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4 minutes

The Americans

In the span of one hour, this Pilot episode accomplishes what many films twice its length fail to achieve.

Looking at many of the examples in our Throughline Thursdays feature, one assumes that Dramatica only applies to film. Compound this obsevation with a cursory glance through many of the articles in the Narrative First Archives and the conclusion solidifies: this “theory” of story works great for the movies, but falls short in other mediums. While the examples of the successful application of Dramatica to both television and novels pale in comparison, their numbers continue to grow.

Take, for instance, our recent Dramatica Users Group analysis of the FX television show, The Americans. Starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as KGB spies posing as a suburban married couple in 1980s America, the pilot of this series manages to tell a complete story in less than 70 minutes. Not an easy feat, especially when you consider that many films twice that length struggle to tell half a story.

The Complete Picture

Complete stories feel complete because they cover all the bases surrounding the Author’s argument, or message. Instead of stating an opinion and looking the other way when challenged, a complete and fully argued story fills in the blanks in anticipation of retorts or counter-arguments by the Audience.

Stories used to be told around a dying fire way back when, and the storyteller could answer any questions put forth by the listener. Now that they’re told on thin sheets of glass often mounted above that same fire and broadcast across the world to millions of households, the story must account for the Author’s absence by addressing in advance every possible debate.

Complete stories accomplish this by providing contexts for the different points-of-views one finds in the presence of conflict:

With answers for what They experience, what I experience, what You experience, and what We experience, the complete story fulfills its obligation of treating an audience with respect.

The Genesis of a Relationship

We often begin our analysis of the Four Throughlines with an objective look at the Overall Story Throughline. With the marriage between Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip (Matthew Rhys) taking center-stage within this “Pilot” episode, a focus on the Relationship Story Throughline makes more sense. From this perspective, We witness a clash of Fixed Attitudes. The mental rules that exist with their arrangement and the rigidity and looseness with which they come into conflict defines the source of obstinance within their marriage.

The Throughlines of *The Americans* "Pilot" episode

Phillip is a man of action: actions that cost his employer precious assets and actions that defend the honor of his daughter. As our eyes and ears into the episode, Phillip’s Main Character Throughline allows us to experience firsthand what I feel like discovering conflict within my own Activities. As the only parent actually doing family activities like going out for ice cream and shopping, or dancing at the mall, Phillip generates empathy for his plight.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, impacts us and challenges us to reconsider our activities with the ease at which You fulfill your duties as a stoic KGB agent. Sleeping with informants and keeping secrets seems second nature and effortless to her, driving us—as Phillip—to deal with our own personal justifications through her unique Influence Character Throughline perspective. While she rails against playing an American, her ability to manipulate her Manner of Thinking and rationalize her acts generates great discomfort.

Lastly, we end with our analysis of conflict within the Overall Story Throughline. The Americans pits agents of the FBI against Russian counter-intelligence. Most narratives defer this kind of conflict to the Activities Domain, yet this story chooses to explore the kind of overall conflict They contend with in a fixed Situation. A key asset disappears the night before giving testimony that would blow the cover on the presence of Russian infiltrators on American soil. This missing person, and his presence within the garage of Phillip and Elizabeth, flames the fires that shifts a decades long Cold War into a clear and present danger.

Capturing the Hearts and Minds

By effectively covering all the bases in this conflict, The Americans sparks interest and attraction from the outset. With so many vying for binge-watching status, one guarantor of success lies in the succesful application of this narrative methodology. Adapt the mind’s problem-solving process towards the structure of your story and watch your ratings skyrocket.

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