In this post, the X-Factor has nothing to do with X-Men or the X-Factor team that Jean Grey (shudder) helped found.
X-Factor refers to an innocuous, unassuming THING the camera or the artist zooms us in on early in the episode, movie, or story. It’s particularly obvious in comic books because real estate goes at a prime in a comic book – there’s not enough screen time for things that don’t mean anything. So if the artist wants you to focus or notice something that seems otherwise unimpressive – a character’s stuffed teddy bear she loved as a child and just found, a first kiss, a forgotten phone, a newspaper article just visible over the character’s shoulder – these things will come into play at the climax of the story.
X-Factors are usually pretty obvious, but not always. Television shows are bad at making X-Factors seem like a surprise. Warehouse 13, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these shows are RIFE with X-Factor objects. Remember in the episode “Once More With Feeling,” at the beginning of the episode we see Dawn slip a necklace into her pants and then later we find out that necklace is the singing/dancing demon’s talisman? Of course they give us a little twist in that Xander’s the one who actually used the talisman, not Dawn, but still. The resolution is hidden within the X-Factor and the characters will figure it out just at the last minute.
In an episode of MISFITS, a boy working at a diner discovers he has the power over dairy products. He starts by video taping himself making milk pour into his cereal, then takes his show on the road to his diner where he makes creamer containers explode (although you can tell this isn’t America since our little creamer buckets are usually cheap non-dairy though vaguely milk like.) His power is discovered by a publicity agent and suddenly everyone knows about people with power. The misfits decide to throw their hat into the Get Famous This Can Only End Badly ring, and off they go. Nathan shoots himself in the head on national public TV while wearing a tux and standing in a glass box. Heroes they’re not.
The milk kid gets all jealousy and decides he’s going to get everyone and kill them by manipulating the dairy in their body. It’s pretty gross, actually, but there is a scene before you goes all Lactose Serial Killer on everyone where the gang is sitting around eating pizza, but Curtis isn’t having any. “I’m lactose intolerant,” he confides. And there it is. The X-Factor that will come into play once the Lactose Kid starts curdling milk in people’s brains.
The Ocean’s Eleven franchise kind of humps this trope for all its worth, which is fine because they do it really well. They tend not to zero in on their X-Factors letting your brain kind of skim over them so later you can go OMG HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT.
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