Mind-bending Plots for Your Midsummer Binge

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When it comes to television, I love to have my mind twisted in weird ways. I want epic, sweeping plots with complicated storytelling that’s just this side of confusing. Time travel? Yes, please. The whole thing was a dream? Bring it on.

Which is why I was so excited by the new Doctor Who trailer that premiered at Comic Con:


More creepy aliens! Awesome guest stars! I’m getting goose-bumps just thinking about it. So here are three shows (and one book) with mind-bending plots for your binge-watching pleasure. And no, Lost isn’t among them. Sure, it was awesome, but all those loose threads and polar bears? It might have been too complicated even for me.

Doctor Who


After years of procrastinating, I finally bit the bullet and watched all the new episodes of Doctor Who. Now I only wish I had binged on it sooner. From Matt Smith’s enthusiastic bouncing to David Tennant’s more soulful brooding, I cannot get enough of the Doctors and their companions. My favorite episodes are the ones that play with time and space in a way that almost makes my brain melt. Like “The Girl in the Fireplace,” where the Doctor keeps meeting Madame de Pompadour at different stages of her life. Romantic, smart, campy but still complicated—I’m officially a Whovian.



Oh, Sense8. You’ve captured my heart in a way I might never get back. At first I wasn’t so sure about this Netflix Original show about eight people across the world who are mentally linked. But around episode 3 I gave myself over to the high-concept premise and I fell hard for the characters, the stories and the show’s delicate balance between humor, action and romance. In a way, the plot is almost simple: eight characters become sensates, creating a mental link that allows them to see into each other’s minds and tap into each other’s abilities. But the show mostly focuses on their individual lives, from a pharmacist in India who’s reluctant to get married, to a movie star in Mexico who is struggling to come out. The action picks up toward the second half, when it becomes clear that the eight are being hunted and they need to rely on one another in order to survive. Give this unique series a chance—I promise you won’t regret it.



Who knew this simple sitcom would end up being one of the most complicated shows on television? But Community constantly pushed boundaries, using each episode as a vehicle to tell some larger story about storytelling in general. Take the episode, “Remedial Chaos Theory,” where a housewarming party turns into a bizarre look at different dimensions, positing examples of how tiny choices can create multiple timelines. In one, two characters almost kiss. In another, the entire apartment is set on fire. It’s confusing, engaging, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a half-hour comedy.

The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (Vertigo)

517MlmZ7z2LWritten by the king of mind-bending plots, this graphic novel series has become an instant classic. It tells the story of Dream, one of the seven Endless, which includes Death, Desire, Destruction, Delirium, Destiny and Despair. Dream, or Morpheus, rules over the world of dreams. At the beginning of the series he gets captured, eventually escapes after several decades and returns to rebuild his dilapidated kingdom. The comics take place both in the dreaming and the waking world, creating a narrative that’s never quite on solid footing and sometimes leaves the reader to wonder what’s real or not. More mythical characters add to the dreamlike plot as Dream travels between realms, worlds and even planets. The Sandman is mind-bending storytelling at its best.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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