Why Falcon and The Winter Soldier works

Released this spring over six weeks, Falcon and Winter Soldier was a huge hit. I certainly watched every episode. It wasn’t as funny as Loki. It wasn’t as emotionally devastating as Wandavision.

But it was great. It was a solid political intrigue terrorist story, with some superhero antics thrown in for good measure.

Let’s talk today about why it works.

I want to start with the primary antagonist, Karli. She is a terrifically written antagonist. 

Notice that I don’t say bad guy. Because Karli isn’t what I’d consider a bad person. She’s a person who’s lost hope in the world. 

After the blip was corrected, millions of people were displaced. There are not enough resources to go around. Karli’s barely surviving with her friends and what little family she has left. She’s not a bad person. She’s just trying to get someone, anyone to take this situation seriously. And it is serious. People are dying.

Kind of like now, in real life. But I digress.

Karlie is the perfect example of a person with good intentions who does horrible things. We don’t want her to succeed, but we also don’t want her to suffer. Part of this is achieved by the fact that she’s young and adorable. Come on, what melts a heart faster than curly hair and freckles?

The other part is that she’s a genuinely loving person with real familial attachments. We see her hanging out with her friends. We see her mourn the passing of the woman who raised her. We care about her because we can see that she cares about the world around her. This is not detached from the horrific things she does. If anything, it’s a direct relation. She loves, and so she feels like she has to kill. 

Of course, Karlie’s just part of the story. As it’s been pointed out online, we spend a lot of time (maybe too much) seeing the character growth of Sam and Bucky.

Sam is angry at a lot of people. And he’s got every damned right to be. He’s saved the world as an Avenger, and no one can even help his family save their boat. And now, everyone wants him to be Captain America, and represent a country that has treated him badly.

This storyline delved into some deep issues I’m not fully qualified to discuss. The super-soldier serum being tested on unwilling black men is too close to actual historical events for my comfort, frankly. If the popularity of this show does anything, I hope that it shines a much-needed light on some disgusting moments in our history.

As he comes to terms with helping a nation that has not helped him, Bucky’s going through a very different evolution.

He has done terrible things. He’s killed innocent people. And the fact that it wasn’t him committing these actions doesn’t matter to him. His body was used, he’s just as much of a victim as anyone. But he still buys lunch for the old man whose son he murdered as Winter Soldier.

These character arches are a big focus of the show, and I was thrilled to see this. We need more stories of growth and change. Yes, explosions are fun. Yes, aerial battles are awesome. But fiction is supposed to tell truths while telling lies. And I’m thrilled that such a mainstream, popular show talked about some hard truths. 

So, the takeaway for writers is this.

Write an antagonist who’s pure enough to be relatable, but still twisted and broken enough that you can’t root for them to succeed.

Write honestly about things that need to be talked about. 

Is there a show, movie or book that you’d like me to break apart and discuss why it works? Let me know in the comments. 

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Why 9 Works

Spoiler warning! We can’t break apart a movie like this without giving away its twist.

9 is a little heard of film from 2009. It’s a dark dystopian film about little dolls left over after all the humans are gone. 

In this version of the end of the world, we were destroyed by our machines. This movie would have fit very well in the Animatrix. 

Much of what made 9 enjoyable was the atmosphere. The artwork is bright and dark at the same time. The little dolls have some great detail that holds up even after twelve years. And I love anything cute and creepy.

But as a writer, that’s not something I can replicate. What I can learn from is the story. 

Now, I have to say, the plot of the movie leaves something to be desired. It’s a little all over the place. At different times 9, our main character, has very different goals. It certainly doesn’t fall into a three-act structure.

While this is disorienting, it’s also not terrible. It’s just what I’d consider experimental. 9 has a set goal in mind, save his friend from the horrifying cat machine who stole him. 

It was entirely shocking to me when he failed at this. I had no idea what was going to happen after that. Which is kind of awesome. It’s kind of fun to be disoriented in the same way it’s kind of fun to be scared. 

It’s also brave to have your main character just straight up fail to do something he’s been trying to do through most of the movie. It’s realistic. We fail sometimes, at really important things. And if art is to be honest, we need to show those failures. 

I loved that, even though 9 couldn’t save his friend, he wins in the end. Because that’s a lesson we should all learn. That even if we fail at really important things, that doesn’t mean we’ll keep failing. 

Writing is about lying while telling the truth. The lie is this whole dystopian story. The truth is that one failure, no matter how big, isn’t a deciding factor for the rest of your life.

Now, you know I have to talk about characters. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like the characters in this movie at first. They all seemed one-dimensional. This character was brave, this character was angry. They all seemed to have no more depth than that.

But that’s the gimmick. Because these aren’t separate characters. It’s only at the end of the movie that we learn they’re all aspects of their creators’ personality. This floored me. But I love it.

The main takeaway is this. 9 did two things that, if the movie hadn’t done them just right, would have been awful. They changed goals halfway through the movie and they had a cast of one-dimensional characters. And yet the story wouldn’t have worked any other way.

What we learn from this is to break the rules of writing if you can do it well. We don’t just ignore these rules out of laziness. No, I’d say that this story took a lot more effort than if the writer had obeyed the rules to the letter. If we ignore them, it should be a conscious choice. It should be to tell a great story, rather than just a good one.

Is there a story you’d like me to break apart to see why it works? Let me know in the comments.

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Why The Good Place Works

I know, I’m behind. But I finally just watched all of The Good Place in the span of like, a week.

I went into it knowing almost nothing about the show. I knew it was about ‘the good place’. That was it.

If you’ve never seen the show before, click away now. Because you don’t want the twists ruined. I mean, it would be almost impossible to ruin them all. My goodness, there are so many twists. But we’ll talk about that soon. 

I understand entirely why people were so obsessed with this show. The writing was amazing. And as always, there’s a lot to learn from it. 

Let’s start with the twists. Because, you consistently have no idea what’s going to happen next. I was blown away all the time, just by what they managed to sneak past me.

The twists work especially well because, when you look back, they make sense. And this is the tricky thing about writing twists. You want them to seem like they come out of nowhere. But if they don’t make sense, then they’re just jarring.

You learn pretty quickly while watching this to trust nothing. You don’t know who to trust. And honestly, you probably shouldn’t trust any of the characters. Everyone is lying pretty much all the time. To themselves, to each other. You’d think this would make the characters unlikable. But it doesn’t.

You know, characters make or break the show for me. And Elenore, Cheedie, Janet and the rest stole my heart every single episode. You hate/love the characters. And I think it’s because we’ve all been where they are. We’ve all tried to be better. We’ve all tried to help people. We’ve all found it difficult to do the right thing, no matter how hard we try. And for sure, we’ve all felt like we don’t belong. And so their struggles become your struggles. Their failures become yours. And their successes become yours as well.

Speaking of which. The Good Place called me out several times. Yes, I am one of those people who take their shoes off during long trips. I probably do any number of other things that will land someone in the bad place. The whole time we’re watching this, the darling husband and I kept giving each other pointed glances. It makes you second guess everything you’ve ever done. But in a non-judgy way. The show does that by poking fun at little things we all do. Things that probably annoy others, but we just can’t help ourselves. Bad little selfish habits that wouldn’t get you sent to the bad place.


Yeah, you’re probably fine. The best thing about The Good Place is that there is a really happy ending. Not like an over-the-top Adam Sandler ending. But also not gut-wrenching sad. It’s sweet, beautiful, perfect. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Too often I feel like endings seek to piss their fans off. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it happens. How else could you explain the ending of Roseanne or The Dinosaurs? It is so nice to see a show not outlive its welcome, not get canceled, and have a real, solid, satisfying happy ending.

Have you seen The Good Place? What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments. 

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