Complex TV


One option is using diegetic flashbacks to serve as embedded recaps for viewers in the moment of the surprise itself. “Daybreak,” the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, offers a good (if convoluted) example. Five characters (including Tory and Galen) agree to share in a technological process that will share their memories with each other to facilitate a peace agreement between the warring Cylons and humans. Prior to the procedure, Tory mentions that they may discover shameful things in their pasts, a protest that is quickly brushed aside. During the procedure, we glimpse memories in the form of flashbacks of some key moments from each character. Among these events, we see Tory confronting Galen’s late wife, Cally; Galen starts to focus on these memories, and we witness a replay of Tory’s murder of Cally from “The Ties That Bind,” which had originally aired 11 months before “Daybreak”; this revelation triggers Galen to break from the procedure and strangle Tory. Series producer Ron Moore stated in his commentary track that the writers intentionally “buried” the storyline of Cally’s murder, waiting for this climactic moment to pay off Galen’s revenge with high narrative stakes in the finale. Notably, the recap for “Daybreak” contains no reference to Cally or her murder, allowing the viewer to experience the rekindled memory along with Galen’s realization. While a dedicated viewer certainly could have recalled that Tory had murdered Cally, it was far from active memory after 11 months and many subsequent plot machinations—viewers watching the series on DVD would have a more compressed experience and thus would be more likely to have the lingering plot point fresh within their minds. But for viewers watching the original airings whom I spoke with, the revelation prompted a gradual surprising realization that Galen would witness his wife’s murder. Had the recap reminded us about the murder, we would have likely anticipated the result of the memory meld earlier, defusing a moment of high drama. The effect of such revelations might be called surprise memory, or the moment of being surprised by story information that you already know but do not have within working memory.

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