Breaking the frame of reference
Last night's season finale of the almost-always-entertaining Battlestar Galactica once again demonstrated the genius of its writing staff.
One of the things that the show does extremely well is totally confounding the conventions of television. We are all such jaded consumers of entertainment that it is rare that we're ever surprised.
Well, last night I was surprised.
What the writers did was to totally break the frame of reference. After the nuclear explosion destroys Cloud Nine, I, like nearly 100% of the viewers, expected the show to deal with its direct aftermath. Who died? What were its aftereffects? Will they figure out what actually happened?
Instead, the writers jump ahead an entire year and completely change our frame of reference. The characters are completely changed, something we realize when we see the unthinkable sight of Starbuck gladly embracing her old nemesis, Colonel Tigh.
In a single stroke, the writers both answer the viewers' questions and raise a host of new ones. It is impossible to see all the changes and not wonder how they came about, making for an incredible rich narrative experience.
How can you surprise your audience? How can you use subtlety and implication to enrich the stories you tell?