The stakes are always high for the first installment of any story, be it the first chapter of a book, or the first episode of a season. Series premieres have especially high stakes – it’s the first impression and the best chance to establish its following. Because we all know this, the first episode is probably the one people approach most critically, and as such, it has to deliver.
Crucial to the first episode is “the hook”. The hook is that moment in any story that sparks an interest in its audience and makes them want to either flip the page or tune in again. One of the best hooks I’ve seen so far is the first episode of Game of Thrones where Bran gets pushed out the window at the end. This happens in the first chapter of the first book as well. It’s unexpected, it’s shocking, and after you’ve seen it you have to know what happens next.A hook doesn’t have to be quite that dramatic, but it does have to be attention grabbing. All the other elements in the episode have to build towards this moment for it to work the way it should.
In Killjoys, the hook is when Dutch – who seems to be the primary protagonist – finds a red box in her bunk on the ship. By this point in the episode we know what the box means: Dutch was raised by a mysterious man named Khlyne, who trained her as an assassin from a young age. The red box represents a task Dutch must complete within a week, the implication being Dutch must kill someone for Khlyne.
Why it failed
Any good writer will tell you that the plot and the characters are inextricably mixed. You cannot have a compelling story if these two don’t hang together. Flat or uninteresting characters will reduce the impact of the plot, and a boring, predictable plot will take away from good characters. Relationships between characters, and each individual character’s motivations drive the story forward, and hence both need to be established well early on. We don’t need to know everything about them, especially if they are well fleshed-out characters, but we need enough to make us care what happens to them. This is, in my opinion, Killjoys’ weakest area. The characters look great on paper. Their relationships with each other, however, are what drive the tension and plot, and they fall flat in this episode. Dutch and John have supposedly been working together for many years, but they don’t feel as close as they clearly want to make us believe they are. Even less convincing is the reunion between the estranged brothers. What should have been a tense and very emotional moment came off very flat and anticlimactic. I didn’t buy in to that relationship, and by the end of the episode I just shrugged my shoulders and accepted it. That is not the kind of reaction you want from an audience.
As a result of the flat relationships, the hook lost the impact it could have had. Dutch and Johnny’s partnership doesn’t feel as solid and close as it’s portrayed, and because of this, when Dutch finds the red box, you don’t really worry about how Dutch keeping a secret will impact their friendship and, more importantly, their partnership. The underwhelming conflict between the two brothers also reduces the impact of D’Avin poking around how much Johnny really knows about his partner because it doesn’t create a strong sense of conflict. I didn’t feel John’s reproach at finding out that his brother is not the man he believes him to be, and I didn’t feel the doubt that comes from the possibility that John might not know his partner as well as he thought either.
Ultimately, I think the problem lies with the actors’ delivery rather than the material itself, which is a real shame; given everything else I saw, the show does have its share of potential. We’ll see how the rest of the season measures up to its premise.
I’ve already listed Game of Thrones as making exceptional use of the hook. It’s hook works because by that point in the chapter and episode, you know enough about the world and the characters to know that Bran being pushed out a window will have huge consequences for all the families involved.
Another example of a great hook is the show The Mentalist. The pilot was so good, in fact, that when I first saw it on tv, I was convinced I was halfway into the season: the characters were that well developed. It’s also notable for including its hook in the beginning of the episode – the main character solves a murder simply by talking to the bereaved mother of the victim and using his unparalleled powers of observation to make a series of astonishingly accurate deductions. It’s definitely worth checking out.
What did you think of the first episode of Killjoys? What was the best hook you’ve seen or read?