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A tool to help you supercharge your potential cliches

September 19, 2013

Every once in a while, I decide to watch my favorite drama show ever, Magnum, PI. For some reason, this week I wound up watching probably the best episode of that entire series–and maybe one of the best episodes of any television show of the 1980s–Did you see the sun rise? (Note: there are spoilers below, but the episode aired more than 30 years ago [gosh I’m old], so I don’t feel too bad.)

Mac, played by the late Jeff MacKay.

To understand the episode, you have to know a couple things: Magnum is a Vietnam vet who was a prisoner of war for three months, and he’s constantly conning his buddy Mac to use the Navy’s computers to help with a case because they hadn’t invented the Internet yet, at least not in a way that Magnum could use it. Magnum’s constant bribing of Mac–usually with food Mac shouldn’t be eating–is one of the light-hearted repeating gags in the show, and you suspend belief because in real life, Mac would get caught.

Except Mac did get caught at the beginning of the episode and basically has to con Magnum in order to save his military career. It seems that Nusso, the guy who was with them in the POW camp, is in town and he’s seen Ivan–their torturer. Mac’s job is to keep an eye on Magnum because the Navy knows Ivan’s in town and they think he’s up to chicanery–and that Magnum might be a good way to find him, being a potential target and all.

This series goes against type because Mac is blown sky-high by a bomb set in Robin Masters’ Ferrari–at a time when television shows didn’t typically kill off characters like that.

The show then throws in a massive twist–Nusso wasn’t a POW at all, but a KGB agent. And they were allowed to escape from the POW camp because they wanted TC to use as a potential assassin someday down the road. And Ivan was the man who made him that. (Ivan is also hinted to be behind the assassination of former Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.)

At the end of the episode, Magnum stops TC from blowing up the Japanese Premier–and the Byodo-In Temple in Hawaii. But Ivan’s gonna go free, and maybe kill more. The State Department doesn’t want him prosecuted, so he’s thrown out of Hawaii.

So Magnum arranges for his car to be stuck on the way to the airport and removes him from the car into the woods, where he confronts Ivan. Ivan says Thomas can’t kill him. Magnum is the good guy–the white knight. He’s not a murderer. GIven the two full seasons under the character’s belt at the time, you would tend to agree with him. And then…

At the time, the ending was a shocker. I personally jumped. But it’s a cliche. The good guy faced with something so bad he has to break the rules. Except it’s done in a shockingly fresh manner. It’s a well-managed cliche.

If you find yourself managing cliches poorly, there’s a website that can help you. TV Tropes tracks cliches used in not only television shows, but just about everything else, including books. The end of this episode has two cliches: a vigilante execution, and you wouldn’t shoot me. The writers (Donald P. Bellisario and Glenn A. Larson) did a great job making the cliches fresh.

If you need to go to school in what other people did, check out the website.



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