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Sometimes, I think about how frustrating it must be to work in television. You spend all season planning out your plots, how to lace them in and out of episodes without making anything seem too obvious or unsubtle, and when you finally create an episode where the denouement seems to be both unexpected and make total sense, you have to watch in horror as everything gets given away by the “Previously on” recap before the credits.
We’ve all been there; there’ll be a show where a long-running plot will seem to have been forgotten, and you’ll think to yourself “Whatever happened to so-and-so being hooked on drugs?” or “Wasn’t such-and-such involved in some illegal activity for a bit? Guess they got away with it” until the “Previously” recap shows you a clip from seven episodes earlier that doesn’t have anything to do with what happened on last week’s episode, and you think, “Ohhhh. I guess they’re dealing with that this week, then.” It has to be frustrating for the people making the show, knowing that whatever swerves they think they’re about to pull could be completely undermined by the opening recap (Similarly, “Next Week” teases at the ends of episodes tend to offer up ridiculous potential for spoiling cliffhangers, unless very well constructed).
Thing is, the “Previously” recap is a great thing, in theory, especially for shows with multiple plots that come in and out of focus. It’s a necessary thing, too, to put events in each episode into some kind of context for new viewers who might’ve tuned in for the first time after hearing good things – or entertainingly bad things, I guess – about the show. The idea of trying to sum up what’s going on in a minute or so of screen time is both ambitious and requiring a very specific skill set, and when done well – which happens more often than not – the result helps shows considerably, even if it does essentially tell viewers “Yeah, this week we’re doing the following plots.” Making the show more easily understood by newcomers is, arguably, much more important than tipping off existing fans about what’s to come, right?
The solution for potential spoilage is, of course, better consultation between the creators and the people editing the Previouslies – Telling them which plots to play up, which to avoid for full dramatic impact, and so on – and, just maybe, television networks getting used to the idea that maybe viewers will just have to pick everything up as they’re going along. After all, I’m pretty sure television existed before recaps took up a minute of everyone’s time, and I don’t think it’d be the end of the world if a show or two went in that direction again, especially in this brave new era of time-shifting, DVD boxsets and that thing called the internet. Or am I just being selfish?