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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 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.

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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 Bitch Alert, Moral Event Horizon, Incoming Ham, and Newcomer Saves the Day. See also Establishing Series Moment. May overlap with AM/FM Characterization.

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Examples:

    Asian Animation 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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.

    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. Roman Torchwick gets one in the same episode; namely, he assures the shopkeeper that he doesn't want his money - then orders the goons to grab the Dust crystals instead. And when Ruby curb-stomps the aforementioned Mooks without so much as a sweat, he remarks in disgust that the goons "[truly] were worth every cent".
    • 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.
    • "Best Day Ever" gives one to both Emerald Sustrai and Mercury Black. Emerald introduces herself to the audience by pickpocketing the elderly shopkeeper while sweetly asking him to give her the location of an address. Mercury makes his introduction by playfully flirting with Emerald, asking a book store owner if he has any comics ... and then murdering said book store owner in cold blood only to discuss comic pictures and casually joke about the guy he murdered.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 
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Bruz The Chopper

The hulking powerhouse member of the Always Chaotic Evil Uruk race turns out to be a wise cracker

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