The quickest way to differentiate between an ensemble is to let them all answer the same question in rapid succession, and a great way to do this is to take a vote. In the pilot, the case of the week literally walks in the door: a right-wing-poster-boy-war-hero stumbles in covered in blood, insisting he didn’t kill his girlfriend. Shortly, our gang is watching him through glass, and debating the case:
- Stephen: I vote no. The guy's a fugitive covered in blood. Not once did he question who killed Paige or ask us to find her killer. We all know that's a red flag. He did it.
- Harrison: No, I don't think he did. He's a soldier, government-issue trained killing machine. He'd have to be an idiot to get her blood all over himself, call 9-1-1, and then run. But I still vote no. It's a media hand grenade.
- Abby: I don't want to take it because it's too messy, too much work. And I hate republicans.
- Olivia: My vote always comes down to my gut. My gut tells me everything I need to know. We're taking the case.
- Stephen: Why do we even bother voting?
- Olivia: You're pretty and smart. So pretty, so smart. [She smiles and leaves]
- Almost instantly, we are able to differentiate between the ensemble’s attitudes and agendas, with no backstories necessary.
- This establishes the power dynamic and hierarchy amongst them, which is closely related to…
- It builds up conflict for later, in terms of simmering resentments and prejudiced viewpoints.
(And the other downside is that this gave Rhimes license to come up with new backstories for those characters once the show had gotten more nutty. The version of Quinn’s backstory we get in the script actually makes sense, as opposed to the ludicriously pulpy version we got in the second season!)