Monday, 10 May 2010

Annoying Plot Device No.2 - The Shock Dream

No, it's not the "it was all a dream" ending so rightly reviled in yesterday's post on this themed topic. It is instead something that is used very. very commonly in serial television - the shock dream.

In general, this is most commonly consists a scene showing the shocking demise of a regular character which is then immediately followed by someone sitting bolt upright in bed (generally accompanied by a scream). And it's a dreadful, dreadful cheat. I can imagine that it creates a sense of glee - playing a cheap practical joke on the audience. "Heh heh, Favourite Character's dead. Oh no, wait, it was all Minor Character's dream. Ain't I a stinker?"

It all provokes that weary feeling again when it becomes obvious that we're drifting into dream territory. After all, as soon as you've realised that the section you're in is a dream, it all becomes a little bit dramatically redundant. Nothing you're seeing is "real"* so why should you invest yourself in it? I find myself marking off time while I wait for the sleepy gubbins to finsih and the story proper to pick back up again. OK, yes, I realise that a lot of times dreams are used to either foreshadow or underscore upcoming dramatic moments but that alos feels like a bit of a cheat as I don't really remember many of my dreams being prophetic or dramatically ironic. Mostly incoherent or, if I'm lucky, just filthy (on the rare occasion that I actually remember them - I generally don't).

That not to say that all dream sequences are bad. Some can be genuinely odd, disturbing or dream-like and those are the ones I like. If it actually seems like a dream then it's a different kettle of fish. Occasionally, if you're lucky, you get a slice of mentalness like Twin Peaks which makes bizarre dream logic integral to the plot but there are very few things that can get away with that level of oddity.

In conclusion then, drop the shock dream sequence and give us some actual dream-resembling dream sequences**. Until you can do that, let's all just stay awake for now, shall we?

* We'll leave aside the whole "what is real anyway?" thing for now.

** I'm using the word "dream" so many times that it's beginning to lose all meaning. Dream, dream, dream, dream, dream....

1 comment:

MJenks said...

The best use of this was during the Simpsons, where we saw Homer getting sleepy while driving, and then the next shot shows the family car skidding across the highway, smashing into a telephone pole and bursting into flames.

Lisa then points out the window of a motel and says, "I'm glad we're not in that car!" And that wasn't a real shock dream so much as a classic misdirection that played off kind of like a shock dream.

Shock dreams suck, though.