Tuesday, November 26, 2013

'Lost' and 'Once Upon a Time's' Intertextual Analysis

"Intertextuality is the interrelationship between texts. Using this theory, choose two TV Shows that feature a significant portrayal of intertextuality. Draw a parallel between the Shows and give an intertexual analysis linking them together. If you can, apply other theories too.”

According to Fiske (1987, p. 4), the theory of intertextuality means that “any one text is necessarily read in relationship to others and that a range of textual knowledge’s is brought to bear upon it.” In this essay, I will be analysing and discussing the parallels portrayed between Lost and Once Upon a Time, as both of them written by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. Both shows have a similar narrative in which there are multiple storytelling streams. By taking this similarity, I will outline the character references in both Shows. I will discuss about the resemblance of the mise-en-scene and I will apply the theory of intertextuality through episode tie-ins and fan fiction interpretation featured in both Lost and Once Upon a Time.

Abrams (2011, p. 5) states that narratives are action and events which are links together and revolving around the characters within the story.

Lost (2004-2010) was a television series that followed the lives of the survivors whose plane, Oceanic flight 815, crash- landed on a mysterious island. Here we see the survivors battle the previous occupants of the island, an unknown monster and hallucinations. The plotline was different from other shows as it took us through a few timelines, such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sideways and time travel. Abrams (2001, p. 7) mentions that the “interruptions of narratives, such as those caused by flashbacks are usually explained and justified so that they do not necessarily disrupt the narrative; indeed they can clarify it.” Each flashback in Lost told the audience how each character came to be who they are on The Island and the lessons they needed to enlighten to move on or move past in the episode story.

Once Upon a Time (2011-present) is a fairy-tale/drama television series, where a woman becomes a saviour to break the curse inflicted on a small town called Storybrooke. The Evil Queen who sent all the fairy-tale and storybook characters alike, from the Enchanted Forest and to the real world, where time is endless and they have forgotten their identities, perpetrated the curse. In relation to the plotline, it is very similar to Lost, as the audience receive different stories from many flashbacks and parallel timelines. The flashbacks are different from Lost, because unlike the Lost characters who could remember their flashbacks, the Once Upon a Time characters didn’t; hence giving the audience an insight into the different parts of their lives, which like Lost, complements the central story occurring in the episode.

According to the research by Thwaites (2002, p. 17), “a genre may also change by interacting with other media genres." The different kinds of texts interact with each other they recycle signs, codes and social values of different genres. These get transposed to different settings, and assume new references.”

Once Upon a Time uses Thwaites’s theory in its Show by recycling references from Lost into its storyline. While it may just be a tribute to Lost, I feel Once Upon a Time is incorporating the allusions to its own settings, thereby creating new references in the show.

Lost was very well known for the use of its famous numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. The use of these numbers were incorporated into everything, whether it be birthdays, ages, seat numbers, lottery winning numbers, flight numbers, road signs, names, clock signs…etc. It also used variations of the numbers together, even 108, which is the added total of the numbers combined.

There many allusions to the Lost numbers portrayed in Once Upon a Time in nearly every single episode. One would need a sharp eye to catch the numbers as they come in different forms.

For example, in the Pilot of Once Upon a Time, Regina’s (The Evil Queen) house number is 108; the clock tower in Storybrooke is frozen at 8:15, which is a reference to Oceanic Flight 815. When the clock unfreezes, it chimes at 8:16. The next morning, Regina looks at the clock and it clearly reads 8:23. In Season 1’s episode ‘Dreamy’, we find out that Storybrooke’s postcode is 04815. A more noticeable reference was in Season 3, ‘The Heart of the Truest Believer’, when Henry Mills is born at 8:15.

August W. Booth is a character from Once Upon a Time, whose identity is Pinocchio. A sneaky Lost reference is attributed to his name and character. August is the 8th month of the year, W is the 23rd letter of the alphabet and in an outside reference, Booth killed President Lincoln, who was the 16th President of the United States. In the episode, ‘The Stranger’, a brief Lost reference can be seen when young Pinocchio looks up at the sky and sees a plane overhead with a clear Oceanic Airlines logo on its tail; a direct reference to Flight 815.  

Thwaites (2002, p. 18) mentions that even though a text may borrow something of familiarity, they make the advantages of these seem familiar and obvious. In many of these references, there are obvious close up shots in the scenes that show the numbers and objects of reference. The camera shots create the meaning of significance and tells the viewer that it is important.

Numbers are not the only references to Lost in Once Upon a Time. There are quotations and scenes in the show that are exact or variations of the ones in Lost. For example, in the episode ‘The Cricket Game’, Regina is told that she cannot defeat Snow White’s army and in anger she replies, “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.” This is an obvious tribute to Lost character John Locke, who repeats the line, ‘Don’t tell me what I can’t do,’ throughout the series run.

In another example to Lost, the Once Upon a Time episode ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’, is a tribute to Lost character, Desmond Hume. The episode deals with Sheriff Graham, who starts to remember bits and pieces of his other life through uncontrollable flashbacks. In one specific scene, he wakes up in the middle of the night because of a dream, but he says to Regina, “It didn’t feel like a dream. It felt like a memory.” This is a direct reference to Desmond, who says to his girlfriend Penny, “It wasn’t a dream, Pen. It was a memory.” I noticed that the Once Upon a Time episode was similar to Lost’s episode ‘The Constant’, in which Desmond uncontrollably time travelled through his past consciousness. Though the time travelling aspect is not featured in Once Upon a Time, the sudden and uncontrollable flashbacks were similar in both episodes and in my opinion, another tribute to Desmond Hume.

Bordwell (2013, p. 7) states that mise-en-scene offers control of setting, costumes, lighting, acting and movement in the shots. In a few examples, I will use pictures to illustrate and back up my statements. Once Upon a Time uses many of the same camera angles and settings in the same way Lost does too.

There is one episode in Once Upon a Time, which there a clear nod to Lost. In the episode ‘The Hat Trick’, Jefferson, who is in fact The Mad Hatter, resides in house number 316. In this episode, Jefferson remembers his identity and he desperately tries to find ways to get back to Wonderland. He kidnaps Emma and forces her to recreate his Mad Hatter hat, which he can use it to transport through different worlds. This whole episode is in reference to Lost’s episode ‘316’, where some of the characters find a way to go back to the Island. They take fictional airline, Ajira Airways Flight 316 to go back to the Island. Ajira Airways is also mentioned in Once Upon a Time’s episode ‘Tiny’, where Henry, Emma and Mr. Gold take an Ajira Airlines flight.

The ‘eye-opener’ scenes are one of the main recurring themes shown on Lost. The first picture was first seen in the Pilot, as it opens with zoom in shot to a close-up shot of Jack Shephard’s eye as he lays in pain in the middle of the jungle, right after the crash of Flight 815. The second picture was first seen in the ‘Pilot’, as mid-way through the episode, it opens up with an extreme close-up of Emma Swan’s eye, right after a car crash. Once Upon a Time continuously alludes to Lost with many characters in various episodes having the close-up eye shot. Another similarity I notice between Jack and Emma is that they are both close-minded when it comes to the mysteries and magic, when all they needed was faith to believe.

According to Booth (2010, p. 56), “fan fiction is, by definition, peripheral and ancillary to the primary current media object. It functions as a text outside and apart for the existing text.” Fan fiction within a fandom as its own set of texts, which derives from many borrowed works. Like all fiction, it connects to the rest of its literature through intertextual associations and references to other works. Fans are no different from any other reader, in which they bring to the existent media ideas, thoughts and experiences to shape their understanding of the narrative. For example, when Once Upon a Time and Lost fans join both fandoms together and create their own universe with their fan fiction, it gives fans a way to participate in making new characteristics of the shows, it also helps fans interpret the shows themselves.  For example, a fellow fan of both shows created a fan fiction where it made Jack Shephard from Lost and August W. Booth from Once Upon a Time protagonists in a story-crossover. The summary of Tellshannon815’s (2013) story is linking both Jack and August to a point in time where they met in Phuket, Thailand and became friends. It is an interesting interpretation because both characters are linked to each other in their respective shows. For example, in Lost’s season three episode ‘Stranger in a Strange Land,’ is a Jack-centric episode where in flashbacks we find out the origins to his tattoos when he goes to Phuket. Once Upon a Time refers to this in the August-centric episode ‘Selfless, Brave and True’, where we find out how August lost himself in his travels to Phuket. The fans interpretation of both texts is quite similar to how the references are perceived and by joining both characters pasts and putting them into one universe, she’s creating an intertextual link between all texts and creating a new function from outside the texts itself.

In conclusion, both Lost and Once Upon a Time are quite similar in many ways and yet they stand so different from each other. Using only fragments of these references in relation to each other, one can conclude that Once Upon a Time is a show in its own right, creating its own unique universe, while at the same time serving as a tribute to millions of Lost fans around the world. The use of intertextuality in evident in Once Upon a Time from the narration, its characters, certain scenes, and hidden numbered clues to Lost. Especially in the scenes of the ‘eye opening’ shots, Once Upon a Time is in fact using many of Lost’s main themes as an acknowledgment in their own show. Analysing fans interpretations of both shows and using their fan fiction, gives us an insight into how they distinguish the clues in the shows. It also concludes that a story taken in any direction, helps construct the author’s universe and by using the interpreted fiction from both shows and by using the references, one can create the intelligibility of a new universe away from the original text. Both Kitsis and Horowitz have created an amazing universe in both of their shows and it is lucky for us Lost fans who sit down every week watching Once Upon a Time, while picking out all the references for fun and linking them together, therefore linking both shows in relation to one another.


  1. So how do you feel after having watched to and a half season of Once Upon A Time compared to the time you were watching Season 3 of Lost ? :)

  2. Yeah, Download my Once upon a time app. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!