Meant to post this a while ago. Oh well, here it is.
I’ve already brought up a couple of episodes which were among the earliest concepts I ever came up with, but I’m pretty sure this one has officially taken first place in that area. (Although that spot will be taken again very soon.) Following the very earliest plans for what will eventually become the finale, and a few related ideas for Season 0 and Crisis of Chaos, this was perhaps my very first idea for what comes in between. “If this is war is such a problem, why didn’t travel back in time and fix it the first chance they got?” I knew that if I was going to turn this into a series, that question would need to be answered. The way I saw it, there were only two possible options. Either they physically couldn’t, or they realized they shouldn’t. That had to get an episode either way. Either I had to come up with some sort of crazy, universe-bending excuse that would prevent me from ever using time travel for any reason throughout the remainder of the series (which admittedly could’ve made for a halfway decent episode on it’s own, if I’d really put some thought into it), or, I could come up with a time travel plot so ridiculously convoluted and deeply disturbing that no one involved would ever try anything like it again. The second option sounded like the far more interesting of the two, and was the far less restrictive. Certainly, Sonic and Shadow would never want to try time travel again, but now, if I ever need them to, they still can.
I was generally intending to leave it up in the air exactly when this episode would have to take place, but it became obvious pretty quickly that it wouldn’t make sense for them to do it if they didn’t do it as soon as they possibly could—the moment they obtained their second Emerald. That actually turned out to be a huge contributing factor towards the decision to do the Rouge-focused story arc for Season 1. I…to be totally honest…was actually legitimately planning on killing off Rouge. Maybe. Maybe not till a bit later. I don’t know. But I figured that the death of a main character would be the absolute best possible justification for attempting to fix things through time travel. It seemed like the, uhh…anime thing to do. And that’s not an insult, mind you. But anyways, I eventually decided a couple of things. One, I didn’t have the gall to kill off a canon character so early in the game. And two, this episode would be the most powerful if the timeline were brought back exactly the way it was—actually having Rouge die, and then be magically brought back because of accidental butterfly-effect would cheapen the effect. So, I settled for a nod to that scrapped concept, and a near-death into medical miracle. Besides, I still have at least a couple of plans for Rouge yet to come. And hey, maybe there were some unintended side-effects of injecting her with Chao blood that I haven’t come up with yet.
So, back on track, I had a framework in mind for an episode where they would try time travel and fail miserably, but that still left the question of content. Going back to Crisis of Chaos was really the only choice for time travel destination, given the context, and, believe it or not, I actually wrote the original Crisis of Chaos scene, where Sonic leaves Eggman alone in hangar bay, with the idea in mind that a time traveller from the future would eventually show up right at that moment. Fulfilling that plan was immensely satisfying. But that was only a small piece. What situation could possibly be traumatic enough to make a person like Sonic completely disavow the miracle cure-all that is time travel? I figured I’d have to go as traumatic as it gets by having him witness his own death. I originally had a slightly more gruesome death in mind, but I decided to dial it back just a bit. Still a PG story, after all. That change required introducing a new concept in a very odd way. Blacklight being able to drain life through physical contact was teased at the end of the 50th episode special, but I was not intending that to become relevant any time soon. But I thought that dropping the reader into the middle of what seems like it could have easily been the finale of a Season that never happened, with plot points and a history completely foreign, would not only be an interesting twist, but might also help the reader identify a little better with the completely nonsensically overwhelming nature of Sonic’s experiences, and so better understand why Sonic makes a rule against time travel in the end.
That was the first half. Actually, I originally had this in mind as a two-parter that would break as the Future Sonic appears, but I decided against that…mostly because this Season is crammed a little bit full, and didn’t really need the filler. I figured keeping it all focused and fast-paced would help avoid confusion, anyways, which is important for an episode like this. But anyways, why Future Sonic? Well, the whole, “go back in time, change the future for the worse, realize your mistake and fix it” plot certainly served my purposes, but on it’s own, it felt a bit…predictable. And, as you ought to know by now, an episode with a halfway decent plot but no character relevance just isn’t enough for me. I wanted something more, at very least, an extra layer of complexity that would really get the characters thinking hard about what’s going on. In other words, I needed to layer up the anti-time travel excuses. Sonic failing once was certainly traumatic. But him realizing that he would be destined to fail over and over again, countless dozens or hundreds of times, could completely transform his view of what is or isn’t possible. That’s basically the gist of it. Of course, that wasn’t twisty enough for me, so I decided that I had to make things even more complicated with the “kill your past self” suggestion. The idea there was to add an element of distrust—and if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust? Actually, I meant for Future Sonic to be the antagonist. The intention was for Present Sonic to be so overwhelmed by what’s going on that he would, at first, give in to the self-killing plan, but in the moment, would realize that he couldn’t go through with it, suddenly making an enemy of Future Sonic who will not allow this to go wrong. Seeing himself driven to that madness was supposed to be the nail in the coffin for the establishment of the no time travel rule. But I just…couldn’t justify getting our Sonic to agree to murder, even if it is only himself that he’s killing. Meanwhile, Shadow ended up being right smack in the middle of a character arc that, while seeming obvious given the episodes that needed to lead up to this one, I did not realize would be happening during the early planning phases for the episode. I certainly couldn’t ignore what he was going through, but my original plans for the episode really only had him there out of the necessity of a second Chaos-Controller. So, a lot of relatively last-minute changes resulted. I had it in mind that an interaction with Chaos had potential for an interesting story to tell, and when it came down to it, I decided that Shadow needed it more. If this had turned out to be a two-parter that focuses on Sonic as originally planned, I probably would’ve included a subplot about Sonic wanting to try to save Chaos, or bring him back to the present with them, but, once again, I settled for a quick nod to that scrapped concept instead.
Given the shifting focus to Shadow, turning Future Shadow into the true antagonist seemed like the natural way to go. I decided to keep the suggested mistrust of Future Sonic as a sort red herring instead. Anyways, Shadow seeing himself go so bad felt like a very sensible reason for him to finally start making his way towards becoming a nice person again. But wait! Shadow was a total jerk in the Team Sonic Racing special! Umm…oops. My goal in doing that was to show how much crazy stuff was going to happen in the Season finale, and I did not even consider the fact that I might be stepping on my own toes for this episode. But that turned out to be a beautiful inspiration. The idea of Past, Present, Future, and Original Sonic and Shadow all existing during the same moment in time was crazy enough, but mixing and matching them for who goes home in the end was exactly the sort of embracing of the insanity that I wanted out of this episode. Having Past Shadow suddenly confronted with two diametrically opposed versions of his future self was an obvious place to go from there, and fits in so unbelievably well with the central theme of his character. And…I suppose that just about covers the important points.
So, what does this episode mean for the rest of the season? Well…not much actually. This was as much a part three to last season’s finale as it was anything else. I like the idea of connecting one Season to the next so directly. (Little bit of inspiration from Star Trek there, which liked to have two-part episodes split up as the finale of one season and the premiere of the next.) But anyways, there was a little bit of effort made in a few places. One of my goals for Season 2 is to have emotions expressed a little more physically, and a little less verbally. Show, don’t tell, you know? I feel like that tends to be one of my bigger shortcomings as a writer, trying a little too hard to explain what people are feeling. Having Sonic give Tails an actual hug was a big step in that direction. That really shouldn’t feel like such a weird thing to do, but it did anyways. I guess I’m just worried people might interpret it the wrong way? Next episode probably isn’t going to help that either… Regardless, I do want to sell that brotherly bond between Sonic and Tails a bit harder this season. Let’s just say, it’ll become pretty important. I didn’t exactly embrace it for this episode, but I believe I’ve also mentioned that I hope to go a little more in the direction of an A-plot B-plot for more episodes in the coming season. Hopefully, that’ll allow me to do a little more exploring of the world and characters without mandating that additional dramatic plots be attached to all of them. I don’t know, I’ll see how it goes.
-And until then, remember to live and learn every day!