Complex TV

p. 272-273: LOST

Unlike Battlestar Galactica, the producers of Lost did not give us a clear rendering of the program’s fictional geography—although the virtual island created for the videogame Lost: Via Domus, discussed more in chapter 9, attempted to create such a virtual map—but maps are a central obsession of various characters and do appear on-screen quite frequently. Such brief appearances were copiously catalogued by the forensic fans at Lostpedia and numerous other fan sites dedicated to decoding the world of Lost, but no map is as indicative of how such practices straddle the line between orientation and disorientation as the cultural life of what fans have termed the “blast door map.” In the season 2 episode “Lockdown,” John Locke found himself trapped in an underground bunker with his leg pinned under a blast door. For a few moments, a black light turns on, revealing a hand-painted map on the back of the door that we see on-screen for no more than six seconds. The information contained within the map, as decoded collectively by fans only hours after the episode aired, pointed to deep mythological clues that resonated both in the series and across the transmedia extensions. Locke himself attempts to reconstruct the map’s geographical revelations but falls far short of what fans accomplished, aided by freeze-frame screen grabs, image-manipulation software, and collective discussion forums. The map reappeared in transmedia versions four times with slight alterations and additional information, outlasting its role in the series itself, as discussed more in chapter 9. Through forensic fandom, viewers got a preview of future hatches still to be revealed, references to the backstory of the Hanso family and the Black Rock ship, and other minor clues to forthcoming puzzles.

However, I would contend that the blast door map’s least successful function concerned spatial orientation, as the map provides little sense of scale or relationship between the outlined stations and the places we had seen on the island. Instead, the map functions more like a roster of places, names, and clues scrawled onto a wall, a to-do list for fans anticipating what might be revealed in future episodes. It also provides a window into a number of character subjectivities, visualizing the mental states of the map’s two authors-to-be-named-later, Radinsky and Inman, who chronicle their limited mythological knowledge and island explorations under duress, as well as orienting us to Locke’s obsessive quest to make sense of the briefly seen images. The map also charts narrative time and events, as we try to situate the drawing’s creation into the island’s backstory and our own limited knowledge of the history of the DHARMA Initiative. Thus as fans worked to decode the multiple versions of the map, they arguably were less engaged with questions of spatial orientation than attempting to understanding the embedded representations of a fictional storyworld, refracted by still-to-be-discovered characters and events.

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