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.
If memory serves me, the episode opens with Sawyer awakening from his nightly recurring dream in which he replays the real-life event that shaped his whole life; his father killing his mother. As he wakes, he hears the island whisper the words “It’ll come back around.” Always eager to get the hell away from the group, Kate decides to join Sawyer on his wild boar chase.
Lost’s famous flashbacks provided the series’ B-Stories while in Outlaws, the C-Story sees Hurley and Sayid trying to help Charlie readjust after killing Ethan.
Off-island, in a flashback set in Australia, we see 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 Sawyer killed the wrong man.
First, the on-island A-Story puts Sawyer in a thematically similar enough situation to trigger the off-island B-Story flashbacks. The two stories perfectly mirror each other. 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!
Of course, the pig isn’t really the ghost of Frank, the animal has no agency but the situation reminds Sawyer of his past actions and triggers him into an emotional flashback. When Sawyer finally corners the boar and faces down his demon, he can’t bring himself to kill it. The past events from Story B showed Sawyer how to learn, change and grow in Story A.
In addition to thrilling and exciting us – that’s why millennia of stories, film and TV exist – to help us learn, change and grow. To help us self-actualise. To help us become the best versions of ourselves.
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 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!
There are scores of examples of Story B mirroring Story A within Lost but another perfect example is S01E07 The Moth.