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Lost: To The Future


Any regular reader of this site will tell you that I’m an absolute whore for anything time-travel related. Well, the good stuff anyway! time-travel is a contrivance that makes for some excellent story telling — and plenty of paradox filled shenanigans to boot — but like any extreme device (an edge-trimmer, for example) misuse can lead to tears or worse: A nasty post about what you did on a nerd infested blog like this one.

Over the years there have been some great movies and television shows which have used time-travel as a primary element in their character’s adventures, some to great effect. More often than not though, time-travel is simply used as a modus operandi for dumping characters into a scenario. It is promptly ignored again until the point in the film at which the character has learnt their lesson and returns to their own time period. In these cases the ’cause’ for the traveller’s movement through time is often ambiguous: an artefact, spell or {cringe} bump on the head. These movies seldom hold my interest.

To me time-travel works best when it is used at the core of a story. Not the ‘star’ by any means, but a constant companion to the characters. In the Back to the Future movies, Marty McFly’s every action is governed by his desire to correct the time-line and return home. This is also true of Donnie Darko, however both Donnie and the viewer remain oblivious to this for the majority of the movie.


It is becoming more apparent that time-travel and time distortion are playing a much larger part in ABC’s LOST than anyone may have initially imagined. And like Donnie Darko it is only gradually becoming clear to both the characters and the viewers.

Central to Lost’s own time-travel shenanigans is the character Desmond Hume. FIrst introduced in the second season of the show, Desmond has always seemed like a displaced individual. He is neither one of the island’s original inhabitants (The Others), nor is he one of the survivors of Oceanic 815. Regardless of his initial detachment, it is becoming more and more likely that Desmond may / will have an important part in ensuring that the passengers of Oceanic 815 make their flight.

In season 3, during the episode ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’, Desmond experiences a coherent flashback: We aren’t witnessing events from Desmond’s past as is the usual format for an episode of Lost. Instead Desmond is re-experiencing them and is able to effect changes in his own life. During this re-run he meets a woman by the name of Ms. Hawking. She warns Desmond that he has a job to do and not to alter the course of his life, that he must enter the boat race, he must get stranded on the island and that he must ‘push the button’ or else “every single one of us is dead”.

Once Desmond’s consciousness returns to the present (on the island) he remains ‘unstuck’ from time and from this point he experiences precognitive flashes of Charlie’s death.

In the latest episode ‘The Constant’, Desmond’s consciousness once again jumps around in time. After leaving the island via helicopter he suddenly finds himself back in the past, however unlike the extended escapade in ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’, Desmond bounces back and forth between the present (well, the show is set in 2004) and 1996. He is even capable of passing messages between the ‘time-zones’.

Far be it from me to attempt to pre-empt what the Lost writers have in store for the rest of series. However I can’t help but think that opening a huge can of time-travelling worms is not something that one does as a distraction. It seems to me that non-linear manipulation may very well play a part in the never-ending series of coincidences connecting the passengers on Oceanic 815.

In ‘Flashes Before Your Eyes’ time-travelling Desmond meets Charlie busking in the street, an encounter that apparently didn’t take place the first time that Desmond lived that time-line. We’ve also seen that Desmond had a chance encounter with Jack (in the episode ‘Man of Science, Man of Faith’) years before the plane crashed on the island. And in ‘Live Together, Die Alone’ another chance encounter sees Desmond bump into Libby in a coffee shop, a meeting which resulted in Libby giving Desmond the boat that he would eventually sail onto the island.

While all these can be passed off as coincidences, the fact that a time-travel element exists within the bounds of the show makes it all the more conceivable that we’re seeing a story that’s being told in two directions at once. The question is, will we see the story end, just as we learn how and why it all started?

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    I was equally amazed at how fantastic episode this was. While watching it I was completely wrapped up in the episode’s plot, but am now starting to think about how this impacts the series as a whole. The subplot and potential for the rest of the series are both really exciting.

  • The issue with using the time-line as a sub or core plot is that, to me, it can be a bit of a cop-out….

    Script writer #1: “How do we explain the reason why he pressed the button when everything leading up to this point says he shouldn’t?”

    Script writer #2: ” Oh that’s easy! We’ll just write a ‘time travel’ or ‘flash back’ episode that will explain it.”

    Script writer #1: “Heck, why didn’t I think of that?!”

    Script writer #2: “That’s why they pay me the big bucks. Now, where shall we go to lunch?”

    The problem with Lost (and why it totally lost my interest after the first series) is that plot lines that show some interest or ability of tangency have been dismissed and re-written using palour tricks such as flash backs. The fine art of ‘seeding’ ideas and concepts early in the series, allowing for the accomplished writing of parallel sub-plots is now long dead.

    You may as well be watching Days’ of our Lives, Bold and the Beautiful or Young and the restless.

    They’ve been doing flash-backs successfully for years.

  • Agreed. I find nothing more irritating than lazy, “oh by the way, we didn’t tell you this earlier but it’s important that you know… blah blah blah” flashbacking (I know that’s not a word). There’s a particularly horrendous example of it in the movie Oceans 12.

    But in the case of Lost it makes complete sense to tell the story using flashbacks. I mean, to have attempted to tell the story of the characters in a linear format would have meant that they didn’t even crash on the island until season 3 – now there’s a show that I’m sure you’d have also lost interest in a damn sight quicker!

    In regard to the death of the writers ability to use parallel sub-plots: Well, sorry, but you must have Lost interest too soon (you’re not alone there though). I’m not going to go into details, but last season the writers sent a message to those who felt that they were making the show up as they went, by – wait for it – creating a parallel sub-plot that, when it paid off, caught everyone off guard… and they did it by flashing back to stuff we’d already seen. but hadn’t pieced together.

    Ultimately this sort of story (no matter what technique is used) can’t really be judged until it is over. It’s also impossible to say, in the case of Lost, that they have lost their ability to use parallel story telling because the whole intention of this show is to present you with information that you don’t piece together until they want you to. I mean, I may be grasping here, but it seems to me that we’re looking at a show which is aiming for a “BRUCE WILLIS IS DEAD!!!” clanger in the last moments of the last episode. But I guess, if you never watch the second half of Sixth Sense you could also make sweeping statements about Shyamalan’s ability to use parallel devices too.

    For mine, this latest season of Lost has been the strongest yet. It’s answered a boat load of questions about the island, and the events of last season’s finale have made for a fantastic turnaround in the way the show plays. The fact that we now know for certain that time-travel (or time displacement) is a device being employed by the shows writers only makes this particular nerd very very glad that he didn’t lose interest.

  • Too late!! Can’t take any of it back now. (Damn, I wish that someone had invented something that would allow me to go back in time and take it all back…)

  • You’re perfectly entitled to your opinon Macca, and you’re not Robinson Caruso when it comes to being sick of watching people stranded on an island… or something like that.

    And as far as this go-back machine that you describe: There is such a thing… it’s called the Admin Edit functions. But man, messing with that sort of thing could unravel the very fabric of the universe!

    OR WORSE! I *COULD* make it look like you said you loved watching CHARMED or HANNAH MONTANA!

    See, can of worms my friend, can of worms.

  • […] Thanks for joining us tonight! Be sure to catch the next episode of Season 4 “The Other Woman” airing this Thursday in the US, and the week after here in Australia. In the meantime, check out elroy’s article on Desmond, Time Travel, and last week’s episode “The Constant” […]

  • As for taking it back, Macca… Three seasons of Lost are available on DVD to buy or hire, or even someone you know might own it and be willing to lend it to you.

    Being stupidly obsessed with this show, and having watched it in its entirity a few times, I can certainly say you gave up at the wrong point… Season One just isn’t as awesome as everyone remembers it to be.

    I encourage you to go back and watch it on DVD – on your own time – that’s really the only way to watch a serialised mystery TV show; On DVD, as many episodes you want at a time.

  • Yes, I do have a short concentration span. It’s got to work for me almost straight off the bat and there can’t be too many sub-plots running or my concentration fades.

    There is nothing worse than waiting for something to happen with one sub-plot line while they build up on others.

    Lost started off with a heap of promise, but lost me when the monster that they hinted at in the first series turned out to be a fog something-or-other with no real substance. Here I was, waiting for a leather skinned, cat eyed, banana toothed T-Rex to leap out of the bushes and go “Ta-da!!” and all I got was a poor excuse of an also-ran.

    Unfortunately, the DVD’s will have to wait until after the Hanna Montana concert before I have time.

    “Don’t break my heart, my achy-breaky heart…”

    My kids just love Billy-Ray… Business at the front, party at the back.