In (Uncertain) Praise Of Spoilers

So now we know the identity of the Final Cylon, but while it was a surprise, it was also a somewhat anti-climactic reveal that I feel weirdly ambivalent about. I kinda wish I'd been spoiled.

SciFi's decision to release screeners of last night's Battlestar Galactica episode to critics without the final scenes - in order to protect the "sensitive reveal," according to the channel - may have raised outcry amongst critics and fans, but it worked exactly as intended; while there had been much speculation that said character was, indeed, the Final Cylon, there was no concrete spoiler before the show went out. The problem is, now that I've seen the show, I wish there had been.

I have a love/hate relationship with spoilers. Yes, I'm all about experiencing the story as the creators intended (And make a point of avoiding spoilers for certain things that I really love as a result... Including, ironically, Battlestar Galactica since the end of the first season. Which, yes, makes Morning Spoilers a very scrolly option some mornings), but I also think that spoilers can serve an unexpected and important function outside of what most people think they're there for.

I'm reminded, tangentally, of writer Peter David's non-interview with Newsarama.com, where he spoke about why he wouldn't speak about his comic series X-Factor:

[M]y greatest desire, frankly, is for the internet to somehow develop the self-control to keep its collective mouth shut over the specifics. Fans should be entitled to be stunned by what they see without Ruiners. That's my term for ‘Spoilers,' by the way. Blowing key aspects of stories don't simply spoil stories; they ruin them. Ruin them for the creative team, ruin them for the company, and they ruin them for the readers. I would love to see issues #39 through #41 be a Ruiner-free zone. I want to see fans exhibit the self-control not to ruin the stories for others, because fans who come into the books not knowing what to expect will, I believe, quite simply be blown away by what's coming up.

See, I think that, while spoilers can ruin stories (They're called spoilers for a reason, after all), they can also redeem them, in a strange way; when given advance notice of a particularly abrupt development, the reader/viewer/listener/audience of whatever sort can - for want of a better way of putting it - get used to an idea that would, otherwise, pull them too far out of the story. Take last night's BSG for example (And here, I will spoil it for people who've not seen the episode, so be warned): Like Annalee, I thought the episode was strong without being sensational, and all of the "small" reveals (Starbuck discovering Kara Thrace's corpse, the 13th colony being revealed to be Cylons, Dualla committing suicide) worked for me... until the identity of the Final Cylon was revealed. Yes, we'd had hints and speculation that it was going to be Ellen, but the reveal itself - especially ending on it - seemed off, somehow, forced, and was the thing that stayed with me about the episode afterwards. It ruined the episode for me, in its own way, and I can't help but wonder how much more satisfying the episode would've been without that discordant note at the end.

(Yes, now I wish I'd seen the screener, just because I wonder whether it would've been a more satisfying experience.)

Another reason I secretly love spoilers is that it robs writers of the ability to rely solely on shock tactics, in theory (In practice, of course, this isn't exactly the case. For example: Final Crisis #6); when a portion of your audience - and, despite Peter David's wishes, a growing portion, I think - already knows the broad strokes of what is about to happen in your story, it changes the way in which a story becomes satisfying; plot almost comes secondary to character, and it becomes less about what happens than the way in which it happens. In an age of DVDs and trade paperbacks and re-watching and re-reading everything, I think that this is a direction that most serialized storytelling is going to find itself going, anyway - Once the big shock is revealed, you can't un-reveal it, or change the reveal, to make that second experience as shocking as the first, after all; the emphasis in making the shift from short-term populism to long-term appeal (Heroes to Lost, perhaps?) needs to be in what follows the shock of the lightning, and whatever foreshadowing there is to go back and revisit later - but a spoiler society is accelerating the change, for better or worse. If we end up with a world full of well-planned, well-written stories that offer plot that stands up to consideration and more than just a moment's stunned silence, then surely that's a good thing, right...?

(Of course, this doesn't mean that writers should never seek to surprise their audience, and - as both the BSG screeners and David's refusal to talk about X-Factor show - there are still ways to keep things secret, if you really want to.)

Ultimately, I think what I want to see is an acceptance from creators that spoilers are here to stay, and a move to work with that knowledge that offers more than pouting and withholding scenes. We've seen some of this already; Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen has used spoiler sites as a way to build buzz about his movie with well-timed leaks and fake rumors, for example, and there have been continued rumors about movies like Watchmen purposefully leak spoilers to see how the fanbase reacts, as trial balloons before making final decisions. Spoilers are, or at the very least, can be, a dress rehearsal for the audience in terms of how they deal with a story... It'd be a welcome change if more people would recognize that and see it for the possibility that it offers.