How Consistent Should Characters Be?

I finished the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last night, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first season, or perhaps a little more. It’s a very solid show with great characters, interesting plots, and wonderful writing. (But it also has some very bad language throughout the show, so be warned.) I gave the season a 9/10. It took less than a week to watch the whole thing, which is always a sign that I’m really liking a show.

But one of the things that has me thinking about the show still is the characterization. They’re all very distinct, and they do things you would expect them to do.

Until they don’t.

There are multiple times throughout the season where a character who’s been nothing but consistent to that point suddenly decides to do something that seems very out of character. (I won’t say what, because spoilers.) On the one hand, this is typically frustrating for me. I think most of the time it’s an indication of poor characterization: of the characters being slaves to the plot, rather than the reverse, where characters drive the plot.

And yet in Mrs. Maisel, I found myself questioning my read of the character in the first place. Was it really out of character for them to do that, or had I just thought they’d never do something that they actually would?

People change, after all. The things we do and see each day influence what we do the next day and the day after that. No one is consistent on a broad arc, and when you have big, life changing experiences happen to people, it’s to be expected that they will respond in unexpected ways. Since the show introduces some big, life changing experiences to these characters in season one, it makes sense not all the repercussions would be foreseeable.

In other words, I began to think the characters were so well done, that they could even pull off surprise plot twists.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea, but as I think about the events of the season, I do think the writers put in enough groundwork to pull almost all of the zags instead of zigs off. It’s not like someone suddenly did something wildly out of character. Just enough out of character that you really didn’t expect it.

Anyway. Usually that’s a big turn off for me in a show, and I was surprised it wasn’t as big of a problem this time around, and I wondered why. Have any of you thought about this more, whether about this show or a different show or book? Can you think of times characters have behaved wildly out of character, and you were okay with it?

Do share.


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