I Need Therapy After Hannibal Season 2

I just finished season 2 of NBC’s hit psychological thriller Hannibal. Here’s an image from one episode that I think visually represents the essence of this season:

Yes, that’s right. Hannibal season 2 burst into flames and rolled uncontrollably downhill. Not in a good way.
In fact, I am fairly certain that if Hannibal season 2 was a person, Hannibal Lecter would kill and eat it. He eats the irritating.
Now, to be honest, not everything in S2 was bad. I’m not saying it had no redeeming qualities. But the mistakes they did make were very foundational mistakes of writing and storytelling. Hard to overlook.
Season 1 had so much going for it. The protagonist, Will Graham, is an emotionally disturbed but ingenious criminal profiler who works for the FBI. Little does he know his psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, is the cannibalistic serial killer responsible for the Chesapeake Ripper murders. Hannibal wants to turn Will into a serial killer, too, through manipulative therapy tactics. Will struggles to separate reality from delusion on Dr. Lecter’s couch, an unknowing victim of a sociopath’s experiment.
It was great! When S1 ended with Hannibal framing Will for murder, we thought S2 would be even better! But then…

So what were these basic mistakes in S2, and why did they ruin an otherwise awesome show?
Mistake One: I’d Like To Report A Homicide
Of all the murders committed in S2, the most unfortunate was the murder of any and all tensionin the first half of the season.
S1 held tension in several ways. First, Hannibal was a colleague of the FBI agents investigating the Chesapeake Ripper murders. He was a criminal genius hiding among law enforcement geniuses. You always wondered whose genius would win out; how would Hannibal keep one step ahead of amazing criminal profilers like Alana Bloom, Jack Crawford, and Will Graham? How will he fool the FBI’s best crime scene investigators? Who might be one puzzle piece away from discovering Dr. Lecter’s secrets?
In S2, however, Hannibal is not a genius hiding among geniuses. He’s a genius hiding among idiots.
Every character behaves in completely blind and dense ways in S2. They’re almost null and void to the story.
When Will is incarcerated for the murders and accuses Hannibal, all his friends at the FBI—agents who have been trained to profile criminals and dissect behavior—don’t even begin to consider Will’s claims, despite the fact that almost all of them have known Will longer than they’ve known Hannibal. They just accept this flimsy suggestion that Will, in his insanity, has forgotten committing the murders and convinced himself that Hannibal did it. It “technically” explains why they don’t believe him, but it’s a stretch—especially given that Alana deduces from Will’s draw-a-clock test that Dr. Lecter was wrong about Will having nothing physically wrong with his brain (for some reason, she does not consider that Dr. Lecter may have lied).
Everyone gets even dumber once Will is cleared of charges midway through the season. At that point, they know he’s not a crazy psychopath, but they continue to believe that he made a mistake about who framed him…just because the script needs them to.
The other thing I don’t understand is why none of them notice that Hannibal acts like a creeper. His emotions are a little too blank, he’s too poised and put-together, his eyes are always a bit dead. In S1 I could suspend my disbelief and accept that these FBI agents didn’t catch a whiff of Hannibal’s weirdness because they had no reason to look for it. But once suspicion has been cast on him, you’re telling me that they would believe a dead-eyed, eerily calm, overly-philosophical, verbally evasive new friend over their very best criminal profiler? A friend who tends to throw carnivorous dinner parties every time the Chesapeake Ripper kills and dissects human bodies?
See, the tension in S1 came from believing that the characters could, given the right circumstance, figure Hannibal out. You saw Hannibal working to keep himself safe. If, on the other hand, you know they can’t possibly figure him out because the script won’t let them, then you know how every episode will end: with Will’s plea falling on deaf ears, and Hannibal twirling his mustache as he disappears down a dark alley.

Mistake Two: Lazy Writing
I’m really sensitive about lazy writing. Maybe it’s because I write, and know a lot of writers, and all of us work our butts off to make our stories as good as they can be. So when I see lazy clichés in a hit television show, it makes me wonder what the rest of us are working so hard for.

The lazy bits of writing in Hannibal season 2 were small details, but they made a huge difference. For instance, when agent Beverly Katz begins to suspect Hannibal after all, the script uses some “cheating” techniques to explain why she fails to catch him. First, it just so happens that her boss, Jack Crawford, isn’t in the office when she shows up to tell him she suspects Hannibal. I hate it when TV uses “oops, out of the office” coincidences to explain why people don’t communicate. In real life, you would write a note, leave a voicemail, or, I dunno, tell at least one other person that you were going to investigate the home of a possible serial killer who is a mad genius and haskilled other FBI agents.
Furthermore, if Beverly is a trained FBI agent, she wouldn’t go to investigate someone’s house without backup. She wouldn’t go deeper into the home, effectively cornering herself, after she has already found evidence. She wouldn’t fail to call 911 when she saw the human organs in the fridge.
If, in two paragraphs, I can list six different steps Beverly could easily have taken to catch Hannibal, that means the writers were being lazy. They wanted to postpone Hannibal’s discovery, but they wanted him to “almost” get caught for tension’s sake—so they cheated on the believability factor. Ironically, as we’ve just discussed, this actually deflated the tension, because it established that Hannibal can’t get caught.
Just as another example, remember the episode where Hannibal seduces and then drugs Alana? He goes out and commits another murder while she’s asleep. When Jack comes around the next day, Alana says Hannibal stayed in all night.
In real life, Alana might realize that she didn’t wake up during the night and that Hannibal thus has no alibi. In real life, someone like Jack Crawfod (the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science unit) would think to ask an alibi witness if she woke up or not at any time during the hours in which the murder occurred. But the writers didn’t know how to get around those snags, so they simply pretended that those snags would not, in fact, happen.
Look, I know it’s a television show, and not everything has to be 100% realistic. But if the number-one point of tension in your show—Hannibal remaining at large—depends on the complete stupidity of law enforcement, it’s just too much of a stretch.
Mistake Three: Deus ex Hannibal
The script-writers’ biggest mistake in S2 was, ironically, making Hannibal appear too smart.
I know. Strange thing to say, right? Every version of the character Hannibal lecter—book version Hannibal, movie version Hannibal, and TV show version Hannibal—specializes in staying ahead of everyone else. That’s what makes him Hannibal Lecter.
But there can be too much of a good thing.
In S1, Hannibal demonstrated his genius by rolling with the punches through unpredictable events—for instance, Will developing encephalitis. We watched Hannibal figure out how to turn each event to his own benefit, and that’s how we came to understand his deadly intellect.
In S2, on the other hand, Hannibal is one step removed from being God, and that make us bored.
We saw hints of this in the Beverly debacle. It seemed a bit unbelievable that Hannibal could take down a trained FBI agent who was shooting at him and walk away without a scratch. Amazing, yes, but not impossible. So we figured that Hannibal is just a really good fighter who specializes in getting lucky.
Then, the Dr. Chilton thing happened.
It turns out that for a long time—years—Hannibal has been planning to frame psychiatrist Dr. Chilton for the Chesapeake Ripper murders should Hannibal ever come close to being discovered.
This is the point where the scriptwriter’s manipulation of Hannibal’s genius felt a little unfair. This was a plan that Hannibal started even before the show’s beginning. We went along for two seasons assuming we knew most of what the characters did, only to find that Hannibal can just whip out new information any time an episode puts him in too much danger?
It bordered dangerously close to the “no rules to your magic” phenomenon. This is a fantasy writer’s rule of thumb, but it applies here. When you write a story with magic, or other amazing abilities, the magic must have rules or the plot won’t feel meaningful. If anything can happen, nothing’s at stake. The audience can’t root for your character, because it hasn’t been established what can and can’t happen to them.
Hannibal isn’t magic, but his nearly supernatural genius should operate on the same principle: it needs rules. You can’t just pull out previous plans and events that the audience has never heard of mid-season. If we don’t know what Hannibal has to work with, we are not going to be tense during an episode, because we know the script writer will just invent a Get Out of Jail Free card every time Hannibal gets in a scrape.
You might as well say, “Oh yeah, remember that pardon from the President that Hannibal got fifteen years ago to cover all future offenses? Did we forget to mention that? Well he’s using it now.”
But the nail in the coffin came with the Miriam Lass episode.
Miriam Lass was mentioned in the first season. She was Jack Crawfod’s prize student, the woman who disappeared while investigating the Chesapeake Ripper. In S2, Hannibal allows her to be discovered, alive and well. Her discovery came at the end of an episode, but I couldn’t work up any interest. I knew it wouldn’t lead to Hannibal’s capture. It was evident the script wouldn’t allow that.
I was right. In the next episode, we learn that Hannibal brainwashed Miriam Lass using some sort of light-flash therapy, erasing her memories of the Chesapeake Ripper.
And, in a stunning moment of drama-killing buffoonery, we see that Hannibal has—womp womp!—programmed Miriam Lass to think Dr. Chilton is the Ripper!
At this point I threw my hands up and nearly screamed. It was official; Hannibal had no rules to his magic. If he could program anyone to believe anything—could capture and release anyone without detection—and could foresee any event—then he was in control of the entire world, and we might as well go ring his doorbell and ask him how he planned to make each episode run. Oh, after which we would have to kill ourselves, because he already knows that we know about him, and he already knows how to find us and kill us without detection, and probably our families too, and, well, probably everyone in the world, come to think of it…
Mistake 4: Cliffhangers, Overuse of

Starting at about episode 8 and onwards, it seems the show will get better. Will is on the offensive and plots with Jack Crawfod how to catch Hannibal, which implies Hannibal’s magic has some limits. Mason Verger catches Dr. Lecter and almost feeds him to pigs, proving Hannibal’s foreknowledge isn’t omnipotent. We know Will has a chance at stopping Hannibal, so there’s real tension again. Whew. The story pulled itself out of a nosedive. The ending will be epic!
And then

The writers were so close. So close. SO CLOSE to giving me a truly enjoyable ending to S2. But they just couldn’t resist one more writing cliché, and unfortunately, it killed the good vibe and left a bad taste in viewers’ mouths.
I’m speaking, of course, about the cliffhanger ending.
It has become almost mandatory by law that television dramas end each season with a cliffhanger. This seems to be mandatory whether the cliffhanger actually makes sense with the story arc or not.
Now, many shows have successfully pulled off cliffhangers. Take, for instance, the following examples:
“Agent Mulder died last night of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head…”
“Sully’s alive…I know he’s alive…”

Hey all, we’re totally getting kidnapped by The Others!

In each of those instances, a cliffhanger made sense in the context of the story. In X-Files, Scully and Mulder were in the midst of an investigation that might reveal aliens to be a hoax. In Dr. Quinn, Sully’s disappearance and possible death were part of a two-part episode that resolved in the next season. In LOST, we’d been waiting all season to meet The Others, and realized we wouldn’t get to until S3.
In Hannibal, though, they had completed a story arc by the end of S2—the story arc of Hannibal’s life as a fox in the henhouse. At the end of S2 Hannibal’s stint as a killer on the east coast has come to an end, Will has been cleared, and we’re gearing up for a whole new world of manhunts and international travel in S3.
The problem is, they wanted to force it into feeling like a cliffhanger even though the arc was closed. They somehow decided the best way to do this was LEAVE THE ENTIRE CAST BLEEDING AND ALMOST DEAD IN HANNIBAL’S WAKE, SO YOU HAVE TO WAIT TO NEXT SEASON TO SEE WHO LIVES!
Remember that scene at the end of Das Boot, when the soldiers finally get home from a grueling war, and the moment of triumph ends with a sudden air-raid slaughter? That ending was jarring. Uncomfortable. The sudden tragedy was wildly out of place. But it worked because Das Boot was about the absurd and random horrors of war.
It does not work in Hannibal. In Hannibal, it feels like a cheap trick, like they were determined to resist giving payoff or closure to the emotion they’d been building up, permanently delaying the audience’s gratification so we’ll watch again next season.
The problem is, now that I know this is how they operate, I don’t want to watch next season. Now that I know they will permanently delay gratification, what’s the point? It’s fine to drag out tension, but if you intend to never pay off what you build up, then what do we get out of it (other than blog posts that are currently six single-spaced Microsoft Word pages and counting)?
The point is, I think they tried to make a cliffhanger where there didn’t need to be one, and it made an otherwise weak-but-improving story arc finally go into the tank.
Do we need to review this again:

In Defense of YA, and of Positivity in General

I thought I’d better say something about the infamous “Against YA” article in Slate, since, you know…I have a degree in this subject.
A few days ago, Slate contributor Ruth Graham wrote a piece in which she chided adults for reading young adult fiction. YA is alright for teens, she says, but grown-ups should be “embarrassed” if the bulk of their library consists more of YA than adult literature. She laments that about half of all YA books are purchased by readers who are above the target audience of 12- to 17-year-olds. To her, that’s a problem.

It would be hard to find any article with which I disagree more thoroughly—and not just because I happen to write the genre that she’s suggesting adults abandon. I find her argument flawed in nearly every paragraph, and feel the need to defend a genre that adults are finally beginning to wake up to.
The first thing I disagreed with was her ham-fisted usage of John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars, which she simultaneously misinterprets and manipulates to suit her own argument:  

I’m a reader who did not weep, contra every article ever written about the book, when I read The Fault in Our Stars. I thought, Hmm, that’s a nicely written book for 13-year-olds. If I’m being honest, it also left me saying “Oh, brother” out loud more than once. Does this make me heartless? Or does it make me a grown-up? This is, after all, a book that features a devastatingly handsome teen boy who says things like “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” to his girlfriend, whom he then tenderly deflowers on a European vacation he arranged.

Absent, of course, is any mention of what Fault In Our Stars is actually about. Props to her for finding the one detail in the book that sounds stereotypically teenage-ish and wording it in the shallowest way possible. She conveniently omits that it’s a book about a teen with cancer who struggles with the knowledge of what her death will mean to her loved ones, and can’t seem to find any meaning in what’s happening to her.
But I guess no one wonders about life and death, or worries about hurting people, or gets cancer past age 13?
It’s actually quite ironic that she uses the age 13. That’s the age I was when I watched my grandmother die of cancer. And all those questions that are central to the book—about the meaning or not-meaning of death, the messiness of death, and our struggle to live with its reality—were not resolved in my mind when my grandmother died. They were only beginning. They never truly got resolved, and they never can be, which is why the book haunts me so at age 30. Why she thinks a preteen is the only one for whom this book is appropriate is beyond me. If she figured out the answers to death at age 14, I sure wish she’d come share it with me.
She also has this to say:

But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called “YA for Grownups,” put it in an essay last year, “At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.”

I’m not sure what she counts as a “myriad” since she doesn’t explain who she polled and/or interviewed, but I don’t know anyone who would self-identify as reading YA for instant gratification. Believe me; anyone who was into Harry Potter while the series was unfinished understands the utter futility of wishing for instant gratification.
But on a serious note, I’m baffled as to why she made this claim. General YA readers truly don’t, in my experience, say that the books allow them instant gratification or are primarily about nostalgia. Most readers of YA read a book because the protagonist is interesting and the story is captivating. Isn’t that why we read anybook? Also, how does the word “pleasurable” imply escapism or nostalgia? I find many adult books “pleasurable” that are far from escapist or nostalgic, and plenty of YA, too.

But crucially, YA books present the teenage perspective in a fundamentally uncritical way.

I’m not even sure what she means here. She seems to imply that viewing the world from a teen perspective becomes obsolete once you gain enough life experience.
But who says? Who says that teens see life in a fundamentally different way from adults? Yes, it’s true that we (hopefully) develop a more nuanced understanding of the world past age 18. We learn to take social slights with a grain of salt, we quit stressing about pimples, we start to see our parents as people rather than decrepit caretakers. But there are many things about life that we do see accurately as teenagers. By the time I went to college, I had done much observing of life and death and hope and spirituality and social dynamics and dreams. Whatever immaturity hang-ups teens have, it doesn’t disqualify them from also knowing good and true things. In fact, sometimes I think I was wiser about certain issues—such as my work-life balance—at 17 than I am at 30.
Ironically, there’s even a scene from Fault In Our Stars that makes this very argument! (The scene in the Ann Frank House, anyone?)
Furthermore, when I’m, say, 50, should I stop reading adult literature that has 30-year-old protagonists? After all, I will have outgrown the 30-year-old perspective on life, according to Graham’s theory. Should we divide adult literature into “middle-age” and “elderly” genres and get snooty about the age groups directly below ours?

Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering. These endings are emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction.

I take it she’s never read Hunger Games, which ends with the PTSD-riddled protagonist becoming estranged from the former lover involved in her sister’s death, and struggling to make a relationship with a man who formed a trauma-induced attachment to her.
I guess The Hanged Man is not on her shelf. It’s about a girl who comes to terms with being molested and ends the novel plotting how to save her best friend from a self-destructive fate (we never see the outcome).
Let’s assume she skipped my friend Sara Farizan’s book If You Could Be Mine, which ends on an emotionally devastating note when a character realizes she married someone she can’t love, and can’t do anything about it.
Do these books count as the “nowhere” that the ambiguity of the real world is evidenced in YA fiction?
For that matter, has Graham read any adult fiction? If emotionally “satisfying” endings that look to the future are a sign of immaturity, then we must re-categorize popular adult works like To Kill A Mockingbird, Rosie, Lord of the Rings, and Gilead, as being overly-simplistic YA. All of these have very satisfying endings and thus don’t fit her vision of the supposedly adult, supposedly real, world.
To be honest, this article got my dander up so hard because I hate when satisfaction and hope are seen as childish fantasies that one outgrows. If one seriously believes this, why would one even get up in the morning, let alone stare at a glowing monitor and type a series of symbols in hopes to create meaning and communicate with fellow creatures about the genre of meaning-making symbols they read?
You may think I’m waxing philosophical, but really. We walk around and form attachments and contribute to society because we think there is some spark of hope in what we do, some meaning, and we follow that instinct in spite of ambiguity and hardship. It’s not that kids enjoy hopeful endings because they haven’t learned better; it’s that people enjoy hopeful endings because their hearts just won’t stop yearning that direction.
Let’s finish this train wreck. Graham proves that she hasn’t actually understood Fault In Our Stars when she claims that the protagonist Hazel “finds messy, unresolved stories unacceptably annoying,” (even though Hazel is the character who constantly reminds others that the prospect of death is pointless and messy and irresolvable through platitudes). Graham gives hollow lip service to politeness by claiming that she doesn’t wish to shame anyone’s reading list (this is the blogger’s equivalent of the “No offense, but…” routine, in which yes, one actually does mean offense). She encourages adults to read about protagonists they can’t empathize with (I guess Ann Lamott will now have to be considered a YA writer, because Lamott is famous for stating in her book Bird by Bird that “I like for narrators to be like the people I choose for friends, which is to say that they have a lot of the same flaws as I.”) And finally, she states that adults are “better” than all this satisfying YA crap.
If being an adult means going beyond hope, satisfaction, and empathy, then, my friend, I am not along for the ride. I will remain a young adult for the rest of my life, along with many of the most famous adult writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
And that’s really where the subject touches home for me. It’s not just about the lack of knowledge of the YA genre, nor the logical fallacies in her article, nor the frustration of a writer arguing about books she doesn’t understand, or even the hair-tearing at watching someone claim her insults aren’t insulting. This is also about whether adults are allowed to be hopeful—whether cynicism is the mandatory mantle of the high school graduate. She seems to think that with increased intellect and life experience comes decreased satisfaction and hope and pleasure.
Probably the best thing I can say in response to that, is this:
J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius. Really, the man was no dummy. He invented, in one lifetime, the kind of mythology that typically takes centuries to develop. He was fluent in several dead languages, and snored his way through school at Oxford, where he ended up teaching.
This extremely intelligent adult also had a very hard life. He grew up with no father and lost his mother at a young age, forever scarring him emotionally. As a teenage orphan, he was separated from the love of his life for many years due to the short-sighted decision of his legal guardian. When he later found his love and married her, they often had a difficult home life, strained even further when he went away to the horrors of World War I. He saw friends die. He lurched through middle age carrying the emotional battle scars and living what most would consider a drab and unremarkable life, lost his wife years before his own death, and finally passed away without fanfare or trumpets in the 1970s.
Yet this remarkable man, much smarter and more acquainted with the sorrows of the world than I or Ruth Graham will probably ever be, coined the term “eucatastrophe,” which means a sudden and unexpected reversal from bad circumstances into incredibly good ones. It is described as a sudden “turn” from sorrow to joy.
Tolkien once commented on how frequently we experience eucatastrophes in real life…and how infrequently in the modern novel.

Four Reasons I Prefer the “Divergent” Movie to the Book

^^ See what I did there? FOUR? Get it? 😀
So, wait. What? Rachel liked a movie better than a book? Since when is that even a possibility in this universe?
It’s really rare to find a movie that exceeds the book in my eyes. Even my very favorite movies, like Lord of the Rings and To Kill A Mockingbird, don’t impress me as much as their novel counterparts. Then there are some movies, like the first Hunger Games film, that outright disappoint me when compared to the book. (Then there are things like Masterpiece Theater’s Dracula (2007), where I’m not sure the screenwriters even read the source material.)
Divergent is a big exception to this rule. After seeing the movie, I appreciated the intelligent concepts and creativity of the story much more. In fact, I’m grateful to the movie for helping me like this neat story better. It made the good parts of the story shine and buffed away some of the rough edges that put me off in the book.
Many readers may disagree with me on this (happily, I value divergence, so none of you will be getting a visit from the Erudite authorities). But here, in no particular order, are the basic reasons I found myself sitting straighter, laughing louder, and clutching the seat-arms harder than I thought I would as I viewed this film.
Every paragraph is infested with spoilers, bee tee dubs. 
Pivotal Moments Come Across With Strength
This is a big complaint I often have with book-to-movies; some of the most important moments in the novel get watered-down onscreen and lack the emotional punch they should have. I was so disappointed with Rue’s flower funeral scene in Hunger Games. I literally raged at the incompetent handling of the “I’m Not A Coward” scene between Harry and Snape in The Half-Blood Prince.
With Divergent, however, the effect is the opposite. Seeing it onscreen breathed life into some of the moments that felt listless to me while turning pages.
Take, for example, an early scene when Tris (Beatrice) is running with her new faction, the Dauntless, to catch the Dauntless trains for the first time. In the book, you got the idea that this was an unruly group of teens having fun, while the new initiates scrambled to keep up. In the movie, though, we got a heart-pounding drumbeat as Tris runs with them. They swarm the train platform and crawl upwards. Tris is the last to climb; will she make it before the train gets there? Then there’s that beautiful few seconds when Tris is the only one who doesn’t realize they have to run to catch the train. Everyone else starts off ahead of her, and for a breathless moment, the audience worries she won’t notice. Talk about effective cinema.

I also loved the flying-from-roof scene, when the Dauntless-born initiates hitch Tris to the sling and send her sailing from the top of a building. This was one of my favorite concepts from the book, and I was delighted with how the director handled it. We see Tris’ joy as she begins—her uncertainty as the cable leads through the middle of a dilapidated building—her terror as it looks like the cable leads to a dead-end on a roof—and finally her muster of last-minute wits as she pulls the break to keep from splattering against the wall at the end. It’s a breathtaking little microcosm of her inner journey from joyfully escaping Abnegation, to finding a world she doesn’t expect, and learning how to handle it.
Additionally, action scenes usually play out better onscreen than on the page, and this story is packed with action. The training fights, the simulations, and the ending battles seemed more real in the theater than they did when I read them.
Greater Focus on the Interesting Parts
One of my main gripes about the book was how much time we spent watching Tris and the other initiates get to know each other and struggle through endless training sessions. Author Veronica Roth threw an awful lot of characters at us—Eric, Peter, Al, Drew, Molly, Christina, Four, Tori, Will—and then spent the majority of the book bouncing those character from fights to capture-the-flag to dinner to drunken revelries to family visiting day. The string of semi-related events didn’t feel cohesive. All the while, more interesting concepts lurked in the background—like society’s attempt to isolate the different human characteristics that make us go bad; or the question of where bravery and selflessness intersect; or the mystery about why Erudite is stirring up things against Abnegation. I was fascinated by the final battle scenario, where Tris and Four are the only “awake” Dauntless members because they’re Divergent. But the book spent more than half its energy on the high school dynamics of Tris’ initiation group, and waited too long to begin the final battle sequence.
The movie tightened its focus and paced itself better. It gave us only the main characters to worry about. Al, Peter, Will, Molly and Drew were in the background, allowing us to focus on Tris, Christina, Four, and Eric. Training scenes moved quickly, and the point behind each exercise was better explained, helping to clarify the overall trajectory of the Dauntless program. Overall, the training stuff took up less space than in the novel.
Thanks to all these things, we were allowed to focus on what was most important: Tris’ growing Dauntless bravery; her quest to discover what Divergence means; the hint of government overthrow; and her growing feelings for Four. That’s it. No mini revenge plots with Peter’s gang. No worries about Al’s mental stability, or how to politely turn down his advances. No obsession with rankings at every single turn. Just boom, boom, boom, one plot point leading inevitably to the next. This allows for a greater percentage of screen time devoted to all the exciting stuff at the end.

The Clunky Writing and Dialogue Are Gone
Okay. I’m just going to say it. With all respect to the author, some of the writing felt clunky and stiff.
I know. I know. (Hiding behind my desk chair). Please stop throwing things. I’m sorry. Well, no, I’m not sorry, because I meant it. But can I come out from behind my desk chair without all of you killing me?
I hesitate to nitpick over writing style because, as a writer, I can’t imagine a more hurtful thing than for someone to say that my prose doesn’t flow. So I wouldn’t be saying this unless I was really sure I meant it. Although the concepts were great and this author obviously loves her story, the writing felt amateurish.
First, clichés abound, both in the narration and dialogue. Do people really gulp in the middle of uncomfortable sentences? Do girls really feel physical sensations every time they interact with their crush? Does everyone say over-used phrases like “How on earth” in conversation?
I also sensed an over-focus on active voice. Now, this is something I can sympathize with. In my early days of novel writing (okay, let’s be honest…up until two or three years ago) I had the importance of active voice drilled into me by writing groups. The problem is, if you get too zealous about this, it’s easy to see active voice as a rule rather than a tool. It can actually start to limit the flow of what you want to write, forcing each sentence into a little box that looks suspiciously like all the other sentence-boxes you’ve created for the last three chapters. I’m not sure if this is what happened to Veronica Roth, but it sure seems like it.
In the movie, however, all of this is gone, replaced by excellent directing and stronger written dialogue. Problem solved.
Tris and Four Are More Likeable
Fortunately, the disappearance of clunky narration also freed me up to understand the characters better.
Tris was easier to interpret on the screen. Her book narration, while in first person, ironically didn’t help me understand her. It seemed that her motivations and feelings were always going three directions at once, often contradicting themselves, leaving me confused about who she really was and what was at stake for her. Granted, she’s supposed to be complex (Divergent, after all) but it just came across as unfocused.

In the movie, however, we have three external things to help us interpret Tris: her dialogue, the events occurring around her, and Shailene Woodly’s portrayal of Tris’ actions. We’ve already covered how the dialogue improved. Woodly kept Tris consistent by maintaining some timid mannerisms alongside growing determination and confidence. Beyond that, we see clearly what’s at stake in every scene, but don’t have Tris’ inner thoughts constantly jumping to other things to confuse us. All in all, the movement of her character development feels clean and smooth.

Likewise, Four came off better. The movie let him be mysterious, which worked. Yet it didn’t play up the misleading appearance of him picking on Tris, or the ambiguity of whether he’s a jerk like Eric. I found these changes refreshing and much less condescending to the audience, since we’ve seen enough teen fantasy stories to know that mysterious guys are usually tender-hearted love interests in disguise. We got to enjoy simply discovering his character piece by piece.
Final Thoughts
Did the movie get everything perfect? No. It missed the mark on some important things. Tris’ mother was never revealed to be Divergent, and her death scene was not the intentional self-sacrifice we saw in the book. The exploration of what bravery really is was mentioned all of once. And the ending gag of sticking Jeannine with her own serum was strained at best.

But overall, this was a great movie. The writing was good. The visuals were nice. The music was right on track. And we got some great performances by actors Theo James and Shailene Woodly. On a side note, Woodly will also be playing the lead in another teen book-to-movie, Fault in Our Stars, due out in June.

Hazel Grace Lancaster

Hey, wait a second. It looks like there’s another main actor in both Divergent and Fault In Our Stars.
Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior/Augustus Waters

Uh…hold on…
Tris and Caleb
Hazel and Gus
…I am so disturbed right now…