Syndrom(e)

hero_LeftBehind-2014-1This script bothered me. I’ve grown used to List scripts being disappointing, but this one REALLY needs a lot of work. I thought about doing my usual review, but it would have been very blunt—too blunt. Instead I’ve decided to post the notes I took while reading. All twelve pages of them. And then discuss why each of the passages I pulled out didn’t work for me. I think this kind of thorough examination of the WRITING might be more beneficial than my usual method [especially when a script is not very good]. So, here are the notes I took while reading Syndrom(e).

My notes from the time of reading will be in italics. The commentary from after reading will be bracketed.

Pg. 9 MARTIN (CONT’D)
You gonna be okay with this one? I
mean, considering-

SHARKO
(cutting off)
I’m fine. If we’re done, been a
long day.

Same old crappy backstory. Do something different! I mean this is the first thing you think when you start to think! The old “substitute case that didn’t go well and now the detective has to make up for it” by solving THIS case.

[Actually, my intuition was wrong here. It wasn’t a “case” that was bothering Sharko {worst name ever by the way}, it was the death of his wife and son… by drunk driver. So, even though I was wrong, I was still right.]

Pg. 12 DOMINICK
You still don’t believe me?

LUCY
I just don’t understand how a movie
could make someone go blind.

This is not a normal reaction. You would talk about the subject matter of the movie.

[I stand by this note. Lucy’s reaction to Dominick’s being BLINDED by watching a movie is understated to the point of apathy. It, literally, does not make sense given the context.]

Pg. 20 MEDICAL EXAMINER
Technique’s called deep brain
stimulation. Used to treat
disorders like Parkinson’s or
Tourette’s, but can be used to
stimulate any area of the brain.

SHARKO
So however they died, they went
through some kind of shock therapy
beforehand?


Exposition with zero attempt to hide it or make it smooth.

Pg. 24 SHARKO
I called the attache, but Egyptian
police don’t send records abroad.

MARTIN
You’re gonna go all the way there
to look at a cold case file?


That is new. I like that. See if this leads us anywhere.

[This WAS a new twist. Generally, this type of mystery remains geographically rooted. I found this displacement to Egypt to be intriguing.]

Pg. 27 MUFFLED VOICE (O.S.)
The people who made that film were
trying to corrupt minds. Turn them
violent.

LUCY
Whose minds?

MUFFLED VOICE (O.S.)
Adolescent boys. They started with
them. Then branched out. Cutting
open skulls. Collecting “samples.”

Lucy’s silent, not at all sure what to make of this.

MUFFLED VOICE (O.S.) (CONT’D)
It’s all part of the same project.
It’s all connected to Syndrome E.

LUCY
What’s that?

MUFFLED VOICE (O.S.)
I don’t have time to explain.
They’ve probably traced this call
and are on their way.


Exposition AGAIN and the “lucky break” all at the same time.

[The exposition is getting to chalkboard screeching levels by this point in the script. I also HATE it when the plot moves forward by the “Muffled Informant”. How many times have you seen that one. Sixteen… dozen?]

She types something in (LEYTONSTONE1899 for those paying
attention). Hits ENTER.

She guesses his password? Bullshit! Besides, if the audience can’t guess the password then you’re not being fair as a writer.

[By the way, this password thing never came up again. The author acts like it will be important later and then it isn’t. That is extremely dissatisfying to a reader.]

Pg. 30 LUCY
Then have them keep looking! Only
way it’d be gone is if he got rid
of it or…

DAN
Or what?

She meets his eyes, alarmed by another possibility.

Sorry, but that is lame.

[Does Dan really not get this? Clearly, the only other possibility is SOMEONE TOOK IT. Don’t have a character say something stupid just so you can make sure the audience is with you. That’s bad writing.]

Pg. 31 LUCY (CONT’D)
I’m Detective Brennan. Drove down
from Rochester fast as I could.

SHARKO
Let’s cut to the chase detective. I
have to get to the airport soon.

She’s thrown by his directness.

SHARKO (CONT’D)
You said on the phone you had
something for me?

Why does this have to be in a dive bar—I don’t get that.

[I still don’t get the location. Why does he have her meet him in a dive bar? Is he just a loser masquerading as a hero; or does the author just want a shortcut to ambiance?]

Pg. 39 NAHED
It says they found traces of some
kind of powerful narcotic in the
bodies.
(sounding it out)
Sux-a-meth-onium.

Let’s make up a new narcotic. AND EXPOSITION verse 35! This expo is getting unbearable.

Pg. 43 SHARKO (CONT’D)
Do that again, I’ll break this.

As Atef pulls his fist free, he SLIPS SOMETHING into Sharko’s
hand. Sharko meets his eyes, questioning…

Lucky break three. I hate this.

[I’ll admit when I was wrong, and I missed this one. There is a plot point in Sharko’s hand. Not a very good one, but I did miss it.]

Pgs. 46-47 ATEF
Mahmoud was a brilliant and
dedicated detective. Falling in
front of the metro was no accident.
Someone wanted him to disappear.

SHARKO
Why?

ATEF
Because of that case you’re so
curious about. Some powerful force
wanted to keep it quiet.

SHARKO
Who’d want to cover up the murder
of young boys?

ATEF
I was hoping you could tell me.

Sharko’s stumped.

SHARKO
Did your brother tell you anything?
Details? Any points in common among
the victims?

ATEF
Only that they were all from the
slums. That, and the trash heap
where their bodies were found.

SHARKO
(perks up)
Do you know where that is?

ATEF
Of course.

SHARKO
Could you take me there?

Atef thinks it over.

ATEF
If it might help shed light on my
brother’s death, I suppose it’s my
obligation.

This is just not very good. Exposition and lucky break four.

[So this is the resolution of the previous plot point. It turns out Atef is double crossing Sharko. The writer got me with this one, score one, AND ONLY ONE, for him.]

Pg. 48 Sharko dumps the ice into the filling claw-foot tub.
Undressed, he plunges into the bath. Hoping to cool his
overheated mind and body.

I hate this too.

[This ice bath thing Sharko does is ridiculous. I have no idea what it is supposed to convey about his character. It’s used so many times, I began to think it held a plot twist. But, no, it’s just more random noise.]

Pg. 49 SOCIAL WORKER
Like I told the cops, couldn’t
really think of anyone, other than
the representative from social
services.

AGENT GUTIERREZ
What representative?

SOCIAL WORKER
Just this older guy. Was working on
some government funded study, about
violent behavior among wards of the
state, or something like that.
Asked to meet some of my “worst
offenders.”

AGENT GUTIERREZ
Might as well give me his name too.

SOCIAL WORKER
Assuming I still got his card…

She searches through her desk. Finds a BUSINESS CARD.

SOCIAL WORKER (CONT’D)
Here you go.


RIIIGGGHHHTTTT!!!!!! She just happens to find the card! That is coincidental to the point of being insulting.

[I can’t add anything to my note at the time without being acidic. I will leave it at what was said.]

Pg. 50 ATEF (O.S.)
Like the poor souls whose lives
were taken. No one cared except my
brother.

Does that even make sense?

[I still can’t make sense of that line.]

Pg. 51 Finds Atef aiming a HAND GUN at him.
Thrown, Sharko instinctively makes a move–Atef PISTOL WHIPS
him. Sharko goes down to a knee, dazed. He fumbles for his
gun, but Atef pistol whips him again.

[There is the plot twist I missed. In all its glory.]

Pg. 52 He spots some loose SHARDS of glass on the floor…
Atef returns, carrying a CAR BATTERY with alligator clamps
and a CAN OF GASOLINE. Atef sets them down and rips off the
duct tape over Sharko’s mouth. Sharko coughs violently,
spitting up a thread of bile.

SHARKO
Your brother. It was you…

Everything is torture now. Would it be crazy just to KILL Sarko if you’re Atef.

[I stand by this one too. Atef needs Sharko dead and has a gun in his hand. Instead of just shooting him, he ties him up in a room with glass shards on the floor and then begins to torture him… slowly. These actions make zero sense in the context.]

Pg. 53 ATEF
Not yet, my employers wanted to
make sure I ask about “Syndrome E?”


Really? You’re employers want you to give Sharko THE CRUCIAL PIECE OF INFORMATION he needs? Seriously?

On page 55 Sharko sets a fire WHILE SOAKED IN GASOLINE!!!!! Does no one think these things through anymore?

Pg. 59 SHARKO
Come to my office tomorrow, bring
the dvd with you. I’d like to have
it analyzed.

LUCY
Did you get my message? I noticed
something-

SHARKO
We can talk about it in person.
Don’t want to do it over the phone.

LUCY
Why? You think someone could be
listening in?

SHARKO
I don’t know what I think

Why does this have to wait until tomorrow? In what possible world does this context admit of waiting until tomorrow. Plot Points Have To Make Sense!

Pg. 68 SHARKO
Any of this connected to something
called “Syndrome E?”

DR. THOMPSON
Yes, actually. Where did you hear
that term?

SHARKO
Doesn’t matter. What is it?

DR. THOMPSON
Syndrome E is what basically I’m
describing, in the extreme. That
is, what causes people who witness
violence to become violent
themselves.

LUCY
Like those boys with the rabbits.

DR. THOMPSON
Yes, though Syndrome E is a
permanent condition. The thinking
goes that, in certain high stress
environments, merely observing acts
of brutality may in fact cause a
neurological change over time.

Exposition times fifteen now. I call mercy on the exposition.

Pg. 72 He makes his way towards her, catching the eye of a MAN IN A
DARK WIND BREAKER, watching him. The man quickly glances
away, back towards his book.

Then Sharko sees it. A small EARBUD inside the man’s ear.

OF COURSE! All government bad guys make their presence known through their ear buds!

Pg. 73 LUCY
Aren’t you at least going to offer
me a drink?

SHARKO
That isn’t what this was about.

LUCY
What what isn’t about?

SHARKO
I only brought you here because I
thought it would be safer.

LUCY
I’m only asking for a drink.


That’s actually terrible dialogue.

[It didn’t get any better when I re-read it today.]

Pg. 78 CHILDREN, EXPERIMENTS ON LAB ANIMALS, 1960s PROTESTS, and
other random detritus of the internet. None of it seems
relevant, but Lucy’s eyes soak it all in, going deeper and
deeper down the rabbit hole.

Lucy stumbles across a link about the “DUPLESSIS ORPHANS.”
She clicks on it, curious.


This is just EXPOSITION and it is just BAD.

Pg. 82 LUCY
Could you tell me what you know
about them?

ARCHIVIST
That would take a very long time.

LUCY
Well I already know the basics from
what I read online.
(checking notes)
From the nineteen forties all the
way to the sixties, thousands of
orphans in Quebec were
misclassified as mentally ill?

EXPOSITIONEXPOSITIONEXPOSITION

Pg. 89 GINSBERG (CONT’D)
It revealed that in the fifties and
sixties, the CIA conducted mindcontrol
experiments on American
citizens, without their consent.
The project was called MKUltra.

More expo, great.

Pg. 93 Life fading, he reaches towards his neck, his finger trying
to loop under a NECKLACE CORD. Pulls out a FLASHDRIVE that’s
hanging around his neck for safe keeping.

Well, if we’re going to have the earbud, we have to have the flash drive. Naturally.

Pg. 99 SHARKO
It’s certainly possible. Real
question is, what if you wanted to
create this sort of violence on
purpose? In places like North Korea
or Syria or Egypt…Didn’t they
have a revolution, just a year
after those boys turned up dead?

Now there’s a leap for you. Everything bad that’s happened in the world since the 60’s just got blamed on Syndrome E. That’s all I have to say about that.

Pg. 108 SHARKO
That scar…where did you get it?
He touches it, self-conscious.

COLIN
From an operation I had as a child.

SHARKO
That your father performed?

COLIN
I’m sorry?

SHARKO
Well, he wasn’t really your dad.
Dr. Jameson adopted you, didn’t he,
from the orphanage?

He’s silent. Not sure how he knew that.

If the guy thinking it is not sure how he knew it, how AM I supposed to know how he knew it.

Pg. 110 He sees the SPILLED COFFEE CUP…realizing he’s been
drugged…

Seriously? Earbuds-Check Flashdrive-Check Drugged coffee-Check. Is there a bad screenplay checklist somewhere? Where can I find this sucker?

Pg. 113 The two of them slam down hard onto the ground. Colin tries
to fight Sharko off, hissing and clawing, but he’s no match
physically now that the drug has worn off.

It’s been like two minutes, how does the drug wear off this fast?

From there it got worse until it just ended with hope for a sequel…

I know this was harsh, but this script is not good and it does not deserve to be celebrated as though it is. I’m sorry for the state of our craft that this was put on ANY list.

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