After our recent look at ABC Stories within South Park, let’s take a quick look at how Lost mastered the use of ABC Stories.
The episode in question is S01E16; Outlaws. Its on-island A-Story, sees Sawyer become obsessed with a boar which he is convinced is waging a personal vendetta against him after it both ransacks his tent and attacks him in the jungle.
ABC STORIES; EASY AS 1,2, 3…
If memory serves me, the episode opens with James “Sawyer” Ford waking from his nightly recurring dream in which he replays the real-life event that shaped his whole life; his father killing his mother after he lost all their money to a conman named Sawyer (who it turns out was actually John Locke’s dad, and the inspiration for James Ford’s alias).
As our Sawyer wakes, he hears the island whisper the words “It’ll come back around.” The boar ransacks Sawyer’s tent and, always eager to get the hell away from the group, Kate joins Sawyer on his wild boar chase.
Lost’s famous flashback structure provided the series’ B-Stories, while in Outlaws, the C-Story of this “A/B/C story’s structure” sees Hurley and Sayid help Charlie readjust after killing Ethan.
Off-island, in a flashback set in Australia, we see our Sawyer shoot and kill Frank Duckett – the con-man he believes caused his parent’s deaths. But after Duckett utters his final words – “It’ll come back around.” it becomes clear that our boy Sawyer killed the wrong man. Remember: story is often about being awakened to the truth after a life living or believing a lie.
The A-Story puts Sawyer in a thematically similar enough situation to trigger his off-island B-Story flashbacks. The two stories perfectly mirror each other. They rhyme. In Story A, the boar is Sawyer’s quarry, in Story B, Frank is his quarry. Frank is the boar. The boar is Frank. Or, more accurately, the pig is metaphor for Sawyer killing Duckett, come back to haunt him, pig-time!
The pig isn’t really the ghost of Frank, the animal has zero agency but the situation reminds Sawyer of his past deeds enough to trigger his flashback. But when Sawyer finally corners the boar, thus facing his demon, he can’t bring himself to kill it. In other words, his past events from Story B showed Sawyer how to learn, change and grow in Story A. This happens many times in Lost, sometimes characters learn and grow from their past mistakes, and sometimes they don’t.
That’s why millennia of stories, a century of film and decades of TV exist – in addition to thrilling and exciting us, they exist to help us learn, change and grow. To help us self-actualise. To help us become the best versions of ourselves. Or not.
Outlaws includes one of my favourite ever scenes – a beautifully written (and acted, considering this was Evangeline Lilly’s first-ever speaking role and Josh Holloway was about to give up acting before he got the Lost call) cat-and-mouse exchange between Kate and Sawyer:
This magnificent episode was written by Drew Goddard, who deservedly went on to write The Martian and Daredevil.
Watch, listen and learn from him, he’s a guru.
There are scores more examples of Story B mirroring Story A within Lost. Another great example is Charlie’s arc in S01E07 The Moth, which uses the eponymous moth emerging from its chrysalis as metaphor for him overcoming his heroin addiction.