Emotionally Packed Narrative Climaxes
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
For some time in your life, there is that one work of art that dominates your thoughts for a very long time. The one work which, when defining your own sense of taste, you were excited to associate with, and still are. For me, there were four such pieces of media. It started with Avatar: The Last Airbender which is my quintessential example of the morally grey. Then, Detective Conan got me into the line of critical thinking and stemmed an appreciation for the stories of Sherlock Holmes. Bojack Horseman allowed me to create thought processes with no definite endings and tons of ambiguity. As for the current one, it is Life is Strange, the game that allowed me to integrate complex thoughts of science and philosophy integrated with emotional catharsis.
A common link among all four stories is how they handle their seasonal or episodic climaxes. I will be discussing the last two. Also, an interesting little fact is that Luc Baghadoust, the producer of Life is Strange is a fan of Bojack Horseman. Clearly, a creative chord was struck here.
It would be hard to argue against the idea the Bojack Horseman can be, for many people, the most influential experience of their life. The theme of the show, development, and the story work together so perfectly in the sense that they keep clashing. The seasons start with Bojack taking a positive step to improve his life, only to end up letting failure push him back down the spiral of shame and self-loathing.
Episode 11s of Bojack are the most critically acclaimed episodes of the show for good reasons. These are the ones which hurt the most. Watching Bojack make actions he could never recover from has a sense of watching a perfect storm which will wipe everything away. You don't want this, but when it does happen, you are just awestruck at how one can lose so much in so little time.
Season 4 took a slightly different approach. The entire season centred around Bojack trying to be closer to Hollyhock, the only person he has not caused any harm to. She convinced him to let their mother stay at his home during her twilight years. Bojack did not want this since being with her brought back too many awful memories. She didn't even call Bojack by his name. Hollyhock, seeing her for a vulnerable and demented old lady who just wants to take care of a baby, found it to be to cruel to let her spend the last of her days alone.
Well, this clash seemed to end in Bojack's favour as we find out that she was secretly drugging Hollyhock's coffee with amphetamine to, well, "help her weight loss". For Bojack, this was the relationship of the season that was broken. This was the one he didn't want fixed, and never sought to someday come back to. He drove her to a nursing home and ensured that she spends the last of her days in the worst condition possible as punishment for all the damage she inflicted on him and Hollyhock. But, something weird happened. She said, "Bojack?"
And we rewind. To show the life of a woman who is suffering from dementia was not an easy process creatively, but the geniuses behind the script worked her condition into it. Through a string of altered, forgotten, and engraved memories, we see the life of Beatrice. The little girl who was bashed for being overweight, the girl who saw her mother labotomised since she got so attatched to her son and couldn't bear losing him. For Beatrice, these were the memories that made her... Her. Much like how her upbringing managed to completely mess her up, she fostered an upbringing which, well which kind of explains why Bojack is Bojack as well. It is just too easy for parents to pass on trauma many generations down.
Now, Hollyhock's point of view was clearer. Beatrice was, before anything else, a human, and humans make huge, unfixable mistakes that they can never fix and can go into denial about. And guess who is the best person to empathise with that?
Bojack, sat down next to his mother. If he can forgive her now, then maybe down the line, he will be forgiven, right? Well, I don't think that was it. I think this was Bojack, no matter what happens in the future, letting the anger against his mom go. Even in the eulogy he gives a few months later, he only addresses the trauma, not the hate. Bojack after his rock bottom at the set of Philbert, he was ready for his change.
Life is Strange
Life is Strange is just as often about the episodic arc as it is about the overarching story. Each episode can be viewed as a self-contained story. The first episode is about Max dealing with the elevated responsibilities she now has and it builds a sense of mystery. The game wants to leave you with a sense of incomprehension and awe. How? An undue snowfall. Complete oblivion. It is like 80 degrees out there and it is snowing. How do you take this sensation further? You use the clever art of a montage.
See, montage is now synonymous with the idea of parody, but it is a really good tool. This game uses a montage to show us the aww experienced by everyone in Arcadia Bay. We see what is at stake with that storm. The camera pulls away from Max and Chloe and shows us the true magnitude of this incomprehensiveness. The game also uses the perfect song for it, Obstacles by Syd Matters. The song talks about the last moments before monumental change, and includes people chanting "Blizzard"
Along with one of the most beautiful songs ever, it created an impact that resulted in one of the most beloved game of 2015 (which was itself a huge year for gaming). And the writers continued their obsession with this. Of course, many properties rely on rising action to keep people anticipating the next episode, but usually, that's just what they are. They are designed only to build interest for the next episode, not provoke strong emotions or interesting thoughts from what you just witnessed. Life is Strange took this concept with it to the next episode.
Whether you saved Kate Marsh or let her die, everyone in Blackwell deserves shame. That was the relevant theme for the episode. At the outro of the last episode, Kate Marsh is the only one who does not get to react in awe to the snow. She was crying in her room about how she can no longer take it. Max, someone who had been to Kate's room earlier and saw just how far Kate's mental state has declined, went forth and hung out with her friend. She even has the option to ignore her call.
You can walk out of that building with a broken Mate Marsh or you could walk out alone. Well, the outro to this episode was Mt. Washington by Local Natives, a song about shame and guilt. While this did also push the story into its next stage, it also concluded the story told so far. This episode was about not letting the problematic things to slip away. Funnily enough, Jefferson letting Kate Marsh walk away crying was also problematic. But back to the outro, the big natural event for today is an eclipse over Arcadia Bay, the town that does not deserve the pride of the sun.
While I could do one for each of the episodes, I want to give one mention to the prequel game which turned out to be just as good at emotional relatability. Before the Storm's first episode ends with a huge outburst. While she was calm and collected for most of the episode, Rachel managed to hit her breaking point when Chloe, the girl she just met last night, came to give her a shoulder mere hours after she rejected her and broke her trust, while her own dad, in whom she put her undying trust turned out to be an unfaithful liar. This time, instead of Syd Matters at the helm, we have Daughter, who fits the tone of the game so perfectly.
While Life is Strange was about the absolute beauty in the chaos that we are witnessing, Before the Storm is about the pain, and the music supports this so well. Honestly, mediums for storytelling are more advanced than they have ever been and creators may end up abusing it (Press F to pay respect) to ensure optimal usage of all features available, but sometimes, taking control away and letting the inevitable unfold is the best thing you can do.