[Plot] The Tragic Subplot of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

With this two-part series, you get to choose your own adventure!

  • Below you can read the tragic subplot of The Dark Knight—Harvey Dent’s storyline. Then, to see how Batman’s arc is built around it, read the encompassing plot.
  • If you want to start with Batman’s story or read  through the full plot chronologically, here’s the heroic storyline.

You can jump from one post to the next at any time by using the teleport links.

The Tragedy of Harvey Dent

Villains are the heroes of their own stories. In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent goes through the 8 C’s just like protagonist Bruce Wayne, with just two alterations.

Instead of an Allies and Abilities section after the complication, Harvey gains enemies and displays his tragic flaws.

And since Harvey’s story ends tragically, his seventh C isn’t a curveball that sets him back; it’s a final burst of  confidence.

Teleport to: [Review of the 8 C’s] [Prologue] [Bruce Wayne’s Captivation & Opening]

Harvey Dent’s 8 C’s

Captivation, Opening

Before Harvey shows up on screen, he’s described by Lt. Gordon:


When the new DA gets wind of this, he’ll want in.


Do you trust him?


Be hard to keep him out. I hear he’s as stubborn as you.

For comic book fans, Harvey’s captivation comes when he pulls out the coin to flip for who will lead in the courtroom and Rachel calls him Harvey. DC fans know that Harvey is Two-Face’s real name, and coin-flipping is his trademark, so once he’s introduced, they automatically know who he is and whom he becomes.

For viewers who may not be as familiar with Batman villains, their captivation is just how likable this guy is, and how easy it is to root for him:


I’m serious, Harvey, you don’t leave things like this to chance.


I don’t.
I make my own luck.

And if that’s not enough to make you like Harvey, then watch his whole opening scene:

Clearly Harvey Dent is the heroic type, right?

Change, Reaction

Dent calls Gordon into his office to partner with Gordon. He also acknowledges that Gordon works with Batman, but it’s all in subtext until Gordon clues the audience in:


Fancy stuff for a city cop. Have help?


We liaise with various agencies—


Save it, Gordon. I want to meet him.


Official policy is to arrest the vigilante known as Batman on sight.

As soon as Harvey partners with Gordon (and consequently Batman), Harvey’s story begins to change.

[Meanwhile, Bruce follows a lead and asks Fox for a new suit]

When his date with Rachel gets crashed by Bruce Wayne, Harvey unknowingly, reluctantly meets Batman’s alter ego. Harvey wins over Bruce, who decides to throw him a fundraiser. This sequence has plenty of lines to dig into. For one, Harvey clearly respects Batman and considers what he does to be not an honor, but a public service. He says he might be up to taking up Batman’s mantle. This is also when Harvey says this thematic (and prophetic) line:


You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Teleport to: [Primary Change, Reaction]

Complication, Enemies & Flaws

Later, Harvey meets with Gordon and Batman. Gordon and Harvey both blame each other for a leak to the mob, and we’re reminded that Harvey came from Internal Affairs and has investigated all of Gordon’s cops. Gordon, Harvey, and Batman all agree that Lau (a Chinese businessman and basically the entire mob’s accountant) needs to be brought in if they want to take down Gotham’s crime ring. But Batman is the only one who can do it, because Gordon and Harvey don’t have jurisdiction in China, and Batman doesn’t need jurisdiction. Harvey is still bound by the law—he’s helpless here, but he does makes the call that Batman should go, and he accepts that there will be consequences:


We’re going after the mob’s life savings. Things will get ugly.


I knew the risks when I took this job, Lieutenant. Same as you.

Teleport to: [Primary Complication, Bruce’s Problem #1: Hong Kong]

Enemies & Flaws: Going After the Mob

In the first Enemies & Flaws sequence, Harvey:

  • uses Lau to testify against the mob
  • repeats his distrust of Gordon’s cops when he questions keeping Lau in Central
  • arrests 549 connections to the mob
  • is warned by the mayor that politicians, journalists, and crooked cops will be after him, too, now that he’s targeting the mob

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Problem #2: The Fundraiser]

Enemies & Flaws: Threats from The Joker

In the second Enemies & Flaws sequence, Harvey:

  • is threatened by the Joker (police find his DNA on the dead “Batman” double)
  • is saved by Bruce when the Joker turns up at his fundraiser
  • is threatened by the Joker again (A “Harvey” and “Dent” double murder)

Note that all three of these points are passive. If Harvey were the protagonist of the main storyline, we’d want him to be more active.

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Problem #3: The Parade]

Enemies & Flaws: Going Rogue for Rachel

In the third Enemies & Flaws sequence, Harvey:

  • discovers that Joker is targeting Rachel next (a thug’s name tag)
  • steals a paramedic truck with the thug inside
  • plays Russian Roulette with the thug, then tosses his coin for the thug’s life—but in both of these cases, he’s bluffing.
  • is caught “torturing” the thug by Batman, who admonishes him
  • gets angry at Batman when he (Batman) considers turning himself in

We see a bit into Harvey’s fatal flaws in these sequences. First, we see that he admires the capacity for judgment:


549 criminals at once?! How did you get Surrillo to hear this farce?


She shares my enthusiasm for justice. After all, she is a judge.

Second, we see what he has to lose.


You’re the symbol of hope that I could never be. Your stand against organized crime is the first legitimate ray of light in Gotham for decades. If anyone saw this, everything would be undone—all the criminals you got off the streets would be released.

Note—Batman is talking about organized crime. But Harvey already knows he’s not dealing with organized crime with the Joker—he’s dealing with disorganized, unpredictable, chaotic crime. And that means his tactics need to shift. They will at the midpoint…

Confrontation, Elation

This next scene is definitely the midpoint. It happens dead center of the movie, and it’s a major turning point in the plot.

Harvey tells the press that he is the Batman.

This doesn’t sound like a “confrontation.” It’s not a physical one, surely. Harvey is trying to take the fall for Batman so Batman can continue doing his job. This action is still a confrontation between Harvey and Batman. Harvey is making his own luck. (And how does he do that? By taking away Batman’s agency.)

Alfred offers Rachel (and the audience) some insight to why Harvey may have decided to claim the cowl, as well as why Bruce allowed him to:


Perhaps both Bruce and Mr. Dent believe that Batman stands for something more important than a terrorist’s whims, Miss Dawes, even if everyone hates him for it. That’s the sacrifice he’s making—to not be a hero. To be something more.

This harkens back to the conversation between Rachel, Harvey, and Bruce back at the restaurant, when they were talking about a Roman guardian of a city doing it not for honor, but as a public service.

The ensuing car chase with Dent in an armored car, acting as bait to catch the Joker, seems like it shouldn’t be any sort of Elation sequence, but Dent is actually enjoying it—in the script, as well as in the movie, Dent is smiling and calm amidst the gunfire and chaos. He is pleased.

And then Batman, Gordon, and Dent catch the Joker. Elation.

Collapse, Gloom

So of course the collapse comes next. Dent is captured by Joker’s associates and brought to a warehouse to die or be rescued. So is Rachel. They’re each given a 50/50 chance to live, because they know Batman will only be able to rescue one of them.

Harvey tries to move but falls, accidentally dousing the left side of his face with gasoline.

Batman, thinking he’s gone to where Rachel was, shows up to Harvey’s warehouse. Harvey is helpless as Rachel is killed in the explosion. On the way out of the building, as it, too, explodes, Harvey’s face catches fire.

Harvey wakes up in the hospital and finds his coin—the one he’d given to Rachel—at his bedside.

Half his face is destroyed. One of the faces of the coin is damaged, too.

Gordon visits Harvey and tells him he’s sorry.


No. No you’re not. Not yet.

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Collapse and Gloom] [Bruce’s Comprehension, Action]

Comprehension, Action

The Joker finds Harvey in the hospital and releases him from his restraints. The Joker says Gordon and the mob are all schemers, and that Harvey used to be a schemer, too, but he (the Joker) is an agent of chaos … because chaos is fair.

Harvey pulls out his coin. Now it’s not a lucky coin. He can’t make his own luck anymore. His agency got taken away by chance. So now chance will govern his decisions.

Dent looks down at the coin in his hands. Turns it over, feels its comforting weight. Shows the Joker the good side.


You live.

He turns the coin over. The flip side is deeply scarred.


You die.

First Action: Wuertz

After chance dictates the Joker’s fate at the hands of Harvey, Harvey—as Two-Face—goes on a murderous rampage, targeting everyone who was tied to Rachel’s death and flipping his coin to decide whether he kills them or incapacitates them.

His first victim is Detective Wuertz, who had picked him up and brought him to the warehouse.

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Second Action]

Second Action: Maroni

Next he visits Maroni, the mob boss, who tells him the name of the cop who picked up Rachel and brought her to her death.

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Third Action]

Third Action: Ramirez and Gordon’s Family

Harvey forces Ramirez to betray Gordon’s family, tricking them into meeting where Rachel was killed.

Teleport to: [Bruce’s Fourth Action] [Curveball]

Curveball Confidence, Final Exam

Lt. Gordon shows up to the place where Rachel died to find his wife and children huddling together. Harvey disarms Gordon.

Chance might be the judge determining someone’s fate, but Harvey is still a prosecutor. More than that: now he decides who should be on trial.

He’s got Gordon exactly where he wants him, especially after he puts his gun up to the head of Gordon’s little boy. Harvey is confident that Gordon is going to get a “fair” trial.

Then Batman shows up, and it’s time for Harvey’s final exam.


You don’t want to hurt the boy, Dent.


It’s not what I want. It’s about what’s fair.

(To Gordon and Batman)

You thought we could be decent men in an indecent world. You thought we could lead by example. You thought the rules could be bent but not break … You were wrong. The world is cruel.

(Shows his coin)

And the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.

Harvey has lost his morality and his sense of goodness. He was the one who needed to hear Rachel’s advice to “Please keep your faith in people.”

Remember when Harvey was boasting about the judge being enthusiastic about justice? For Two-Face, justice means retribution. Justice is punishment. And if he was punished (losing Rachel, burned half to death) when he was doing good (trying to take down the mob), then in his mind, his punishment must have been determined by chance.

The scariest villains are the ones we empathize with. The ones whose motivations make some sense.


Batman urges Harvey to punish the three people responsible for Rachel’s death—Batman, Harvey, and Gordon. So Harvey flips a coin for Batman…

…and shoots him.

For himself…

…and he lives.

For Gordon’s son…

…and Batman takes him out.

Two-Face is dead.


For Harvey’s resolution, we need to go to Bruce Wayne’s side of the story.

Teleport to: [Main Culmination, Resolution] [Thematic Question]

D&D alignments for the characters in The Dark Knight (2008)

I spent WAY too much time creating this graphic of my D&D alignments for the characters in The Dark Knight.

So, did you read chronologically? Did you choose the heroic or tragic tale first?

Writing brings people together, and so does Batman. Share this post on social media! ❤

[Plot] The Two-Face Structure of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

It’s been a while since I’ve done a good ol’ fashioned story deconstruction here on the blog, and what better story to do it with than The Dark Knight, which has not one, but two sequences of the 8 C’s?

I’ve been asked a couple of times about how the 8 C’s of Plotting would work in a tragedy setting, and The Dark Knight is one example of how the 8 C’s can work for both tragic and heroic storylines.

If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight, you might want to do so before you read on, because here be major spoilers.

First let’s do a quick Review of the 8 C’s:

  1. Captivation—what gets the audience interested in the character or predicament the character is in. Followed by the “Opening” sequence.
  2. Change—the inciting incident that sparks the story engine. Followed by the “Reaction” sequence.
  3. Complication—Whatever forces the MC to change plans. Could be a relocation; antagonistic meddling in the MC’s life; or a bad decision, mistake, or accident. Most powerful when it grows out of the REACTION. Followed by the “Preparation & Problems / Allies & Abilities” sequence.*
  4. Confrontation—the first confrontation between the protagonist and whichever antagonist or idea they will be facing off against in the Final Exam. Followed by the “Elation” sequence.
  5. Collapse—the near-fatal blow to the protagonist. Followed by the “Gloom” sequence.
  6. Comprehension—the Awakening, either figuratively or physically. When all hope seems to be lost, the Hero learns new information, regains consciousness, or gets help from someone or -thing. Followed by the “Action” sequence.
  7. Curveball—a surprise twist or unexpected obstacle. You know, a curveball. Followed by the “Final Exam” sequence.*
  8. Culmination—the climactic moment. Either the hero wins, or the hero dies (figuratively or literally). Followed by the “Resolution” sequence.

*Harvey’s Tragic story follow these same C’s, with two alterations.

Continue reading

Act Three: The Final Exam (NaNoWriMo Final Week)

Psst…Are you on Twitter? If so, follow @LaraEdits! Today I tweeted the difference between formal and fiction writing.


Posts in this series so far:

I talk about the second act in my series on plot. Here I’ll continue examining how these 8 C’s of Plotting combine with Theme in Toy Story‘s second act.

Last time we left Woody, his motivation changed—instead of being motivated by his desire for position (both the physical spot on Andy’s bed and as the head honcho among toys), he’s now motivated by a desire to be a good friend. The “Break into 3” is the comprehension, as you’ll remember:


Come on, Sheriff. There’s a kid
over in that house who needs us.
Now let’s get you out of this thing.

Yes Sir!

Once out of the gloom, the character needs to make a new plan, which starts Act Three.

Act Three

Act Three’s Action, Curveball, Final Battle, Culmination, and Resolution are similar to Act Two’s Preparation and Problems through its Elation period. Here’s how they match up:

Act Two Act Three
Preparation & Problems Action
(last, worst problem) Curveball
Confrontation Final Battle
 (end of confrontation) Culmination
Elation Resolution

The differences between the three acts are motivation, growth, and theme.


  1. In Act One, the immediate goal is introduced and the ultimate goal is suggested.
  2. In Act Two, the immediate goal is achieved or changed and the ultimate goal is realized.
  3. In Act Three, the ultimate goal is achieved or changed.


  1. In Act One, the protagonist starts with a sense of normalcy, which gets threatened and thrown into chaos.
  2. In Act Two, the protagonist learns how to adapt to that chaos (or “ocean”) by learning abilities and gaining allies.
  3. In Act Three, the protagonist uses everything he or she learned in Act Two to gain a new normal.


  1. In Act One, the protagonist has an established belief about the world.
  2. In Act Two, that belief is challenged (sometimes also demonstrated by a B story)
  3. In Act Three, the protagonist develops a new belief.

Sometimes the theme is demonstrated by a dilemma: The character is put in an impossible situation, needing to choose between A or B. Both are important, and the loss of either would be deeply felt. The character comes up with a new option, Choice C, which is chosen at the Culmination.

Brian McDonald, story consultant to Pixar and an expert on the subject, sums up the theme’s progression through the acts in two ways:

  • Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis
  • Proposal, Argument/Proof, Conclusion

Read his thematic analysis of The Godfather here.

 Let’s breakdown Toy Story‘s Act Three.


Woody’s in “jail,” Buzz has a rocket strapped to his back, and here a moving truck comes to take Andy away forever. A nice reminder of that ticking time bomb. We have to know—What’s next?

  • Buzz helps Woody get out of the milk crate (sequel)
  • Sid wakes up, grabs Buzz, and takes him outside to blow him to space/smithereens. (new goal)
  • Scud (the dog) sees Woody, but Woody slams the door on him. (Tiny victory for Woody, but also a pinch point / foreshadowing)
  • Woody asks Sid’s toys for help, hinting they’ll “break some rules” (character development, foreshadowing)
  • Goal/pinch point montage: Andy is shown sad to leave both Buzz and Woody, Sid is shown building a launch pad, Scud is waiting outside the door to eat Woody
  • Woody makes a plan (this is implied with a visual and three lines of direction to other characters—it’s not spelled out for the audience. They’ll have to keep watching to see what the plan is)
  • Partakers in the plan get into places
  • Achieve plan part one: get HANNAH (previous character) to get rid of SCUD (immediate threat)
  • Set-up for plan part two (keeping up mystery of this plan—not even telling Buzz)
  • Achieve plan part two: teach SID a lesson and scare him away from Buzz (immediate threat) and any other toy (greater good) by breaking the toy rule and coming to life, but not before SID gives Woody a match (foreshadowing, tool)
  • Sequel: Sid is afraid of Hannah’s dolls now, Woody & Buzz shake hands.
  • Van horn honks: Andy and his family are saying goodbye to their house.
  • Woody runs to van, but Buzz is stuck in the fence. Woody leaves the van to go save Buzz (character development)
  • Van drives away (problem), Buzz and Woody duck to avoid moving truck just in time (character development—compare to the gas station semi), they wake up Scud (antagonist)
  • Buzz and Woody both manage to catch up with the moving truck. Scud catches up with them and starts pulling Woody off.

We end with some character development…


I can’t do it! Take care of Andy for me!

…before Buzz sacrifices himself for Woody, jumping off the truck to tackle Scud. (mutual relationship development)


Woody unlocks the back of the truck and looks for something—he’s got a plan, but we don’t know what it is. He tears into a box labeled “Andy’s toys.” The toys react, but he ignores them (more development) and looks in another box. He finds the RC car and its remote, then throws RC out of the van. The other toys scream—now they have no doubt Woody is a toy murderer. Woody drives RC over to Buzz. The toys charge Woody. Woody’s being attacked by toys while trying to drive RC and Buzz toward the moving truck, away from Scud, and through traffic. It’s a chase and fight scene full of obstacles, and it ends with the Curveball:

The mob of toys lift up Woody (still holding the remote) and
head for the open back.

No wait! You don’t understand!
Buzz is out there! We’ve gotta
help him!!

Toss ‘im overboard!

No, no, no, wait!

The toys toss him out into the road. As the truck drives
off, the toys CHEER.

So long Woody!


Final Battle Exam

The “Final Battle” is the last fight in the war. However, perhaps a better way of seeing it is as a final exam. Everything that the character learned is now put to the test.

First, a sequel to the curveball: Woody gets up, is nearly run over, and then gets swooped up by Buzz and RC. Then he’s ready for his final test. Let’s see how he does:

  • Woody successfully drives RC through traffic.
  • The other toys see him with Buzz and realize they were wrong, and Woody’s been telling the truth all along.
  • Woody tells the toys to lower the ramp, and they listen to him.

Another twist! RC’s batteries start running out. The toys are seen (but only by Andy’s baby sister). RC’s batteries deplete.

  • The rocket (tool) could get them back. Woody has a match (tool).

A car drives by, extinguishing the match. Miniature gloom as all hope seems to be lost.

  • Woody uses (ally) Buzz’s helmet like a magnifying glass (tool/ability) to light the rocket, which takes them off toward the moving truck.
  • Woody deposits RC into the back, accidentally but successfully.

The rocket hurtles upward higher and higher.

Ahhh!! This is the part where we blow up!


The culmination is the end of the final battle.

Not today!

Buzz confidently presses the button on his chest. Wings jut out of Buzz, severing the tape that holds him to rocket. The toys separate from the rocket just before it blows up. The toys plummet.

Just then Buzz banks under some power lines and soars upward
again. Woody takes a peek.

They’re flying.

Hey, Buzz!! You’re flying!!

This isn’t flying. This is falling — with style!

Ha ha!! To Infinity and Beyond!!

They soar gracefully towards the moving truck, but then pass
over it.

Uh, Buzz?! We missed the truck!

We’re not aiming for the truck!

Buzz and Woody fly right over the van’s sun roof and then
drop into the car.

Buzz gets his character development, too. The B Story is tied up nicely.


Andy finds Woody and Buzz in the seat beside him. He hugs them, and the two toys wink at each other.

At Christmas (this scene could be considered a small Epilogue), Andy’s toys are anxiously waiting to hear what new toys Andy will be getting—a nice parallel to Andy’s birthday at the beginning of the movie. The toys have hit a new normal. Woody isn’t afraid of not being the best or the favorite anymore.

But Buzz might be nervous about Christmas. He asks if Woody is nervous.

WOODY (laughing)
Now Buzz, what could Andy possibly
get that is worse than you?!


Wow! A puppy!

We ZOOM BACK through the window to a CLOSE UP of Buzz and

They look at one another with a half-smile, half-grimace and
laugh weakly.

Fade out.


Theme of Toy Story

Remember Woody’s belief/goal from Act One and his experiences in Act Two:

Being the best and favorite toy (act one) + making a friend (act two) =

Being the best isn’t as important as having a best friend.

Let’s check that theory with what characters say, with what they do, and with the music.

  • When Sid is torturing Woody, he says: “Where are your rebel friends now?”
  • When Woody is trying to convince Sid’s toys to help him, he says: “There’s a good toy down there and he’s—he’s going to be blown to bits in a few minutes all
    because of me. I’ve gotta save him! But I need your help. Please. He’s my friend. He’s the only one I’ve got.”
  • Woody and Buzz both give up chances to be with Andy in order to save each other.
  • From “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”: “When the road looks rough ahead
    / And you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed / You just remember … you’ve got a friend in me”
  • More from the theme song: “Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am / Bigger and stronger too, maybe / But none of them will ever love you the way I do / It’s me and you”

Writing Act Three

What does your character believe in Act One? How will her experiences in Act Two change that belief? What is the final theme or message of your story?

Did you use any tools or abilities you’ll need to later implant in the “Preparation and Problems” section? Make a note of those to include while revising—don’t go back to the beginning until you’ve finished your first draft.

Did writing your ending give you ideas for starting your story in a different place? Is there a way you can wrap up the story that would pay homage to your beginning?