Mentoring Authors One Scene at a Time – Thriller/Military/Non-Fiction/SF/Fantasy
Posted on November 7, 2019 by Randy
As a quick recap, Villanelle kills an Eastern European Politician/ Human Trafficker but leaves his Polish girlfriend behind as the sole witness. Eve is late to an emergency meeting about this murder and is ordered to protect the girlfriend. Villanelle makes another excellent assassination in Tuscany and is then told that she must kill the girlfriend so as not to leave any witnesses. Eve does some illegal investigating and interviewing with the Polish girlfriend and discovers that her first inclination was correct and the assassin was a woman. And finally, Villanelle, dressed as a nurse, meets Eve briefly in the ladies’ bathroom of the hospital where the Polish girlfriend is being held under guard and Villanelle tells Eve to leave her hair down. Villanelle then kills a nurse, all the guards, and the Polish girlfriend (off-screen). Villanelle escapes before anyone knows she was there, and Eve returns from the bathroom to see the massacre. Eve is fired, but Carolyn meets with her briefly to talk about the female assassin.
This week we will discuss the 5 Commandments of episode 1 of Amazon Prime’s Killing Eve.
These are the five elements that are used to build a scene and should be clearly defined and executed for each scene, each chapter, and each episode.
Inciting Incident, Turning Point/ Progressive Complication, Crisis Question, Climax, Resolution
An inciting incident is the big event scene that kicks off the story. It’s the frisson that the reader/ viewer experiences that excites them.
An Inciting Incident can be either Causal – a result of an active choice by a character, or Coincidental – an event that is unexpected, random, or accidental.
The Inciting Incident for the first episode of Killing Eve occurs when MI5 members are called in on a Saturday to discuss an assassination in Vienna. This is a Causal scene as the unknown assassin consciously made the choice to kill her victim. This isn’t the first scene of the episode, but it’s important to note that the inciting incident doesn’t have to be the first scene. It’s the event that upends the state of normal. This state of normal is funny and horrifying at the same time.
The first scene is interesting, because it becomes the first of many that show the viewer that Villanelle is just not right in the head: We are introduced to a beautiful woman eating ice-cream, watching a little girl eat ice-cream, and Villanelle really wants to make her smile, she has to watch the waiter and he smiles in order to finally get the little girl to smile back at her. And then she looks at her watch, wipes away a suspiciously red mark on it, walks out of the cafe and on the way tips the ice-cream into the little girl’s lap. She’s beautiful but something’s not right.
These first couple scenes set the tone and mood for the series, set the viewer up with expectations. We know that the assassin is very good at her job, she slices a femoral artery while walking past her target without the target or the girlfriend knowing. We know the assassin is not normal. We see that Eve isn’t super happy in either her job or her marriage and that she is kind of a mess.
Mel noticed that the name of the ice cream store was spelled wrong in German, and she did her own sleuthing and discovered that there actually was a murder at that location.
Randy mentioned the book, and how the psychopathic Villanelle is present internally. But the screenwriters did an excellent job in this first scene presenting Villanelle reacting incorrectly with the little girl and the ice cream.
The Progressive Complications are the escalating degrees of conflict that face the protagonist. Progressive Complications move the story forward, never backward, by making life more and more difficult for the protagonist.
Here are a few of the Progressive Complications in the first episode of Killing Eve, the events or obstacles which work against her finding the killer:
This brings us to the Turning Point.
The Turning Point is a specific Progressive Complication when new information comes to the fore and a character can’t help but react. These are the clearly defined and surprising moments in the story that excites the reader/ viewer and maintain their interest. Writers create Turning Points by asking “How difficult would it be for the protagonist to reverse his or her decision or action?
Turning events are created through either Character Action or Revelation.
In Killing Eve, the Turning Point of the first episode is when Eve is told by her boss, Bill, that there is no CCTV of the first assassination. This leads Eve to suspect that there might be a mole in MI5 and strengthens her belief that the assassin might be a woman. This is a Revelation Turning Point. Additionally, this particular event leads Eve to her Crisis Question of the First Episode.
The Crisis is an actual question that offers a choice between two options, and the protagonist must make a hard decision. The choice made will either move the character closer or further from their internal and external object of desire, mostly closer to one and further from another, or vice versa. It’s like: you can’t have both. If you want to build a strong career, you have to renounce your personal relationships to some degree, even though you need more love.
Also, a Crisis Question should be between two best bad choices or two irreconcilable goods. The choice should be very difficult for the character to make and the repercussions must be clear to the reader or viewer. So if we stick to the example: if a character decides to pursue his career, his love life will suffer. Keep an eye out for that if you watch Killing Eve. The intimate relationship, Eve has with her husband will change.
In Killing Eve, Eve’s Crisis Question is: Does Eve continue to pursue information about this woman assassin against the orders of her boss or not? If she doesn’t continue her own investigation, Eve believes the assassin will continue to kill because MI5 is following the wrong clues and might have a mole. However, if she continues her own investigation, she might find more information to stop the assassin, but she also might get fired and she believes (arrogantly) she is the only person who can find the assassin and stop her. So the question is: Is Eve a rule follower or rule breaker?
Mel believes this is the same Crisis Question that is presented to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. Parul feels that Eve may not feel for the victims, she is dead set on pursuing her objectives. Mel feels she shows this sympathy when she freaks out seeing the massacre. Randy thinks that Carolyn and Eve are more worried about the bigger picture than the victims because the victims until the hospital scene are not good people – a mafia member and a trafficker. But she sees the innocents die in the hospital and recognizes the innocent victims.
The Climax is when the character acts on her crisis question and reveals the truth of her character. That’s also how you put Show, don’t tell to work. In your novel or screenplay, you do not say who a person really is, because words can be lies and we can claim a person to be so many good or bad things. But character is revealed through action. Put a person in a difficult crisis and her decision will tell you who she is.
For Eve it’s a crisis question that could cost her her job or her morality. Almost similar to the Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling. Does she continue her lead to the place the first victim of Buffalo Bill was from or does she go back to the FBI training, facing damnation, because she knows she might’ve, could have made a change?
So for Eve, the crisis came up to the best bad choice:
Does Eve follow the rules and risk losing the assassin or break the rules and risk getting fired preventing her from assisting in the pursuit of the assassin. Is she a rule breaker or a rule follower?
Eve is a Rule Breaker. Eve’s journey to the hospital is the crisis point – does she take a minor with her (yes) does she continue to conduct an illegal investigation (yes). Being at the hospital leads her a number of irreversible matters 1) She meets Villanelle and begins V’s obsession with her 2) She witnesses death first hand, which will mean that going back to her boring desk job will be hard. Remember that before this moment, Bill says to her ‘our job is boring’ and I’m sorry if your husband is boring you’ and tells her that she needs to suck it up and live with the limitations of their role within the agency.
The resolution is crucial for the reader or viewer to fully metabolize the story, it tells the reader or viewer what were the results of the decision the character made in the Climax and how the worldview has shifted.
In Killing Eve, the results of Eve breaking the rules ends in her getting fired from MI5 because she endangered a minor (the family friend she brought that almost died) and because MI5 thinks she was too busy breaking rules and therefore unable to do her job which was to provide the girlfriend security.
After she is fired, Carolyn comes to speak to Eve and tells her to meet her at an address in London the next day. This might actually be the Inciting Incident for the next episode. We sense that this might be a great opportunity for Eve.
For Episode 1, the polar value changes from negative to double negative.
At the beginning of the series, Eve is dissatisfied with her job as a security manager for MI5 and she feels that she has a higher purpose in life as a more important part of MI5. At the end of the episode, after Eve attempts to break the rules by doing her own investigation, people die and she gets fired.
The final scene of the episode is a cliffhanger that actually sets up the Beginning Hook for the next episode.
Parul feels from a worldview perspective, it might be a negative to positive.
As a thriller, I think we are on the right track to making this story work:
A Thriller is a combination of Action, Horror, and Crime genres.
The writers have definitely shown Villanelle to be a badass.
On top of that, the writers have also established that she is a crazy psychopath.
Lastly, they have created a power divide between the protagonist and the antagonist. Villanelle absolutely outclasses Eve in almost every way. Eve has no training, doesn’t know who Villanelles is, and doesn’t know what she wants. Villanelle is just a badass.
I also think the ping pong of POVs, between Villanelle and Eve, raise the stakes and tension for the viewers.
Doesn’t everyone want to grow up, get married and then and meet a beautiful, twisted killer that they can’t stop thinking of? Maybe not. I was chatting to a friend the other night about Killing Eve and the woman I was speaking to said that she just LOVED Villanelle’s character. Personally I prefer the awkwardness and sanity of Eve – but I can see how Villanelle is beguiling, utterly gorgeous with a brilliant sense of humor. As we’ll see in future episodes Eve thinks so too – she can’t stop thinking about Villanelle. Luke Jennings told me that the show has a large gay following, there are forums who discuss this couple. And here’s the thing: Villanelle’s Kryptonite is her reaction to Eve. We see it in the bathroom when they meet, Eve lets her hair down, Villanelle stares at her, they have eye contact. Eve goes to put her hair up, and Villanelle says – probably the only comment she makes that seems authentic – ‘keep it up’. She looks down for a second – either in shyness or eyeing her up – I’m not sure. Remember that Villanelle loves to look people in the eye – it’s part of her crazy. But she looks down for a split second. Also, bear in mind that everything sweet that Villanelle has said to date in this episode is then proved to be false – all sweetness is fake. But that comment in the bathroom, I think she meant it.
I still can’t get over how Villanelle walked into a chalet in Tuscany with just a hairpin to do her assassination, so with that in mind: What other movies or TV series have shown creative and explosive assassination attempts?
Randall: Gross Point Blank, The Presidio
Mel: Assassination attempts in stories are often aimed at the famous, rich and powerful people in the world. The ones everyone knows. It’s bad if someone dies, but of course as a writer you raise the stakes if a public figure gets killed. That’s a shock, and the assassination of a famous person has definitely become a trope in stories.
Be it to make fun of it, like Abe Simpson trying to kill Hitler but is prevented by Monty Burns throwing a tennis ball at him.
Or, for example, be it to show a great fight sequence like in the opening fight scene of Watchmen with mug-and knife throwing, gun-firing and – finally – a smashed window and a long way down. Having great music and some brilliant comic-book visuals in it.
For everyone reading comic books, in The Umbrella Academy Vol. 2 – Dallas – the story is all about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. And the interesting part is: one and the same man tries to do it and tries to stop it at the same time. Definitely worth looking into.
Parul: 24 series, Designated survivor
If you have any examples that we haven’t thought of then leave them in the comments section. Visit our website at http://www.showrunners.com to vote on our next television series to analyze on the podcast.
Next week our crew dives into the 5 commandments of Episode 2.
If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:
Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.
My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.
Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!
Killing Eve series on Amazon Prime
Other Web Pages:
Books, Movies, Television series:
Umbrella Academy television series
Designated Survivor television series
The Simpsons Television series
Killing Eve Episode Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v7q-heYthE&list=PLvMGq_h9khwXzWjBd32vbaaHfNvjucZ8x&index=5
Killing Eve Theme Song – Pshycotic Beats: Killer Shangri-lah
Category: Story Grid Showrunners Podcast, televisionTags: 5 commandments, 6 core questions, author, jamie comer, Killing Eve, Luke Jenning, Sandra Oh, screenwriting, Story Grid, tv series, writing
With 25+ years of military experience, let me help you make your action characters and scenes more authentic. Contact me and tell me about your writing project.
© 2020 Randall R. Surles