Monday, September 16, 2013

THE MASTERMIND as a plot device.

Here is a good piece about the way this plot device is creeping into a lot of TV shows, someone pulling all the strings behind the scene with all the other characters being dupes or fools.I think almost every season of DEXTER has featured a mastermind serial killer.

I really dislike this denouement to an arc. I dislike it in movie as well--where it is used repeatedly in Bond movies, Star Trek movies, and almost any Superhero film. These superhuman villains can outhink anyone--until, of course, they can't because the audience won't allow a show or movie to end like this.So no matter how clever, you know they are going down.

What do you think? Is a mastermind interesting to you? Like serial killers, have they run their course.

17 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I'm not one for a mastermind plot at all. I've read a few novels where it worked well enough, but it isn't my thing. Too unrealistic, I guess.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't generally like the plot device much. I think your definition may be broader than mine, however. I'm struggling to come up with a plot of Star Trek in which there was such a 'mastermind.'

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am thinking of Khan for one.

George said...

It all depends on the mastermind for me. I grew up reading Sax Rohmer's FU MANCHU adventures where an evil genius plots world domination. DR. EVIL in the Austin Powers movies...not so much.

Anonymous said...

Patti, I so agree with you. Jackie has read some books like that - maybe Tess Gerritsen for one - and to me they are not believable. I always picture John Malkovich sitting there being all cryptic and pulling the strings.

Another related but slightly different version is this: there is a murder that is exactly like a series of other murders that took place "X" number of years ago. The killer is either dead or in jail or presumed dead so...? Did they get the wrong killer, is he really alive, is it a copycat or (as in the Tess Gerritsen title) The Apprentice?

To me they are samey and not believable.

Jeff M.

Dana King said...

Same with me. Mastermind plots work in PINKY AND THE BRAIN. Not so well elsewhere.

Loren Eaton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loren Eaton said...

The mastermind trope shares the same problems as the conspiracy trope. Someone (or something) shadow is manipulating everything behind the scenes, which is patently impossible. People aren't that well organized.

Erik Donald France said...

And chaos reigns supreme.

Agreed, after a while, it's silly.

On the other hand, a slightly different arc in No Country for Old Men -- a more interesting variation, maybe.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I think a mastermind works well as a plot device. Ra's al Ghul, for instance, stands for all that is exactly the opposite of what Batman cherishes, as does The Kingpin vis-a-vis Daredevil, and Lex Luthor vis-a-vis Superman. Evil lurks in the shadow of goodness.

RkR said...

You mean to tell me there aren't actually masterminds running things?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now Prashant has a point. In certain tales, the protagonist is so smart that only a mastermind might give him a run for it. But outside that sort of story (mostly with super-heroes), I don't much care for it.

Bernadette said...

I can't think of an example where this kind of plot has worked for me - perhaps the first couple I read - whenever that was. But I can think of plenty of examples of where this plot device has me rolling my eyes - there's a new Australian author who's used it in both of his first two books and while reading the second (which I was required to read for a judging panel) I spent longer than I ought to have done envisioning the author's bloody demise.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

It seemed reasonably fresh when it was used in some of the Ellery Queen novels of the late 40s like TEN DAY'S WONDER and ORIGIN OF EVIL

Graham Powell said...

As long as the mastermind is not so close to being omniscient and omnipotent as many of them are, I think it works. Does the mastermind sometimes struggle to keep up with events? Do things not always go according to plan?

(Spoiler?)

Kevin Spacey seems to be good in this role, as both THE USUAL SUSPECTS and SEVEN are particular favorites.

pattinase (abbott) said...

He is also good at it in HOUSE OF CARDS.

Kelly Robinson said...

I'm okay with criminal masterminds. They're a balance to detective masterminds. Yeah, they can be comic-bookish, but hey, I also like comic books.