Galaxy Quest was one of my all time favorite movies. In part, this is because I’ve always loved Star Trek, and the parody is so beautifully done. I think all stories hinge on two key decisions, “The Fateful Decision” and “The Climactic Decision.”
“The Climactic Decision,” is something that needs to happen so that the story can end. It is a decision between two things, an easy way out in which the decider gets what they want, and something more risky. Notice that I said “the decider” and not the hero. That’s because the hero isn’t necessarily the one to make the climactic decision–very often it’s the villain, and this is true in Galaxy Quest. When Sarris has his enemy defeated, he refrains from killing Mathesar in order to make Jason Nesmith explain that “The Historical Documents” were nothing but a lie. He wants to rub salt into Mathesar’s wounds, and holds off from killing his enemies to do it. In this way he earns his defeat, and prepares the audience for the end of the movie.
In the last episode of “Elementary” this season, the villain also makes the Climactic Decision (spoiler alert), but there is a twist. Moriarty has gotten away with her crimes and achieved everything she wants. All she has to do is walk away and enjoy her riches–but she comes back to rescue Sherlock from his drug addiction. She doesn’t have to. Normally, when a character makes this choice, they are supposed to earn the reward–except she’s the villain, Holmes was faking his relapse, and she gets caught. The trick to this ending (as I see it) is that even though she gets caught and goes to jail, she hears Sherlock tell her he fell in love with her. Her reward is something she didn’t know she wanted, and maybe something she won’t appreciate.
My belief is that “The Climactic Decision” is necessary for the audience to feel like they’ve heard a complete story. But whether this decision belongs to the hero or the villain, or whether the decision merits a reward or punishment are choices for the writer.