To the great and vocal chagrin of everyone I know, I was not totally caught up on Scandal until very recently. Between being way more interested in How to Get Away With Murder (in which the main character’s affair with a handsome-ish White man does NOT constantly make my teeth itch) and being exhausted with Jake being a grown man version of Mimi from L&HH Atlanta, I just got behind.
In fact, the main reason I even watch Shonda Rhimes’s shows at this point is because I want to experience the full experience of being shocked at the characters’ bullshit and screaming at the television. It allows me to let out all the tension I’ve built up in the day. It’s cathartic in the most classic sense of the word. I also enjoy leaning into the writing of a show and consider myself fairly genre-savvy—so even if the writing of a show is off-kilter enough to piss me off—something that happens a fair amount with Shonda shows (and admittedly the reason I won’t touch Grey’s)—I’ll appreciate its ability to keep me on my toes and shock me. I’m into pondering the intricacies of cinemas and make-believes, is what I’m saying.
As such, I go out of my way to avoid spoilers, and I’m pretty good at it. I’m fairly intense about experiencing a show the way it’s meant to be watched. In fact, spoilers are number one on my short list of petty ass reasons I’ll stop talking to someone for an undisclosed period of time. I’m very clear about not wanting ANY spoilers for a show. So imagine my chagrin when—as I was binge-watching to catch up on Scandal last week, this happens
[SPOILERS, Season 4 episode 11]:
Olivia is kidnapped and President Throw-All-The-Fitz is up against the wall, making the very questionable decision to go to war with West Angola. My normal way of watching Scandal includes assuming that Baby Fitz will whine and generally reek of incompetence while everyone around him scrambles to entertain his foolishness and keep things together. This was no different in the scene in question, in which the president is calmly trying to give Cyrus a report on West Angola and Cyrus gets very, very angry at his nonchalance. I was beginning to thoroughly enjoy Cyrus’s airing out of the president, something that we hadn’t seen in long enough for my tastes. So imagine my surprise when my roommate screamed, “JUST TAKE THE DAMN REPORT!”
My roommate has both seen this episode before and, to my knowledge, is as much on the Fitz-is-a-child train as I am, though she can somehow still stomach his and Olivia’s relationship and that goddamn theme of theirs which to me sounds like a Drake instrumental. I actually had to Google it to make sure he hadn’t sampled it at the beginning of “Marvins Room.”
So I immediately, more quickly than I was really supposed to, clock the fact that Fitz is trying to tell Cyrus something here. To be fair, it wasn’t the hardest thing to figure out after the scene actually unfolded for more than a split second, but my roommate’s sudden support of Baby Fitz and the outburst told me more than I would have liked to know at that moment and ruined my enjoyment of Cyrus giving the president a verbal spanking.
“Ah,” I responded, deflated. “So he’s telling Cyrus what happened in the report.” I had been so ready to punctuate the end of Cyrus’s every sentence by sharply pointing at the TV and screaming the word “BITCH!” But now I couldn’t. I was a sad panda. Mind, this isn’t the worst thing my roommate did by far—more on that later. But it totally recolored my first experience of the scene and took away a perfectly good moment for me to be angry with Fitz.
My roommate then spent about ten minutes letting me know that the information she’d spoiled was obvious, which, since she had already watched the episode months prior, it was to her. And to be fair, once they lingered on the scene for long enough, I might have been able to tell something was up, had she not blurted it out before that feeling was supposed to set in—the characters had barely even had a conversation when she yelled it. But the thing is, once you’ve already watched something, it colors your memory of what you did and didn’t know up to that point. Which is why the best practice for watching a show you’ve seen with someone who hasn’t seen it yet—especially someone who is vocal about not liking spoilers—is to shut the hell up.
Revealing huge plot points is not the only way to spoil a show for someone—there are a lot of other ways to communicate things that are happening in a show or to change someone’s experience of watching, which I call “metaspoilers.” Here are a few more examples of what not to do if you don’t want to be that guy.
“It’s not that big of a spoiler”
So, here’s the thing: when I say I don’t want spoilers, that means ANY AND ALL SPOILERS. Not just the big ones, not just Snape killing Luke Skywalker’s father with Rosebud—ANY. SPOILERS. Spoilers here include anything that is going to happen that I am not supposed to know yet—someone getting cussed out, tripping over something, not actually being dead at the beginning of an episode, having fish for dinner—anything.
There are a few reasons for this: one is that knowing even small details takes away from the emotional impact of what happens in the show. Another is that I’m an asshole and don’t trust the people watching TV with me to catch all the things I might catch or relate them to the narrative in the same way. This has nothing to do with other people’s intelligence so much as it has to do with me reading into shows a lot and trying to figure things out before they happen—WITH THE KNOWLEDGE I’M SUPPOSED TO HAVE. And everyone has different ways of doing this. If it’s not that big a deal, you surely don’t need to bring it to my attention in the first place. And whether you tell me if something is or isn’t a big plot point, I still know more than I otherwise would have. Leave it be.
“Oh I HATE [Character]”
This is especially egregious with early character introductions. Let me get to know a character—I like to form my own opinions about characters, especially since different people have different feelings about different characters. Before the character even really came back into the show, my friend yelled “OOOH I HATE ___” about the person responsible for the plot arc discussed in the above spoiler section, and the person immediately jumped onto my list of suspects where they’d just been a romantic interest that I sort-of-liked for another character. At this point, I knew more than I should have about both that person and the plot, and that ruined the impact of the reveal later. Basically, everything you emote and express will very clearly be linked to some future event, and it will clue me into both who does and who DOES NOT do terrible things, eliminating and adding suspects to moments where the audience is trying to figure out who’s pulling the strings.
Smiling in the face of death
Or frowning in a happy moment, or generally emoting about something in a way that doesn’t match what’s going on. For the same reasons as the above—it colors the scene and completely removes the tension for the person watching. Either hold it in or be more aware of what the narrative is supposed to invoke in the audience. This is basically just an advanced application of shutting the hell up.
A good show will have enough thought and care put into it that you may catch some things you didn’t catch the first time. This is a good thing, and it’s definitely something to enjoy.
What is not enjoyable is when you “oh” at a detail that, at this point, was supposed to be innocuous and unnoticeable. Even if it is noticeable, the knowledge that this moment you’ve “oh”ed at is important in some way is now coloring the rest of my viewing experience. And if it’s something that was clearly supposed to go unnoticed—the type of thing that might get a flashback and a zoom at some later point in the series, you’ve potentially ruined a good piece of writing for the person watching. The fact that you’re not saying something specific doesn’t mean that you’re not communicating something spoilerific. Don’t do it.
“You’ll Like This Part.”
AWESOME. I probably would have liked it even more without your introduction. I like to be surprised when I watch TV—just like telling someone about a funny joke in a movie will make it less funny, you telling me I’ll be happy/stressed/angry at a scene that is JUST ABOUT TO HAPPEN will make it less impactful. Telling me it’s important is along the same lines. Don’t worry—I won’t suddenly stop watching right as it happens. I’m not sure why you have this fear. Or maybe it’s just a perverse need to seem omniscient, in the same way that you maybe get a thrill from telling someone you’ve already heard an album. Maybe it gets you off at night. I’m not really sure. Keep your non-traditional masturbation techniques to yourself.
Unless you think it’ll make me spontaneously vomit or something. Then I guess it’s less terrible.
“Did _____ Happen Yet?”
Because if the answer is no, I’ll strangle you. My roommate asked me if the spoiler-event above (the midseason finale, by the way) happened when I was around the third or fourth episode of that season. She was spared once because I like her face. But this is a warning.