Exceed My Expectations - Don't Subvert Them.


Pizza Delivery Analogy

If you order pizza delivery and you're told it will take fifteen minutes to arrive but it takes thirty-five minutes - you are disappointed. However, if you're told it will take one hour but it arrives in forty-five minutes, you're happy, even though forty-five minutes is a longer wait than thirty-five.

Scotty used to do this all the time on Star Trek. He'd tell Kirk that a job would take twice as long as it really would, then when he had completed it in half the time he quoted he would be lauded as an engineering genius.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was released in December 2017. The film was a direct sequel to The Force Awakens and served as the second installment of a new trilogy. More than this, it was the penultimate story in a nine-film saga. As such there were seven previous films it needed to tie in to. Seven movies worth of rules and world-building that the fans had become invested in.

There were several elements of setup and foreshadowing in The Force Awakens, and each time The Last Jedi forsook them.

  • Who is Snoke? Doesn't matter he's dead - BOOM! Didn't see that coming did you?

  • Rey gives Luke his (and his father's) Lightsaber. He chucks it over his shoulder and off a cliff - BOOM! Didn't see that coming did you?

  • Luke, the ultimate optimist, and seer of good in even the evilest of people tried to kill his nephew because... Bad thoughts. BOOM! Didn't see that coming did you?

  • The resolution to the two-hour space chase? Fly a ship into the baddies at light speed. BOOM! Didn't see that coming did you?

Ignoring some pretty terrible story logic, the total disregard of Luke's character, and a meaningless B plot, all of these subversions ended up ruining the film for me, and more than this - it ruined the previous film too. All of those setups in The Force Awakens ultimately led nowhere. How can we watch that movie now and be invested in it?

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones is one of the best television shows ever made. Seasons 1 - 4 were adaptations of GRR Martin's, A Song Of Ice And Fire books. As such, they oozed depth, great dialogue, tight story logic, an intangible quality of, well, quality.

We are now in the final season, with several years of storylines needing to be wrapped up. Loose ends need to be tied and a satisfying payoff delivered on all of the setups, character arcs, and foreshadowing. However, four episodes in and some of the most deeply anticipated resolutions have left some fans feeling disappointed.

The secret of Jon Snow's lineage was a big deal. It served as the dramatic reveal to the ends of season 6 and season 7. It was the burning question throughout the whole series. It was so important that GRR Martin famously asked D.B. Weiss and David Benioff if they knew who Jon's mother was when deciding whether or not to let them adapt his books for the screen. His lineage meant little to nothing, in the end, a weak plot device to help push Daenerys into madness. Years of the build-up to be swept away in the final season.

Jamie Lannister's character turned on the revelation in Season 3 that his king-slaying was a heroic act intended to save the innocents of King's Landing from the Mad King's homicidal rage. Yet in this last season, we discovered that he "never really cared much for them, anyway". This felt like a total betrayal of his character. All in the name of subverting our expectations.

There is a strange belief in Hollywood right now, that subverting expectations is good. But when it comes at the expense of character, plot, and theme then it isn't. It is deeply dissatisfying. A good story should be satisfying. When you get to the end it should leave you feeling like, "yeah, that's the only way that could have gone". A great story subverts expectations in clever ways. It leaves you thinking, "Damn, how did I not see that coming!", not "Where the hell did that come from?"

Back to the Pizza: Part II

Exceeding my expectations would be quoting me an hour to deliver the pizza, then delivering in 40 minutes - This is satisfying! You've exceeded my expectations - I'm a happy glutton. However, tell me my pizza will be delivered in an hour but then after 40 minutes you deliver a house brick with a side of cat food - I'm going to be disappointed. That's what 'subverting expectations' feels like right now.

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