“LOST 409 -The Shape of Thing to Come”
It’s very appropriate that the first episode I review for my new column, “Breaking Lost,” is entitled “The Shape of Things to Come,” for it is in the shape of the story that we can best understand the underlying message.” There’s an underlying message?” you ask. Of course there is. It’s the one that allows us to see how an individual episode fits into that big, overarching monomyth I was talking about in “Journey to Redemption.”
First off, let me explain what it means to “Break” story, or to be precise, let me let Alex Epstein explain:
“Breaking a story down into teasers, tags, acts, and act outs is called breaking story” (“Crafty TV Writing” p70).
“The teaser is the first segment on the show. It’s intended to pull you in. It often sets up the A story [in Lost the A-story is often who the story is about, for example, episode 409 is “Ben’s story,” so the A-story is about Ben]…[t]he teaser isn’t required to have anything to do with the A story, though. It can be a quirky, scary, funny, or dramatic moment that reminds you why you like the show…
The tag is the last segment of the show…it reveals how the core cast feels about what happened. The tag is where you can establish the next threat the cast will face, or reveal that this episode’s threat has not been fully dealt with…[n]ot all shows separate their tag from their last act with a commercial; in that case your tag is both you Act Four out and your episode out [in his book Epstein points out that this the case with Lost]…
One-hour dramas have four acts [emphasis mine]…whatever the act ‘goes out on’ – is called the act out…An act out is typically a cliffhanger…[t]he jeopardy or stakes can be physical, emotional, or moral…[w]e might stay tuned to see how the hero is going to get out of this pickle…[b]ut it can be more intense to put someone the hero cares about in personal danger, instead of him…the act outs are nearly as important as the acts themselves” (“Crafty TV Writing” p66-68).
Everyone get that? Good. Let’s apply it to episode “The Shape of Thing to Come.”
The episode opens on the B-story, as we’ll discover, when Jack takes some antibodies for his ailing tummy (“My gut says we’re getting off this island”) and a body, the freighter’s Doctor, washes ashore with a slit throat. Jack’s camp learns the “freighties” never intended to rescue them.
Then the A-story begins with Hurley, Sawyer, and Locke playing a “war-game” (“Australia is the key to the whole game”) when the phone rings and a voice says, “Code 14-J.”
The act-out of the teaser is when, after learning of the message, Ben hops up, reveals he has a shotgun, gives it to Sawyer and tells Locke, “They’re here.”
We return from the commercial break with Ben transported off the island to Tunisia (supporting my “tentpole” theory) in a “flash-forward” where he evades capture by killing one man and leaving the other to die.
Jack’s group decides to make a telegraph to contact the freighter about the dead doctor.
Camp Locke comes under attack by the “militant freighties” and Claire’s bungalow, with her inside, is destroyed by a rocket (cliffhanger!!!).
We return to the flash-forward where Ben checks into a hotel (“What is today’s date”) then makes contact with Sayid and reveals to him that his Nadia was murdered. Ben shows him the picture of the man responsible.
The B-story disappears in Act Two, but back on the island, we learn that Claire is still alive (I thanked God) and the militant freighties send Milo into Ben and Locke’s bunker with a walkie so they can negotiate a trade: Ben for Alex’s life.
Ben refuses to come out and we have the shocking execution of Alex.
This sequence is intercut (jumps back and forth from island to flash-forward) so I will summarize.
Ben openly follows Nadia’s murderer leading him into a trap where Sayid shoots him in the back, empties his clip into him, and continues pulling the trigger (I think I counted four dry clicks, but don’t quote me on that). Sayid commits to Ben’s war and Ben’s smile reveals he has masterfully manipulated Sayid.
Back on the island Ben is recovering from the shock of his daughter’s murder (“He’s changed the rules”) and he enters his secret crypt. The others argue about what to do and Ben emerges, covered in soot, and tells everyone to prepare to run.
In what is surely the coolest act-out of the series thus far, Smokey is unleashed on the militant freighties and we realize that Ben is responsible (in the voice of Joey Styles “Oh-My-God!”).
We return to the B-story where Daniel is able to contact the freighter. Bernard reveals that Daniel has lied about the message and that on the freighter the Doctor is still alive. Jack collapses from his stomach pain .
Then, after a stare-down between Locke and Sawyer, Hurley agrees to join Ben and Locke for a journey to Jacob’s cabin while Claire, Aaron, and Milo follow Sawyer back to the beach.
The episode ends off the island in a verbal confrontation between Ben and Charles Widmore where we learn that Charles was the one to “change the rules” and as a result Ben plans to kill Penelope ( “Holy $&!%, Holy $&!&”).
Now, as I promised, by looking at the shape of the episode we should be able to see how it fits into the overall series. In the act-outs we learn that:
1. The war has started
2. Widmore’s men are extremely ruthless and willing to kill innocent people
3. Widmore ‘s men are cold-blooded murderers
4. Ben has his own weapons…and they trump Widmore’s
5. Ben can be just as ruthless and cold-blooded
While the episode reveals that Charles Widmore is a truly powerful and dangerous adversary, it also shows that Ben is even more dangerous…and powerful. Consider that Widmore has money and resources at his disposal, but that by the end of the episode we see that Ben is not only he’s equal, but that he might even be his superior. Ben is standing tall and looking elegant while Widmore appears sick and feeble in bed.
As I stated in my conclusion to “Journey to Redemption,” Ben is the shows true antagonist and this episode revealed that, though Widmore is a powerful, ruthless and dangerous man, Ben doesn’t need money to wield power and he is extremely dangerous.
In upcoming articles I will focus on the breakdown of the show and discussing what it reveals about the monomyth. My thanks go to Alex Epstein and his fine book on television writing. I hope you enjoyed this article. I welcome your comments.
Epstein, Alex. “Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box; A Professional TV writer’s real-world guide to getting paid to write great television.” New York: Owl Books, 2006.