The three rules: 1 Verisimilitude (aka plausibility)

Here are some late thoughts regarding why people seem frustrated with LOST in the final stretch. We were all looking for the writers to tie a lot of threads and questions together so that what we have been watching would satisfy our need to respect these three rules.


All fictional writing should have verisimilitude (plausibility). This helps us identify with the characters and feel what they feel when they feel it. While it is difficult to gauge how to apply this in a science fiction or fantasy setting, it helps to ground the fantasy elements in a real world type of environment.

Let me use Star Wars as an example:

If Han Solo brags about how fast his ship is because it did the Kessel run (whatever that is) in under twelve parsecs (a non sequitor as a parsec is a unit of distance) we can at least identify with Han’s pride in the Millenium Falcon. We get it. He’s a hotshot. A braggart. The shag carpet next to him is his business partner and co-pilot.

On Lost we are looking for certain reassurances that the producers have done just enough homework to make their world believable. At least the elements that we know something about. If someone points a gun at someone else and fires, we are not going to see daisies come out of the barrel.

In season one, in the first moments of the pilot we see a huge aircraft that has crashed on the island. Of the 300+ passengers, over one fifth have survived, which is bloody well miraculous. Normally that very fact would be a stretch of the series’ credibility. In the very next sequence though we are given some strange creature roaming the jungle and uprooting trees.

In the following episodes we discover a lot of strange things on this island and we are left to sort out the weird and wonderful from the life and death survival situation these people are in. To their credit, the writers, actors and directors do little bits of business to build verisimilitude. They have the characters hike for hours through the hot jungle and stop to drink water. This becomes one of the shows’ stylistic flourishes (rule number three).

But here’s the thing. Plausibility can easily break down if the writers get carried away with something. Details can slowly fray away a cool idea and make it seem ridiculous.

Sayid is introduced as a communications expert. He’s the hotshot professor who can build walkie-talkies out of cocoanut shells. He finds a cable burried on the beach and follows it into the jungle where he encounters a crazy french chick who has been living wild and surviving for SIXTEEN years. Okay. I’ll buy that. What I have trouble buying is that upon his return to camp Sayid never gets a bunch of people together to return and explore where THE OTHER END OF THAT CABLE GOES. For crying out loud Sayid at least cut the darn thing. If it is still in use someone will send out a repair crew and you’ll be rescued!

My pet peave with the Dharma initiative is that they supposedly brought most of their materiel for constructing all those lovely bunkers and barracks on a submarine. Sorry, but even disassembled, I don’t see DI carting cranes and concrete mixers, bulldozers, girders and H beams onto the island to build a three story building or dig an underwater marine biology study center.

My second pet peave was the scene in which the Oceanic Six board the Ajira flight. You can read that in my rant “The dumbest airline in the world” if you haven’t already. Episodes like 316 beggar my abilities to take Lost seriously anymore.

In season one we see a Beach craft twin engine airplane taking off from Nigeria and crashing onto an island in the South Pacific. No regards for the actual geographical distances or fuel consumption.

This season we are shown a small group of Roman-Egyptians ship wrecked on the island who have spent 40+ years on the island and built most of the rest of the artifacts we see in the show. The Statues, temple and light house as well as finding and digging the magnetic wells. You tell me if that is plausible.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Lost is an adventure show. I get that there is more that is right about the show than there is that is wrong. As far as rule number one is concerned I am satisfied that Lost has done its level best to give us a show that is grounded in a gritty sort of reality. The premise is so fantastic (as in fantasy, not as in great) that certain elements are bound to be a hard sell. Most of the above are secondary to the main plot anyways.

Feel free to throw in any comments or examples of good or bad stuff on the show relating to plausibility.

In my next post I will discuss the second rule.

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46 yr. old husband and father of two boys (aged 8 and 10). Lives in Montreal, Canada. Works in theatre, film and television.

2 thoughts on “The three rules: 1 Verisimilitude (aka plausibility)

  1. Okay while a lot of the points you bring up make some sense, some are just too silly to even think about. You’re basing all of this off of established information presented on the show. Of all the years people have spent on the Island in the fictional world of Lost, we’ve been privy to witness a few dozen hours or so. What about alllll the story in between what we’ve seen?

    The twin-engine Beechcraft? Who says they made it on the same tank of fuel? No stops for refueling were possible? And the DI construction? Who says only a sub went there. We saw the KAHAMA stop just off-shore, could a ship like that not have carried industrial-sized equipment and supplies? And who said the gang that Jacob’s brother hung out with is who is responsible for building anything other than the wells? The Island existed before Jacob was there, perhaps Egyptians romed the Island then. Or perhaps with the time-travelling abilities of the FDW, it went back to a time when they did, or any other number of possibilities.

    You’re observations here are based solely on that alone.. observations. There’s plenty of “evidence” and Island history that we have not been witness to. They don’t have to tell us exactly what happened at every single moment to explain every little detail. A lot of it is plausible if you take into account the fact that you have seen only a sliver of what the entire history of the Island really is.

  2. Inquisitor,
    Thanks for taking the time to write me back. Taken by and large you are absolutely correct.

    In the greater scheme of iland history what we see on the show is only a sliver of the whole story. A lot must have happened off screen. We are given privileged and carefully selected glimpses that are supposed to give us a feeling that the writers and creators of the show know what they are about.

    A better example of implausibility that I can call up would be Widmore<s drink of water in tuesdays episode. If you recall, Widmore walks in to Ben’s house in Dharmaville and goes over to the sink where he draws a nice clear glass of drinking water.

    We last saw Ben’s people clear out of Dharmaville in 2004 and Keamy blow the heck out of several houses in December 2004 (island time). As far as I can make out, only Lapidus, Sun and the ghost of Christian Shepherd have been back there since.

    My thought is that water needs to be filtered and pumped into homes, but I do not claim to be an expert on such things. Perhaps the house is built on an underwater spring or something. But my point is that the writers and producers of Lost introduce an element like that one at the risk of inviting speculation.

    The simple act of drinking water from a tap in this context brings up questions of plausibility.

    I know this smacks of nit picking. Apologies to you if you feel I am not putting enough effort into filling the blanks, but given the wild nature of certain elemets of the show, I feel that certain real life details (like drinking water) strengthen the show if they are done right and weaken it if they are done too glibly.

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