Breaking The Scene (Love — “I love you!”)

When you’re writing a pilot (especially in the streaming age), it’s pivotal that you hook the audience’s attention immediately. This scene, which comes only five minutes into the show’s existence, does just that.

Scene Comes From: Love, Episode 101

Where to Watch: Netflix

Scene Context:

Gus and Natalie have been in a relationship for about a year, and have recently started living together.

Scene Conflicts:

  • Gus needs to be liked.
  • Natalie feels trapped by Gus’ constant need for validation.

Scene Outline:

PART 1…

  1. Gus jumps on the bed and lands on Natalie’s knee. He asks if she’s okay. She nods.
  2. He tells her he loves her. She continues on her phone, disinterested. He asks what’s wrong, and she tells him he says “I love you” too much.
  3. Gus, hurt, sarcastically apologizes. Natalie tells him that every time he says it, it puts pressure on her.
  4. Gus asks why she wouldn’t say “I love you” back. He continues saying that he loves her, and she tells him to stop. Angry, he gets out of the bed and continues yelling it.
  5. She yells that she cheated on him.

PART 2…

  1. Gus is cleaning out his closet. Tells Natalie that, since they’re broken up, they’re not going to talk anymore.
  2. Natalie laments how Gus won’t be in her life. Gus softens, says they can be friends.
  3. Natalie yells at Gus for offering friendship. He asks what he’s doing wrong. She accuses him of being “fake nice”- only being kind to receive validation/praise.
  4. Natalie says she just wants Gus to be honest. Gus admits that, in no uncertain terms, he wishes Natalie were dead.

Why It Works:

Two-Part Scene: This works, in many ways, like an action-reaction. In part 1, we have the action- Natalie cheated on Gus. In part 2, we get the reaction- Gus and Natalie have no hopes of reconciliation. By having these two parts split up by a brief time jump, the scene not only retains it’s efficiency, but similarly allows for the tension to increase, decrease, then increase again. When part 1 reaches it’s climax, it’s hard to naturally have the characters fall back to regular conversation, as in part 2’s beginning. By splitting these sections, the relatively calm conversation that begins part 2 feels more genuine than if it were otherwise written in.

Dire Escalation: The scene begins relatively small and inconsequential. Gus says he loves Natalie, just like any other night. But, as we learn in the scene, this phrase is so loaded for her that she can’t handle him saying it, thus allowing the scene’s stakes to increase. Very quickly, it stops becoming an issue over the phrase, and develops into an argument over how each partner feels in their relationship.

A Good Thing Goes Bad: To hear someone say “I love you” is, generally, a nice thing. But what this scene explores wonderfully is how even good things like “I love you” can be emblematic of a deeper kind of manipulation. After Natalie tells Gus that the phrase puts unfair pressure unto her, he continues to say it, and suddenly “I love you” is no longer sweet- it’s filled with demand and possession, and Gus, similarly, is far from who he appeared at the scene’s beginning.

Contrast of a Single Character: Gus goes from whispering “I love you” to wishing death upon Natalie. This is a tough contrast to pull off, but it’s successful largely because Gus has been so thoroughly exposed throughout the scene. In the span of the scene, Gus learns that he’s been cheated on, isn’t loved, and his partner doesn’t believe he’s ever been really genuine with her. By ruthlessly tearing apart Gus’ life, the writers allow him a space to fire back and reveal the ugly truth lurking beneath his facade.

Summary:

By having a clear set-up and split, the scene allows for Gus to switch from a sweet boyfriend to a vindictive loser in just two minutes of screen time. This hyper-efficient structure is punctuated by the scene’s escalating dialogue, stakes-based conversation, and most of all, by it’s willingness to fully display the flaws of the protagonist.

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