The power of the dual-narrative cannot be underestimated. Seeing different perspectives in a conflict which collide with each other at some point creates an untethered sense of cohesiveness and rewards attentiveness. As such, a “duel-narrative” as I call it, a story showing two OPPOSING sides of a conflict works to maximise the strength of this conflict even harder, from films such as Heat where it refuses to easily pick your protagonist, to The Last of Us Part II, where it breaks down any comforting narrative structure in favour of devolving us down to our most basic instincts, ethics and empathy.
As is apparent from revolutionary hits such as Death Note and Breaking Bad, the crime-hunter form of this narrative is nothing less than an absolute treasure in the world of fiction. Getting short as well as long-term payoffs of how both stories constantly impact each other engages us like nothing else. Unlike with other forms of multi-narrative stories, here, every action from each of the parties HAS to, in some way, affect the actions and outcome of the other one, and the mastermind detective chasing the even deadlier and whittier criminal get to ooze out dramatic irony until it ends.
As I have observed, some writers can let their stories fall short by writing a conclusion and contriving the points that lead to this outcome Z. For crime stories, the detective may end up making huge leaps in logic as a means to get to the climax that cannot be altered. There is a good way to estimate the deductive prowess of these characters as I see it.
With a less-than-clear web of activities surrounding any single or set of criminal activities, the detective cannot get everything right in their first try. Their first set of deductions cannot narrow down their antagonist down to the correct one. Therefore, some of their leads, hunches and hypotheses will be wrong. As such, their ability to move on from incorrect conclusions are what mark them.
When writing these characters, it is easy to forget that we, the writers, know more than the detective. You have to let these detectives travel down the path of probability and not reach our antagonists until they have explored the likelier routes or enough evidence has been gathered to rule the more probable ones out.
Hank takes five whole seasons to realise that his brother-in-law, the sweet family-man facing one of the worst illnesses out there is the infamously brutal Heisenberg, who murders prisoners to save money, poisons children to build his meth empire and shoots a supposed friend in the face, all-the-while keeping the collection of his cherished poems in his home.
“You two guys are just guys. OK. Mr. White – he’s the devil. He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact, reverse opposite of that is going to happen.”
In Hank’s narrative, Walter, through intellect and luck, never gave him reason to believe that the actions of “Walter White” and that of “Heisenberg” are anything more than coincidences. It is not before Hank connects the most… irrelevant, most avoidable of dots that the empire of Ozymandias starts to crumble.
There was, theoretically, a way to connect WW to Walter White earlier in the show, and that would, perhaps, raise the eyebrow of a more proficient detective, but Hank has been established as someone incapable of separating his feelings for someone as a deciding element, and no matter what you feel about Hank, he did care for Walt. A lot.
“You're the smartest guy I ever met. And you're too stupid to see he made up his mind ten minutes ago.”
“But I assure you, L is real. I do exist. Now…try to kill me!”
Contrasted against two realistically intelligent men getting their flaws exploited over and over again, we have Light and L, two characters designed to just be inhumanly intelligent and quick-witted. Their mind games go beyond any small-scale conflicts one can imagine and deal with the supernatural itself.
The distribution of power in Death Note is quite interesting. While L, for quite some time, has no scarcity of any resource he wants, from breaching human rights to money, Light has just that titular book in his hands, which, without the right planning, mental fortitude, imagination and reflexes, is another useless book that would just get attention towards him.
The idea of the wrong leads is subverted in this show. L has inexplicably tracked every single activity, from Light’s timeline to his subtlest of expressions towards the truth, trying to collect more admissible form of evidence for his very much correct deductions.
He does, however, get an onslaught of evidence AGAINST his theory, all the while refusing to let go of this lead. From the very beginning, he knows just two things about Kira: he is highly egoistic, but he is a powerhouse of intelligence. This is what attracts him to Light, and he knows that Kira will not allow for linear velocity within his case.
There is, however, a major issue when the murders continue on even though the two suspects are locked up. Now, by all objective means, the writing around L has slightly changed. Rather than make perfect deductions and capturing all relevant angles, he has fixated on Light. Even his closest allies start to lose trust in his abilities.
Using Light’s own father as a pawn to frighten the truth out of Light, L declared his willingness to accept his strongly held beliefs were wrong. This is the first time Light had won outright. Before this, there was always some residual evidence that would strengthen L’s hypothesis, but this time, that only serves to damage him.
The unfortunate truth was that L was correct. The mysterious human with the powers of a god deciding that the life of the victim is worth more than that of the perpetrator was an egotistical and the most intelligent mind the world has to offer. Light was Kira.
“It'll be lonely, won't it? You and I will be parting ways soon.”