Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve done this one before, but when reader Timothy Karcich submitted it again, we figured it was time to give it another go. This week’s question:
What plot points or movies or shows in general were inadvertently spoiled for you, and how did that affect your viewing experience?
Editor’s note: A lot—if not all—of the answers below contain spoilers about various forms of pop culture. If that’s something that bothers you, then this might be an article (and a comments section) that you’ll want to avoid.
Though this site has taken great pains to allow for Game Of Thrones discussions for both newbies and experts—offering separate reviews and comments sections for those who’ve read the books and those who haven’t, and even imploring commenters in the newbies discussions not to reveal anything—there are still people out there who want to spoil the fun. It was somewhere in the newbie comments of the eighth episode of Game Of Throne’s first season that I learned—along with some other newbies, presumably—that (SPOILER ALERT) Ned Stark would not make it through the season. I even learned the manner of Ned’s death, so watching the incredible “Baelor” lost a bit of its urgency. (Though it’s a testament to the show’s excellence that even though I knew what was going to happen, the tension was still high.)
I’ve had major points of Game Of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire spoiled for me thanks to my editing responsibilities, but that’s just a danger of working here. We’re all rather conscientious about spoilers when discussing things at the office, because we’re professionals—just like you would presume people who work in movie theaters would be. But you’d be wrong. As we sat waiting for The Dark Knight Rises to begin, I decided to step out to buy a bottle of water. I wanted to be properly hydrated for the most anticipated film of the year! On my way back into the theater, two ushers were chatting, and one of them goes, “I don’t wanna tell my son that Bruce Wayne dies.” She made no attempt to lower her voice or consider that those of us waiting to see the film wouldn’t want to know what happens at the end. It wasn’t exactly as she described, not that it mattered the whole time I was watching the movie. Let that be a lesson, everyone: Never hydrate.
Well, this is particularly relevant for me. I’m working my way through Twin Peaks, but before I even started, I knew the ultimate spoiler: who killed Laura Palmer. Fortunately, Twin Peaks isn’t just about the story—but wow, it’s really weird to watch the series when you know right from the start who ends up being responsible. The ironic thing is that I came across this spoiler on a website that was presenting a fancy new way of keeping its readers spoiler-free—everything that was a big reveal was blacked out, but if you highlighted it, you’d find out what happened. I thought it was a neat idea, but it didn’t work super well, because I immediately tried it out and spoiled myself for one of television’s most famous murder mysteries. Oh well. David Lynch would hardly let something like a little spoiler get in the way of terrifying the crap out of me.
As someone who hasn’t seen a ton of “important” movies, I’ve had countless things ruined for me. For instance, I knew that, because there was a Die Hard 2, 3, 4, etc., that John McClane was probably going to make it out of the first one alive. I knew Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s dad. And, because I’d read the books, I knew that the big shocking scene at the end of the last Twilight movie was a big fake out. The thing is, though, that knowing this stuff in advance has never ruined anything for me. I’m not a believer in spoiler culture. If you don’t see something right away, having it spoiled is the price you pay. Moreover, your enjoyment of a show, movie, whatever, should be because you like something as a whole, not just because the shocking twist was so shocking. Let me put it this way: Just because I knew the Backstreet Boys were going to show up at the end of This Is The End didn’t make it any less hilarious when they did.
As spoilers go, this one wasn’t exactly Earth shattering, but I still wish I could have experienced the Charlize Theron arc of Arrested Development without foreknowledge. Like too many AD fans, I got onboard after the fact: Though I watched a few scattered episodes while the show was still on the air, it wasn’t until it gained a fervent posthumous following that I caught up with the best sitcom since Seinfeld. Unfortunately, all the reading I had done about the show had ruined a couple of surprises, including the true… let’s say nature of Theron’s British Pixie Dream Girl. What I wouldn’t give to experience those episodes blind—as they were meant to be experienced—if only to see if I would have picked up on the numerous clues Mitchell Hurwitz and company plant throughout. What really kills me is how brilliantly it unfolds, giving the audience an alternate explanation for the character’s behavior, allowing us to laugh at Michael for his misunderstanding, while being (presumably) hoodwinked ourselves. I suppose this is my punishment for not watching Arrested Development in real time, when my viewership might have made some difference.
I have been spoiled any time someone says, “You won’t believe the twist!” because nine times out of 10, it’s just the least likely thing that could happen, and I end up trying to figure out what that would be and guessing it. (Also, seemingly seven times out of 10, it’s just, “None of this is real!”) The irony of this is that I’m generally someone who doesn’t mind spoilers. Because I edit so many TV Club reviews before watching those shows, I know things that are going to happen on my favorites well before I get to see them play out, and I’ve always maintained that if a spoiler “ruins” your ability to enjoy something, it probably wasn’t all that well-constructed in the first place. In fact, I could write probably another 2,500 words about how militant anti-spoiler culture is slowly poisoning critical discussion. (In brief: I get not wanting to know major plot points ahead of time, but when anti-spoiler types complain if anything is shared at all, it really gets my goat, as someone who needs to share specific details to build a case to do my job.) Of course, when there’s a twist involved, then usually, the whole story is about building to that point, so it becomes the one time I try to consciously avoid spoilers, even as my own brain is working against me.
Not to heap on the Game Of Thrones pile, but mine’s a few seasons down the road from Josh’s pick. I had The Red Wedding spoiled for me. In fact, I’ve been spoiled on pretty much everything that happens in A Song Of Ice And Fire that hasn’t been filmed for the HBO series. I have a friend who gets scared by violence easily, so she likes to know what to expect, meaning I’m familiar with the Wikipedia summaries of the books and the various online encyclopedias cataloguing the characters, since I slogged my way through the first book and couldn’t commit to reading the whole series. I actually don’t mind knowing what’s coming that much, especially when it saves me literally thousands of pages of reading in the point of view of characters I don’t particularly care about. But knowing that supposedly serene ceremony would become a bloodbath didn’t make it any less shocking when the song that heralded the impending doom started playing and swords started slashing. Understanding from the get-go that not a single character in George R.R. Martin’s entire world is completely safe from utter destruction, without having the outsized fealty to specific characters that comes with reading the books, has been a liberating and not totally life-consuming way to experience the series.
I didn’t get around to watching Iron Man 3 until a month ago, long after the movie had left theaters. By that point, I knew the twist about the Mandarin, but I’ll freely admit it was my own damn fault. I generally try to avoid spoilers when I can, but I accept a certain window of opportunity on that, and with a twist as clever (and as fun to talk about) as this one was, there was no way in hell I could’ve stayed clean for the whole seven or eight months I spent not seeing it. My problem is that I knew the Mandarain twist long before then—in fact, I knew it before the movie was even released, thanks to a lot of critics getting cutesy in their advance reviews and comments. I get that it can be frustrating to write about something when you feel restricted from writing about the best bits, but surely it’s possible to show at least some basic courtesy to people who don’t get to go to screenings? I didn’t seek out inside information or plot details, but I like Shane Black and Robert Downey, Jr., so I read a few reviews, and nearly all of them found some “wink wink, nudge nudge” way of killing the surprise. Knowing exactly who Ben Kingsley was playing didn’t ruin the story for me, but it did kill some of the fun, and that’s partly why it took me so long to get around to seeing the film.
For me, I guess the classic example was when I paid the price for not immediately rushing out to see The Sixth Sense as soon as it opened. Hey, a Bruce Willis movie from an unknown writer-director that opened in the dog days of August: How was I supposed to know I should give a rat’s ass? I like Bruce Willis, but by the time I finally got around to seeing this one—two months after it opened—he’d already added two more bombs to his list, Breakfast Of Champions and The Story Of Us. By then, word of the big secret about his character had been broken to me by, if I remember right, a throwaway joke on David Letterman. As a rule, I don’t get too bent out of shape over spoilers, and there have been plenty of times when I knew (or just guessed) more than the filmmaker intended without it interfering with my experience of the movie, but in this case it definitely made a difference: Whenever Willis had a scene with Olivia Williams as his wife or Toni Collette as Haley Joel Osment’s mother, I found myself consciously aware that the director was trying hard to make it seem natural that they weren’t interacting with him. I’ve heard from other people, who saw the movie without knowing the twist, that they found those scenes irritatingly mannered, and based on my experience with M. Night Shyamalan’s later work, my guess is that they probably are irritatingly mannered, but in this case, the twist saved his ass. But I’ll never know for sure.