So while I’m working on some short stories to post, here’s a new series I’m going to start. Analysis of series-wide plot and character arcs takes a long time to write, but what I can do is post about some of my favorite scenes and why they work. These scenes are going to be presented in no particular order, just as I either see them or think of them.
So without further ado:
My Favorite Scenes, Part 1
Attack on Titan:
The Death of Eren’s Mother
I may do a whole article on Attack on Titan at some point, just because it’s a fascinating story (that totally goes off the rails in Season 2 unfortunately.) Regardless though, Attack on Titan begins with the titular Titans attacking Eren, our main character’s, home. In the chaos a giant boulder lands on his house, crushing his mother’s legs and pinning her in the wreckage. Eren tries to move the wreckage and free her but he lacks the strength, and his mother screams at him to run. Eventually a soldier comes and whisks him and his adoptive sister to safety, leaving his mother to die.
While the entire scene is well done, what I want to talk about is one line in particular.
Eren’s mother says these words as she watches the soldier fleeing with her children, but she also covers her mouth while she says them, so that Eren and Mikasa won’t hear her. This is an incredibly powerful moment because of how honestly it portrays her fear. Logically she knows that she can’t escape, and that Eren can’t save her, so she does what she has to and tells them to flee. But after she’s done so, she’s left alone with her own terror.
In so many stories, after a character makes a heroic sacrifice like this, they stoically accept their fate. Yet it was this scene from Attack on Titan that struck me as a far more truthful, and therefore more emotionally resonant. Because even if you make that sacrifice, you’re still going to be afraid.
Eren’s mother is so afraid that she cries out to them not to go, but she also covers her mouth so they can’t hear her; she knows that if they hear her, they’ll come back and they’ll all die. It’s the ultimate expression of love and it’s made all the more powerful by the fact that Eren’s mother is still afraid to die, but makes the sacrifice anyway.
Ashley or Kaidan’s Death
This remains one of my favorite gaming moments. In most games, the choices you are able to make are minor ones, mere flavor added to the overall story of the game. Sometimes that flavor is damned good, so good that you could almost mistake it for the meat of the game, but it’s not. Side with that group against another, or take this route instead of that one, in the end it’s all just a sideshow to the main story. This moment from Mass Effect though is different.
For one, you lose the character you sacrifice forever. No heroic rescue at the last minute, no crazy story of resurrection or near-death survival, just dead. You never see that character again. Their voice is forever silenced. It took guts to write that scene, and it took an incredible amount of effort to make it work. For the next two games Bioware had to hire both voice actors back again, write different dialogue for them, and keep them in arms reach of the story. Admittedly it wasn’t perfect, given that they only get a cameo appearance in Mass Effect 2 and are downed for half the game in Mass Effect 3, but I still appreciate the effort.
The second, and most important reason, that I love this scene though… is that you lose no matter what decision you make. You can’t save both of them, no matter how hard you try or how well you did on the mission. It’s that simple, inevitable choice that elevates the game to a whole new level, because it’s speaks a fundamental truth that is incredibly hard to accept: you can’t save everyone.
Though most games set their stakes based on the deaths of their characters, at some level we all know that those characters can’t die, and if they do it means game over and restart. Having a character actually die, and forcing you to choose which one, truly made Mass Effect a unique experience.
Bojack Horseman: Why Are Your Sleeves Rolled Up?
I could, and probably should, do a whole article on how amazing Bojack Horseman is, but let’s start with one of my favorite scenes. In Season 2 of Bojack Horseman, Todd, Bojack’s roommate, laments how awkward and clumsy he is. Well Todd is overheard by the stereotypical wise janitor, who points him to a machine that will make him cool. Of course the machine doesn’t do anything, but Todd is just naive and innocent enough to believe that it works, and of course immediately begins acting cool because his confidence is up. At one point he even kisses a biker’s girl, steals his bike, and the biker isn’t even mad because that dude is just so cool.
And then, of course, he meets with Bojack again, who upon seeing him says:
“Why are your sleeves rolled up like that? It makes you look weird.”
Todd’s confidence turns to dust and blows away in an instant. What I love about this scene, and it’s something that Bojack Horseman does exceptionally well, is that is shows how easy it is to hurt someone. There are other scenes that do this of course, Bojack Horseman is essentially built on them, but I like the simplicity of this one. Bojack Horseman says some awful shit, where he’s intentionally trying to injure people, but what I like is that this isn’t one of those times. Bojack isn’t being intentionally cruel, to him it was just an observation he was making, he saw something about Todd had changed and so of course he looked “weird” to Bojack.
What this illustrates though, is that Bojack still hurt Todd, and Bojack should have kept his mouth shut. It’s a simple retelling of that old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” Yet it’s something that I think our society needs to be told more often, because I’ve been Todd so many times. Days where I’ve been feeling great, or even just decent enough to not feel worthless, and then suddenly someone makes an offhand comment.
A friend of mine once told me I reminded her of a family member, who used to make her cry as a kid because his facial hair scared her. It wasn’t meant to be cruel, she was relaying what was probably a very funny memory to her about her childhood. But to me? It hurt to hear, and to this day I wonder if my facial hair is making me look creepy.
Part of me wishes I was more vocal, that I didn’t spend as much as time as I do worrying about how I word things. Yet at the same time, I’m careful with my words precisely because I know that kind of damage they can do.