THE FLASH: Season 1, Episode 11, The Sound and the Fury
Since we are talking about structure. I want to give you guys as many examples of possible. When I read books on screenwriting they always use the same examples even though there are a million television shows and they all have their own unique signature. Therefore, I am going to work to give you guys as many breakdowns as possible. I doubt they will be as involved as this particular one, but we’ll figure out the best system as we go along.
Barry Allen – The Flash, series protagonist, quirky, every-man-kinda-guy. Works in the police department as a forensic scientist. Saw his mother murdered by a yellow blur when he was young and his father charged with the crime. Is determined to find the real killer.
Harrison Wells – Scientist, built the particle accelerator that exploded and caused Barry and many other citizens of Central City to gain special powers.
Joe – Police Detective that works with Barry and acted as a surrogate father after Barry’s father was arrested and mother murdered.
Caitlin – Works at Starlabs with Cisco and Dr. Wells. Her fiancee was seemingly killed when the particle accelerator exploded.
Cisco – Works with Cisco and Dr. Wells at Starlabs.
Iris – Joe’s daughter and Barry’s love interest. Is dating Joe’s partner in the force.
THE FLASH always has two major storylines, the first involving The Flash team and a “meta-human,” and the second involving one of the secondary characters and their personal lives (the secondary story may include the meta-human storyline, but does not have to). If there are a third and fourth storyline, they will involve much less of the story and typically will involve the overarching storylines of the season.
A-Story: Hartley Rathaway, past Starlabs employee, terrorizes Central City in retaliation for what happened with the particle accelerator.
B-Story: Iris works to prove herself to her coworkers at her new job.
C-Story: Joe believes Dr. Wells was involved with the death of Barry’s mother.
We will look at the episode in traditional three-act structure, but if you need a guide, look to the Three Act/Six Stage guide from the initial STRUCTURE post from yesterday:
(Also referred to as Teaser or Pre-Existing Life in other screenwriting books)
This will usually take place before the title sequence, as it does in this show.
Barry races through the city as “The Flash,” attempting to save the day yet again when things take a turn: the team of criminals head in different directions. Through guidance from Dr. Wells, Barry creates roadblocks to force the criminals and the police to all meet in the same spot, ending with the criminals arrested. Barry could not have done this with Wells talking him through it. When Barry returns to Starlabs, Dr. Wells admits that it was nice, feeling like a hero.
Meanwhile, Iris receives a call from Central City News and they are hiring her for a new job. Apparently, the editor read Iris’s blog and is a fan.
Wells returns home where he receives a mysterious call. He grabs a gun and tries to use his superspeed to run when his powers suddenly give out and he is forced to stop. Vibrations shake the house. They grow, causing all the glass windows surrounding Wells to shatter.
This opening scene is very important. It feels like a fresh reminder of what this show is on a weekly basis, then pivots to introduce the episode’s theme: Wells as a hero. He enjoys feeling like the hero and someone to look up to and does not always feel he is viewed that way. The idea of LOSS OF YOUR HEROES is the theme of the episode, as quickly explained in voiceover by Barry. The next scenes set up the B-Story of Iris’s new job, and then introduce us to this week’s villain/antagonist before heading into the TITLES.
(Also referred to as Inciting Incident and First Act Decision, or along with the Set Up as “Act One.”)
Barry, Joe, Caitlin, and Cisco arrive at Wells’s house along with other members of the police force to see what happened. Wells plays the situation down, confusing Barry and Joe.
Flashback: Dr. Wells plays chess with a young, very intelligent man named HARTLEY RATHAWAY. Cisco arrives to start his new job with Wells, but Hartley believes Cisco will be quickly fired. Wells assures Hartley that his position as “the favorite” is safe from Cisco.
In present day, Joe finds it odd that Wells was in the mist of all the glass exploding but has no injuries. On his own, Barry uses his speed to reassemble one of the broken windows and sees that there is no point of impact. Wells reveals to Barry that he knows who attacked him, “the prodigal son,” Hartley Rathaway.
In these scenes we establish the antagonist, Hartley Rathaway, raise the stakes by showing Wells and Cisco’s emotional relationships with Hartley, and begin our C-Story by raising Joe’s suspicions of Wells with his lack of injuries.
(These scenes will include reversals but ultimately will lead to initial progress by the Protagonist. In features this is sometimes broken into two separate sequences, or as it is here, into two chunks separated by a commercial. One part is for progress, the other for the first major reversal.)
Wells tells Barry and Joe about Hartley as the story flashes back to the day when Caitlin and Cisco were first introduced by Hartley. Hartley works to prove he is smarter than Cisco, but fails. They’re equal. Caitlin enjoys Hartley not getting his way.
Back in present time, Iris goes to her first day of work with the newspaper. She attends a staff meeting, where she sits next to one of her idols: BRIDGE MASON. Iris pitches an idea for a story but the editor tells her to focus on finding a new story about The Flash.
Barry has a theory about Hartley, believing he is using some kind of sonic technology to match frequencies. If he matches frequencies with something, like a glass window, it will cause it to burst. Joe thinks Barry might be right, but then adds he thinks since Hartley is targeting Wells, that the scientist may be hiding something from Barry. Just as Joe is called away, Barry gets a call from Caitlin.
As The Flash, Barry confronts Hartley as the young man blows things up one by one in downtown, using sonic blasts sent by the black and green gloves he wears. After an initial hit from Hartley, Barry recovers and throws cuffs onto Hartley and ripping the gloves of his hands. Just as Barry prepares to take Hartley away, Hartley threatens “I know who Dr. Wells really is…”
The team brings Hartley in and he pokes fun at Caitlin and Cisco. Cisco wants Hartley to remove the metal from his ears before locking him up but Hartley reveals that the technology he’s implanted in there keeps him from hearing a piercing and painful sound, a condition he received from the blast of the particle accelerator. As Wells talks to Hartley, the rest of the team listens in, with Hartley saying that the doctor will turn on Barry. Wells confesses to the team that Hartley warned him the particle accelerator would explode. They each show their disappointment and walk out.
Iris again tries to talk to her boss about what she might write about, but he again tells her to focus on The Flash. She seeks guidance from Mason, who only belittles her lack of experience and mocks her age. Iris meets up with Barry and vents to him about how hard it was to have Mason speak to her like that. Barry encourages her to hold her ground.
In studying Hartley’s gloves, Cisco sees his nemesis has the ability to destroy the entire buildings, so why was he only tossing around cars? Cisco realizes that Hartley wanted to be caught. In his cell, Hartley pulls out one of the metal wires in his ears and attaches it to the door causing an explosion moments later.
This sequence serves to set up exactly who Hartley is and what the Starlabs team is up against in our A-Story. Iris gets a quick scene to keep the B-Story of her job moving, as well as to bring her into the theme of heroism. Her hero journalist, Mason Bridges, appears rude and not someone who enjoys the structure of his job and resents the idea of having to keep an eye on Iris for the boss. The C-Story receives one quick beat: Joe suggesting Wells is hiding something from Barry. This beat adds to the A-Story as well, and touches again on the theme. Theme is king, if you have not seen the pattern there (but I am sure you were there before I typed it out). A heavy trait of The Flash is for all the storylines to touch on the same central theme as introduced by the voiceover.
The Progress “stage” can be broken into two sequences like it is here. Think about every montage from THE MIGHTY DUCKS or CLUELESS where the protagonist’s goal of changing a person (or people) on the outside is initially met with some push back from the person they’re dealing with but by the end of the song they are competition ready or, in Clueless’s case, the popular kids’ table. This is then followed by a reversal sequence to then remind the protagonist that change isn’t that easy. In television, and some films, this is merged into one sequence. Often the first beat of the sequence establishes progress but the sequence ends in a setback.
In this episode, and just about every episode of THE FLASH, there is first a sequence of progress, followed by a reversal. In the progress sequence there is still a setback, it is just emotion as Hartley touches on the insecurity Barry is already feeling towards Wells after his conversation with Joe.
Now the team knows that they never had the upperhand, a major reversal, and that Hartley wants to make Wells pay. Hartley’s forcing Wells to confess to his team destroys the trust between the twenty-somethings and Wells, so they will be unable to work at their best. As for Iris, her reversal comes with the realization that not only does her boss not take her seriously, but even her idol has no respect for her.
COMPLICATIONS AND HIGHER STAKES
(Also known as the Midpoint and Second Reversal, and/or Low Point as in features.)
Hartley is loose in the labs. He knocks out Caitlin and steals back his gloves while hacking into the Starlabs computers. Wells calls Barry causing Barry to ditch Iris. Hartley escapes before Barry arrives and finds the team. Cisco has been injured and wakes in the lab. Wells blames himself and needs to earn back their trust.
Flashback: Wells confronts Hartley who has found data to proves the accelerator is dangerous. Not wanting this information released, Wells threatens Hartley and fires him.
Iris happens to walk into a press conference at the police station, causing Mason to again roll his eyes at her immaturity. Wells is the speaker at the conference, admitting his guilt for what happened publicly. At the same time, Hartley repairs his gloves and looks through Starlabs files at a hideout while watching Wells give his speech. When Wells is finished, he allows for questions. Mason speaks up but Wells ignores Mason’s question and asks Iris. She steps forward and repeats Mason’s question, asking if Wells is planning to rebuild the accelerator. Wells says absolutely not and quickly ends the press conference, leaving Mason dumbfounded.
Back at the labs, Cisco is working hard to find a way to defeat Hartley. Wells gives Cisco a pep talk, telling Cisco that he hired him for a reason and that he shouldn’t let Hartley get to him. Hartley breaks into the intercom, demanding a showdown with Wells and the Flash. As he hangs up, we see Hartley standing on some sort of toll bridge, blowing up the booth, stopping hundreds of cars… all potential victims of Hartley.
A midpoint in features means a new situation or character to take the story in an unexpected direction. In most television shows this is a beat at the end of the previous sequence and/or the set up of this sequence, as well as usually being a new situation. With an episode only being an hour long it would be difficult to introduce a whole new character at this point. The new situation is the team finding out Hartley wanted to be caught. As in features, a midpoint always has a direct correlation to the low point. These scenes open with the new situation, then show the new reversal of Wells openly admitting his guilt, and end with the low point of Hartley on the loose. The final beat of Hartley wanting a showdown propels us into the Third Act/Climax.
As for Iris, her storyline is much simpler. She has won by proving to her idol that she can step up when she needs to and get the job done. In other episodes or series, the secondary plot may be larger, but with the A-story requiring so much back story to establish Hartley’s relationship with everyone the B-story has to end sooner than the final act.
(Also known as Third Act/Climax.)
Hartley blows up car after car with sonic tremor activity from his gloves. The team tracks the tremors and send out Barry. Hartley’s “throwing” cars forces Barry to be distracted as he tries to save as many people as he can. As Barry works, Cisco realizes that Hartley hacked in and found out Barry’s suit-headset frequency. Barry is able to disarm Hartley, throwing the gloves to the ground but they release a sonic frequency before Barry can get away, and it throws Barry into immense pain.
As Wells listens to all of the action he has an idea. He hacks into the satellite radios of the nearby cars and sets them to release a frequency to shatter Hartley’s gloves. Hartley grabs the gloves but when they burst they burn him and he crumbles to the ground. The Flash wins.
This is where Wells brings the theme into play again. He wants to be the hero but has to earn that privilege back from his employees and so it is necessary in creating this sequence to have another revelation to set back Barry, but then have Wells and no one else on the team find the solution to win. This is an action show, so unless the subplots effect the A-story directly in some way, they should not take away from what is happening in the final fight scene.
(Resolution, a final beat to wrap up the story and, if a serial, establish a suspenseful beat for future episodes.)
Barry seems to have mostly recovered at Starlabs. Wells says he hopes to have restored Barry’s trust, and Barry says Wells succeeded. Barry leaves and visits Joe, thanking him for raising him, noting that it must have been hard watching Barry hero-worship so many scientists and his biological father while Joe did the hard, parenting work. After Barry leaves, Joe’s partner arrives and says he found nothing incriminating at Wells’s house.
At Starlabs, Hartley taunts Cisco from inside his cell as he says that Cisco is going to let him out because he knows what happened to Caitlin’s supposedly-dead-fiancee and where to find him. In his secret lab room, Wells analyzes a “tacionic device,” saying it is burning out and the final endgame is near.
Barry speaks with most of the main characters, re-establishing where they each are emotionally and bringing the theme of heroism home yet again. This is then followed by the scene with Hartley and Cisco, and a Wells scene to allude to future episode storylines. In spec writing, these two final moments can be tricky but this particular series always has them, particularly with Wells. You will need one, but if you look at multiple episodes you will see they can often be repetitive and usually involve Wells so coming up with your own does not have to ruin continuity in any way.
Act Breaks and Commercials
Just a quick break down of the minutes so that you can consider page count and pacing as you begin your spec outline. (These times are approximate.)
Set Up to Titles (5.30) No Commercial
Titles through Act One (9.30) First Commercial
Through first half of Progress (16.00) Second Commercial
To the end of Progress (25.00) Third Commercial
Through Reversal (33.00) Fourth Commercial
End of Final Showdown (37.00) Fifth Commercial
Aftermath to end of episode (42.00)
The times are of the total minutes passed and so include the minutes of the previous sequences.
Why Spec THE FLASH?
This show is an episodic-serial, meaning that it has an over arching plot with a primary week-to-week villain. It is a great series to show off drama, comedy, and action which is often difficult to find. Most importantly, there are a lot of superhero shows. With four currently on-air, one premiering on CBS, multiple about to premiere on Netflix, and both TNT and CW developing more (I don’t think I left any out…) these kinds of shows are not going anywhere. With so few current network shows depicting strong fight scenes, if you are looking to build a brand in the action genre this series could make for an excellent sample in your portfolio.