The thrill of plot twists vs. the fear of spoilers

WASHINGTON — Brad Pitt memorably insisted that we not talk about “Fight Club” (1999). But Netflix isn’t playing by Tyler Durden’s rules, launching a website devoted entirely to spoilers.

By clicking through the site, you’re presented random clips from turning points in various films and TV shows.

My first click launched the end of “Old Yeller” (1957). The next showed the climax of “The Hunger Games” (2012).

The launch of such a site reignited a debate we had recently in the WTOP Newsroom the morning after the Emmys, when HBO’s official “Game of Thrones” Twitter account favorited a WTOP tweet criticizing the broadcast for spoiling a major character’s death.

I argued that more care should be given in our age of deferred viewing and simultaneous binge-watching of multiple shows.

I thought of WTOP Editor Judy Taub, who would have been devastated if I had publicly announced the end of “Breaking Bad” as she caught up on the final season.

WTOP Traffic Reporter Reada Kessler disagrees.

“The statute of limitations for a spoiler, in my mind, is usually no longer than maybe a week after an episode has aired,” Kessler says.

Dan Kois, culture editor for Slate, had a similar opinion. He tells WTOP that audiences are spoiled when it comes to spoilers, and co-workers should stop complaining about revelations at the water cooler.

“That’s not the way a civilized society ought to operate,” Kois says. “We don’t get angry at people when they tell us the next morning who won the Nats game last night. … That was a thing that happened. People watched it, people enjoyed it, people want to talk about it the next day. It’s time for us to start treating TV shows like sporting events or news events. Watch them when they come on, so that way, you can participate in the conversation.”

Kois says we shouldn’t go out of our way to ruin plot surprises for others, but that late watchers forfeit their right to complain.

The spoiler debate gets dicier when it comes to movies, as many folks skip the theater and wait for them to arrive On Demand. Does this mean we should keep plot twists a secret until months after a film’s release? Years? Decades?

There truly is nothing like that initial jaw-dropping experience. “The Sixth Sense” (1999) remains my most shocking movie-going experience to date, while home viewings of “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) beckoned instant rewinding to see just how we were fooled.

Such might be why famed movie critic Pauline Kael never watched a film more than once, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach. I truly believe you must see a film at least twice before judging its greatness — once for the initial emotional ride, and a second time to appreciate the careful foreshadowing by its omniscient creator.

A riveting first-time experience is lazy if it doesn’t weave symbolic layers for repeat viewings. Likewise, symbolic layers are cheapened if the filmmaker ignores the importance of first-time experience. Both are not only possible, they are crucial. Ask Alfred Hithcock. John Ford. The Coen Brothers.

For this exact reason, WTOP Entertainment Editor Alicia Lozano says she doesn’t mind spoilers.

“I actually like knowing the ending first, because then I can follow the breadcrumbs that the director or the author has left,” Lozano says.

Indeed, “Citizen Kane” is a far more rewarding experience after you know the meaning of “Rosebud,” just like “Psycho” becomes an entirely different experience from the opening credits onward.

In the end, be mindful of spoilers, but don’t be imprisoned by them. Absolutely include a spoiler alert at the top of your Facebook post, but after that, don’t shy away from discussing the material. After all, what would a “Vertigo” analysis be without a discussion of the Madeline/Judy dichotomy?

You can hear my full interview with Kois by clicking the audio to the right. We’ve also compiled a countdown of the most shocking spoilers in TV and movie history with spoiler-free captions on each slide. Only by clicking the videos might you spoil anything.

Which twist is No. 1? To the victor goes the spoils.

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