Another LOST post? I doubt I’ll be done with LOST for a long time. I’m also realising that I should start watching a few more shows for some blogging brevity. There’s a resolution I never thought I’d want to make.
One of the key features of LOST was its use of flashbacks. Every episode of seasons 1, 2, and 3 centred on a particular character (or couple – like Rose and Bernard, Shannon and Boone), and their past. It was beautifully done. We learned about what made these characters tick, what dark burdens they bore, and what it was that made them ‘broken’.
“I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for somethin g that you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”
– Jacob, LOST, S6E16 – What They Died For
This sounds horribly clichéd out of context. If I’m honest, I think clichés get an undeserved bad press anyway; sometimes I want the exaggerated drama and literary motifs that I’ve grown up with. They recur so much because they resonate with us the most. Regardless, this was what LOST was about, and flashbacks were a really effective way of driving character development faster and further.
That is, until the season 3 finale, Through the Looking Glass. This was the episode that had fans bamboozled right til the end. We were introduced to a bearded, dishevelled Jack, something we’d never seen in his flashbacks despite the numerous trials he’d been through. He used alcohol and pain medication to cope, and was a thoroughly unpleasant character. We saw more and more of his father Christian Shephard in him, and so it was promising to be an interesting episode. Why is Jack like this? How did he clean up his act to be in a position to criticise his father later on down the line?
In true LOST fashion, this wasn’t the case at all and the rug was swept from beneath our feet. In one of the most memorable lines of the show, everything fell into place:
“We have to go back!”
-Jack, LOST, S3E22 – Through the Looking Glass
Now, I don’t think flashbacks were getting stale at all. I was certainly still hooked on the idea that this was in Jack’s past, and I was anxious for answers. But the fact that LOST was daring enough to introduce the concept of the flash-forward is certainly impressive. At a time when the show was already beginning to get criticised for its (arguably) convoluted plot, this was a really brave move. And it paid off immediately. Fan theories began flying around faster than ever before in the show’s history. I don’t know if it was needed, but it definitely rekindled the spark of mystery surrounding the show.
Having established an unfaltering episode structure for three seasons, the flash-forward came as an earth-shattering revelation. Even when we see Kate in the scene, we wonder how they knew each other, how they forgot each other (or perhaps in a more sinister tone, why they began hiding their previous relationship from the other Losties). It never occurs to us that this might not be a flashback because LOST is flashbacks.
I think perhaps there’s something to be said for tearing down the familiar foundations of a story and introducing something new and unexpected. Sure, for a TV show that airs weekly, there’s the practical aspect of ending a season finale on a hook that will get people talking. But for stories in general, I think this is an idea that really shines in its capacity to shake an audience’s faith and sense of comfort within the little world of the story. If nothing else, it certainly provides a surprised smile. And those can often be the best smiles.