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SimplyScripts Screenwriting Discussion Board    Unproduced Screenplay Discussion    Western Scripts  ›  Winterhaven Moderators: bert
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Steven
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Quoted from ChrisB


Hi Steve, having read your entire script I think the biggest weakness is your First Act because it is slow and might turn off people.

In all honesty, in terms of likeability the Sheriff is irredeamable.  

Your script would however be enhanced if Rose was John Curry�s love interest because I felt really bad for him and you could get a real tearjearker right there at the climax.  

If I were you I would have made John Curry the Protagonist because there is the chance for him to become more likeable to the audience as the story advances so audiences would actually care what happened to him at the end.  

I didn´t care what happened to the Sheriff because by the midpoint I was totally alienated from him.


Three of the main characters are introduced on page 3, with Sheriff Montgomery showing up before that. I get into the action pretty quickly with Missy failing at an ambush on the coach, so I don't really see the slowness of the beginning...especially with a western flick.

The problem with making John anything other than a conveyor of the revelation is that he's is the cell the entire time, and the reasoning for that is already fleshed out. In terms of Rose being a love interest for him, well she is old enough to be his mother. Remember, he's only 20.

I don't think I want Montgomery to be a likable character. He's a tough sheriff for most of the flick, and in the first flashback, his true history isn't yet revealed. The purpose of the story was to show that even though Montgomery did good in his life for the better part of a decade, the past will still catch up with him and he must pay for those crimes.

The same goes for John, but in reverse. He was an innocent victim that turned to crime for one reason or another, so his history as a victim does nothing to save him from what ultimately happens.

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CameronD
Posted: January 13th, 2017, 9:54am Report to Moderator
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Uh oh. I didn't read the rest yet but looking at these comments that's a bad sign when there is dispute over who the protag is. If the sheriff is the protag but is unlikable that's a wee problem. You have readers above it seems actively rooting against him as well and that's an issue. They may change, but the way you introduced Ardell and Rollins have them coming off as assholes. Maybe that's the point, to make everybody gritty and grey but be careful because it gives us nobody to root for. If I hate all these guys whey bother turning the page to see what happens to them next?

I agree with Dreamscale on length. I didn't catch that until after I commented but 76 pages with the first ten as an example of how the story is written is an issue. Middles are very hard. If you are having issues can you introduce a sub plot that closely aligns to the main? Often tricky middles come as a result of a sparse first act in that you've not set the stage enough for a full story to follow. Look at beefing up the first act. My analogy has always been that the first act should be spent setting up the bowling pins so you can knock them down later.

It looks like you have some work to do but that's the writing process. I think with some of these suggestions your story will end up being much stronger. Good luck on this. Always a fan of westerns.


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Steven
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Quoted from CameronD
Uh oh. I didn't read the rest yet but looking at these comments that's a bad sign when there is dispute over who the protag is. If the sheriff is the protag but is unlikable that's a wee problem. You have readers above it seems actively rooting against him as well and that's an issue. They may change, but the way you introduced Ardell and Rollins have them coming off as assholes. Maybe that's the point, to make everybody gritty and grey but be careful because it gives us nobody to root for. If I hate all these guys whey bother turning the page to see what happens to them next?

I agree with Dreamscale on length. I didn't catch that until after I commented but 76 pages with the first ten as an example of how the story is written is an issue. Middles are very hard. If you are having issues can you introduce a sub plot that closely aligns to the main? Often tricky middles come as a result of a sparse first act in that you've not set the stage enough for a full story to follow. Look at beefing up the first act. My analogy has always been that the first act should be spent setting up the bowling pins so you can knock them down later.

It looks like you have some work to do but that's the writing process. I think with some of these suggestions your story will end up being much stronger. Good luck on this. Always a fan of westerns.

Regarding the protag and antag, I've leaned more toward the Marshals being the main characters. At least Rollins, since he's the majority of the scenes. Montgomery is similar to Little Bill in Unforgiven. He WAS a bad buy when he was younger, but the recent decade spent Sheriff changed his tune a bit. He's still known for being a violent, no nonsense lawman...which is why John Curry was taken to Winterhaven in the first place. It just turns out that John and Montgomery share a specific event, and John calls him out for it, thus leading to the revelation.

My issue has always been getting to the point. Meaning that I want to get to the point as soon as possible. I don't know why I do this, but I do. If I started the story with about 10-15 pages following Montgomery's day to day routine, that could be something to help get the audience at least realize he is the focal point of the story.

That, and I've already started writing more of Montgomery's history after he was deputized by the old sheriff.

So yea, there is work to do, but not too much. At least I'm not hearing that the dialogue is crap or that the story it self doesn't make sense.

If the biggest argument is likability of a character, I can work on that and show more to him.
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ChrisB
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Hi Steven, your entire First Act involves John Curry being delivered to the Sheriff.  Any unbiased observer will tell you that your First Act is slow.  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT but it is indeed slow.  However, since it is a Western it might not matter.

In all honesty I think your story middle is the strongest part of your story so you obviously did a good job of setting things up in the First Act.

I already know that you didn�t intend Montgomery (the Protagonist) to likeable which is why you made the Marshals the main char�cters. You took a risk but I�m not sure if it was a risk worth taking.  Audiences might want to read to the end of the story to satify their desire for justice but their emotional connection to the story will be less because your Protagonist gets MORE unlikeable as the story progresses.  

In retrospect your climax is the weakest part of your story because of how unlikeable your Protagonist is.  
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Steven
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Quoted from ChrisB
Hi Steven, your entire First Act involves John Curry being delivered to the Sheriff.  Any unbiased observer will tell you that your First Act is slow.  THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT but it is indeed slow.  However, since it is a Western it might not matter.

In all honesty I think your story middle is the strongest part of your story so you obviously did a good job of setting things up in the First Act.

I already know that you didnt intend Montgomery (the Protagonist) to likeable which is why you made the Marshals the main charcters. You took a risk but Im not sure if it was a risk worth taking.  Audiences will might want to read to the end of the story to satify their desire for justice but their emotional connection to the story will be less because your Protagonist gets MORE unlikeable as the story progresses.  

In retrospect your climax is the weakest part of your story because of how unlikeable your Protagonist is.  

I see what you're saying about the first act, and I'm going to manipulate it drastically. Like I said about, the story will start out with Montgomery and his way to enforcing the law. It will show him to be hard-nosed, yet respected.

I like the ending, but I do agree that someone might not "care" about what happens to Montgomery. I think that John will have an emotional impact, at least a little bit. John doesn't care that he's being hanged, and even tells Rollins that. He's shown no mercy and is hanged the same as any other person with a bounty.

So, I think with the 10-15 page intro showing Montgomery in some lawman activity, and the stuff with Rose toward the end, he should be likable at least for the first 3/4 of the story.
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CameronD
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Ok, last comment for today, I need to start working, lol.

If the sheriff is a hard case with a bad rep then SHOW us this. When we first meet him he's reading a telegram??? Have him roughing up a prisoner, slamming his head into the wall, or tied up for some kind of torture to get a confession. Actions speak louder than words (and reputation). Or have a fight break out in the saloon with some rowdy drunk cowboys. Everybody is going at it, guns are being drawn until it all STOPS when the sheriff walks in and everybody is too scared to even draw a breath. Stuff like that helps us understand who this guy is right away.

From the comments it sounds like he was actually a legit "good guy" back in the day and has grown violent and mean over the years???? I like that angle if that's the case. In my script my sheriff underwent a similar arc in that he started out as well respected and on the side of the law but over the course of the film looses his way and drives himself to become one of the murderous animals he spent his life fighting in his quest for revenge. When I introduced him we find him overpowering a much younger and stronger criminal trying to escape. Even though my sheriff was old and on the verge of retiring, I still wanted people to see him as capable, dangerous and someone not to mess with. He ends up becoming the villain but that transition from good to bad only works I think if I make him somewhat likable in the beginning. Conversely my main hero started out as a trigger happy murderer before he crosses over and becomes heroic, but even then I still tried to make him likable by being a somewhat bumbling idiot during a failed bank heist when we first meet him. You really have to be blunt when first introducing your characters so they stand out right away.  

Also, action without context is boring, not exciting. When the stagecoach gets ambushed I was actually rooting for John to escape as you made him sympathetic and his captors aholes. But because I didn't really know John and had a strong dislike for the other two the scene was less than exciting because the stakes were low. Make me care for at least one of those two captors before the shooting starts and the action will carry more weight. Others things help too. How much is the bounty on John? How far away are they from any help? Give Missy help so she's more of a threat? Or hide the fact she's a woman until the end? What if one of the captors gets shot and ends up nursing their injury throughout the entire story? These little things can add more suspense and drama to the gunfight.  

Be very careful about assuming that just because there are guns going off that your action scenes are exciting. Without emotional context they won't be anything more than noise. And since this is a western I assume there's a fair chance there will be a lot of that shooty stuff going on.


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Steven
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Quoted from CameronD
Ok, last comment for today, I need to start working, lol.

If the sheriff is a hard case with a bad rep then SHOW us this. When we first meet him he's reading a telegram??? Have him roughing up a prisoner, slamming his head into the wall, or tied up for some kind of torture to get a confession. Actions speak louder than words (and reputation). Or have a fight break out in the saloon with some rowdy drunk cowboys. Everybody is going at it, guns are being drawn until it all STOPS when the sheriff walks in and everybody is too scared to even draw a breath. Stuff like that helps us understand who this guy is right away.

From the comments it sounds like he was actually a legit "good guy" back in the day and has grown violent and mean over the years???? I like that angle if that's the case. In my script my sheriff underwent a similar arc in that he started out as well respected and on the side of the law but over the course of the film looses his way and drives himself to become one of the murderous animals he spent his life fighting in his quest for revenge. When I introduced him we find him overpowering a much younger and stronger criminal trying to escape. Even though my sheriff was old and on the verge of retiring, I still wanted people to see him as capable, dangerous and someone not to mess with. He ends up becoming the villain but that transition from good to bad only works I think if I make him somewhat likable in the beginning. Conversely my main hero started out as a trigger happy murderer before he crosses over and becomes heroic, but even then I still tried to make him likable by being a somewhat bumbling idiot during a failed bank heist when we first meet him. You really have to be blunt when first introducing your characters so they stand out right away.  

Also, action without context is boring, not exciting. When the stagecoach gets ambushed I was actually rooting for John to escape as you made him sympathetic and his captors aholes. But because I didn't really know John and had a strong dislike for the other two the scene was less than exciting because the stakes were low. Make me care for at least one of those two captors before the shooting starts and the action will carry more weight. Others things help too. How much is the bounty on John? How far away are they from any help? Give Missy help so she's more of a threat? Or hide the fact she's a woman until the end? What if one of the captors gets shot and ends up nursing their injury throughout the entire story? These little things can add more suspense and drama to the gunfight.  

Be very careful about assuming that just because there are guns going off that your action scenes are exciting. Without emotional context they won't be anything more than noise. And since this is a western I assume there's a fair chance there will be a lot of that shooty stuff going on.

Yea, it's unfortunate that you didn't read the rest because some of what you're asking about would make perfect sense.

The sheriff isn't who he says he is. When John is brought to town, and housed in Sheriff Montgomery's jail, he slowly realizes just who Montgomery actually is. There is a flashback toward the end showing just how John and Montgomery are related (not family related) even though the age different is like 30 years.

Montgomery was a lifelong criminal, murder, etc. He was wounded on the outskirts of town some years back and accidentally wandered into town where he was rehabilitated by Madame Lucy. The flashback shows his attitude at this time, and how it slowly changes as he's grateful for this woman saving his life.

We learn that Winterhaven is run by a sheriff who can't protect anyone, and that's where Montgomery steps in. He's brutal, but his actions save people from violence in the town. After a little while, he's deputized and ultimately elected sheriff after the old sheriff dies. The turn from deputy to sheriff isn't written, but I need to include this. I stop the flashback when he's deputized.

John is a legit criminal in his own right, but I don't show what he was doing when he was picked up by the marshals. It's mentioned how he got caught, but that's it. John's a guy that turned violent due to lack of options, due to the incident with Montgomery in the past. So, obviously, when John realizes (there is an action performed by Montgomery that triggers a memory from John) just who Montgomery actually is, he spills the beans to the marshals, who don't believe him, but he has proof. All of this part makes sense due to what's written prior to this scene.

Montgomery's arc is as follows. He starts out, though flashback, violent and murderous. When he's injured and cared for, he softens a little bit. Then he's shown respect from the townsfolk, and eventually handed a position as deputy. He has a horrible past, but he redeems himself. Remember though, no one in Winterhaven knows Montgomery was a criminal. He has a cover story that he explains to Madame Lucy when he regains consciousness. Like I said before, the message of the story is that regardless of how much good you've done, your past will come back to get you.

Rollins and Ardell play us, the audience. They're the reason the story is being told. They brought John to town, and now must deal with what John has to say about Montgomery. Plus, Rollins and Ardell have their own personalities which do come through in the script. The only real non-important character would be Deputy Flint, who just follows orders.
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ChrisB
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Quoted from CameronD
Ok, last comment for today, I need to start working, lol.

From the comments it sounds like he was actually a legit "good guy" back in the day and has grown violent and mean over the years????


Hi Cameron, the major problem I have is that through a flashback an egregious crime of unspeakable proportions was committed on screen.  At first we do not kow who the perpetrator was.

By the midpoint through an accelerated reveal we discover that this Sheriff was the perpetrator.  Hence what started out as an unlikeable Protagonist is turned into a completely revolting Protagonist.

The reveal is shocking and surprising but thoroughly alienated audiences from the Protagonist.


Quoted from CameronD
Also, action without context is boring, not exciting. When the stagecoach gets ambushed I was actually rooting for John to escape as you made him sympathetic and his captors aholes.


Definitely agree with this.  I was rooting for John to escape too.


Quoted from CameronD

Be very careful about assuming that just because there are guns going off that your action scenes are exciting.


I wholeheartedly agree.  

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Steven
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Also, the biggest action scene takes place toward the end where the marshals along with Montgomery must handle some nearby crime in progress. At the end of this scene, there is an action performed by Montgomery that John is able to witness (the shoot out found it's way into town and just outside of the jail house).

After he witnesses this, John blurts out Montgomery's real name and that's when the revelation happens.

I agree, the scene with Missy has no stake. I think I wrote it to give some personality to Rollins and Ardell, and set up Ardell to be somewhat of a badass. It also shows that Rollins is good with words, instead of action.

Later on, we learn who Missy is, by the way. She's one of Madame Lucy's girls, well she used to be. She killed a paying customer and was told to leave town by Montgomery, before he was deputized.
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ChrisB
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Quoted from Steven

I see what you're saying about the first act, and I'm going to manipulate it drastically. Like I said about, the story will start out with Montgomery and his way to enforcing the law. It will show him to be hard-nosed, yet respected.

I like the ending, but I do agree that someone might not "care" about what happens to Montgomery. I think that John will have an emotional impact, at least a little bit. John doesn't care that he's being hanged, and even tells Rollins that. He's shown no mercy and is hanged the same as any other person with a bounty.

So, I think with the 10-15 page intro showing Montgomery in some lawman activity, and the stuff with Rose toward the end, he should be likable at least for the first 3/4 of the story.


I found the Marshalls likeable assholes and I really bonded with them throughout the first Act with what they had to go through to deliver John Curry to the Sheriff.  If you take out the first 10 - 15 pages who are we to bond to?  

John did have an emotional impact, I was hoping that an effort was atleast made to save his life.  I felt for him at the end but you didn�t give us enough time to grieve.  That would have enhanced the climax.

The very fact that the egregious nature of the Sheriff�s crime was shown on screen makes his likeability unsalvageable.

However if you take out this flashback your powerful acceleration reveal at the midpoint will fall flat.

Do you see the predicament you are in?

You´re only hope at the climax is to shift the focus to John.
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ChrisB
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Quoted from Steven


I agree, the scene with Missy has no stake. I think I wrote it to give some personality to Rollins and Ardell, and set up Ardell to be somewhat of a badass. It also shows that Rollins is good with words, instead of action.


It absolutely did, the first 15 pages gave us lots of personality and that´s why I don´t think you should delete it.

If I didn´t bond with the Marshalls so much I would not have finished your story.
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Steven
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Quoted from ChrisB


I found the Marshalls likeable assholes and I really bonded with them throughout the first Act with what they had to go through to deliver John Curry to the Sheriff.  If you take out the first 10 - 15 pages who are we to bond to?  

John did have an emotional impact, I was hoping that an effort was atleast made to save his life.  I felt for him at the end but you didnt give us enough time to grieve.  That would have enhanced the climax.

The very fact that the egregious nature of the Sheriffs crime was shown on screen makes his likeability unsalvageable.

However if you take out this flashback your powerful acceleration reveal at the midpoint will fall flat.

Do you see the predicament you are in?


The first 15 pages will be showing Montgomery, in present day, before he receives the telegram stating that a high value prisoner is being transferred (John). I'm doing this to make Montgomery likable, but then we learn abruptly who he really is (the same reveal).

My intro will be the same, then the present day Montgomery stuff, then the coach with the Marshals.

I think this will satisfy the latching onto a protagonist, then introducing a couple more main characters (Marshals).

I don't think there is anything wrong in thinking that you're following a good, law-enforcing man, then to find out he was once a murderous maniac that somehow found peace in Winterhaven.
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Quoted from Steven

The first 15 pages will be showing Montgomery, in present day, before he receives the telegram stating that a high value prisoner is being transferred (John). I'm doing this to make Montgomery likable, but then we learn abruptly who he really is (the same reveal).

My intro will be the same, then the present day Montgomery stuff, then the coach with the Marshals.

I think this will satisfy the latching onto a protagonist, then introducing a couple more main characters (Marshals).

I don't think there is anything wrong in thinking that you're following a good, law-enforcing man, then to find out he was once a murderous maniac that somehow found peace in Winterhaven.


The very fact that you showed the horrific crime of the Sheriff ON SCREEN means that no matter how likeable you presented the Sheriff before, at the midpoint audiences will EMOTIONALLY DETACH from him and hence the story after the midpoint.  This is a MAJOR problem that will ruin your climax  which should be the most emotionally engaging aspect of your story.  

The only stories in which good guys turn bad guys work is when we witness a horrific crime ON SCREEN AGAINST the Protagonist at the beginning of the story.  Therefore, when the Protagonist becomes the criminal we sympathize rather than emotionally detach.

The less you make audiences invest in the Sheriff before the midpoint the less your story will suffer.  It would be better to let audiences latch onto the Marshalls instead.




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Quoted from ChrisB


The very fact that you showed the horrific crime of the Sheriff ON SCREEN means that no matter how likeable you presented the Sheriff before, at the midpoint audiences will EMOTIONALLY DETACH from him and hence the story after the midpoint.  This is a MAJOR problem that will ruin your climax  which should be the most emotionally engaging aspect of your story.  

The only stories in which good guys turn bad guys work is when we witness a horrific crime ON SCREEN AGAINST the Protagonist at the beginning of the story.  Therefore, when the Protagonist becomes the criminal we sympathize rather than emotionally detach.

The less you make audiences invest in the Sheriff before the midpoint the less your story will suffer.  It would be better to let audiences latch onto the Marshalls instead.






My argument against this would be something recent - Hell or High Water. The two main characters were bank robbing brothers. One of which murdered innocent people along the way. The other brother was good enough, but they were both criminals doing something for their own selfish gain.

Page 23 is when the incident in question happens. After I add some stuff, it will be closer to page 40. But remember, since it's a flashback, and the SUPER only states "Some Time Ago," the audience isn't aware of who these people are. I originally wanted this entire sequence to play out and NOT have the SUPER stating that it's a flashback, but I was given some advice to include the flashback tag and the SUPER. If the audience sees the sequence on screen, THINKING it's real time, the reveal later would tell people that this was in fact in the past.

Also, when the coach is moving along, we pass by the little house/shack that we see in the flashback. I don't know if you picked up on that.

I know it's preferred that the protagonist needs to be likable, but it's also acceptable when the protagonist is not liked.

Without mentioning the horrific crime in detail, is it that one part during the crime that makes him completely irredeemable? I think you know what I'm talking about. I can remove that shot if it helps, because it does straddle the threshold between dark and unwatchable.
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Quoted from Steven


My argument against this would be something recent - Hell or High Water. The two main characters were bank robbing brothers. One of which murdered innocent people along the way. The other brother was good enough, but they were both criminals doing something for their own selfish gain.


They werent doing it for their own selfish gain.  Their mother died recently leaving their ranch in debt.  If they didnt pay off the debt in a few days their ranch would be foreclosed.  

In fact, the brothers were VERY Likeable.  They were abused by their father as kids.    We are more likely to sympathize with them as circumstances forced them to become criminals so audiences DO NOT emotionally detach when they start to do bad things.

In your story Sheriff Montgomery committed a horrific crime ON SCREEN.  What makes it worse is that it was an UNECCESARY crime committed against a child!  That is an immediate EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT from your story right there.


Quoted from Steven
Page 23 is when the incident in question happens. After I add some stuff, it will be closer to page 40. But remember, since it's a flashback, and the SUPER only states "Some Time Ago," the audience isn't aware of who these people are. I originally wanted this entire sequence to play out and NOT have the SUPER stating that it's a flashback, but I was given some advice to include the flashback tag and the SUPER. If the audience sees the sequence on screen, THINKING it's real time, the reveal later would tell people that this was in fact in the past.

Also, when the coach is moving along, we pass by the little house/shack that we see in the flashback. I don't know if you picked up on that.


I was impressed, that part was skillfully done in the story and will look great on screen.


Quoted from Steven
I know it's preferred that the protagonist needs to be likable, but it's also acceptable when the protagonist is not liked.

Without mentioning the horrific crime in detail, is it that one part during the crime that makes him completely irredeemable? I think you know what I'm talking about. I can remove that shot if it helps, because it does straddle the threshold between dark and unwatchable.


Your Protagonist doesnt have to be a good guy but he MUST be likeable.  If he is not then your story will suffer BIG TIME.  If audiences have a hard time connecting with the Protagonist they wont connect with your story.  You can solve this by showing your unlikeable Protagonist through the eyes of a likeable main charcter who audiences can identify with hence why I say keep the focus on the Marshalls.

Yes, if the crime was shuttled OFF SCREEN Sherif Montgomery would not seem irredeemable to the audiences.  However the very reason why your midpoint was so shocking and surprising was that it was shown ON SCREEN.  

So you will basically be weakening the effect of your midpoint to maintain the likeability of your Sheriff.  Is that a worthy tradeoff?



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