Murphy’s Law – Lost’s long and winding road trip

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

There are fan sites out there dedicated to pouring over every single frame of Lost, trying to find easter eggs and hidden clues in the show. Diehards look at the books on the shelves in the background to see if any of their plots coincide with events on the island. Other folks look at street signs and billboards to see if they are anagrams of anything meaningful. They are convinced that the writers of Lost have woven in subtle details and clues into every single moment of the show.

However, the longer I watch Lost, the more I begin to wonder just how good the writers really are. I want to believe that they are evil geniuses who have this grand “master plan” for the show, but as the weeks go by, I begin to wonder if they aren’t just making it up as they go along (or if they are just stealing all of Chris Kirkman’s ideas from Down the Hatch and using them in the show – which is why Kirkman looks like such a genius week after week).

What has me doubting the omniscience of the Lost writers? Well, let’s start with their March 19th podcast, where a fan asked executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse about a continuity error in the show. The fan wanted to know how Daniel Faraday could see a young Charlotte in Dharma-ville in 1974 in this season’s episode “LaFleur,” when last season in the episode “Confirmed Dead” Ben Linus revealed that Charlotte was born in 1979. The fan wanted to know if the writers had screwed up.

The two executive producers claimed that the character was originally supposed to be born in 1970 or 71, but an on-set mistake caused the year to be changed.

“We didn’t really just screw up,” said Carlton Cuse. “What happened basically was the actress Rebecca Mader, who we cast in this part, was younger than the character we originally conceived and she did not really want to brand herself as being 37, which I think is what she would have had to been if we had stuck to that original birthday.”

He added: “Basically, she took it upon herself to re-adjust the birthday on the set.”

“Rebecca Mader, that was one of the first scenes she shot, I think,” said Damon Lindelof. “And she said, ‘I wasn’t born in 1970, I was born in 1979.’”

“’So I’m going to make it 1979,’” said Cuse.

“Not thinking that we pay any attention to dates on this show,” said Lindelof. “Because we’re certainly not going to call down to Hawaii and say, ‘Oh, but they’re going to be time traveling next year and after your character dies, this is going to be a very important fact.’”

They claimed the year of birth was changed on set without their knowledge and they missed it in the editing room. While they should have caught something like that in the editing room (especially if they were checking the episode to make sure all of the subtle clues and easter eggs were visible in the background of each and every frame), it was a mistake that was understandable. The writers had planned to have Faraday go back in time and see young Charlotte all along, but some vain young actress on the set ruined everything by refusing to follow the script. It makes perfect sense. You can’t really hold that mistake against them.

Or can you?

Once the podcast went live, word got back to Rebecca Mader that she was being blamed for the mistake. She went on to her Facebook page and responded to the accusation with the following statement: “The timeline error was their mistake and they are making it out to be my fault. Not cool.”

The following week on their podcast, Lindelof and Cuse apologized to Mader for getting the story wrong.

“Rebecca, we are very sorry,” said Lindelof. “We had our facts absolutely wrong about our information in the last podcast. What happened is, when we were originally auditioning for Charlotte, we were bringing in actresses in their late 30s and early 40s. We wrote the first draft of ‘Confirmed Dead,’ Charlotte was born in 1970 or 71. When we cast Rebecca and wrote the script, Gregg Nations, our continuity expert, came in and basically said to us, ‘Rebecca Mader was actually born on July 2, 1979, let’s just use her birthday.’ We said sure. And we misremembered the story as having come from Rebecca because they were, in fact, shooting the scene the next day. So Rebecca never read a page that didn’t say 1979.”

Their original screw up and subsequent apology bother me for several reasons. Number one, they completely threw Mader under the Dharma microbus and tried to make her sound vain in an effort to cover up their own mistake. (In the original podcast, Lindelof sounded so condescending when he said, “Not thinking that we pay any attention to dates on this show.”) And even in their apology to Mader, they seem to be throwing Gregg Nations under the bus, blaming him for suggesting the change in her birthday.

But the biggest thing that bothers me about the whole thing is that they never really explained how they made the mistake in the first place. They said Nations came to them and asked about changing the date, but they don’t explain why they didn’t say to Nations, “No, we can’t change her birthday. It will be important next year when the characters travel back to 1974.” If they really do pay any attention to dates on the show, shouldn’t they have stopped Nations from making that change? If they are as good as everyone thinks they are, they should have known they needed Charlotte to be born in 1970 for the story to work.

However, I might have been willing to look past this transgression and just chalk it up as a momentary lapse in judgment … if not for last week’s episode. Last week, in “Whatever Happened, Happened,” Hurley and Miles had a lengthy and entertaining conversation about time travel (and more specifically, as Kirkman explained in his recap, “mutable timeline theory”). When trying to wrap their brains around Sayid shooting young Ben and what it might mean for the future, Miles laid out the idea that “whatever happened, happened” and that you can’t change the events of the past.

While Miles had answers for most of Hurley’s questions, the one he couldn’t answer was – why didn’t Ben remember getting shot by Sayid? It was a valid question and one that deserved a well-thought-out answer from a competent writing staff. Unfortunately, at the end of last week’s episode, we learned that the answer the writers ultimately came up with was – the island magic that Richard Alpert uses to save Ben’s life will cause him to forget the shooting ever happened.

Really, that’s the best they could come up with? Amnesia? I expect that from a cheesy soap opera, but not from a primetime show that prides itself on being full of complex mysteries and compelling stories. (Then again, maybe amnesia would explain how they “misremembered” the whole Charlotte’s age fiasco.)

Amnesia is the ultimate copout. And it doesn’t even make sense. Even if Ben doesn’t remember getting shot by Sayid, everyone else remembers that it happens. Wouldn’t someone bring it up to him eventually? There are still quite a few years to go before he kills off all the Dharma folks, so you would think his dad or Horace or someone would bring up the shooting at some point.

If the writing staff had really planned everything out in advance like people seem to believe, they would have had a better explanation than amnesia. And really, even if they are making it all up as they go along, they still could have come up with something better. Off the top of my head while watching the episode, I thought an easy solution to the problem would have been to just say that Ben did remember being shot by Sayid, but he just never let on that he knew. Ben withholds information all the time, its part of his character. And seeing firsthand that Sayid is a killer could have been why Ben recruits Sayid to take out Widmore’s men when they both leave the island. To me, that answer would have made the most sense.

Even though I’m starting to doubt the writers’ genius a bit, I don’t really believe that they are making it up as they go along. I just don’t believe that they have put as much thought into the show as people give them credit for. While they do stick easter eggs in episodes from time to time, I think people are looking too hard for connections and are finding things that they believe are significant that Lindelof and Cuse never even knew were there. And while I do believe that the writers have put a lot of thought into the show’s overall story (no one could have made the show as consistently engaging and entertaining as they have if they really were making it up week to week), I still wonder how much of the show they really have planned out in advance and how much of it is just vague ideas in their heads that they haven’t thought out very well.

In fact, the most telling quote about the writers comes from a 2005 interview with USA Today. When asked about all of the mysteries in the show and how they would be revealed, Cuse gave this answer:

“I liken it to taking a road trip from Los Angeles to New York. We know we’re going to visit the Grand Canyon, we know we’re going to stop in Omaha, we know we’re going to Wall Drug in South Dakota. The route we take between these landmarks is what we make up as we go along. And those landmarks are the answers to the mysteries.”

So the big mysteries have been thought out ahead of time, but smaller details like Charlotte’s birthday and Ben getting shot are given less time and energy. And I think I’m okay with that, as long as they can own up to their mistakes instead of blaming them on their actors and as long as they can come up with better explanations than amnesia.

I’m still enjoying my road trip from Los Angeles to New York. Sure, the car might get detoured along the way (continuity errors) and we may get slowed down by the occasional train wreck (most Kate-centric episodes, Nikki and Paulo, Eko’s death), but overall I will continue to enjoy the ride.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

  1. Chris Kirkman April 8, 2009
  2. Joel Murphy April 8, 2009
  3. Chris Kirkman April 8, 2009
  4. Milhouse44 April 10, 2009
  5. James April 15, 2009
  6. Joel Murphy April 15, 2009

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