Guessed the spoiler? Are modern audiences too savvy for TV show twists?
Warning: Contains spoilers for Lost, Alias, Twin Peaks, Doctor Who, Westworld, Game of Thrones, Sherlock and The Walking Dead...
TV twists are a wonderful thing. They blindside the audience, make you gasp and if they're really good, turns the whole show on its head and sends it in a thrilling new direction. "We have to go back to the island" from the end of Lost season three, Sidney Bristow waking up in Hong Kong two years later at the end of Alias season two, the reveal of Laura Palmer's killer in Twin Peaks's second season; these are all huge moments in their respective shows and ones very few - if any - saw coming.
But things are changing. Audiences are getting savvier and in the age of internet discussion, the chances are any upcoming big twist has already been solved, dissected and disseminated by the time the episode airs.
Some could argue that spoilers - certainly big ones - cannot remain hidden until broadcast. As frustrating as it might be, the next Doctor is never going to be revealed during the broadcast of a Doctor Who regeneration. The internet will not allow it; one snapped picture from filming, one press leak and the surprise is undone. At the same time time, there is a sense in defeat in revealing the next lead actor (or actress) months ahead. It doesn't leave any room for the possibility of being surprised. (You still have to wonder why John Simm's return as the Master was so needlessly revealed months before his return though...)
Doctor Who is one of those shows that are ravenously dissected by rabid fans the moment he first trailer airs or tabloid rumour is printed. During his tenure on the show, Steven Moffat has tried to reveal big twists - from River Song's parentage to the mystery of the vault of season 10. And yet, when both of those spoilers was revealed, there was a sense of 'huh?' rather than 'wow!' Was it because both reveals were underwhelming? Perhaps, certainly on the latter. But in the case of River Song, the internet had had two years (four if you go back to her debut in David Tennant's series). The opportunity for conjecture, discussion and theorising meant the audience had clued together the pieces to her identity, that her reveal as Amy and Rory's daughter was less big twist and more confirmation of what we 90% suspected.
That's not to say, conjecture is wrong, more that fans now have platforms in social media, Reddit and until recently IMDB chatrooms to voice their theories and confirm their theories. Talking of Reddit, the makers of Westworld have warned fans not to trawl through Reddit posts if they want to come into season two unspoiled. That's not to say the twists and turns once aired won't be marvellous; more that there's only so many directions the show could possibly go next and with resources and time, fans of the show will map out the direction of the show with their keen deductive skills and slavish enthusiasm for picking every possible element of the show apart.
But if a twist is great, fans will be less willing to forgive the whole 'well I guessed that' moment. Take the reveal of Ed Harris's man in black from Westworld season one. For weeks audiences followed the paths of Ed Harris's Man in Black and Jimmi Simpson guest William. Many, myself included, began to suspect that these two characters might be one and the same and the season was parallel running two different time frames. By the time the reveal came late season one, our suspicions were confirmed but it wasn't disappointing. The twist was still a clever one, the turning of events upside down still revelatory. Rather than complain about the obvious, we congratulated ourselves for a solving the mystery.
Modern audiences have experienced Lost and all its mysteries, sat through the twists and turns of Sherlock, solved the murder mysteries of The Killing and Broadchurch. We are experienced enough to be able to put the pieces together and solve the twist before it has even been revealed. Sometimes it is nice just to sit back and enjoy the twists as they come; I still have no idea where David Lynch as his genius is taking us as the Twin Peaks revival heads into its final run of episodes, but there are surely Reddit posts and Twitter discussions out there that have mapped out everything that is going to happen, if you care to look.
And chances are, you've seasoned enough to have solved plenty of big mysteries even without hours of internet rumblings. Did you guess that Sherlock faked his own death? Did you solve what happened to Glenn in the alley in The Walking Dead season six? Jon Snow's fate after the Game of Thrones season five cliffhanger? You probably did and you probably don't have a PHD or a Reddit account.
The truth is, a great television twist is still that - a great twist. Westworld proved that if it works, it doesn't matter if you've heard rumbling on the internet for the past few weeks about what is going to happen.
The trick is not to spoil the twist when it does happen (we even had our own rant about it in an article last year). I'm currently going through a Monday social media freeze until I've had a chance to catch up on my weekly dose of Twin Peaks and Game of Thrones. Because while some plot turns I might have solved, there are plenty more I want to experience without the risk of a stray tweet or media article signposting the event before I've had a chance to see it.
But that's a discussion for another time...