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Establishing Character Moment

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"Sometimes, when you meet a new operative, it's a good idea to open with an aggressive move. You learn about people when you make them play defense: their reflexes, weaknesses, how they handle themselves under pressure. And even if they are able to counter, it never hurts to know how far they're willing to go."
Michael Westen, Burn Notice

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 he's 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 first 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. It could blow the roof and rappel in from a helicopter with an automatic in each hand...but if it's 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 it fits into the plot, but this may not best reveal its 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 it needs 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.

Other times, the Moment may be the small calm when the character carries out something completely unrelated to the plot to show it in its natural element before putting it 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 Bitch Alert, Moral Event Horizon, Incoming Ham, and Newcomer Saves the Day. See also Establishing Series Moment. May overlap with AM/FM Characterization.


Examples:

    Podcasts 
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • RWBY:
    • The Yellow trailer acts as Yang's. She walks casually into a Bad-Guy Bar, uses a Groin Attack to get information, laughingly flirts with the same guy she was attacking seconds before, then punches him in the face for no particular reason. She then fights off the guy, his mooks, and leaves, greeting Ruby outside the bar.
    • Ruby herself has one in the first episode, in which she reads a magazine with her hood up while listening to music as a robbery is taking place. When one of the Mooks approach her she throws him out a window, clicks off her music, and pulls out her scythe rifle, fighting them off and chasing after the leader. Once a Huntress intervenes she immediately squees and asks for her autograph.
    • Glynda Goodwitch steps in to defend a teenage would-be hero, calmly stops bullets with an elaborate magical shield, nearly shoots down a mob boss's airship with her magic, and then sternly tells the girl not to get into trouble again. This minute and a half tells us that Glynda's a badass sorceress, protector of the peace, stern yet fair, and more than worthy of her position as Team Good's lieutenant.
    • Episode 2 has several in quick succession.note  Weiss Schnee is introduced harshly berating Ruby for an innocent mistake (and, incidentally, boasting about the Schnee family's status and wealth). Blake hears the commotion and closes a book that she's reading, walking over to defend Ruby and scornfully pointing out the history Weiss' family has of slavery and Fantastic Racism. Weiss leaves in a huff and Ruby turns to thank Blake, only to find that she's already walking away. Jaune helps Ruby up and the two bond over how awkward they feel.
    • In Episode 3, Nora is introduced as an playful, fiercely energetic girl...whose response to being catapulted into a forest teeming with ferocious monsters is to smile gleefully. Meanwhile, her friend Ren just calmly goes through his normal routine while Nora talks her head off behind him.
    • Coco casually walks up to a hulking Grimm and says, "You destroyed my favourite clothing store. Prepare to Die." Then she beats it up with her handbag. Which is also a minigun.
    • Volume 3 finally gives Qrow a proper introduction, drunk off his ass and complaining that the Vytal Tournament is a televised mess. With the reveal that Cinder is manipulating the fights, he's right on the money. Also, The bartender also ends up knocking over a glass as he leaves.
  • 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.

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