Waiting Vs. Binge-Watching

I mentioned recently how much I’ve been enjoying True Detective. I binge-watched the first five episodes, and watched the last couple within a day or two of their debut. Sunday is the finale, the capper to the impressive first season. Sunday also happens to be the day the new iteration of COSMOS debuts, at the same time.

When we heard that COSMOS was being relaunched, we immediately decided it would be perfect for family viewing. My son loves science in general, and space in particular, and so this is a perfect opportunity for us to sit down together and watch the same show at the same time. So I’m delaying watching that last episode of True Detective. It’s not even a hard decision, given why I’m delaying it. (I did the same thing with the seventh, attending a yearly Oscar party with friends instead of holing up with Marty and Rust). I’m anxious about spoilers for the conclusion, but not nearly enough to skip watching COSMOS with the family.

Last week Hannibal also returned to television. That is a show I’d struggle more with giving up (still not really a struggle, just slightly more difficult), though not because it’s necessarily better than True Detective. I feel that way in part because it’s been a while since the first season ended, and I’ve had to wait to watch this particular story continue. And, now that it’s back, I still have to wait, week after week.

I like the experience. I’ve actually missed it, as I’ve fallen more into binging shows. Even House of Cards – which is excellent – doesn’t hold the same kind of pull because I can watch all of it now if I chose. I know that, as an original Netflix show, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Hannibal, on the other hand, only has so many episodes on demand at a time. Then there’s a lag between the show’s end and DVD release. I could stream the episodes, but I seem to find it easier to pause or stop a streaming movie or show and walk away, whereas when I watch on disc or while it’s being broadcast I give a show more attention. Hannibal, like True Detective, benefits greatly from that attention. It’s filled with details and entendres and implications that tease the viewer, all in service of drawing out the tension exquisitely. It’s that feeling I crave. That sense that the inevitable is waiting, but I’ll have to wait longer for it to play out.

Binge watching is still entertaining, but it feels more like speed-reading. Like I’m doing it to catch up, rather than savoring an unfolding story for myself. I know where the larger plot of Hannibal is going, everyone does. Lecter’s going to end up in a cell. At some point Francis Dolarhyde may arrive, possibly even Agent Starling will appear down the road. Even with this season, the show runners opened with a brutal fight between Lecter and Jack Crawford before jumping back in time twelve weeks. Now the run of season two will be about seeing the bulk of those weeks unfold, and not knowing the resolution of that battle until the season finale.

I appreciate that we’re in an era where we can save up episodes, and descend deeply into a show for days. It’s comforting to know missing or skipping an episode doesn’t mean it’ll be months before getting the chance to see it. But none of that detracts from the opportunity to watch as a show brilliantly teases out a story. Sometimes waiting can be difficult, but sometimes that anticipation is just what I’m looking for.

3 Comments

  1. For me it depends on the show. With something like Mad Men, I like to binge watch purely because not a lot happens in it and so there’s a good chance I’ll have forgotten what happened within a week! Similarly, with House of Cards, little tiny details can effect what happens in the following episode, so it can help to keep track of what’s going on.
    Binge watching can mean it’s all over far too quickly though!

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