At Time today, TV critic James Poniewozik makes a convincing argument to stop being so fearful of spoilers. We'd take it one step further: spoilers, in fact, should be embraced.
What prompted Poniewozik to write his piece was the heated debate over what was and wasn't a spoiler at Monday's Homeland Television Critics Association press tour panel. At the panel, the Homeland showrunners revealed that central character Nicholas Brody would not be appearing in the first two episodes of the third season. Not really much of a spoiler, but still interesting and telling, in some small way, about where the show is going. But! The spoiler police inevitably pounced on that simple reveal. One critic even pointedly asked if the showrunners were comfortable divulging this tidbit of information to the audience... when they'd just done exactly that.
Poniewozik argues that our culture of writing and thinking about TV (and I would argue movies) has made us unreasonably paranoid about spoilers. "It is time, I think, we decided that those people most sensitive to spoilers don’t get to set the terms of discussion for everyone," he wrote. He's cautious, though, saying he's "not declaring a free-for-all on spoilage." But we say go for it! Why? We'll tell you why.
We, as a culture, are clearly tempted by spoilers We wouldn't be so worried about spoilers if we weren't tempted to actually know them. Our fear only comes out of a desire, and sometimes it's okay to embrace your desires. Give yourself what you want! It's just a TV show.
Spoilers don't actually ruin viewing experience, if the show is good I'm not the first person to argue this. Poniewozik himself did it last year. "[The spoiler] takes away the tantalizing sensation of realizing that, in just a few weeks or days or hours, you’ll know this thing that you do not now know," he writes. "But it doesn’t take away the myriad surprises on the way to getting there, the thrills and pleasures of watching a story play out." I actually find that if I know the big reveal, I can watch a show more carefully leading up to that moment. Since I watched the entirety of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix, long after it originally aired, I was primed to most of the big surprises. For instance, I knew that at beginning of season five the show would give Buffy a sister. Knowing that already meant I wasn't angered by the choice, but more interested in figuring out how that major move was accomplished and why it weirdly worked. Chances are if a spoiler ruined the experience of watching or reading something for you, then it wasn't worth watching or reading to begin with.
Spoilers can only make you more excited to see something With all due respect to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner—the don, no pun intended, of spoiler-phobes—but his strict rules for critics actually aren't doing him any favors. By forbidding critics to write about new characters or new relationships in any way, he kills the element of the tease. On the same note, it's baffling to me why J.J. Abrams didn't want to use the fact that his villain was in fact Khan as a way to draw people into the theater. (Not that it really mattered; Star Trek Into Darkness still did big business.)
TV and movies are just part of the news When the news came that actor Dan Stevens was leaving Downton Abbey it was an obvious indication that, duh, Matthew Crawley would no longer be a character on the show. So should that news not have been reported? No, that's silly. Spoilers are unavoidable in such cases, so they're not worth getting angry about. Ridiculously, spoiler-phobia sometimes even extends to long after something has aired or opened. TV—when it airs—is an event the same way a basketball game or tennis match is. If you didn't watch it when it happened, you don't get to complain about a headline revealing a plot point. One time I wrote about Don Draper's new lover the morning after the first episode of this season aired. A commenter wrote: "Thanks for the spoiler of a headline, assholes." If you were shocked that Don Draper is cheating on his wife then you clearly haven't been watching the same show I have.
If you hate spoilers, you can avoid them, for the most part. And while we don't ask you to seek them out or read a summary of everything before you see it, we'd urge you to try taking them in stride when they do arise. Spoilers can actually be a helpful way of evaluating just how a show or movie or book has accomplished something. You don't avoid seeing an adaptation of a book because you know how it's going to end, right? Most of the time the incremental advancements on television shows aren't so mind blowing that a spoiler would ruin the entire experience. I still sobbed when Lady Sybil died on Downton, even though I knew it was coming. Shock is probably your basest, most fleeting emotion when watching television. Spoilers get rid of that. That's all.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.