Picture it: The heroes are overwhelmed. Bad guys swarm from every direction, beating them back as it looks like all hope is lost. But then, with a decisive final blow, the big boss is defeated and all of its minions fall dead.
Classic hive mind.
THE AVENGERS, THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, ENDER’S GAME, JUSTICE LEAGUE, STRANGER THINGS, EDGE OF TOMORROW, STAR TREK, and so many more stories fall prey to this trope. I don’t want to talk about what a hive mind is, or all the different variations of it throughout media, but instead what a hive mind means to any specific story.
While hive minds allow the writer to ratchet up tension by presenting the protagonist with overwhelming odds within a story, it also immediately deflates the established stakes by giving the heroes an easy out.
Part of one’s investment in a story is being drawn into the difficulty of the task at hand. We root for a character because their journey is difficult. In that difficulty we can often find ourselves reflected, because our own lives are so often difficult.
So when our protagonist finally overcomes the main villain, as the Avengers did with the Chitauri, and the rest also fall defeated, we’re negating all of the consequences of the conflict. It’s too tidy to be satisfying–because it doesn’t reflect our lived experiences. Even when we succeed at overcoming a challenge in our lives, there are loose ends and consequences that we still have to contend with.
This also better reflects our understanding of reality. Hive insects aren’t mindless drones that can’t operate without their leader. They’re independent beings that exercise free will. When something happens to, say, a queen bee the hive doesn’t end. It evolves. I find that to be a much more interesting possibility than the hive minds that are depicted throughout media.
There are applications for hive minds in great storytelling. ENDER’S GAME is great because of what its hive mind says about the story and humanity. But when used as an easy way to end a story and allow the hero to overcome overwhelming odds without actually losing anything or facing long-term consequences, you’re cheating the story and the audience.