look stupid, and harder to root for, when they keep making bizarrely unforced errors.
Just please let the drama be more reasonable.