Spoilers for the last couple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and The L Word, in the unlikely event that anyone who gives half a shit about either show hasn’t either seen the episodes or heard about them.
There are many shows that, for whatever reason, have their characters do things that are either entirely out of character, wholly implausible, or both. Usually this reason is that the writers have run out of ideas, but sometimes they’re just weird.
The question becomes: How do you address this within the show? Two shows I watch have pulled really odd and implausible plot twists out of their asses, and have gone with entirely different tacks in terms of how the other characters react to the weirdness.
Grey’s Anatomy has had Katherine Heigl’s character, Izzie, fucking the ghost of her dead ex-boyfriend. Like, having actual sex with a ghost. No other characters find out about it for a couple episodes, and when Izzie’s actual living, breathing, boyfriend, Alex, finds out about it, his reaction is roughly, “Whatever.”
The whole fucking-a-ghost thing is weird and implausible enough on its own, but for Alex to not really have a reaction to it made it that much stupider. As a doctor, he should at least be concerned about someone having massive hallucinations. As her boyfriend, he should really be concerned that she’s cheating on him with said hallucinations.
The whole thing’s just been handled atrociously, and what’s worse is that it’s STILL dragging out. There was some resolution in the last episode (apparently, Dead Boyfriend came back to tell Izzie that she’s sick, but he wasn’t an omniscient enough ghost to actually tell her what she has), but there’s still a lot of unraveling that arc has to do.
Meanwhile, The L Word, usually a show I still watch because it’s grown so cartoonishly bad it’s actually funny, actually handled an out-of-character moment for two of its characters really, really well.
Jenny is the resident flake/screenwriter, Shane is the resident seductress/slut. The characters have been good friends for several seasons, but apparently Jenny decided she was in love with Shane, and at the end of the episode two Sundays ago, declared said love.
Shane reacted to this by sleeping with her, eliciting a collective, “What the FUCK?!” from the lesbians and friends of lesbians who still watch this show, because such a pairing really makes no sense for either character. Even in a show infamous for lack of continuity and character inconsistency, this stood out as really bizarre.
But the payoff to the hookup that happens in the first few minutes of the next episode made me completely ignore its irrationality. Alice, a friend of both Jenny and Shane, comes over the morning after the ridiculous hookup, and has an awesome moment of revelation where she realizes Jenny and Shane had sex.
The camera pushes in on her face like in a Hitchcock movie where someone’s just realized they know who the killer is. Due credit to Leisha Hailey, who plays Alice: The way her facial expression morphs into a truly horrified grimace as the camera pushes in is absolutely hysterical.
Alice immediately excuses herself to use the restroom, and sends out a freaked-out mass text to all their mutual friends. The montage of reactions (one person falls off a treadmill, one person busts out laughing in the middle of a meeting, one person even gives an out loud, “What the fuck?”) is truly the best sequence they’ve done in years.
And why was this so funny? Because they took the bomb they just dropped on the audience and showed that even within the show, people were completely flummoxed and thrown by the development, just as much as the audience was. They effectively told the audience, “We know what we’re doing is insane. Stick with us on this one,” by making every other character in the show a proxy for the audience’s reaction.
Now I will grant the Grey’s folks one thing: They have to fill 22 episodes, where as the L Word writers only had to fill 8 episodes for their truncated final season. Part of the reason the L Word writers may have moved to address the issue so quickly was that they really didn’t have time not to.
Whatever the reason, it’s a fascinating contrast in how writers approach plotlines that take both the characters and the audience out of their comfort zones.