Unraveling a Television Mystery

A restrained example of the things fans do for love of a show.

A restrained example of the things fans do for love of a show.

I do try to keep this blog about reading, but unfortunately for one reason or another I’ve had very little time to read this week. So I thought I’d talk about an experience that a lot of people have reading that translates well to television: unraveling a mystery.

There are shows that build mysteries into their seasonal plots. Over weeks and months, patterns emerge, ideas appear, and theories are drawn. It’s a wonderful shared experience: seeing other people’s theories, talking to friends and family about possibilities.

And it ends one of two ways: you’re either right or you’re wrong. When you’re wrong, you tend to get pissed. I can’t be the only one who thinks my crazy theory was actually a better idea than what the show actually went with. For instance, on Castle I became convinced for a while that two shadowy figures (his father and her mother’s murderer) were actually the same. This proved wrong, but I still think it would have been great.

But when you’re right, it’s fantastic. I discovered I was right about something today, and I ended up pestering complete strangers about how cool it was that a called it a month ago. This makes me bad dinner company, but I don’t care because I’m so thrilled.

It’s hard to follow a show that keeps you guessing. I think one of the main problems Lost had was that people developed theories and they were all wrong, so they got upset. On the other hand, there’s nothing quite as fun as puzzling out clues.

Some people have a similar experience with novels. It’s a basic convention of murder mysteries that the clues have to be available for the reader to guess the solution ahead of time. But novels are different. The clues actually can’t be as subtle, because if you don’t spot them right away you’ll probably never remember them. That said, when you do spot it right away you feel pretty good about yourself.

In the end, that’s probably a lot of why people follow shows with arc mysteries obsessively: for the feeling of fulfillment when you’re right. I know I won’t be anywhere near as happy if next week I find out my season finale theory for Doctor Who is wrong. I don’t know what it says about people in general that we love being right this much, but I know I’m having a damn good time.

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