If there's one thing I hate, it's people who spoil a story for ya.
I didn't see The Sixth Sense until its second month of release, and by then you couldn't avoid the buzz about its killer twist ending. Now, nobody spoiled it for me, but being a screenwriter, I watched for clues from the very first frame. If you want to set up a great twist, you start planting your clues early.
I figured it out in the first twenty minutes ... but it was still a pleasure to watch it unfold.
Many years ago, a friend was talking up a fine British film he'd caught at a screening. Great love story, some political intrigue, blah-blah-blah ... and then the hot chick turns out to be a dude!
Months later, I start hearing buzz about this movie called The Crying Game, a love story where you simply will not believe the twist halfway through the movie!
If you haven't seen The Crying Game, I just spoiled it for you. Aren't you pretty angry? I know I was.
So if you're a fan of ABC's Lost, you may want to stop reading right here.
I mean it.
Because I'm gonna talk about a huge twist from Season 1, a fantastic clue from last week's episode, and one webhead's solution to Hurley's numbers. And it's all in the service of writing, trust me.
You have been warned. Here we go.
First off, writer/producer Javier Grillo-Marxauch responds to writer David Fury's recent comments about Lost that apparently ran in Rolling Stone Magazine (I haven't seen the issue, and couldn't find the story on their website). Fury, you may know, just won an Emmy for "Walkabout," the fantastic Season 1 episode that revealed many, many things about the engimatic John Locke (played by the excellent Terry O'Quinn, who deserves his own Emmy). It featured a mind-blowing twist ending that came outta nowhere and just frakkin' floored me ... but when you watch the episode a second time, you see how carefully planted that twist was from the very first scene.
It's a classic twist that mystifies and satisfies, and "Walkabout" surely deserves its Emmy. TV hasn't been so creepy since Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone.
Fury (who's no longer on the show) says the Lost writing room isn't following any master plan. It's just making stuff up as it goes along. He takes credit for bringing shape and substance to an environment lacking both. Javier takes issue with this and gives a prime example that, in my opinion, more than backs up his side of the story. He says the great twist in "Walkabout" wasn't even Fury's idea, it came from producer Damon Lindelof. And Fury (and others) furiously opposed it.
If you don't know how a TV show writers' room works, it's sorta like this: the writers sit around under unhealthy fluourescent lights and break down stories on a big whiteboard. Everyone pitches in. Ideas are launched and shot down. The good ones stick to the board. By the time that last act is outlined, some writer in the room has probably taken ownership of the story in some way. So that's their assignment. That's their script. They go off and start writing.
So Fury got the assignment for "Walkabout" because he was obviously the writer in the room who felt strongest about Locke's journey to Australia, and what he was trying to achieve. Even though Fury, according to Javier, didn't initially care for the twist ending, he took it, worked with it, and produced a fantastic script.
I can't explain why Fury would make such comments. But this unfortunate rift gives wanna-be scribes a valuable peek into the process of writing for a TV show. It's not that Fury was given a plot twist he didn't like, and it ends up being the singular mind-punch people remember about that episode. I'm sure as the writing went along, Fury came to appreciate the twist, and he worked it into his script with great enthusiasm. It's that he seems to be giving short shrift to the incredibly collaborative process it takes to bring a show like Lost (or Invasion, or Buffy, or M*A*S*H) to the small screen.
If I could choose only one episode from Season 1 to rewatch, it's "Walkabout," hands-down. And I can't believe I've written about it at such length without revealing the twist ending. I'm so stunned I can barely walk. Lordy, I need to sit down in a wheelchair for a while ...
However, there are several episodes of Lost I'd never choose to see again. Several of them meandered and felt like padding. Repetition began to creep in. And often it felt like the showrunners were intent on never answering the questions they raised. Instead, they dangled vague answers before us without fully committing to them.
For those few episodes, it reminded me of the frustration I felt sometime during the fifth season of The X-Files, when I realized their UFO backplot had no internal consistency. I loved the stand-alone eps, particularly the funny ones. But when the plots would rotate back to flying saucers and Mulder's sister and Scully's neck-chip and the black oil, I'd sit there practically tearing the arms off my sofa.
That's why X-Files went out with a whimper, not the bang it deserved. It wasn't the departure of star David Duchovny. It was the inconsistent plotting and writing. It was lack of discipline and commitment in the writers' room.
I'm hoping Lost avoids such missteps. The Season 2 opener impressed me, opening up the world a bit, answering one major question (what's down that damn hatch?) and raising a few more.
Two more things tell me that Javier and his staff are indeed working from a master plan, and that we are in good hands.
And second, did you see the shark in last week's episode? The shark that was circling Sawyer as he swam from the raft?
I mean, did you really see it? I thought I did ... until someone posted a screen-grab on the web.
Here is the shark's tailfin as it shoots past the camera. Take a good long look, because it's a clue we're not supposed to see yet. This is obviously the sort of thing they've planted for fans to freeze-frame later on the DVD ... or for geeks to grab from their TiVo, and post to the web. Yes, it's some sort of logo. And yes, you've seen this logo somewhere else in the same episode. (Hint: so has Locke.)
And are we gonna see this logo again? Oh, you betcha. Keep an eye out.
And don't spoil it for anyone.