Introduction to Finn Theory
By Cathleen Freedman and Gabby Etzel
I. A Prerequisite to Finn Theory
While looking for our freshman year roommate, we did not expect to meet our best friend. Well, wait… Maybe that’s putting it lightly. We prefer to call ourselves, “Roommates of the Mind.” It’s not quite as pithy, but it gets the point across: College roommates Cathleen and Gabby are tuned into the same wavelength.
We don’t know when or how it happened. Believe us, we’ve tried to remember. Surely, there must have been a time when we didn’t “click.” But all we can remember is meeting on move-in day, the awkward “Oh, hi, I’m Cathleen,” “Oh, hi, I’m Gabby,” and taking a picture at our moms’ behest. Then BAM, we blinked and found ourselves completely in-sync. By the end of our first semester, we had learned the hard way that Stephen Colbert’s late night show is NOT live and that guest Lin Manuel Miranda would NOT be at the Ed Sullivan Theatre at midnight, momentarily believed there was a camera in our entryway lightbulb, single handedly manifested the Big Apple Circus, hosted a Freddie Mercury-themed friendsgiving, and adopted a puppet named Kenny Goodmann.
At the end of our freshman year, we whined about the upcoming three-month summer hiatus when Gabby would be back home in New Jersey; Cathleen, in Texas. How young and naive we once were! Just imagine the minor temper tantrum we threw before the spring semester of our sophomore year... Gabby was going to study abroad in Spain, while Cathleen stayed in New York. We googled the mileage between Granada and NYC and got teary-eyed over some monstrous mac n’ cheese burgers at Flip ‘N Toss. One of us was brave enough to count the number of months it’d be until we could hang out again in-person, and we groused, “Eight whole months.” You know where this is going… Those eight months were mere nickels and dimes compared to the change we'd all collectively be dealing with when COVID-19 sent the world into lockdown.
We said “good-bye” in December 2019, thinking we’d be back in the same city by August 2020. It’s July 2021, and we still haven’t seen each other since December 2019. Thankfully, our seamless friendship is easily maintained. Throughout the pandemic, in true 2020/2021 fashion, we still managed to talk/text every day and somehow keep the other up until 2 AM, even if we are 1350 miles apart.
Exhibit A and B of texts we exchange that may seem trivial, but we assure you, meant a great deal at the time they were sent.
II. Finn Theory Origins
In May of 2021, Gabby had been rewatching American Horror Story: Freakshow with her dad. Upon this second viewing, she realized how impressive the character of Dandy Mott was in this season. While browsing Hulu one evening, she stumbled upon a film called Locating Silver Lake, instantly recognizing the actor in the preview image as Finn Wittrock. Gabby and her dad had actually discussed his presence in so many films and shows, joking that he was “Dandy, from everything.”
As previously mentioned, we have a habit of texting each other our most noteworthy thoughts of the hour. By 2:25 am, Gabby sent Cathleen this message: “You know who’s an underrated actor? Finn Wittrock.”
But Cathleen knew. In 2017, Cathleen wrote a short play that was produced in an off-Broadway festival and took a trip with her mom for the premiere. While in New York City, Cathleen’s mom surprised her with tickets to see Tennessee Wiiliams's The Glass Menagerie starring Sally Field and, yes, Finn Wittrock. As they watched him onstage, both Cathleen and her mom thought the same thing: “That Finn Wittrock is un-der-rated!”
As our Finn-centric conversation progressed, we both realized that American Horror Story and The Glass Menagerie were not the only works in which we had witnessed Wittrock. Cathleen recalled seeing him in La La Land, Gabby remembered Ratched, and both of us were familiar with his role in Unbroken. With our interest in Finn Wittrock’s filmography piqued, we took part in a staple activity for any two college students with “Film and Television” written on their degrees: We made our way to his IMDb page, suddenly face-to-screen with his forty five credits.
After establishing our separately developed yet shared appreciation for Wittrock and discovering that he was involved in many more projects than we had seen or even heard of, Gabby had one of the best ideas that’s ever been had on a Thursday evening.
On May 13th, 2021, at 5:32pm, Gabby texted, “LEt’s Netflix party some Finn Wittrock content.” Cathleen responded with, “OH YES.”
The text exchange that started it all.
When embarking on Emmy-nominated actor Finn Wittrock’s entire IMDb filmography, where to begin? Both of us were about to finish our third semester of online school and needed something visually appealing with a great soundtrack to lift us out of our deep Zoom gloom. Ryan Murphy, of course, solved the problem with his critically acclaimed Netflix show The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
On May 21st, we began our self-taught summer crash course on Finn Theory.
III. What is Finn Theory?
An excellent question. Finn Theory is a subset of Film Theory, as pioneered by Cathleen and Gabby. The medium is devoted to the study and analysis of Finn Wittrock’s work.
In all fairness, we did not realize this was what we were doing until the fourth episode of The Assasination of Gianni Versace, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The pivotal scene features Wittrock as Jeff Trails, comforting a gay soldier who was nearly beaten to death. With a mere lift of his brow and twitch of his lip, Trails wordlessly conveys to the soldier that he, too, is gay. Needless to say, we were floored and simply had to know where Wittrock trained to achieve that performance. We flooded the Netflix Party chat box with “Juilliard!” and replayed the shot. (This was done with a sense of geographical pride. As Fordham Lincoln Center students, we had spent the past few years as Juilliard’s next-door neighbors.)
We decided that moving forward, we would need an organizational system to document and properly consider each Wittrock credit.
Official (and very high-ranking) scores from two successful Finn Theory viewings
After each viewing, we would slate the title of the work, the year it was released, and the date that we watched the film or show. Then, we would negotiate the rankings. Rankings are divided into three categories: Finn Quantity, Finn Quality, and Overall Quality. Finn Quantity encapsulates the amount of time Wittrock is on-screen. Not every Wittrock credit is weighted equally! But that doesn’t mean the Finn Quality has to suffer. Theoretically, a film or episode could have a very low Finn Quantity ranking but a very high Finn Quality score depending on the depth of his role. Lastly, we rated the Overall Quality of the film or episode.
IV. Finn Theory in Practice
Nearly every day, one of us would send a simple, “Finn theory?” text to gauge if a Netflix Party was in the cards for the night. If not, no biggie. If yes, what a fun evening ahead, indeed.
Finn Theory involves active viewing. One cannot sit idle during a Finn Theory screening. You have to engage with your fellow audience members and the material on-screen. Going on your phone is not only allowed, but encouraged— as long as it means communication, research, and documentation.
We were one week into Finn Theory when online summer classes began. After a year-and-a-half of online learning, neither of us were particularly thrilled about this. Then, we realized we were going to be in the same class. Never before has a class on copyright law been so entertaining. We made it a personal goal to slide in as many references from our Finn Theory viewings. Sometimes this meant replying to a Perusall comment with a Finn gif or casually dropping a phrase from American Horror Story while answering a question for the class. Thanks to Finn’s range as an actor, we had plenty of material to work with.
The subtle game quickly escalated and turned into a Try-Not-to-Laugh challenge. We both failed many times and reached several detentes, private Zoom-messaging the other, “THAT line from Plus One (2019) is off-limits!!!”
Cathleen and Gabby during their online summer class, in the process of laughing (or trying to make the other laugh) because of something Finn Theory-related that was mentioned/texted.
V. Our Finn Theory Findings
Finn Theory is more than just knocking out Finn Wittrock’s 45-credit IMDb list.
Over the course of Finn Theory, between the two of us, there has been one Scarlet Fever diagnosis, one data breach, one permanently locked 8+ year old Instagram account, one half-blind dog, months of training for pro jiu jitsu fights, one house under construction from the February Texas freeze, that same house getting flooded again one month before the move-in date, one beloved hamster’s death, copious phone calls with NYC realtors, too many apartments that were almost ours, a couple emergency room visits, and several online summer classes. Oh, and—how could we forget!—one global pandemic. During a bizarre and tumultuous period in time, Finn Theory has been a really fun constant. It served as a framework, keeping some sense of normalcy between roommates/best friends—1350 miles apart.
Remember Halloweentown High? Of course you do, and of course you have a deep, emotional connection to it like anyone watching Disney Channel in the 00’s. What you might not remember is that Finn Wittrock was in it!
Hey, 2004 Finn! We love the work you’re going to do over the next two decades! Keep it up!
In some ways, Finn is emblematic of our generation. His career features the same films and shows we adored as kids, then teenagers, and now, as burgeoning adults. Even if viewers do not actively realize they're watching Finn on-screen (Huuuuuuge oversight), they subconsciously recognize him from other things they've seen and loved. As our generation comes into our own, Finn's career continues to. (His upcoming role in Green Lantern is sending Twitter a-flutter as we type…)
It was through Finn Theory that we thought of starting our own website to publicly publish our Finn Theory process, and what better way to do that than to create an online platform where we can talk about Absolutely Anything? (More to come soon!)
Our final finding from Finn Theory, in case it isn't already abundantly clear, is that Finn Wittrock is a sensational and masterful actor deserving of his own cinematic theory.
Here’s to Finn Wittrock’s ascending career. The Finn theorists will be watching.