It really depends on who you talk to as to what the structure of a one-hour pilot should be. Instead of using the word “should” I’d like to use the word “could.” In my opinion, in today’s marketplace, your one-hour pilot can be anything it wants to be structurally. I’ve read three-act structures. I’ve read four-act structures. I’ve read five-act one-hour pilots. However you structure it, your story just has to work.
Whatever you choose, they operate off the same principle of the half-hour. Teaser, beginning, middle, end, and maybe an epilogue.
So, let’s break down the pilot for KILLING EVE and see where it takes us.
One of the best ever. We open in an ice cream parlor. A mysterious woman eats ice cream alone. Across from her is a young girl and her mother; the young girl also eating ice cream. The mysterious woman and young girl start a playful game of mimic.
Our mysterious woman then looks over at the marginally creepy-looking ice cream parlor attendant. Tension runs thick. Could he be super creepy, especially because of the way he looks at the little girl?
Our mysterious woman clocks the look between the barista and the little girl. Then she looks down at her watch. An expensive Rolex. With a spec of blood on it. She casually wipes the blood off the watch face with her thumb. Blood? Why? Where’d that come from?
She then gets up, moves to the exit. On her way, she drops some change in the tip jar, then casually flips the little girl’s ice cream bowl into the little girl’s chest on the way out.
We have no idea what’s going on, but we do know this mysterious woman is more than what we see. We also know she may not be from here as on her way out we see that she’s holding an airplane ticket.
That’s a teaser!
We met Eve waking up screaming. Her partner wakes her and tries to comfort her. Turns out she was screaming because both her arms fell asleep while she was sleeping. Immediately sets up their relationship and also her character. But, more importantly, it sets a tone for the show. It’s going to be a collision of drama, mystery, and humor.
She’s called in to work on a Saturday. She is an investigator at MI5. A Russian politician has been killed in Vienna. Hmmm, didn’t the teaser take place in Vienna? Yep. So, already we’re connecting the two scenes. That’s good.
Turns out the blood on the woman’s watch may be more important than just a detail from the teaser.
Eve proves herself adept at her job right away. And we set up all her work relationships right away. She could be better at her job than her boss is at his.
Back to the assassin. It is the woman from the opening. Now she’s home in Paris. Gets her next assignment. Italy.
And that’s the end of act one. In it we establish character, situation, problem, tone, world and we set up what will come next. We also will have to assume the show will be about Eve chasing killers and at the same time trying hard not to get killed herself (I mean, the title of the show is KILLING EVE).
Full disclosure – I have not seen the rest of the show but after watching the pilot I am bingeing it!
As with our half-hour show, the move into act two is all about creating obstacles that are connected to what took place in act one.
In act one, Eve was convinced the killer is a woman. At the beginning of act two, Eve’s boss reveals the CCTV footage shows the killer to be a man. At least that’s what he heard. He hasn’t actually seen the footage yet.
Remember, it’s all about one step forward followed by a half step back. That’s how we create tension and conflict.
The girlfriend/witness isn’t going to be much help, yet. So, that’s another obstacle. And we reveal more about Eve in this scene. Her husband is Polish and she speaks a bit of the language.
Also, what’s more important is that we establish Eve is willing to break protocol or go against her boss (she was told not to talk to the girlfriend but she does it anyway). In fact, it’s not even her job.
The mystery deepens. Each scene actually poses more questions than they answer, that’s good.
We show Eve is definitely someone who doesn’t follow the rules – in the next scene we see she recorded the conversation with the girlfriend/witness and she gets one of her husband’s Polish friends to translate it. So, the end of one scene sets up the point of the next. That’s great cause and effect.
The translation reveals that the woman who walked by our victim before he was killed may have been a woman with small breasts. So, now we don’t know if there was a man on the CCTV footage.
Eve calls her co-worker Elena to do a database search for active female assassins. There is only one alive that comes up, and she has large breasts. So, no go. We don’t know who the killer is, but we know who it isn’t.
One step forward, half a step back.
And the end of act two.
Tuscany. Another murder. And Eve continues her investigation, even though she’s not supposed to be investigating. And we learn more about her relationship with her husband.
Villanelle (the assassin) is sent to London to kill the girlfriend/witness. Her handler, Konstantin, tells her to make it look like a suicide (call back to V pretending to have killed herself the first time Konstantin comes to see her earlier in the ep). At the hospital, Villanelle and Eve have a chance encounter in the bathroom. As Eve struggles to put her hair up, Villanelle tells her she should wear it down.
Great opening move in the cat and mouse game of the series.
Eve, while going to the restroom, gets a call from her supervisor/boss telling her the CCTV tape did not exist. Now, Eve knows it wasn’t a man. She leaves the restroom only to find a murder scene. The witness, nurse, and police officer guarding her are dead. Could it have been the woman she met in the bathroom who did it?
The consequences of Eve’s actions. She’s fired. As is her supervisor, Bill. But, lo and behold, Carolyn appears at Eve’s house and asks if she needs anything from the store. They leave together, and Carolyn opens up the can of worms with Eve. According to Carolyn and her team, Villanelle has been killing people for two years. She’s getting sloppy. Almost taunting them. Carolyn hires Eve back, this time to do the job she’d been doing already even though it wasn’t hers: a secret agent for MI5.
And the series is born.
The big takeaway is each act tries to answer the problem presented in the act before it, but events only serve to complicate and expand the problem, not solve it. The mystery gets bigger. Each act is a natural progression to the plot. The stakes get higher in each act. Let’s break it down even more.
Teaser: Teases character and story.
Act One: We present our protagonist, her character/situation/problem. Establish the majority of the supporting characters. It’s all about the SETUP.
Act Two: Now that we know the situation/problem, we have to solve it. First step: interview witnesses. Lots of dead ends, but how we reveal character is how she reacts to the dead ends. Obstacle, reaction, new situation. COMPLICATION.
Act Three: Tuscany. Another murder. The set up of an integrated object that most likely will come back later: the silk bed throw. Eve’s investigation and personal story comes more into focus. ESCALATION.
Act Four: Konstantin sends V to London to kill the witness to the first murder. Our two stories collide. And the stakes get higher as three more people are murdered. COLLISION.
Act Five: Consequences. And a closed door leads to a new opportunity. And now we’re off to the races. CONSEQUENCES AND NEW REALITY
Each act makes the story bigger and raises the stakes. We learn something new about characters in each act. And don’t forget, it’s not just a physical journey but also an emotional one. Work and personal life will at some point collide (hinted at with Carolyn mentioning Eve’s husband will worry she’s having an affair if she doesn’t buy milk while at the store). Each beat pushes either the story, the characters, or both, forward.
When it comes to your own pilots, you need to be thinking through each and every one of these details as well. Don’t waste a beat. Leave it all on the page. We can’t wait to read’em!