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The MerlboroMan’s “Breaking Lost” 409

By MerlboroMan,

  Filed under: Lost Mythos
  Comments: 17

“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.

Works Cited

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.


From TVFrenzy:

  • KuMacK

    Really like this breakdown just shows how the main plotlines can choosen with simple points then sent off to the writers to weave the points together. Looking forward to reading even more !

  • Barnie

    Just wanted to point out… people say the appendicitis issue is not a bit one, but this is going to be happening on an island where a man can now walk having not being able to before, where a woman believes she has been cured from cancer, and where other healing properties have been shown also… and now Jack gets appendicitis? The short season means that everything may have to be pivitol to the central themes of the show, I see Jack getting ill as a major chance for this part of the show to be prodded at.

  • MerlboroMan

    Barnie – Totally agree

    • That’s a nilcey made answer to a challenging question

  • MrKong

    Barnie and Merl,
    Can’t remember where I read it (but I’ve a big old snag of a feeling that it was in a thread around here somewheres) that the qualitative difference between Locke and Rose’s healing and Jack’s sudden affliction is that Locke and Rose both embrace the Island and are in no hurry to leave it at all, whereas Jack cannot wait to get as far away from it as possible. If the Island is in any way sentient, and more and more hints are suggesting that it somehow is, Jack’s sudden debilitating illness could be (and here’s my tangent) related to his extreme upset at facing the idea that their rescue is fake. His pain increases in proportion to his resolve to leave the Island…

  • DocArzt

    What do you agree with Merl? That it would be unexpected, as your originally said, or that it has to do with the powers of the island? The only way it would be redeemable in a shortened season is if it had to do with the powers of the island. That I would agree is a good use of the issue, but having it for the sake of the calamity itself would be sort of dry considering the story up to this point. My point wasn’t that it couldn’t be done in an interesting way. My point was that if it is a simple survivalist moment, it’s not going to work. It has to advance the plot.

  • DocArzt

    yes Barnie, that is the best case scenario. To clarify what my comment REALLY was: if it is strictly a single shot calamity… the doctor, his own best chance for survival, downed by a ruptured appendix, whatever will we do?… it would be a skip. If it advances the plot, cool. No time to slow down for a survivalist bit though. This story is clearly about the divided camps, the real intention of the freighties and their own divided camps, and all of these elements that are up in the air with real time imperatives. To suddenly stop everything to deal with appendicitis and not have it interface with all of these other plot elements would be… unrealistic. (who would think that word would ever apply to Lost.) That is to say, there is some pretty heavy momentum going right now, the appendicitis has to count. I have a spoiler post in the works though involving some photographs that I think appendicitis theorists will enjoy… more later

  • In regards to Jack’s medical crisis, I think the island can make you sick just as well as it can heal you. Let’s forget Jack at the moment and talk about Ben. The island heals Rose’s cancer, but Ben gets a cancer that could kill him. The Others seem to not be happy with Ben and are waiting for the Chosen One, that Ben needs Hurley to find the cabin and Locke to speak to Jacob says Jacob wants nothing more to do with Ben. So isn’t it likely to surmise that the island made Ben sick hoping to kill him and be free of him. That like the Others, it wants Ben gone? Back to Jack. Is it just a coincidence that he gets hit by appendicitis just as the freighers land and launch attack against the island? Locke was told by the island to kill Naomi to stop the freighters from getting a location on the island, but Jack ignored all the warning from Locke and went ahead and helped the freighter people get a location on the island.

  • cap10tripps

    I have a gut feeling (hopefully it’s not my appendix) that most of the island’s powers have to do with Jacob. Perhaps Ben’s tumor was a direct result of his obsessiveness in his own agenda (on island pregnancy). Perhaps Smokey is Jacob’s wrath in a sort of psycho-physio form. If these two things are true (or at least the first one), then Jack’s appendix issue is a direct result of his own obsession of leaving the island. However I do feel that his sickness will serve a second purpose. Camp Jacob will soon have very valuable intell. The islanders will begrudgingly soon look to all knowing Linus-manipulated Locke for guidance. I see a trip for all to the temple soon…

  • cap10tripps

    Btw, what do you think of the possibility of the doctor being killed as a dummy saboteur? What if the captain is in with Ben, the doc finds out about Mikey, so the doc’s got to go. Cpt. Paranoid then makes a quick decisive move to sacrifice Widmore’s man (the doc) and tell the crew he’s found the rat.

    Also, I’m interested in hearing from some of our favorite theorists (and anyone else with some ideas) as to what implications “TSoTtC” had on Smokey and what it really is…

  • neoloki55

    The rumors that I have read is the story will come full circle with Jack pill popping by the finally of this season; connecting the flash forward we ended with last season and fleshing it out at the end of this season.

    So, if Jack does have appendicitis he will have to start taking pain meds thus creating a vehicle for him popping pills in the future. one is physical pain and the other is existential pain, but we get a reason why he turns to meds when his over ridding guilt kicks in for leaving the island.

    This is certainly an over simplified explanation, but I have a feeling Jacks illness will be tied into the larger plot point of who and why the Island heals some and not others.

  • richie

    good breakdown. wow what an episode eh? i was blown away, you were right doc, it was a mind melter, but this episode gave me a strange idea, maybe made me think of the whole show in a different light? this may have been posted already because i havent had the time to keep up but it was all about ben and charles’s convo at the end for me!! the way they refered to each other, esp ” i know who you are “boy”, what you are” , is this going to be more revealing than anything eles weve seen? like ben saying that he “couldnt” kill widmore, those rules? i dont know but i got the idea that these dudes are kind of not mortal, and have been fighting for centuries, like good and evil, but which is which??? it made me think also of the smoke, didnt some people think it was the (?) thing that guarded the gates to hell? sorry, cant remember its name now, and the goings on, on island are merely distractions for them. i really dont know about this but for sure the acting at the end in the bedroom certainly led me to believe these guys were very familiar with each other.

  • Ummmm

    I am reading these comments but very disappointed. The point of this article isn’t the the plot of the show, but how the show is structured. Almost all of these comments are off-topic; the topic is show structure. This guy went to a lot of trouble to show us how the episode is structured and give us some insight. You all have basically ignored that and just rant on. Focus people, focus!

    That being said I enjoyed reading this article and would like to see it for all future episodes. Way cool!

  • Fiz

    Nothing to add but this: For referencing Joey Styles, you are now automatically the best Lost reviewer out there.

  • Melkay

    This groups of articles are really good, probably my favorites around here. Cogratulations, you have made a huge step towards pointing out the not-so-much subliminal messages of the episodes. It all comes down to the “act out”s. Maybe someone should look at the scenes before each commercial breack at every episode and see with more clarity how the story has been evolving.

    For another spectacular reviews (in my opinion) about Lost and its narrative, specially the dynamics between characters, episode by episode, here are some links to Crytical Myth:

    it’s a great website, tell me what you think.

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