Examining Plot Structure in Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness
In my essay for the graphic novel Scott Pilgrim VS The World, I mentioned how the story eschewed with conventional plot structure at times. The biggest departure was replacing the typical denouement arc for rising action into a cliffhanger for the next volume. Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness follows classical plot structure quite exactly, even though O’Malley lightly insists upon himself that he doesn’t at one point. For this essay, I’ll identify where each of the classical plot structure points happen in the story and comment on how these build upon each other for the climax.
The chart above depicts the major turning points in the story and divides the story into the usual three acts. The plot points I will be identifying are: Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, Pivotal Choice, Mid Point Reversal, Act 2 Disaster, Plot Point 2, Climax, Revelation and Denouement.Before I get into where these moments fall in the third volume of Scott Pilgrim, I’ll identify them in the original Star Wars so everyone can be on the same page before I get into detail.
The inciting incident for Star Wars is Luke buying the Droids and discovering Leia’s message. Plot Point 1 is finding Obi Wan Kenobi. The Pivotal Choice comes at the end of Act 1 when his relatives are killed and he decides to fight the Empire. Mid Point Reversal is when the characters encounter the Death Star. Act 2’s Disaster is getting stuck in the trash pit and Plot Point 2 is Obi Wan’s death. The Climax is the dogfight in space as the rebels fight back against the Death Star. “Use the Force Luke” is the Revelation, and theDenouement is everyone getting medals with the exception of Chewbacca.
Act 1 of Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness begins after the characters experience their enemies’ band, The Clash at Demonhead, playing their set. The whole cast gets invited backstage, where they trade quips, which then escalate to punches, and then full on psychic powers launching our protagonist through a wall. The reveal of Todd’s vegan psychic powers is the Inciting Incident that propels the existing narrative in a different direction since it raises the stakes. Scott may be the best fighter in the province, but can he take on a guy with these abilities?
Act 1’s major Plot Point comes when Scott and Todd fight in Honest Ed’s. Todd is arbitrarily unable to use his psychic abilities, but he cracks and uses them to blow up the store nonetheless, having a stressed flashback in the process. This breakdown reveals Todd’s weaknesses and what will eventually bring him down. We can see that he doesn’t have the greatest self-control, his father doesn’t believe he has the ability to be a vegan, and there is a hint that he is being untrue to his relationship with Envy. Much like how Obi Wan introduced the Force during his introduction in Star Wars, we get a glimpse at the story element that will become important during the Climax and Revelation.
After the failed battle at Honest Ed’s, the villains make a schedule for the other characters to follow and then go their merry way. Ramona tells Scott to ditch those plans and stay home, where they discuss the past. This section can be called the pivotal Choice, which is normally defined as the point where the protagonist decides to focus on a new goal, sometimes in conflict with what his/her goals in Act 1 were. This is usually made before thePoint of No Return. While Scott and Ramona discuss their pasts, we also get the story of Todd putting a hole in the moon, which sets up the Revelation even further.
The Midpoint Reversal happens when Todd reveals that he’s broken his vegan diet and then makes out with the drummer of his band, Lynette Guycott. We get to see the person that Todd really is, and the seeds for his downfall are sown. What could be described as the Act 2 Disaster (or in some cases the Point of No Return) occurs when Sex Bob-omb is fretting over their opener for The Clash at Demonhead. Scott can’t turn this down and let his friends down for the opening gig, but he does know that he’ll have to face Envy and Todd. Kim takes everything quite well, but Steven Stills certainly takes it as a disastrous event.
Act III starts at Lee’s Palace and the action slowly builds. It really kicks off when the characters spot Todd and Lynette making out and heading into a bathroom. From there, Scott has conversations with Envy and Knives, while Ramona gets into a fight with Envy directly afterward. This would be our Climax. Then, Todd and Lynette come out of the bathroom, which reveals his cheating to Envy. In disbelief at first, Ramona enrages Envy further when she reveals that there are two holes in the moon because Todd was two-timing on Envy with her many years in the past. Thus, we reach our first set of Revelations, which serve to resolve the plot.
Scott and Todd have a short tussle but Scott isn’t much more of a match for Todd, even now. Todd gloats as Scott wishes for a poorly set up deus-ex-machina,and manages to get a decently set up second Revelation, as the Vegan police punish Todd for dishonoring his vegan diet. Scott then defeats Todd as the volume wraps up with Sex Bob-omb headlining the show.
The odd portion of this sequence is O’Malley’s insistence that the vegan police are poorly set up. We gets hints of a larger vegan society all through out the novel and previous plot points set up Todd’s downfall for all to see. Hell, even the second volume has foreshadowing for this event, as we can see two clear holes in the moon when Scott walks to a certain band practice that mentioned in my last essay. O’Malley likes to have his characters reference the fact that they’re fictional constructs for poorly executed comedic effect, but the joke especially falls flat when he doesn’t even reference the devices that he’s making fun of correctly. Granted, that doesn’t take away from the novel as a whole, its just distracting.
The book ends with a denouement arc this time as Envy sullenly leaves town. Scott again references fictional constructs by wishing that he got some closure from Envy, but this just as easily could be him being earnest, so whatever. The remaining characters then look forward to the summer and overcoming the remaining Evil Exes.
So the above chart plots out what I said earlier for convenience’s sake. I’m not sure how important this particular essay is compared to the others, but it can be a jumping off point for examining plots that are perceived as non-traditional in search of classical plot structure. Take a look through the plots of movies that are popularly considered plot-less such asNapoleon Dynamite, Clerks, or Dazed and Confused and you’ll find classic structure each time. Dazed and Confused’s director, Richard Linklater’s Slacker actually does break classical plot structure stupendously for those wondering. It is pretty amazing how the mono-myth keeps repeating itself, and without knowing the basics, it is impossible to break free of it for truly original scripts and alternative plot structures.
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