Captain From Castile

Inciting Event: After Pedro helps one of Inquisition Master Diego’s Aztec slaves escape—and after whipping Diego’s dogs off the peasant girl Catana—Diego retaliates by arriving unannounced at the home of Pedro’s honorable parents and threatening the entire family. Everything that has happened up to this point are just events. They don’t have particular significance until this moment—which they have caused—then initiates the conflict.

First Plot Point: Pedro and his family are arrested by the Inquisition—at the behest of Diego—and Pedro’s twelve-year-old sister is killed on the strapado. Pedro’s Normal World ends abruptly here. There is no going back. His sister is dead, and in a few scenes more, he and his parents will have to literally escape their world in Spain and flee—the parents to Spain and Pedro to Mexico.

First Pinch Point: After escaping prison, Pedro, his friend Juan, and the peasant girl Catana lead their pursuers away from Pedro’s parents, then decide to join Cortez’s expedition to the New World. This is the clear turning point in the First Half of the Second Act. But it does not provide a pinch point. That happens in another, quieter (and ultimately inconsequential) scene, in which Pedro’s betrothed is given instead to Diego—whom Pedro thought he killed. Although this presentation of the antagonistic pinch and the turning point as two separate scenes definitely can work, it’s never the optimal choice for presenting a cohesive and resonant whole.

Midpoint: Now in Mexico, Pedro realizes he’s fallen in love with Catana. After dancing with her, he asks her to marry him. This is where the story really starts to fall apart. A quick look at the major structural moments shows us this story has no idea what it’s about. It starts out being about the Inquisition and Pedro’s personal quarrel with Diego. That the story then shifts into a very different “adventure world” in the Second Act, with its focus now on Pedro’s adventures with Cortez, isn’t necessarily problematic. But here we have yet another focus of the story: Pedro’s hasty and decidedly understated romance with Catana. Although I would argue that Catana is easily the most interesting part of the story, her only major force in the structure is this Midpoint, which functions as a turning point only in the relationship, not in the story as a whole. As a result, the story suffers from having no clear shift from reaction to action on Pedro’s part in the second half.

Second Pinch Point: Cortez’s gems are stolen by his reluctant Cuban allies while Pedro is supposed to be on guard duty. He is blamed for their loss. With his own life at stake, Pedro must confront the thieves and retrieve the gems. We can now see how truly episodic the structure has become. Suddenly, Pedro’s ally (the admittedly mercurial) Cortez is the antagonist whose ability to “pinch” is being emphasized in this scene. Not only is that threat resolved easily, but it also does nothing to set up the Third Plot Point.

Third Plot Point: Montezuma threatens war if Cortez will not leave, and Cortez responds by destroying one of the Aztec idols with his cannon. In isolation, this isn’t a bad Third Plot Point at all. It seems to shift the story into the desolation of inevitable war, and it adds a nice symbol of death via the idol being “killed.” But once again, this conflict is cleaned up effortlessly and almost entirely off-screen—and without Pedro’s assistance.

Climax: Pedro’s old enemy Diego arrives in the New World, only to be murdered in his sleep. Pedro is blamed and sentenced to be hanged. This nicely brings the original conflict and antagonist back around to frame the overall story, but sadly nothing that happened in between the First Act and the Climax affects or resonates with this event.

Climactic Moment: When the true murderer confesses, Pedro is cleared—only to have Catana misunderstand and stab him when the guards come, in an attempt to spare him the shame of hanging. Props to the story for supplying this entirely unforeseen outcome, which caught me completely off guard. But ultimately, the reason it’s unforeseen is because it makes no sense and has no meaning within the movie as a whole.

Resolution: Pedro recovers, apparently forgives Catana, and the Spanish explorers engage in an Exodus-like departure from their camp in order to conquer and claim the New World in glory. The story skips directly from Catana’s stabbing Pedro to Pedro’s riding out with the soldiers. There’s no scene showing Pedro’s reaction to his wife’s stabbing him. As a result, her action is undermined and the story’s believable rhythm of cause and effect is seriously jarred. Showing characters’ reactions to important events is crucial in establishing them as realistic, thinking, reacting human beings.

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