As a story consultant, one of the things that I do is I study the season arcs of shows. Two shows that I’ve watch recently that had very noteworthy season arcs were THE NIGHT MANAGER and HAPPY VALLEY. The noteworthy strengths in both shows are the arc of the wound for the central character and how the powerful and compelling villain keeps the protagonist in a constant state of conflict. I’ve always known that the arc of the wound makes us feel the story. When you combine this with an adversary that is a true threat, it takes story to a whole new level. When the audience feels the story at this level, it creates a desire to return to the show.
In HAPPY VALLEY, Catherine’s wound has to do with her daughter’s suicide after giving birth. In the series arc, Catherine discovers from her ex-husband that Tommy Lee Royce, the guy who she believes raped her daughter which lead to her daughter’s pregnancy and suicide, is being released from prison. In this series, the villain caused the wound that is fueling the protagonist. This is a very powerful series dilemma. The question being debated throughout the season is will Catherine take the law into her own hands and find the justice that she seeks? The series arc with Tommy Lee Royce involves a kidnapping. This is the case that the series is about. What we learn is that the wound could be experienced all over again in a different scenario by the time that the finale happens. The character of Tommy Lee Royce is a very strong character. We view his brokenness and evil ways through the girl that they kidnap. We see a human side of his darkness when he communicates with the son that he didn’t know that he had until he was released. He creates so many internal and external obstacles for Catherine to face throughout the season 1 arc. The season worked so well because in the finale we really felt it all coming to a head. The answer to the season question is revealed.
In THE NIGHT MANAGER, there is a very powerful wound that we experience in the first episode with Jonathan Pine. The trauma of his loss is what fuels his season pursuit. The villain is an international arms dealer named Richard Roper. The initial trauma that Jonathan suffers is caused by a choice he makes after the revelation of the news that the arms deal is about to take place. After Pine’s loss in the series arc, a British Intelligence officer recruits him to infiltrate Roper’s inner circle. Jonathan must become a criminal himself to achieve his goal. The wound of the loss is magnified in the pilot arc with the dynamic that Jonathan has with Roper’s girlfriend, Jed. Jonathan’s desire for love gets in the way of the mission and creates tremendous obstacles with Roper. The dynamic between Pine and Roper with the knowledge of the wound is what really brings us emotionally into this incredibly gripping series.
I believe that the key to a successful series is the combination of these two components. When done well, the series trigger and dilemma sets up the wound. With doing this, you set up the internal story and create an internal stakes arc. When you have a strong villain, we get a sense of what the worst that can happen is throughout the series. This adds to the momentum of the show. It is the combination of the internal wound with the external force of the villain that leads to undeniable drama. This is what brings the audience back.