I just witnessed a TV program where an FBI agent's wife is kidnapped. The hostage-taker does this to get the agent to help him secure a great art treasure, in the possession of two thieves the agent knows. The agent pressures the two art thieves to help him get his wife back, and they don't take too much convincing because they like the wife and they really have hearts of gold. Did I tell you this treasure is worth a half billion dollars and was found on a booby-trapped U-boat?
Wifey is locked in a strong room guarded by an armed minion with orders to kill her if he doesn't hear from the boss man every half hour. Soon the villain--let's call him Vince--is meeting with G-man and the two gentlemanly thieves. Vince goes alone to this meeting confident no one will mess with him while he has the hostage.
I stopped watching at that point. There are a number of problems with this plot.
The Submarine. It is dry docked in a warehouse on the waterfront and the script writers would have us believe that only the rich guy and a few henchmen know about it's existence. In reality thousands of people would have to be aware of it. The salvage crew, and their wives and girlfriends and drinking buddies and their family members. The barge crew, the dock and crane people and their families. And then there is the internet. I dare you to sneak something large and rare into the heart of New York City, in the age of the camera/phone, and not have at least one hireling snap a picture of it and post it on Facebook. But let's get to the kidnapping.
Criminals do not mess with family members of cops. It just brings down too much heat. Can you imagine the amount of heaven and earth that fellow fed law enforcement officers would move to retrieve such a loved one? Or avenge the death or injury to her? The bad guy would have to hide in a cave and never show his face or make another phone call or e-mail, ever. The search for this kidnapper would rival that of Bin Laden's. Besides, the time honored method to get cops to co-operate with you is to get some dirt on them and blackmail them.
Why even mess with an agent's wife, or the FBI guy? He doesn't know where the loot is, but the two thieves do. Why not just snatch one of them and torture the treasure's location out of him? Or drug him with truth serum? Or threaten to kill one thief unless the other gives up the treasure? The two are old friends and share a comradeship longer and stronger than their casual acquaintance with Wifey. The two likable thieves are not hard to find, are not armed and don't know Kung Fu and they are walking on the public streets every day and they would more likely trade the treasure for their own well-being--can't enjoy it if you are dead--than for the wife of a Fed who is always threatening to send one of them back to prison.
The thieves are career con men and forgers and artful dodgers, yet as soon as Wifey is threatened they are prepared to toss aside a fabulous treasure, that is the big score they have been dreaming of, and is the very pinnacle, the Superbowl, the Pennant, the Oscar of thievery and will put them on easy street for the rest of their lives, and the writers would have us believe these life-long rogues will turn it over to a hated rival enemy art thief, just like that? The two crooks must have hearts of gold.
This next objection is similar to the Die Guys Scenario criticism posted previously. It is almost exactly the same except for the hostage being offsite. The good guys do not call Vince Villain's bluff because to do that might bring harm to Wifey and that would be unthinkable.
But let's think the unthinkable. Here are three men who want the hidden hostage very badly and they are alone in a room with one of only two people who know where she is. Why don't they just grab him and truss him up and start drilling holes in his kneecap until he tells them where to find her?
"Because," you say, "if Vince doesn't call, the keeper will kill the hostage."
How do we know that? A dead hostage is useless. A smart villain would tell his henchman not to kill the hostage unless he gives the order, but he has to convince the family otherwise, to protect himself while dealing with them.
But for the sake of the argument, let's accept that Vince has to call every half hour or minion Mike executes the prisoner. Those are his orders and he must obey.
But you are falling for the mindless minion trap that most writers use to avoid having to deal with minion motivation. Contrary to what everyone believes, because they have watched too much TV, minions do have thoughts of their own. What will be the keeper's thoughts when the call doesn't come on time? Will he just kill the hostage as ordered or will he wait? He'll wait. He doesn't want to kill the golden goose and then 30 seconds later get a call from the boss man explaining he was in a cell dead spot. And then he will wait another five minutes and then his thoughts will really start cascading. If he is an experienced criminal they will tumble something like this:
Boss is not calling. Something's wrong. Maybe the boss has been captured or killed. I hope he is dead, because if not he could rat on me. Maybe the police are on their way here right now! Maybe I should scram. How am I going to get paid if he is dead or captured? He promised me two million, otherwise I wouldn't have messed with a fed's wife. So far all I've done is kidnap, which might net me 20 years, but if I kill this broad and they find me, I'm never getting out. No death penalty in New York, but people who kill cops mysteriously end up dying in custody. I should leave her here and wait across the street in case Vince talked and I'm about to get raided. I haven't touched much. I could wipe this chair down. She's seen my face, though. If SWAT shows up I could take her hostage, but that never works out. Damn! Maybe I should just turn myself in.
And so it goes. The smartest thing our hireling could do is leave some food and water for Wifey and then go straight to his attorney. The attorney calls the FBI on behalf of his client and offers to surrender and disclose the wife's location for a minimal sentence at one of the more comfortable prisons.
Or another version has the three amigos persuade the trussed-up villain to dial his associate and then they take over and talk directly with the minion themselves, and explain to him, with the whine of the drill and throat-shredding screams in the background, that they have his boss and will soon have him, and that it would be best for all if he just released the hostage and then turned himself in.
The upside is they save the beautiful and gracious Wifey, and the thieves get to hang on to their loot.
The downside is that, dramatically, the three characters are not so endearing as they used to be. Also, if they let Vince live the legal case against him might fail because of the torture and the trio might face charges of their own and the FBI guy would lose his job.
But the associate will finger Vince as the mastermind, as part of his plea deal, and the FBI guy will remind Vince about the likelihood of dying in custody, if Vince is of a mind to blab about who kneecapped him.
My wife, who is smitten with the show and has watched all of them, tells me the actual ending was much more exciting. It involved intricate planning and brilliant execution. One of the thieves, the handsome young one, stymies the villain by throwing priceless art out the back of the getaway van, and Wifey manages to escape on her own using her diamond ring to score and shatter the toughened glass of her stronghold.
So do you want to be thrilled and amused? Or would you like to have at least a little thread of reality in the garment? Are both possible?