See how the pilot of the Netflix sensation Baby Reindeer hits the Save the Cat! story beats!

Created by: Richard Gadd

S1 E1: “Episode 1”

The World: Average blokes and birds in gritty London, based on a true story

Franchise Type: Buddy Love

Pilot Episode Genre: Dude with a Problem

Platform: Netflix

TV Genre: Limited Series

Story DNA:
Heroes: Donny Dunn, a scruffy and desperately lonely aspiring comedian; and Martha Scott, his scary and desperately lonely stalker
Goal: To be valued and “seen”
Obstacle: Their broken compasses, the indifferent world, and each other
Stakes: Donny and Martha’s hearts and lives

Opening Image/Sequence: Donny Dunn (Richard Gadd) enters a police station looking like a (rein)deer caught in the headlights, and stutters out that he’s being stalked. The bemused officer manages to get a few details: Donny is being stalked by a woman, they do not have a sexual relationship, it’s turning violent, and… it’s been going on for six months.

The incredulous bobby asks, “Six months?! Why’d it take you so long to report it?!” And the camera does a long, slowwwww zoom into Donny’s frightened, bewildered eyes as he remembers…

Donny Dunn behind the bar
Donny Dunn behind the bar

Set-Up: In VO narration, Donny Dunn tells us his story, such a painfully familiar story: he moved to the Big City with a Dream of being a famous stand-up comedian—and ended up a broke bartender in a dive pub. In this thesis world, Donny has realized that London “red-carpets for no one,” so to get attention from anyone, even an overweight, shabbily-dressed older woman with a raucous, bizarre laugh, feels so validating.

Martha Scott, sitting at the bar
Martha Scott, ready for a cup of tea… and a lot more at the pub’s bar

Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning) has wandered aimlessly into Donny’s pub and he automatically feels pity for her, but Martha’s claims to be an award-winning lawyer who owns three flats and has Tony Blair on speed dial is also intriguing; Donny finds himself captivated by Martha’s unearned confidence/obvious madness. She seems harmless enough, why not humor and help her out a wee bit?

Theme Stated: In his narration, Donny accurately assesses his move to London, “It’s like waking up one day to find yourself a background artist in a cast of millions.” Donny and Martha are invisible people, the ones you pass by every day and barely notice, and their efforts to come out of the shadows are painful, hilarious, and ultimately, life-threatening.

Catalyst: Donny tells Martha that she can’t sit in the bar without purchasing a drink. When she says she can’t afford anything, he speaks the seemingly innocent words that will serve to upend his life: “How about I give you a cup of tea on the house?”

Debate: The offer makes Martha gaze at Donny worshipfully, a veritable Jesus Christ multiplying teabags on a hillside. She starts coming to the bar every day and staying for his entire shift, talking incessantly and complimenting him unceasingly. Donny is both fascinated and repulsed by Martha who is, at turns, delightful, annoying, sassy, pathetic, profound, and profoundly weird.

He tries to imagine her sad life outside of the pub and vacillates on how friendly to be to Martha; yes, she obviously has a little crush on him, but he can manage this situation, right?

Break into Two: Donny decides to start paying Martha compliments to make her feel better about herself.

Fun and Games: Almost immediately, this upside-down antithesis world rapidly spins out of control. Donny’s kind (and often, by his own admission, self-congratulatory) acceptance of this outcast becomes a source of merciless teasing from his fellow employees, forcing Donny and Martha’s oddly chaste relationship into “when you two gonna shag?” territory. Seeking to undercut the locker room banter, Donny makes a joke about he and Martha getting married and “hanging curtains,” wink wink, nod nod.

The whole pub cracks up and lays off, but Donny realizes that Martha has taken him seriously. Her banter turns extremely saucy and she susses out Donny’s online address to email him missives full of sexual innuendo and spelling errors, as many as 80 a day.

Teri, the series’ B Story star

B Story: Although it’s only alluded to in the pilot episode, Donny’s nascent relationship with a transgender woman, Teri (Nava Mau), will serve as the backdrop to the, um, “shenanigans” with Martha. His fear and confusion over his own sexuality will crisscross the A Story in increasingly revealing ways.

Midpoint: Donny reluctantly agrees to meet Martha at a coffee shop for her 43rd birthday and the move to an environment outside of the pub rapidly becomes a false defeat; Martha has a terrifying outburst when he refuses to hold her hand.

Bad Guys Close in: Donny is stunned and starts to suspect, for the first time (duh), that Martha’s charming madness might not be so benign. He has to know who he’s dealing with, so he follows Martha to her squalid flat in public housing and peeks in, only to be outed when she texts him and his phone dings right outside her window.

Donny Dunn on stage holding a microphone
Donny Dunn on stage

Now Donny is on the run, but Martha turns up in the audience of one of Donny’s open mic nights and basically saves his entire routine with her humorous banter. Afterward, they have a sweet and relatively normal moment outside, where he confesses that he often feels invisible and she consoles him.

But when Martha tells Donny that she loves him, things start to spiral out of control again and he makes his escape. Returning home, he finds a Friend request from Martha on Facebook and examines her page to see that Martha has badly photoshopped herself into pictures with prominent politicians. Who is this woman?!

All Is Lost: Donny googles “Martha Scott, lawyer” and discovers that his biggest fan is actually a convicted stalker who spent four years in prison for her relentless pursuit of a noted barrister, David Wright.

Dark Night of the Soul: The horrified Donny doomscrolls for hours and the news stories just keep getting worse—Martha lurking outside of Wright’s home, attacking Wright’s mother in the street, making false reports to the police that he had abused his disabled daughter. Donny is in utter disbelief, saying to himself over and over “I have a convicted stalker stalking me, I have a convicted stalker stalking me… Me.” Obviously, this is a genuinely serious situation and Donny needs to get the hell out of dodge, right?

Break into Three/Break into Series: Nah. Never underestimate the power of a broken compass to bring about wildly stupid decisions. Donny ponders, looks over at his comedy gear, ponders again… and accepts Martha’s Facebook Friend request. Well, come on, mates, being stalked by a dangerous convicted stalker who usually only stalks famous people is one way to emerge from the shadows and be “seen,” right? Even if this Break into Series in search of a synthesis world nearly costs you your life…