As there’s no LOST this week, and next Wednesday (April 26) is another LOST clip show, I thought I’d use this mini-hiatus to explore some of the plot devices used in LOST.
Many informed sources have written about the number and types of plots that exist, including the commonly known conflict schema: “man vs. himself; man vs. man; man vs. nature, etc.”. Ronald Tobias describes 20 master plots; Georges Polti named 36 dramatic situations. Rudyard Kipling thought there were 69 basic storylines.
In an episodic narrative like LOST, the writers make use of plot devices in order to create problems or tension, or to resolve them. Here are just a few examples:
This is a prominently placed clue that leads nowhere, used as misdirection in order to fool viewers into falling for a “twist”. An example of this would be Jin’s burned hands, in “…In Translation”. We are to assume that since his hands are burned, he is the arsonist. The twist comes when we learn that Walt burned the raft, and that Jin burned himself trying to extinguish the flames. There may be other examples, but as LOST is not a completed narrative, it is often quite difficult to determine what is a red herring, and what may be a real clue, later on.
This is slightly different from a red herring, in that a MacGuffin is integral to advancing the plot, through character motivation, and yet its significance is never revealed to the viewers. The term was popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, and he used it often in his films. In LOST, again, it is very difficult to determine what is and what is not a MacGuffin, simply because the story is incomplete. Kate’s toy plane may be a MacGuffin; it drove her character to rob a bank, shoot her accomplices, and risk life in prison… for what? A little memento of her deceased darling Tom? Maybe Hurley’s numbers are a MacGuffin. Will we ever discover their true nature and significance? One could even say that the Island itself is a MacGuffin. Indeed, there are many, many possibilities, but until the narrative is concluded we can’t know for certain.
This may be the opposite of a red herring. It follows what is known as the “Law of Conservation of Detail”. Basically, a gun (or any other detail) that is shown in the beginning of the narrative, has great significance later on. From episode to episode, we have seen many of these devices, such as Locke’s toe wiggle at the beginning of “Walkabout”. In the overall story arc, however, it is again difficult to determine the importance of significant clues, until we have all available information. Is the Black Rock a red herring, a MacGuffin, or a Chekhov’s gun? The smoke monster? The cable on the beach? Adam and Eve?
What do you think?