If this half of “The Price of Gratitude” feels a bit short and anti-climactic, I apologize. TPoG was really intended as a single episode, more so even than last week’s. Together, the entire thing will encompass either 13 or 14 scenes. Admittedly that isn’t huge for an ASF episode, but I’m quite conscious of the fact that ASF episodes are too damn long for a single sitting. They’re daunting. The two solutions I can think of are: eliminating the details that make the episodes long, or splitting them up.
The Devil’s in the Details: Playing All the Plot and Character Beats
The thing is, I don’t want to eliminate the details. I’ve said it before, possibly on an EpiCast but maybe just in conversation with Michael (author of the webserial Footprints), who’s my co-host on the EpiCastΒ as well as a writer I admire: I try to make ASF a mix ofΒ the high-stakes plots of a nighttime serialized drama with the detailed character development and exploration of a daytime soap. I love that character exploration; it’s what I miss most from the daytime serials I loved as a teen through my late twenties (basically, the mid-1980s – 1992), and why I got sick of them and today can’t bear them–because they no longer care about characters.
ASF was Cassie and my answer to the style of storytelling that we missed. Sure, we loved the higher stakes of primetime dramas too, and of films as well, and of course great/fun novels while we’re at it. I’m not skipping beats just to speed things up arbitrarily and turn the serial into something I don’t find fulfilling to write (hopefully, you guys find it fulfilling to read too).
Anyway, all this is to say that despite my fetish for detailed character development and believable (if sometimes melodramatic) plotting, I also don’t want ASF to be so unwieldy that no one can ever catch up because episodes are 15,000 words long and it’s just too overwhelming to fall behind.
Sooooo, that’s the long way of saying: this episode was 15K words long and I split it up at a relatively reasonable place so that each half is a meal that’s a far more digestable size.
In the first two-parter of the miniseries, “Whom the Gods Love,” the installment was easily split at a much more natural resting place. The funeral was over, Hannah had confronted her husband and Cameron, and there was a bit of a cliffhanger regarding her finally realizing that something had happened to Ian. Part 2 began with a change of time period, the beginning of Heather’s story, a diversion with the Hope plotline (which, obviously, was continued and will continue moving forward), and finally the slow, inexorable decline of poor Heather’s condition. All very satisfying and meaty.
Tyler Stanford: How Do I Make a Normal Kid Interesting? Answer: I Didn’t, Until…
Wow, all this verbiage and I still haven’t addressed THIS episode yet! What trivia tidbits do I have to offer in this commentary?
Okay, how’s this: In this episode, we spend more time in Tyler’s head than in any other ASF episode.
Now a fair response to that trivia might be: “Um, yeah, Kira, and now we see why. He’s just a regular guy. What’s special about him?”
My answer to that last question would be–not much, but a helluva lot more than before.
It’s taken me 16 years (on and off) to get a handle on Tyler Stanford. Unlike almost every other ASF character, he’s not neurotic. It’s the nutcases, the troubled folks, the angsty, who fascinate me and make for particular interesting POV characters. Their minds are unusual; they have a lot of tumult going on inside them, or (in the case of someone like Martina–she’s not a neurotic, for example, but she certainly is troubled) outside them. Or, to take another POV character I enjoy who’s not neurotic: Jonnie. I freakin’ adore showing scenes from his perspective. I know his mental voice, I know his external voice (they aren’t hugely different, even when he’s keeping secrets from the majority of the rest of the cast). But he has sardonic thoughts about everyone and he lets me take a darker viewpoint of even likeable characters such as Frank. Even Jonnie’s thoughts about Rena or Hannah are enlightening.
Okay, this isn’t supposed to be a paean to one character; it’s unseemly. Point is, Tyler is, as my hypothetical interlocutor above said so pertinently, just a regular guy. I don’t actually empathize with “regular guys” all that much. Even Mike Fiore… he’s a ‘regular guy’ but he has more frustrations, more experiences to deal with. Tyler’s been a good-looking basketball star with a pretty girlfriend, supportive and present parents, annoying half-sister, admiring younger brother, and offscreen friends. He’s not a deep thinker–he hasn’t had to be. Where’s the fun in looking at things from a generally happy kid’s POV?
Then along came Ian and Daphne. The readers saw at once that Ian/Daphne had way more chemistry than Tyler/Daphne. It was obvious the dramatic flow was in favor of Ian/Daphne; there’s internal and external conflict causing problems, for a long time neither of them wanted to admit their attraction, major angsty and action-oriented plots kept throwing them together, and so on.
Faced with all this, what does Tyler have? Does anyone want Tyler and Daphne together? I’ll wait while you all answer.
Hmm, do I hear crickets, or is that my tinnitus acting up again?
You see? That’s been my challenge. Oh, I’ve thrown some minor obstacles in his way; Charles doesn’t approve of Daphne, he’s annoyed wth Tyler blowing off schoolwork and spending too much time with Daphne’s problems (which in fairness is a perfectly legitimate and believable objection, and I don’t think that was a bad beat to play at all, especially considering it paralleled Charles’s own background with his troublesome first wife, Roberta, thus letting me explore Charles as well). Meanwhile, Doug isn’t thrilled by Daphne’s relationship with Tyler either, but really, in his case that’s more dog-in-the-manger sour grapes (to combine two Aesop’s Fables there). It’s the fact that Tyler’s Charles’s kid that bugs Doug, not really Tyler himself. So I hardly count that.
So Why Not Just Get Rid of Him?
Somewhere toward the middle of the interminable Fourth Season That Was (now the fifth season), I took a look at Tyler and thought to myself: Wow, it would be so, so easy to just send Tyler off to college and get rid of him already. Toward the end of the (now) Fifth Season, Daphne’s been cutting classes and isn’t interested in graduating, while Tyler did well on his SATs and seemed headed for Cornell. Yay, soon the unimportant leg of the uneven Daphne/Ian/Tyler triangle would be gone, the road’s clear for whatever’s in store for the preferred duo of Ian/Daphne! Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Well, screw that. ASF isn’t supposed to be easy peasy lemon squeezy. It’s supposed to be… difficult difficult lemon difficult. (That’s for you fans of In The Loop.)
Seriously, I don’t like making things easy on myself as a writer (heaven forfend!) any more than I like making things easy on my characters. I wanted to make Tyler likeable, I wanted him to mature already, I wanted him to ease into a more, dare I say it, protagonistic position. Most of all I wanted readers to like him, to understand him. Hell, I wanted to like and understand him!
And so began his very slow (and possibly invisible to you guys who are reading this in real-time) metamorphosis from shallow jock to caring but not sappy young man. Chelsea’s operation at the very end of last season is, in a way, his shining hour (and I admit this was with an eye to what I knew would be happening to him at the wedding). It’s not your standard heroic shining hour, I admit. There’s an episode where Charles, Cynthia, Tyler and Jason are all waiting for Chelsea’s ear operation results. The scene is actually from Jason’s POV. Charles is pretty much in a haze, Cynthia is trying to offer what she calls support (okay yeah, I don’t like her much) and wants to talk to Charles in private, but Jason doesn’t notice this.
Tyler, however, does.
He suddenly tells Jason to come with him to get something to eat since it’s obvious Jason’s hungry. Jason isn’t hungry and doesn’t take the hint until Tyler insists. Tyler later explains that he knew their mom wanted to talk to Dad, particularly about not having Chelsea stay with them post-operation. Tyler says it’s probably best that Chelsea doesn’t stay. Jason gets annoyed with him for continuing to hold a grudge against Chelsea considering what she’s going through.
Here, Tyler takes a completely reasonable position: he says, no, he’s not a big fan of Chelsea, but the truth is, their sister doesn’t want to stay with them either, especially with Cynthia for company; their dad wants to take care of Chelsea mainly for himself, because he needs to make up for being a negligant/absentee father during Chelsea’s childhood.
There’s more of this discussion where the two brothers bond in a way they never have before, but I don’t want to go on about it. The point is, this is really where Tyler shows that he’s grown up and learned something about his father and their family dynamics. It doesn’t come out of the blue, at least I hope it didn’t. And from then on, there were other little moments. Tyler makes objections to Ian’s behavior regarding Daphne that are perfectly legitmiate: Ian is being manipulative, he is constantly pulling Daphne toward him and pushing her away the next minute. He’s invited her to fancy occasions (the opera, a dinner party, a formal wedding) where Daphne’s out of her depth and thus reliant on Ian to show her the ropes.
Meanwhile, in a scene at the Arleigh School, despite the fact that Tyler’s pissed off with Daphne, I had him be utterly unintimidated by Becca and her crew when Becca was being a total witch to her. He set her straight and told her to shove off. Even Becca was impressed.
Finally, there was Valentine’s Day/Victor and Laurie’s wedding. Again, almost everything was from Jason or Daphne’s POV, but we did start to move into Tyler’s perspective (at least, once he decided to break up with Daphne… just before he got stabbed). Tyler stood up for himself and explained to Daphne that he was tired of her stringing him along; yet he also told Jason that even if Daphne was acting inconsiderate, he did love her and wanted to make sure she was safe. He also gently told Jason to watch out for Becca–showing that despite his bluster, Tyler does notice Jason and sees the company he’s been keeping.
And I even made sure to show him not being a typical soap opera idiot: when he started to investigate the missing security guards around the church, he stopped himself and thought, “What am I, stupid, walking around by myself? Call 911 and have the cops deal with it.” Isn’t that what we’ve been shouting at self-appointed amateur detectives since time immemorial? Okay, this time it was too late and the poor guy got himself cruelly stabbed for his trouble, but he tried to make that call. Thus winning him intelligence points above 99% of soap opera teens.
So at long last, there’s this episode. I knew, when he was stabbed in last season’s finale, exactly what would happen to him. I know his fate and I wanted readers to care what happens to him. I don’t want you to think: a) thank God, we’re getting rid of this annoying obstacle to Daphne/Ian, or b) Kira’s taking the lazy route out of things. I want y’all to be thinking c) oh crap, just when I started to like this guy! When did I actually start to care about him? Here he is showing some good common sense and knowledge as a would-be doctor and it’s only going to end in tears. Damn it Daphne he’s a perfectly good catch and look how hard he fought to save you! Now he’s getting worse and you’re not even paying full attention to what’s happening because you’re obsessing over Ian!
Okay, you probably won’t be thinking all that. But if anyone’s thinking any part of option C, I’ll be happy.
The Question Mark: Where Is Ian?
As for the rest of the episode, most of it is in the very-familiar Daphne perspective, and while she too is in a difficult position, she’s working from some basic misunderstandings here. Showing Daphne’s POV lets me continue the suspense of what exactly is going on with Ian, something I teased in the last two episodes, and continue to do so in this one. Again, this is the unique aspect of this changing perspective miniseries I’m enjoying so much.
By the end of this episode, SPOILER ALERT (although I assume you’ve read this episode already if you’re reading this commentary), Daphne appears to have ‘heard’ from Ian, or at least, she discovers he sent something a week ago (for those keeping track of the timeline, which is probably no one but me, this episode ends on Week 3 post-wedding, so the flowers arrived two weeks after the massacre). I do have some fun here, since we have seen flowers being sent to a woman that were a bit of a misdirection (the bouquet Laurie received just prior to the wedding). But there is a big clue in the dried flower composition itself, if you know your botany.
Anyway, I just want readers to start to wonder: okay, so Ian is alive, apparently? Why isn’t he seeing Daphne? Last episode Hannah called his situation “horrifying.” What the heck is it? You’ll get some more clues in the second half of “The Price of Gratitude.” And by the following episode after that, Ian’s story will be told, I promise.
Screwed-Up Parents Need Author Love Too
Finally we have Doug’s perspective, where we see his impetus for getting in touch with Alicia Vasquez and wanting to see Hope. At this point, he feels sympathy for Hannah (who just lost Justin) but he doesn’t realize she’s about to get a second major blow in three more weeks, so his thoughts are mainly for Hope here. I touched base with Nora–mainly due to the fact that Daphne’s mother simply couldn’t ignore her daughter after such an incident, even if she’s in prison. But also because… well, Nora isn’t completely gone from their lives, is she? I don’t want y’all to forget that.
I’ve sure written a lot about an episode that didn’t seem to have much going on, haven’t I? I’ll end with a promise that Part 2 is more filling. There are some beats played that you probably should be expecting considering previous events, but perhaps… not. And it certainly contains, emotionally, more of what you’d expect from an episode following a church massacre. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but… it’s an ASF thing. And hopefully that’s what you guys came here for, right?
Thanks as always for reading, and I hope you get in touch and let me know what you think via comments below or in the message board or the interactive mailing list. Gosh at least click the little “MoodThingy” bar down there (you don’t have to be logged in, I don’t think) to let me know how the episode made you feel. Or click “like” if you’re on Facebook. To quote “When Harry Met Sally,” do something resembling anything! π It’ll make my Thanksgiving extra special, as I hope yours is too. (Those of you who celebrate it. The rest of you can have extra special regular weeks!)
(BTW I want props for that title image. Blood added by myself, thankyouverymuch!)