The rules 3 Stylistic flourishes

This is where Lost really shines, but also where it falls down and really stinks.

Every show has its narrative structure and its own style. This comes from the acting, music, direction and art design. From the very first minute of the show, with Jack waking up and stumbling onto the beach into hell… You just knew. This was going to be a roller coaster ride.

I used to tell people about the show. I would tell them that if it was just a show about a bunch of crash survivors in a remote locale the show wouldn’t have kept my interest for long. It would have been a protracted version of “Alive” or “Swiss Family Robinson” set in a tropical location. At best. Add the weirdness of the island and yes, you have some novelty, but I am still not sure it would have gone beyond “Lost World” for me.

What made Lost special for me was its narrative structure. The flashbacks to who these people were in the real world. How the past informs our reactions and decisions in the present. You really get into the mind of the characters in season one and learn to care about them. You are surprised by who they are. Sun and Jin is the perfect examples. The mysoginistic husband. The brute. The foreigner who don’t speakee the englishee. We learn to love the man who has his own code of honor plunged into a group of people who do not understand him. Sun, the poor wife who, it becomes clear is not so poor or innocent as we first think. She has secrets and has betrayed her husband, giving him good cause to be tense with her.

Add to that all the little surprises and zingers they put in just before each commercial break. The major reveals at the end of each episode. The cliff hangers. The fearlesness in killing off major characters and introducing new ones in mid-season.

The questions that lead to even more questions. Remember when we first saw the polar bears and thought “huh? Where did they come from” well they told us. When we first saw John Locke uncover the hatch. Well, they showed us. The four toed statue. The Black Rock. They got around to those. When we first saw Jacob (maybe) in the cabin. Well, yes, they are slowly telling us about that too. Even Carlton Cuse admitted in an interview that at one point they were marking time while they negotiated an end date with ABC and Disney. Some of the season 3 episodes were filler of a kind. But even those episodes revealed something significant.

Every new revelation brought us deftly into a greater understanding of the island and its mysteries. The writers always needed another layer to peel away or we would have had no interest in following along to season 6.

In french we call Lost a “feuilleton”. In english it is a serial. A story that evolves and deepens with each episode or installment. It is full of surprises and twists and turns.

The great thing about this narrative structure is that the writers maintained it all through three seasons with very little variation and then pull what in french we call “Un coup de Théatre” a sudden shift that is so spectacular it changes your whole perception of what you are seeing. In live theater people will suddenly burst into spontaneous applause or a standing ovation and the play will just stop until the audience has finished showing its appreciation. this was the “We have to go back Kate” scene that closes season 3. then they did something new in season 5 with the time skipping and the 2004-2007, 1974-1977 structure. Then again at the begining of season 6 with the Flash Sideways.

These are what I call Stylistic flourishes. Beyond the story or narrative structure, that is to say the order in which they chose to tell us stuff, there is the sly “We know something you don’t know” wink wink… part of LOST. Every time someone makes an important discovery about the nature of the island, he or she passes over it without studying it. Jack is in the lighthouse. Jack sees something amazing in the mirrors. Jack smashes the mirrors. Jack and co. see a huge pile of tubes containing notebooks from the pearl station. Do they ever trek back to open them and read them at a later date?

Locke sees the map of the island drawn by Inman and Radzinski. Does he later try to figure out how to re-create the lockdown to study the map? Later Locke finds a place where Ben’s people communicate with the outside world via satellite link. He blows it up of course.

Sayid sees a cable leading out to the ocean. Does he ever go back with reinforcements to follow it or study it?

You would think that having lived with Dharma for three years, Sawyer would have a deeper insight into the island and its purpose.

People never give a straight answer when they can give an ellusive one. In real life people would sit around and hash things out, swap information for hours on end until they know each other’s backgrounds and life stories by heart. Not on Lost. Never on Lost. In real life people would organize and systematically explore every inch of the island for more hatches and stations. It takes nearly THREE MONTHS for our survivors to figure out where the tower is to go turn off Rousseau’s transmission.

These are also stylistic flourishes. They are necessary for there to be a show. The writers have to spoon feed us information a bit at a time while creating suspense and life or death situations.

Each season they introduce new and interesting characters and each season they kill off characters to create a sense that everyone is fair game. This will be seen as one of the greatest things about LOST. They cast the hell out of it. Cesar didn’t even last three episodes in season 5. Lapidus just tagged along for three seasons and then just got tagged. That tall dark dude who worked for Widmore was an awe inspiring presence. Shot down while escorting Locke. Eko. They had plans for Eko, apparently. Nothing absolute, but they liked the actor. Who could have guessed that Tom Friendly would exit the way he did? Every character is vivid and well sketched out, even if we only see that character for one episode or one scene. Eloise Hawking made an unforgettable impression in “Flashes Before Your Eyes”. I suspect they did not really know yet exactly who she was. I honestly do not think they had Daniel Faraday yet. In the same episode Desmond has a physicist friend named Donovan. I suspect he became Daniel later on.

The story is heading towards a close. Maybe it is not the one we would have wanted or speculated about. But they are remaining faithful to patterns they have established through all previous 5 seasons. The new narrative device, the flash sideways, showing us as much as possible rather than just telling us stuff. I read here how people think the revelation about the whispers was lame. I agree. They just flat out told us instead of finding a way of showing it to us. If we had seen ghostly shapes walking through the jungle around Hurley and Michael and heard their whispers while Michael has a talk with Hugo. That would have had a greater impact, I think.

This is already a huge post and if you had the patience to read through it, I thank you for doing me that honor. Maybe while you are watching sunday’s episode something you read here will come back to you and you can revisit this and add your comments.

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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.

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