Warning, this is going to have some Television spoilers for Shadowhunters, and a bit for Buffy, but let’s face it, you should have watched Buffy by now.
Shadowhunters aired their twelfth episode this week, and it brought conclusion to the almost season long plot of whether or not Alec and Magnus would get together. The scene was perfectly executed: Alec, at the altar, walks away from his bride, Lydia (whose method of handling it was so genuine and amazing I almost teared up over that). He finally acts on his attraction to Magnus, something he’s been resisting from the moment they met.
I’ve been re-watching the scene and trying to isolate why it works so well. The best answer I’ve come up with is emotion. Alex is a repressed character, unable to admit his attraction to Magnus or deal with his feelings for Jace. When he finally breaks, it resonates. Magnus is much easier to identify: he’s a scene-stealing character in the Mortal Instruments books and the television series. The writers seem to have wisely realized this and found more ways to put him on screen.
Trying to decide why the scene is so successful, I’ve compared it to another television scene that has stuck with me: the episode in Buffy season five when Willow takes revenge on Glory for hurting Tara. This is a Dark Phoenix scene, when a character’s pain and anger takes their power to a new level. Willow mounts up and unleashes a magical assault on Glory, but unfortunately fails (though she comes closer than any other attack thus far). The scene starts with a declaration of “I owe you pain,” and sets the tone for Willow’s attack.
Both of these scenes evoke emotion in the viewer, and they both involve love. In Alec’s case, it’s the payoff to a long simmering tension. In Willow’s scene, it’s the realization of her growing power. She finally comes into her own as a witch. They work so well, compel the viewer so much, because the emotion matches the intensity of the payoff. If Alec didn’t kiss or punch Magnus when he reached the end of the aisle, the tension would have dried up and left the viewer feeling let down. If Willow hadn’t shown the ability to challenge Glory, and shown herself to be ineffectual against her, the result would have left the viewer feeling cheated.
When we write scenes, we need to make certain the pivotal scenes carry the right weight, have the right pay off. Not every scene can be that bombastic, that’s where pacing comes in. If every scene is that large, you threaten the reader with exhaustion.