If there's one thing I've learned in my nearly decade-long slog to get The End of the SWAT Kats!, either in its original prose form or in the screenplay form, finished, probably long past the point where anyone but me and a few others even care about it anymore, it's that writing is tougher than it looks. And I'd like to discuss one particular nugget of annoyance that has plagued me in particular, and how it relates to the character your favorite museum curator and mine, Dr. Abby Sinian.
This is the issue of how much the audience (or reader) should know, and how much they shouldn't know, and how much the characters in the story should or shouldn't know, and how much knowledge should be dolled out and when, and, in particular, how to handle the issue of the characters knowing more than the audience, or the audience knowing more than the characters.
I was first made aware of this concept when listening to the writers' commentary for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. There's a dramatic scene in which Will Turner effectively holds himself hostage to bargain for the lives of his friends against the movie's bad guy, Captain Barbossa. During the commentary, though, the writers explain they hit a mild a snag in the scene where Will calls Barbossa by name despite there being no prior mention of it while he was around to hear it. Now, they could've just changed this scene so Will just says "hey, you" or otherwise doesn't call Barbossa anything directly, but for whatever reason, they went back to the prison cell scene where Jack Sparrow is telling Will about the Black Pearl, wherein he mentions everything except the name of its current captain, and added the line "Captain Barbossa and his crew of miscreants."
Now that I think about it, this may not be a good example of what I mean (specifically, the audience being ahead of the characters), since without that line, I think even the audience wouldn't know Barbossa's name because when Elizabeth first gets captured, Barbossa is just referred to as "the Captain" and when she's taken aboard I don't remember him introducing himself, nor do I remember his name coming up in the dinner scene later when he tells Elizabeth practically everything else about himself, but whatever.
The inspiration to write this little essay or piece or whatever you want to call it came from my realization that aside from the name of the dinosaur that comes out of the time vortex, Dr. Sinian doesn't impart any information that the audience doesn't already know in The Pastmaster Always Rings Twice.
We learn everything we need to know about the Pastmaster in his first scene. His name, his motivation, how long he's been imprisoned inside the box, etc., is all given in the first scene of the episode during his confrontation with the grave robbers. In later scenes, Sinian is only repeating information the audience already knows or can figure out for themselves - she speculates on the origins of the box and the Pastmaster's involvement, and specifically how old he is (although Callie is the one who relays this last bit of information to Manx, it can have only come from Sinian first), all of which we already know from what we've seen and been told by the Pastmaster himself. So at first glance it appears as if Sinian could be written out entirely without affecting the story because she otherwise contributes nothing meaningful. Surely we could've lived without knowing the Megasaurus Rex's name.
But hold on, there, mister! We know all that stuff about the Pastmaster, but the characters don't!
I complained, in my exhaustive beatdown of The Giant Bacteria, that the SWAT Kats call the monsters bacteria. This may not seem like an issue at first, but think about it; sure, the audience knows what the creatures are, but the SWAT Kats weren't present in any scenes identifying the monsters as bacteria. Consequently, good ol' T-Bone and Razor have information they shouldn't have, or are otherwise making intuitive leaps they couldn't or shouldn't. The only people in the story who know what the monsters are should be Dr. Viper himself, and whoever was present Dr. Zyme determined what they were (and as I said in ye olde review of the episode, even though he, too, seems to pull this observation out of nowhere, I'm giving him a pass since he's a smartypants scientist).
It may not break the episode, but when the characters have information they shouldn't, it does create some minor plot issues. Thus, we actually need instances like where Sinian is just repeating stuff the audience already knows, so that we can see the characters obtain the information. Without Sinian, the only people aware of the Pastmaster, his name and what he's after would be he, Jack and Tom, and Jack and Tom exit the story into the land of whatever is over the cemetery wall, never to be seen again. Thus the seemingly redundant info-dumps Sinian dishes out are for the benefit of the other characters in the story, not the audience.
In other words, to a degree, The Pastmaster Always Rings Twice corrects one of the major issues from The Giant Bacteria... but there's still one instance where this issue of the characters having, and acting on, information they shouldn't that bugs the absolute heck outta me. It's at the end when Razor uses a missile to stop the clock hands from coming together. How does he know to do this? The sum total of the instructions and info Callie gives him is that they have one minute to "blast the Pastmaster out of the City Hall clocktower." She never mentions stopping the clock, or indeed anything about its involvement in the city's age regression. In fact, I daresay what she does tell Razor to do, if he'd done it, wouldn't have helped at all because even if they'd "blasted" the Pastmaster out of the tower, the clock hands would've still come together and completed the spell, dooming Megakat City to an era before TV, tetanus shots and indoor plumbing.
So Razor did the right thing, but this doesn't change the fact he shouldn't have because he only has what Callie told him to go on, and none of it mentioned the clock or the hands striking twelve. It also means that he effectively did the farthest thing from her very explicit instructions. Thus he is acting on information he shouldn't have or making an intuitive leap he has no reason to make, but it's really the only time in the episode where this particular story problem rears its ugly head. Unless "Sureshot" did aim for the Pastmaster, only to miss and land the luckiest shot in history.
R.I.P. Gary Owens (1936-2015)