Twist your Plot Twists like LOST
LOST is a train wreck. The show’s train cars derailed, burst into flames, and piled on top of each other creating a maze of confusion and chaos – and this all happened in the first season. The level of convolution and the laundry list of unanswered mysteries makes you wonder if the writers had a clue what the show was actually about.
LOST is also one of the best TV dramas of all time – attested by publications such as Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. It won its Emmy around the time “WAAALT!” was cryptically hyped as the great island mystery, only for his character to disappear from the show (because the actor grew too tall) and never be explained.
How did a show so shallow in its attempts at depth, a show so over-the-top its main villain is a smoke beast, attain mass popularity and captivate your immigrant grandmother?
Two things: An entire cast of sympathetic characters, and an endless barrage of convincing and shocking plot twists for them to suffer through.
A plot twist is an oft used device, and its main purpose is to shock the audience. Often, they don’t work, either because a) they can be seen from a mile away, or b) they come out of nowhere. Here’s how LOST makes them work.
1. It creates a smokescreen. In the fourth episode, “Walkabout”, we learn that poor middle-aged John Locke has a crummy life, and all he wants is to go on a hunting adventure in Australia. We learn that there are obstacles in his way, such as his jerk boss, and the leader of the hunting adventure. We learn that he bought his tickets in advance, packed his bags with hunting gear, and is super enthusiastic for the adventure. But this is all smokescreen to cover up what we aren’t told till the very end of the episode: John Locke is paralyzed and wheelchair bound.
2. It doesn’t ask the question. If the story posed the question “can Locke walk?” or “is there something physically wrong with Locke?” then over the course of the 45 minute episode, most people would’ve guessed the plot twist. This is a major problem with whodunits; the question of “who did it” is already asked and the viewer will suspect every character in the story (unless a clever smokescreen is used to cover up the real bad guy). Don’t ask the question, no one will discover the answer. The LOST creators cleverly avoided showing Locke walking, always showing him lying down or sitting, so that the idea of physical impairment wouldn’t enter the viewer’s mind. We cannot see this twist from a mile away, not even from a centimeter away. In fact, they made it absurd to even think it, considering how gung ho Locke is about hunting.
3. It embeds clues in the story. When we learn that Locke was in a terrible accident that caused his paralysis, everything clicks. We understand why his life is so crummy, and why he is so intent on the hunting adventure as a means of proving himself. The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere, and the clues littered in the story suddenly connect into an “ah-hah!” moment. The clues have to be so subtle that they don’t allow the viewer to figure out the twist, yet visible enough that the viewer realizes their meaning afterward.
The truth is, the writers of LOST had a vague conception for the show, and were pulling mysteries out of their smoke monster pit. But they knew how to make you care, and surprise you. Shock is a strong emotion, and its strong emotions that people seek in fiction – which is why plot twists are so energizing when done right.