Is this a trope? I couldn’t find anything obvious on TV Tropes although I didn’t spend a huge amount of time on there. Here’s the breakdown. Criminal drama on television, usually in cases of multiple crimes (so serial killers, that kind of thing). The show starts with either the discovery of some victims, or the killer killing their first victim(s). Then, the good guys get in on the case, and start investigating it. Then, the killer strikes again, only this time we see some of the build up. The good guys work harder. And then, the killer moves in on their third victim. But, now the good guys are on their tail, and they rush in and save the day.
Doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes they break the formula, but it’s pretty reliable. Certainly the case in Criminal Minds, definitely the case in the CSI cross-over piece that they did recently, sometimes the case in Fringe.
Take this evening’s Criminal Minds for example. Usual terrible horrific subject matter. Serial killer targets a family and kills them – this starts the show and the team get involved. Later we see another family killed. Finally we find out a third family is being targeted but by then the team know where they are and rush in to save the day. I’m sure it’s to do with the duration of the show, otherwise there might be more victims, but I’m sure it’s also because we like the format of 3 acts.
Opening Act: Horrific murder, the killer strikes, the team are baffled.
Second Act: The team beat themselves up because they couldn’t save the second victim, but wait! A clue!
Third Act: Can the team save the 3rd victim from the evil killer in time!
All good stories have a start, a middle and an end.
This is probably no revelation to anyone, but I started using the phrase ‘The Third One Never Dies’ whenever a serial killer story starts up in a TV Crime Drama and I liked the phrase so much, thought I’d blog about it.