When creating a book or film or video game, including a plot twist is often a good way to keep the audience on their toes. However if not executed properly, a twist can leave their audience scratching their heads. This can be because a certain character has just suddenly become evil or the big reveal has to suspend all kinds of logic to be vaguely feasible. That said, the large amount of underwhelming plot twists only serve to make the decent ones all the more enticing. So here are 5 of my favourite, well-executed plot twists. Spoilers ahead for Bioshock, Attack on Titan, Spec Ops: The Line, The Usual Suspects and House of Cards (US).
1. Would you Kindly- Bioshock
In Irrational Games’ undersea adventure Bioshock, you play as ‘Jack’ a man who survives a plane crash and subsequent discovers an underwater city which has fallen into ruin as its residents have gone insane. As you navigate the hallways and shops and sections of the once great Rapture, you make contact with a man called Atlas, who hopes to overthrow the tyrannical ruler of Rapture, Andrew Ryan, and essentially free those who are imprisoned there.
Atlas gets you to complete various tasks around Rapture, politely asking ‘Would you kindly do X’ in his soft, trustworthy Irish accent. Well, turns out that Andrew Ryan, founder and ruler of Rapture is actually your dad and that you are basically a sleeper agent programmed to follow any order preceded by the phrase ‘Would you kindly’. In a brief flashback, it is then revealed that you caused the plane crash at the start of the game and Atlas reveals himself to be one Frank Fontaine, Andrew Ryan’s biggest rival. Yaaaay!
What makes this twist so good is that it plays on the basic logic of video games- you receive an objective, you (eventually) complete said objective. Much like Jack and his programming to obey ‘Would you kindly’, the player doesn’t question the objective given to them.
2. The truth about abnormals- Attack on Titan
Attack on Titan is a popular one season anime which follows the trials and tribulations of Eren Jaeger, a young man who lives in a society that lives in fear of Titans, large humanoids that love to eat humans. Of the course of the early episodes, the Titans attack after 100 years of peace and quickly begin to overrun the humans. Things don’t get any better when ‘abnormal’ Titans begin appear, such as Colossus Titan, who is just a really big hard to kill Titan, and the Armoured Titan, who is immune to basically everything the human military has. Later, the Female Titan appears, who is a combination of both the Colussus and the Amoured.
After Eren is devoured by a Titan during a particularly calamitous mission, his friends think him dead. However, he is later revealed to be the ‘Titan Killer’, a Titan that only attacks others of its kind. This leads to one of the show’s biggest twists- the abnormal Titans are ‘controlled’ by a human host. Not much is known about these ‘Titan Shifters’ as the anime series lasted a season, with a second season coming at some point, and the manga it was adapted from still ongoing.
This is a big twist for the show/manga as it redefined the human/Titan relationship. Up to the point of the reveal, many saw the Titans as simply being a beast that sated its hunger with humans. However, now it raises the question of just what is human and how many Titans are in fact humans.
3. Rumours of my life- Spec Ops: The Line
[Call of Duty: Black Ops spoiler included]
In military shooter Spec Ops: The Line, you play as Captain Walker, a Delta Force commander who is sent into war-torn Dubai to conduct recon. This changes when Walker decides to hunt down rogue brass Colonel Konrad. In a story that borrows heavily from Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, you fight your way across the city in order to take down Konrad. Over the course of the game, you experience the true horrors of war, including a white phosphorus attack on what turns out to be a number of innocent civilians.
Eventually, you make it Konrad’s hideout and finally get to confront…a decaying corpse. Konrad’s been dead for months and the voice that has been taunting you and communicating with you since the white phosphorus attack, which it turns out you initiated, has been a hallucination.
That’s right, the entire game has actually chronicled your descent into madness. This twist is almost a trope in itself but it does raise questions about the definition of reality and what it means to be a soldier. This twist beats out the ‘Reznov is Dead’ twist from Call of Duty: Black Ops because it’s done with slightly more nuance.
4. The cork board- The Usual Suspects
Byran Singer’s The Usual Suspects follows the questioning of Verbal Kint, a small time con man who happens to be one of two survivors of a mass killing and subsequent fire aboard a ship docked in LA. Kint’s story grows more and more complex as he reveals a web of interconnected events, all leading back to notorious crime boss Keyser Soze.
The customs agent questioning Kint is skeptical of the story and slowly breaks down each piece towards the end of the testimony, eager to pin it on a man that he holds a personal grudge against. Eventually Kint admits to this man, Dean Keaton, created and orchestrated the elaborate plan told over the course of the film. Then Kint’s bail is posted and he leaves.
In a beautifully shot scene, the customs agent questioning Kint begins to notice that some of the names that Kint had mentioned in his story match those on random flyers and pieces of paper scattered within Kint’s eyesight. Meanwhile, Kint’s limp disappears and Keyser Soze slips into a waiting car and disappears into the city. Soze had just managed to personally get the police off his back.
This is one of the twists that is consistently quoted as one of the all-time greats and it works because it is just so ballsy and well executed.
5. Basic rail unsafety- House of Cards
The American iteration of House of Cards, chronicles South Carolina Congressman and Democrat Majority Chief Whip Frank Underwood as he slowly climbs the political ladder towards the highest office in the land.
For the best part of the first season and moving into the second season, Frank engages in a sexual relationship with young reporter Zoe Barnes, whom he also leaks stories to from time to time. However, after he begins to distance himself from Zoe, beginning to find her tiresome and untrustworthy, Zoe begins to dig into the death of Peter Russo, a congressman from Pennsylvania and a hopeful for the state’s governorship. Now, as a ploy to get himself for the running for the vice-presidency, Underwood had vetted Russo and then orchestrated his downfall, finally setting up Russo’s ‘suicide’ by leaving him unconscious in a locked garage with the car engine running. This led the vice-president, and former Governor of Pennsylvania, to be coaxed into re-running for his position as governor, leaving Frank to eventually secured the vice-presidency.
However, Zoe and her colleagues were slowly getting places in their investigation into Russo’s death and at the very least, they were tarnishing Frank’s name and reputation. And so Frank invites Zoe to a secret meeting on subway platform, where he offers he a ‘fresh start’- they clear all their history and he begins to give her political leaks once more. Zoe accepts and wipes her phone of any trace of Frank. Satisfied, Frank pushes Zoe in front of an incoming subway train, killing her instantly.
This is a classic American twist, blending shock to add that extra kick to a plot twist. However, it serves to reinforce the audience’s perception of Frank- when push comes to shove [too soon?], he won’t passively engineer his way to success, if he needs to do, he will do what needs to be done.
What are some of your favourite plot twists? Let me know in the comments below!