Narrative Structure of One Tree Hill

Love triangles, betrayal, and tragedy. Who can really explain the popular fasciation of binge watching a heart wrenching, plot twisting, romantic television Drama? For those of you who prefer laughing over crying during your designated Netflix time, this genre is not for youkim-kardashian-cry-face

The narrative organization of a television show is intentionally structured by how the writer’s and director’s want the story to be interpreted by viewers. In this blog post I will elaborate on elements of conventions, hermeneutic code, and suspense presented in the organized structure of One Tree Hill, qualifies this show as one of the most loved network dramas of all time.

Conventions are common methods or themes that audiences have learned to expect and producers have gotten accustomed to using. Oh, does a  catchy theme song ,paired with a montage of clips, introducing an extremely attractive cast sound a little cliche to you? Welcome to Tree Hill!

sophia bush

One Tree Hill takes place in a High School setting in the fictional town of Tree Hill, North Carolina. It follows the story of Lucas and Nathan Scott, half brothers who grew up in Tree Hill but were raised in two completely different environments. Lucas, played by Chad Michael Murray, portrays the sensitive and passionate teen, abandoned by his father who wanted a life with another woman, spends his time proving his basketball skills on the river court. Nathan, played by James Lafferty, is the highly, town praised, rebellious captain of the Basketball team who can not live up to the expectations of their malicious father, Dan Scott. (Quick shout out to the real heart throbs of the early 2000’s)

nate and lucas

Television dramas are typically located in certain settings, connecting the plot to a specific moment in time for example ; high school halls, the gym, and the characters houses. OTHs’ main characters are diverse and speak on the behalf of multiple stereotypes; the jocks, popular girls, nerds, and loners. As each characters’ story continues to build it posses a cinematic storyline for the audience to follow and make a personal connection with.

I have chosen episode 13 titled, Hanging by a moment, to analyze the examples of the hermeneutic code. The opening segment of each new episode summarizes the important key elements from the previous episode. It serves the audience a detailed refresher while simultaneously building anticipation for unanswered questions. All of the scenes throughout the show take place simultaneously through out the same day and flow consistently building each characters storyline.

Previously on One Tree HillPeyton, a complicated blonde introvert, finds closure when Lucas tells her that her fathers’ body had been found rescued from his transport, alive. The two of them share and extremely intimate kiss betraying head cheerleader, Brooke, Lucas’ girlfriend and’ best friend. Symbolism is used when the two get awkwardly interrupted by Peyton’s hair getting caught in Lucas’ necklace which was given to him by Brooke. We are left with the question of the possible development of this relationship. In their first scene in episode 13, Peyton and Lucas discuss their kiss before the morning bell and agree that it was a mistake and neither of them would say anything to Brooke. Tension AND heat grow between the love triangle despite their agreement to no longer sneak around, Lucas and Peyton have put aside their morals and surrendered their white flags to the love boat. What happened to Girl Code? Will Peyton come clean about whats “true in her heart”?

gretchen weiners

Previously on One Tree Hill…Nathan finds the truth out about his father quitting college basketball, finally realizing his father is pushing him only to live his own dreams through his son. Dan and Deb’s, Nathan’s mother, marriage is falling apart. Communication, trust, and honesty about his dark past seem to control them, Deb makes Dan move out. Does he actually care enough to fix their marriage? Or is he using this as an out? The first appearance we see of Dan and Deb in episode 13 is when they are in couples therapy. Dans’ cut throat and chilling personality seems to come out as a defense mechanism when ever he feels intimidated or attacked. He verbally abuses their therapist, then compared cutting Lucas out of his life to a man cutting his own arm off to relieve him of a boulder crushing his body. Yes, this drama is dramatic.. but I sense Dan is fighting his inner demons in order to maintain his “power” thriving reputation.

dan scott

Building suspense between scenes and episodes is critical to keeping your audience engaged to the very end of a 45 minute drama. As the last five minutes begin to unravel, each characters’ scenarios take an unexpected turn making this one of the most monumental endings of the first season. We see Brooke helping apprehensive Peyton put the finishing touches on her newly decorated room. As they stand there waiting for Lucas to arrive back from picking up his Mom from the airport, Peyton nervously looks at Brooke, delivers a worthy best friend speech, then udders the anticipated words, “I have something to tell you.” Brooks’ facial expression suggests she already knows what’s about to come next.


The scene changes, now we see Lucas casually chatting in the passenger seat of his Uncle Keiths’ car. They are both eager to see Karen after she spent four weeks studying culinary in Italy. Keith brings up the possibility of all being a family one day and Lucas bashfully agrees, just to change the mushy conversation.

The scene changes to Dan jumping in his car and calling Deb. He wants to come home and make things right with his family. He seems regretful and racing to get away from his own thoughts. Dan walks into the coffee shop to meet Deb. He tries his best to win her back but is cut- off by her request of getting a divorce. Dan leaves the shop and gets back into his car. On his return home he approaches a traffic light,  witnesses a car run through a red light, and get smashed by an oncoming pick up. Dan rushes to the car and comes to realize it was his brother Keith and his abandoned Lucas that had been tragically hit.

car accident

Dan immediately rushes unconscious Lucas into the emergency room. Frantically looking for help a nurse asks him what his relationship to the boy is. With a brief hesitation Dan looks down at the boy he never wanted, and returns his eye contact to the nurse and firmly says, “That is my son.” Lucas is rushed to surgery and the monitor flatlines. Episode ends.

What really captivated me was the unexpected outcomes of each of these scenarios. The only dialog between Peyton and Lucas for the entirety of this episode all came down to the final moment of when Peyton finally reveals to Brooke that she had something to tell her. I feel we get some closure from knowing Peyton finally addressed the situation, but anticipation keeps growing because we do not witness the actual confession. Is this still resolution? I started to sense something was going to go wrong with the rapid scene change, rain, and fast driving. You can tell the succession of these last few scenes suggest something bad is going to happen. I think there is a presence of emotional self closure when Dan finally came to terms that Lucas is his son regardless of what he ever wanted. Obviously there is zero closure in the final scene when the audience is led to believe that Lucas has flat lined, normally indicating sudden death. The conventions I presented, the analysis of the hermeneutic code referring enigma and delay, and the importance of suspense elaborates how One Tree Hill has the captivating and engaging elements needed to make it one of the most loved dramas of all time.


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