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Establishing Character Moment

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"In just a handful of scenes, we've established the full set of character archetypes to see us through until the series goes off air. Zack's a huckster, Slater a jock, Jessie an uptight brain, Kelly a cheerful object of desire, and Screech an intolerable bundle of silly faces. When Lisa appears on crutches, having kicked a television in rage when her favorite nail polish was discontinued, her core personality — likes clothes; doesn't fancy Screech — is also laid out."
Stuart Millard on the first episode of Saved by the Bell
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First impressions count, and in TV and film, even more so; there's no point in hiring an actor to give us a Deadpan Snarker if people think they’re seriously being a total ditz until the third act. So when the character comes into the plot you give them an Establishing Character Moment.

The establishing character moment does not have to be huge, it doesn't have to be impressive, it doesn't even have to be first. It's about revealing a character's motivations and abilities in a single introductory scene. They could blow the roof and rappel in from a helicopter with an automatic in each hand... but if they’re The Woobie, it's not a good idea (unless you're aiming for a Heartbroken Badass Hurting Hero like Harry Dresden or Spider-Man).

Sometimes the first thing needed is to set up how they fit into the plot, but this may not best reveal their character. So the Establishing Character Moment may be one or two scenes down the line. For TV shows and their episodic format, the character may first do what they need to do in the episode and then, near the end, establish how the character will fit into the ongoing arcs and themes of the show.

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Other times, the Moment may be the small calm when the character carries out something completely unrelated to the plot to show them in their natural element before putting them in an unrelenting storm of plot lines — for instance, during a Morning Routine sequence.

When it happens, it cannot be taken back. A running punt to a puppy will completely color attempts to Pet the Dog later, but if you start with a gentle stroke, then some people may get the wrong idea about your villain. Then again, a Bait the Dog moment may subvert this... or it might itself serve to show the complex, multifaceted Hidden Depths of that character.

If this happens in a musical, it can be in "I Am" Song format.

Subtropes include Bait-and-Switch Character Intro, Bitch Alert, Incoming Ham, and Newcomer Saves the Day. See also Establishing Series Moment. May overlap with AM/FM Characterization. Compare Characterisation Click Moment. Contrast Establishing Team Shot, when The Team is established.

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Examples:

    Advertising 
  • Big Bill Hell's, a Parody Commercial of car dealership ads, opens with this:
    FUCK YOU, BALTIMORE! If you're dumb enough to buy a new car this weekend, you're a big enough shmuck to come to Big Bill Hell's Cars!

    Asian Animation 
  • In the first episode of Boonie Bears, Logger Vick first appears driving into the forest in a truck and talking about how the forest will "look like a parking lot" by the time he's done with it, telegraphing to the viewers that he's an employed logger who intends to cut down some trees.
  • In the first episode of Happy Heroes, the very first thing Doctor H. is seen doing is to go through a junkyard to find pieces of broken technology to repair, establishing that he is a mechanic. A later scene in the same episode also establishes his crush on Miss Peach by having him develop a Crush Blush while watching a TV show featuring her.
  • The first episode of Motu Patlu, titled "John Banega Don", begins with two short scenes that introduce the two main characters. The first of these scenes features Motu being attracted to Chaiwala's samosas and eating them, establishing that he's a Big Eater who has a thing for samosas especially; this is followed by Patlu being introduced with a scene where he slips on a Banana Peel while trying to read a newspaper, solidifying him as a Butt-Monkey.
  • In the first episode of Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf, Weslie has to drag Paddi to school because he's still sleeping, establishing Paddi as a lazy character.
  • Simple Samosa:
    • The first episode, "Sumo Momo", establishes Samosa's tendency to tell exaggerated stories about himself by having him brag to his friends about having defeated not one, but multiple of Sumo Momo, his favorite professional wrestler.
    • The fact that Vada Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality gets established in "Sumo Momo" as well, as he believes Samosa's story about Sumo Momo and, when they arrive at an arena to see Sumo Momo in action, he convinces them to have Samosa fight the champion wrestler himself.

    Music 

    Podcasts 
  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: Lup's proper introduction is at a scientific press conference, where she veers off topic and calls out someone who owes her money, and then performs a Mic Drop despite Davenport's pleas not to. This gives the audience a good idea of her personality, and how much she is like her brother Taako.
  • Jemjammer: When describing their characters in the first episode, the first thing Maq says about Cacophony is her giant bosom. Vicki points out that this is very indicative of both Cacophony's character and Maq herself.

    Web Animation 
  • Hazbin Hotel: Being a pilot, the show is crammed full of these.
    • Charlie's opening song shows her crying and looking at disdain at Hell's clocktower as it resets the countdown to the annual purge, showing that she's genuinely distressed at her subjects being brutally murdered every year. Her second major establishing moment is her interview and her second song "Inside of Every Demon is a Rainbow", firmly cementing her as a Disney Princess archetype who has genuinely noble intentions, but clearly has no idea how to make her rehabilitation idea work and isn't taken seriously by her subjects.
    • Angel's first shot is getting out of a John's car and firing off a flurry of insults when the John calls him a slut.
    • Vaggie is first seen desperately trying to convince her girlfriend Charlie to not sing during the interview, then punches out a cameraman who insults Charlie, and then groans when Charlie inevitably ignores the "no singing" rule.
    • Alastor is first shown lurking in the shadows behind the crowd watching the interview on the electronics store TVs, cocking his head and narrowing his eyes in predatory interest when Charlie starts her musical number. When Charlie first meets him, he knocks on the doornote , with eyes glowing red and a big ol' Slasher Smile. He tries to say hello, but is cut off twice by Charlie slamming the door in his face. When she finally opens the door to let him in, he politely asks if he's allowed to speak. He also makes no secret of his belief that redemption is impossible and that he's only doing this to get a cheap laugh out of watching demons try and fail to get into Heaven.
  • The Emperor's first lines in If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device pretty much tell you all you have to know about him.
    The Emperor: ABOUT FUCKING TIME. I HAVE SO MANY THINGS TO COMPLAIN ABOUT.
  • Red vs. Blue: "Red Gets a Delivery" is comprised of a conversation between Grif, Simmons, and Sarge that serves as this. Sarge is established as a Drill Sergeant Nasty with a slightly tenuous grasp on reality who despises Grif, Simmons is established as being too much of a Professional Butt-Kisser to stop him, and Grif is established as being the Only Sane Man who is too lazy to really do anything about any of it.
    Grif: I'm telling you, it's a real animal!
    Sarge: Simmons, I want you to poison Grif's next meal.
    Simmons: Yes, sir!
  • RWBY:
    • Ruby's introduction in the pilot episode consists of her being interrupted from her comic browsing when the Dust shop she's in is targeted for a robbery. She impulsively fights the henchman in a flashy, destructive street fight, pauses to make sure the elderly shopkeeper is okay, then goes after the boss, Roman Torchwick; when a trained Huntress intervenes, she still helps where she can, later asking for the Huntress's autograph like a fangirl. When she's de-briefed after the fight by the headmaster of Beacon Academy, it's made clear that she's an implusive prodigy whose driving goal is to become a Huntress because all she wants to do in life is help people as much as she can.
    • Qrow is introduced draped over a bar, piss-drunk and criticising all tournament matches as a mess. When the barman asks what fight he's here for, he points out an arriving airship before staggering off. He picks a fight with the owner of that craft, a Huntress-trained Atlesian Specialist, because he's heard General Ironwood has turned on Ozpin, and fights her to a standstill despite being wasted. It's later confirmed that he's a bit of a troublemaker, an habitual drunk and is extremely loyal to Ozpin. He only grows beyond these traits after Ozpin becomes a Broken Pedestal in Volume 6, which forces him to reassess himself, his drinking, and what he fights for from Volume 7.
    • When Salem's subordinate Hazel first encounters Oscar, Ozpin warns Oscar to be wary of him, but he helps the boy obtain a train ticket he can't pay for, and advises him to not let small things stand in his way. It's later confirmed that Hazel hates violence and believes Salem is trying to save the world from the current world order that Ozpin created, which Hazel believes gets innocent people — especially children — needlessly killed. The scene sets up his future interactions with Oscar, his extreme hatred of Ozpin which drives him to do terrible things, and his eventual decision to switch sides to save the lives of both Oscar and Emerald once he finally learns the truth about Salem's real end-game and why Ozpin is fighting to prevent it from coming to pass.
  • Intentionally tactless in Senpai Club: "My name is Tsumiki Domen. I'm 15-years-old. My birthday is February 14! Beef bowls are my favorite food, and my blood type is A!" All in the first few seconds of the series.
  • Shrapnel: Reznya’s introduction in the second KILL CONTRACT episode, Once Upon a time in Ugandanote ; Tracking down four robloxians with their "Wanted!" Poster establishes she is something of a Bounty Hunter, her Curb-Stomp Battle against them highlights her brutal fighting style, bandages the Commandah’s wounds to establish that she is a decent person but then threatens to shoot him in the head when he gets on her nerves to showcase her short temper, and finally agrees to help him free his people without asking for anything in return (she figures he doesn’t have anything to pay her with anyways), because deep down she is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Mecha Sonic's first appearance in Super Mario Bros. Z involved him vaporizing a poor Goomba at point blank range for the Chaos Emerald it found. That's probably the nicest thing he's done in the series so far.

    Web Novel 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: Graham's first few scenes see him offering a street boy a meal, deciding that the boy needs further help and thus eventually inviting him over, and having a conflict with himself whether to stay with him or going to his workplace first. Later Graham quits his job and adopts the boy.

    Web Video 
  • Gameboys - Gavreel nearly responds in Cairo's livestream chat with a flirtatious "Hey I'm no cheater. I'm faithful to you" shortly after beating him.
  • Professionals Play: In the Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes challenge, the Real Bomb Squad show they're not messing around when the Expert asks for the bomb's serial number and the Defuser answers in Military Alphabet. They proceed to ace the challenge.


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