Now we're moving on to the second half of Act Two. It's a section I like to refer to as The Big Squeeze.
Riding on the midpoint shift, the story takes a definite turn in a new direction, but the protagonist does not change her main goal. So the purpose of the second half of Act Two is to intensify the conflict. This is a good place for secrets to be revealed, for unexpected plot twists to crop up, for long-time friendships to shatter, etc.
The motto for this section is: Anything that can go wrong, should go wrong.
If you remember what you're heading towards--the All Is Lost moment and the Dark Night of the Soul at the end of Act Two, the lowest point for the protagonist--it only makes sense that the antagonist will squeeze harder and harder throughout this section. (Blake Snyder coined it Bad Guys Close In, but the antagonist is not always a "bad guy" in the flesh, so I find that definition too confusing/misleading for new writers.)
What is our antagonist in Morning Glory? It is Becky's dream job itself, working against her. Becky is on a mission to prove she is worthy of being an executive producer of a top-rated morning show, and everything that happens in the story is meant to be an obstacle to her success. In this section, however, the antagonist becomes personified through characters, specifically, Mike Pomeroy and Becky's boss.
The Big Squeeze in Morning Glory starts with Mike Pomeroy's first day as co-anchor. As you can see from the image above, he's thrilled. Becky does everything she can to get the man to offer some semblance of warmth on camera, even a just a little smile (she gives him a surprise First Day cake!), but he doesn't budge. And in an attempt to forget how awful the day went, Becky falls (quite literally) into the arms of her newfound love, Adam.
Remember that he is the driving force of her B Story (the internal journey). Adam is changing her on the inside, and this is made abundantly clear by also changing her on the outside.
At this point in the story...she starts wearing her hair differently. It was always up in a sloppy bun before. Now it's long and wavy and luxurious. She's falling in love, so she must look more soft and romantic.
It's a small change, but this is actually a tried and true story technique that I've admittedly used myself. Making some visible change on the outside is an effective way to represent a character's inner change, and it quite often occurs in the second half of Act Two.
But enough about hair, Becky is in trouble! After Mike Pomeroy's flubbity-dub first day, Becky tries desperately to convince her boss that she has everything under control, it just needs some fine tuning (that's a stretch). He then informs her that the ratings she was supposed to be bumping up have actually fallen lower than they were before she started, and now the network has planned to cancel the show in only six weeks. If something doesn't change immediately, she has completely failed.
More pressure on the protagonist. Squeeeeeeeeeze.
But before she can even formulate a plan, her conflict with Mike Pomeroy explodes. The nice, sweet, cheery Becky of the first half? Disappears. She is fed up to the brim. After giving Pomeroy a piece of her mind she marches right back up to her boss' office and demands an agreement.
And she gets it. Unfortunately, she needs a miracle to achieve her end of it. The goal has not changed--she still needs to bump up the ratings--but now the game has changed. The stakes have been raised (her show has been threatened with cancellation), the gloves are off (she will do whatever it takes to keep that from happening). This is the kind of tension necessary to keep your middle from sagging.
High from her small success of making a new deal with her boss, Becky is now in overdrive. Her energy peaks. When put under pressure, she doesn't sink, she soars. Suddenly she is ripe with ideas to freshen up the show. Why she didn't think up any of this before is beside the point--she's doing it now, when it really counts.
And this new assertiveness is just what everyone needed to see. Not only has Becky changed, but her changes are changing the people around her. Many who assumed she would fail are now in full support of her plans. The movie goes through a humorous montage of different wild skits that she has implemented onto the show.
So where's the squeeze here? Although things are getting better, they are still not good enough. Becky shows her boss that the ratings are going up! His response? "It's still not enough."
There is the big squeeze, and it's one of the worst kind. When you think you're doing well, you're giving it all you've got, and you're still not reaching your goal. Even though things are looking up, they are simultaneously spiking downward. It's a lovely blend of good and bad that can only be so effective in this second half of Act Two. Finally, it feels as if your protagonist is on the right track, but in reality, she's failing.
As a writer, this is an extremely difficult thing to pull off. But when you do, the emotional effects resonate deep within the audience, setting them up for an even deeper pit of despair at the end of Act Two. For just when it appears the protagonist is going to reach her goal, the bottom drops out from under her.
In order for the All Is Lost moment to live up to its full potential for hopelessness, it must follow a false high. This also makes it feel unexpected, even though the story has been building up to this moment from the very first scene.
The All Is Lost moment in Morning Glory actually happens in two parts--one for the B Story and one for the A Story--and this is important to note because both of these plot lines come into play during the Dark Night of the Soul, which then bolsters the protagonist into the necessary decision-making of Act Three.
Becky's lowest point gets off to a swimming start in a brief scene that makes it clear just how much this whole ordeal has taken its toll on her. She's having dinner with Adam, stressing over what story they could possibly do next (she's running out of ideas) and he gives off this downer vibe like he's only just now noticed how immersed she is in her career.
This breaks her, and understandably so because her internal conflict was setup very well. She is fed up with the people closest to her making her feel guilty about her job. She leaves him. Which tears me up whenever I see that scene. She had such a good thing going with him--he was actually changing her for the better--and you don't want to see that fail, but she's also committed to saving an entire group of people from losing their jobs, and you don't want to see that fail either.
So when Mike Pomeroy surprisingly offers an idea for a story at their next morning meeting, she has a glimmer of hope despite the ache of leaving Adam. This is the false high, and it's wildly effective because, for the first time ever in the movie, we see Pomeroy smile.
The bitter, cranky, old man who never had anything good to say, who never wanted to be part of this fluffy show in the first place, wants to do a story about sauerkraut and he actually smiles.
For a moment, Becky smiles along with him. But that quickly turns to anguish in the next scene when they go off to cover the Sauerkraut Festival and she realizes Pomeroy is not going there at all. This is her All Is Lost moment--she truly believes that everything has failed. When Pomeroy's dry story about who-knows-what tanks the ratings, they are all done for.
She even states it as such just before Pomeroy marches up to the governor's summer house, microphone in hand. In near tears, as a last ditch effort to stop him, she says, "They're going to cancel the show!" Up to this point, she had told no one. For a second, he just stares back at her, and you think that maybe he'll have a change of heart and turn around. But no, he keeps on marching, and Becky has no choice but to go along with whatever he's doing.
Except it turns out to be the Best. Story. Ever. And they are first on the scene.
Wait...this is a good thing. Right?
Yes and no. It's another one of those lovely good/bad blends that makes a story like this so emotionally resonant. What should be a celebratory moment is clearly not, as Becky and Pomeroy have their first civil conversation since the movie began. This is where the A Story and B Story collide, pushing our protagonist into the deepest pit she can imagine. Her career life is finally successful, but how does her personal life stand? It's in the crapper, and Pomeroy astutely points out that it will remain there if Becky continues on this path she created.
He boldly implies that she will become just like him. Bitter. Cranky. Fired at the peak of his career. That is the absolute worst thing an antagonist can say to a protagonist: "You're just like me."
Becky, without a word, fully understands she is at a crossroads. But to make it abundantly clear to the audience what's at stake, she is quickly put into a position that forces her to make a tough choice. Her boss tells her she did it--the ratings are up! So why is he so glum? Because NBC called and wants to interview her for the TODAY show. This is what Becky wanted all along (A Story), but now she isn't so sure it's the best choice. The cast and crew of Daybreak has become her family (B Story). Not to mention, she accomplished the impossible. It feels wrong to just walk away from that.
This crossroads marks the end of Act Two, and her decision to stay with Daybreak is what pushes the story into Act Three. Not surprisingly, Becky's hair changes again because she has changed. She's looking more sleek and sophisticated now, less chaotic and frazzled. She's finally got her life together--or so she thinks.
Another lengthy post (and I still didn't cover everything--there is so much to gain from this movie), so here's the condensed breakdown of the second half of Act Two:
- look back at what you've set up in the first half--use everything you can to squeeze more conflict onto the protagonist.
- keep each new conflict from the antagonist fresh, yet always with the same goal to make the protagonist fail
- an easy and effective way to signify inner change is through a visible change in appearance
- the B Story (internal journey) flows opposite from the A Story (external journey); as one shifts up or down, the other shifts away from it.
- create emotional resonance by using A Story accomplishments to mark B Story failures.
- the A Story and B Story collide at the All Is Lost moment, pushing the protagonist into her lowest point of the story.
- the All Is Lost moment can be pushed even lower by creating a "false high" just before it.
- during her inner reflection at the Dark Night of the Soul, the protagonist understands, or is told, she is similar to the antagonist in a way that causes her to view her goals from a different perspective
- the Dark Night of the Soul creates a crossroads for the protagonist and forces her to make a decision at the Act Three break
The second half of this movie (including the next part we haven't discussed yet) is so absorbing that it took me several tries to get this post written before I could complete it, hence the lateness of it. Every time I watch this movie, even when doing so for analysis, I get sucked into it. There aren't many movies (or books) that affect me this greatly.
So please, if you haven't watched Morning Glory yet, please please please watch it before we finish up this series next week with the breakdown of Act Three.