Whether you come from a film or literature background, the word “trope” probably has two different meanings. In Literature it’s describes the use of figurative language for artistic effect. This differs from how the word is defined in regards to film and video games. In visual arts it’s more regarded as an overused plot device. For the uses of this blog we’ll be dealing with the latter and discuss one trope in particular that irks me.
The trope I’m talking about involves a character who makes an entrance from off screen, then proceeds to join the middle of a conversation without missing a beat. It’s basically the Stealth Hi/Bye trope, but rather than characters starting a dialogue, they’re entering one. In practice it’s meant to introduce new characters into a conversation without looking like a group of people are just huddled in room like normal people converse. As a result, the character enters into the conversation, completely out of context, giving the impression they are imbued with either superhuman hearing or psychic abilities. It is often used in TV and film where the dialogue is fast paced and plentiful. Common genres are police, courtroom, political and newsroom dramas.
One of my favorite TV shows and frequent perpetrator of this trope is Law and Order: SVU. On any given Wednesday on NBC or every 15 minutes on USA, you can find a group of detectives discussing the latest horrible crime only to have Ice-T or BD Wong barge in to complete one of Olivia’s sentences.
Let’s look at an example:
See that? See how Dr. Huang just walked into the conversation to put his two cents in? Huang is nowhere in the room when the scene starts. Furthermore watch how Detective Stabler and Tutuola’s heads turn in unison to acknowledge Huang’s entrance. Sure it’s possible it’s the biggest case they’re handling that day and thus Huang assumes that’s what they’d be talking about. Still, how convenient is it that he enters at the precise moment his contribution is needed to the discussion? More likely it appears he just likes camping out behind the projection screen with all the hideous murders on it, maybe to get him into full on crime solving mode.
This trope is also sometimes used in conjunction with the popular Walk and Talk trope.
Here we see the introduction of Detective Carisi for the first time on SVU:
Keep in mind no one has ever seen this guy before. Proper decorum would suggest an individual in this scenario would open with an introduction like, “Hi, Dominick Carisi, I’m your new partner” or really anything other than bulldozing your way into a conversation to make a first impression. Of course, Olivia takes his introduction with the type of grace and crack deductive reasoning she’s known for, as where most people would have asked, “Who the fuck are you and where did you come from?” Which leads to another question, was he just posting off to the side waiting for his new partner to show up? Was he hiding around the corner? This is the Special Victims Unit. You can’t just creep around a corner waiting to jump out. They put these types of assholes behind bars every week.
Another guy who loves this trope is Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is known for The West Wing, HBO’s The Newsroom, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Social Network. All of his work is known for its spitfire dialogue and constant foot traffic.
Here’s an example of how Sorkin employs this trope:
How could Josh have possibly known what they were talking about unless he was eavesdropping around the corner? Was the urge to correct Charlie’s slight numerical error so great that he was forced to reveal himself, all the while trying desperately to make it look as casual as possible?
This trope along with the Walk and Talk was apparently so common on The West Wing it was parodied by the actual cast in a commercial for nonpartisan voting. Watch as Mary McCormack not only walks into conversations, but manages to use her Spider Sense to catch a ball in midair:
TV is not the only culprit. Film uses this trope on occasion here’s an example from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises:
Seriously, where is Bane coming from, around the corner? Unless there are multiple open entrances to this room, Bane had to be just waiting for him. Was he just kneeling behind that archway hanging around patiently while playing Angry Birds on silent? If so, not only was he waiting for Daggett to show, but also for the perfect opening for a cool looking entrance. Because Gotham ain’t worth taking over if you don’t look badass while doing it.