Supernaturally Lost - TV-series as a modern form of narrative

The serial development of protagonists and antagonists in 'Lost' and 'Supernatural'

Bachelor Thesis, 2011

102 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1) Introduction

2) Seriality and serial narration

3) Characters
3.1) Protagonists andantagonists

4) Series, Serial and cumulative narrative
4.1) Lost
4.2) Supernatural

5) Seriality in TV-series
5.1) Lost
5.2) Supernatural

6) The development of protagonists and antagonists
6.1) Lost
6.1.1) Science and faith 3
6.1.2) Kate'saffection
6.1.3) Protection of the island
6.2) Supernatural
6.2.1) Family protection
6.2.2) The demons' plan
6.2.3) Theangels'recklessness

7) Similarities and differences in character development

8) Conclusion


1) Introduction

Tales and narratives have appeared in different forms since the birth of mankind. It has all started with ancient cave paintings that have told stories to those who have found them. The next step has been the writing on stones, like the ten commandments of the holy Bible. The writing on paper has been a progression to the writing on stones and has until today become the most popular form of narrating and telling stories. During the last century, however, a new form of providing an audience with narratives has slowly arose, which has, until today, managed to become quite a competition to books: films and TV-series. While books are still the most popular medium for telling stories, TV-series and films have managed to create a steadily growing niche.

This new possibility of telling stories with actors, sound, music and special effects has become more and more popular. While films always have to hope for a sequel, which depends on the gross the film has made, TV-series can and must focus on a narrative sequence from the beginning. It all starts and ends with seriality. Films tend to be seen as stand alone pictures, with the possibility of a continuation of the story in a sequel, or a prequel, a story that tells the events that have led to the film's happenings. Film series with more than one or two feature films are becoming rarer and rarer. Films like 'Star Wars' (1977­2005), 'Indiana Jones' (1981-2008), 'The lord of the rings' (2001-2003) are good examples for a series of films, which tell a continual story. However, all of them wouldn't have had a chance to be made, without the longest running film series of all time: 'James Bond' (1962-2008).

Nowadays, it seems like there is a book for every genre, be it Science-fiction, drama, horror or crime. The same applies for TV-series. This medium has started mostly with Soap-Operas like 'Days of our lives' (NBC, 1965-present) or 'Guiding light' (CBS, 1952-2009).

The next genre that has heavily influenced the writers of TV-series has been crime fiction. At the end of the 1950's, CBS has produced one of the most successful hits in crime TV-series: 'Hawaii-Five-O' (1968-1980) of which a remake has been produced last year. This new approach of telling a story in a TV-series has loosened a wave in crime series that has gone over 'Columbo' (NBC, 1971-2003) and 'Cracker' (ITV, 1993-2006) up to the 'CSI' franchise (CBS, 2002-present), 'The wire' (HBO, 2002-2008) and most recently 'Castle' (ABC, 2009-present).

This new enthusiasm for crime series stands and falls with protagonists and antagonists. An investigator is just as good and believable as his opponent. What would the 'James Bond' series have been without antagonists like Blofeld, Dr. No or Goldfinger who have always managed to get the best out of James Bond. What would Luke Skywalker have been without Darth Vader? Harry Potter without Lord Voldemort? Clarice Starling without Hannibal Lecter or Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty?

This wave of crime TV shows opened a door to a variety of new genres that mostly have not been touched in TV-series such as mystery, science-fiction or horror. There are several antagonists over the course of the episodes or seasons who spike their protagonist's guns in modern TV shows. It is rather rare that there is one antagonist over the course of a series. However, examples exist in which a long going TV-series has had several bad guys, but only one antagonist over the course of the seasons. Two TV-series have to be mentioned that fit into this pattern: 'Prison Break' (FOX, 2005-2009), in which the antagonist appears in form of a multinational organization called the company, and 'Lost' (ABC, 2004-2010), in which the antagonist is a smoke monster that wants to leave the island and infect the rest of the world with pure evil.

Over the last decade the quality and the budget of TV-series have increased immensely up to a point where TV shows and films are almost at the same quality level. Two of the most striking examples for these so called megamovies[1] are Lost and 'Supernatural' (The CW, 2005-present).

While Lost is being considered as one of the most influential TV-series of all times it has also started a new trend in TV-series to becoming more and more like shorter serialized films. Lost is a great example for a TV show that focuses on a comprehensive story line from season to season. It is the many turns the series has made over the seasons, starting out as a group-robinsonade[2] with mystery elements and becoming a mystery drama with science-fiction elements.

Supernatural has started out as a typical road movie with mystery and horror elements and has become a drama series that focuses on the protagonists' inside lives and their relationship to one another more and more. Especially interesting is the fact, that both shows are original shows, and are not based on novels.

In my Bachelor thesis I will write about seriality and its origins and will provide a definition of antagonists and a protagonists. Taking that as the basis for my thesis, I will then start to analyse Lost and Supernatural in terms of the serial development of their protagonists and antagonists and will compare them to each other. The basis for my thesis are the complete six seasons of Lost counting 121 episodes as well as the four seasons of Supernatural that have been released in Germany, consisting of 82 episodes so far. The secondary literature which is written in German will be translated as literal as possible. The aim of this thesis is to examine, if one can talk about a serial development of the most important characters or character trades, or if it fails to achieve that in the shows. Are there several ways of creating protagonists and antagonists within a TV-series? Do Antagonists cross paths with antagonists all the time, or is there another way of turning them against each other without necessarily being enemies? And has the fact that Lost has ended and Supernatural has just got renewed for a seventh season any affect on the results I will provide? My thesis is that there theme-based antagonists exist. In the next chapter I will start with the definition of seriality.

2 Seriality and serial narration

The particular term seriality can not be found within the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the term serial can be found as a noun as well as an adjective. The following definition of serial as a noun is provided by the dictionary: “A story or play appearing in regular instalments on television or radio or in a magazine or newspaper. ”[3] This, however, does not nearly describe the diversity that the term seriality inherits. In the following chapter I am going to write briefly about the history of serial narration from the early beginnings to the TV-series that we know and the variety of possibilities that the term seriality can be used for. At the end of the chapter I will provide the serial aspects of TV-series that are important for my further analysis of Lost and Supernatural.

As I pointed out in my introduction, seriality has existed a long time before actual books have existed and has always been used to tell coherent stories. Even before a semiotic system existed mankind has had the urge to tell stories. They used the walls of caves to paint pictures that would tell events that happened to them. This is, of course, a very early form of serial narration. The later invented semiotic system itself is a “serial-combinatorical system [that] combines a fixed quantum of single letters with combinations of letters of different semantic complexity ”[4] which has made the circulation of serial narratives much easier. The movement of the stars as well as the movement of the sun and the moon have been used to produce serial calendars. The early Christian calendar has been a result of the serialized Christian holidays, which, until today, have the same periodic order and have been strongly connected to the seasons of the year.[5] Even the days of the week, starting on Monday and ending on Sunday, are based on a serialized pattern that results from the Christian calendar.

Moreover, Christiane Bayer adds that “the Bible and the Christian rites which emerged from Christian believe (e.g. processions and the procedure of the liturgy) indeed exhibit characteristics of serial narration.”[6] Gunter Giesenfeld tries to give a definition of seriality by saying:

“[...] The feature of seriality finds its first definition in the fact that it deals with an ongoing, steady connection of imaginations and conditions. [...] The permanent parallelization of everyday life and fictional experiences is the initial serial process.”[7]

He goes on by saying that “seriality characterizes a form of a narrative construct of happenings.”[8] This mirrors the process of creating serial stories that are told over the course of several books, movies, paintings, plays or TV- series. Another take on the explanation of cyclic serial narration says that “[it] has approved itself as a continuous, functional and aesthetic determinable narrative tradition”, which “fulfils the [...] anthropological function of myth - the endowment with meaning and the social entertainment”[9]. This, however, can not be fully understood without the knowledge of the historical background of seriality.

During the middle ages the most notable storytellers of serial narratives have been the minstrels, who have travelled across the country and have sung stories of heroism and great adventure. During the 15th century, Johannes Gutenberg has invented a machine that has been able to serially produce written works for the general public: The letterpress. This machine has produced series of books that have later been sold to people who have been able to read. It is very interesting to see that a serialized process (Letterpress) is used to produce and spread serial narratives (Novels). Within the same century, a new form of serial narrative has arisen: The moving theatres. Starting out as re-tellings of the passion of the Christ or his birth[10], this new form of narration has been used by Christians to strengthen their believes. This early form of theatres does not contain any actors, music or screenplay whatsoever. It is a serialized number of equally large pictures that tell Christian stories. “The pictures are of serial nature because the carts that carry the pictures are of equal height and there has to be a recognizable illustration of the same person (e.g. Jesus) in every picture,”[11]

Alongside Gutenberg's invention of the letterpress, the theatre has evolved into actual plays with actors and written stories as we know it today. Actors have worn masks or have “disguised as somebody else or something different”[12] to create the imaginary world the writers have provided them with.

“Seriality continues in the cast and the system of the masks. The high requirements, the actors have had to deal with because of the intense level that improvisation has demanded of them, has led the actors [...] to specialize in certain roles, thus completely living one role.”[13]

Christiane Bayer's statement about the seriality in the theatre plays is continued by Gunter Giesenfeld:

“Identical masks or representatives of professional associations have been demonstrated in identical costumes and have showed, through the act of pantomime, dance or conversation, conflicts or solutions to conflicts which have arisen from the usual potential of their characters and their physical possibilities.”[14]

The specialization of actors on specific, serialized character types has led to the profession of acting, which we know today. The actors who always play the role they have specialized in, become a serial process within a theatre play. Serialized narratives have become more and more famous through Gutenberg's invention. Well-known examples for these serialized stories are short story cycles such as 1001 nights (first English version 1706), Goethe's Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (1795), Bocaccio's The Cameron (1351) or Joyce's Dubliners (1914). These short story cycles have a number of different short stories that have no coherent story line, although they all have a frame story that combines all the different stories, thus creating a serial narration. In most cases, these serial short stories have no connection to one another, except for e.g. one character appearing as a side effect in a different story or one character from one story being mentioned by another character from a different story.

“Several short stories are nested into one another within the same frame narrative - always using the same rhythm - so that a serial narrative pattern is being created.” [15]

At this point it is important to mention that “the imagination of a serial reception of artistic products has existed for a long time ”[16] and that it is universally applicable to every form of art. This new development of serial narration has led to the creation of the serial novel. Serial novels have first been published one chapter at a time in magazines or new papers in the 18th and 19th century. It is therefore important to say that these serial novels contain a high number of repetitions so that readers do not forget important plots. Christiane Bayer puts it that way: “Within the cyclic seriality of serial novels the reader is presented with bits and pieces of the previous plots at the beginning of every new issue.”[17] This procedure is immensely important in serial novels and also TV-series, otherwise the reader would not be able to remember every bit from the previous episode's story.

The invention of the so-called cliff-hanger[18] has gone hand in hand with the serialization of narratives. The cliff-hanger is a technique that is used at the end of a story to attract a reader into continuing with the serial narration in another book, paper, magazine or another short story.[19] If a character's fate stays uncertain, or the story ends at its peak without a real closure, the reader immediately wants to know how the story continues and is therefore almost forced to wait for the release of the next part of the story. The technique of the cliff-hanger, however, is not as new at is may seem. It is extensively used in the frame story of 1001 nights, where an angry sultan marries a woman named Sheherazade and wants to kill her after their wedding night as he has done many times before with different brides. But Sheherazade escapes her fate and survives by telling him 1001 stories that always end with a cliff-hanger, so that the sultan can not kill her if he wants to hear how the story continues. This is a good example for cyclic serial narration which has been proved to have a “branched structure ” that has been passed on both “over the course of the centuries” and “topographically and culturally over the continents”.[20] This, again, shows the long history of seriality and its wide-spread origins all over the world.

Serial narratives are not only to be received through books, paintings or theatre plays. In the early 20th century more and more radio time slots have been used for serial radio dramas in which professional actors have voiced roles from classic plays or novels to audiences at home. Alongside the audible serial narratives the visible serial narratives has evolved into what is today known as cinema. “Early on, antecedents of seriality have emerged not only because of the function of providing serial elements to the genres, but in form of serials, remakes and film series.”[21] Early silent films are seen as stand-alone pictures and the cases in which sequels to existing films have been shot have been very rare. In the year 1920 the first cartoon series has been released in cinemas. Its name is Aesop's Fables and it has been created by Paul Terry. From this point on a change in the writing of films has taken place: The possibility of sequels, prequels or spin-offs[22]. There are “a few films that [are] planned as sequels initially, like 'James Bond' or 'Star Wars'”[23] but most of the time sequels are being produced only if “a film attracts a big audience ”[24] and earns a huge box- office gross. The bigger the film's budgets grow the bigger the gross is. This has opened a door to a new world of serial narration: TV-series. In the beginning TV-series have been mere copies of successful films. However, “the mutual impact that feature films and TV-series have on each other rises more and more, so that even concepts for TV-series turn into feature films, e.g. Superman, Star Trek, Dick Tracy or Batman”.[25] Nevertheless, the roots of serialized TV shows are not to be found within feature films, but in radio series. “The history of American TV-series can only be demonstrated through the course of radio series. In the early 1930's the radio programme has presented every latter TV-series in its basics.”[26] It is to say that serialized TV programmes are not only an American TV feature. A daily German news show, the Tagesschau, has been airing every day since 1956.[27] In the 1950's and 60's, the TV-series has “started a world-wide triumphal march ” and has become the “most effective TV entertainment ”[28].

After the second World War German television has started airing American and British TV-series, mostly crime fiction,[29] instead of producing their own programmes. The basic serial element of TV-series is described by Christiane Bayer as follows:

“If a TV-series is described as a multiple, in periodic sequence, as a chain of single episodes that are lined in cyclic seriality, then the spectrum of TV-series starts with a two-parter and ends with the infinite series, from cyclic, temporal and contentswise convertible episodes that have a closure in themselves, to linear series that are thematically (mostly through cliff-hangers) combined to the previous as well as thefollowing episodes.” [30]

TV-series provide the audience with their own rhythm of reception, thus creating a “closed cosmos within the TV programme ”[31] that can only be followed by the audience by regular watching and not missing a single episode. TV-series, however, are not only contentswise seen as serialized programmes, but also on different meta-levels. There are several crew members working on a TV-series, most notably writers, directors and actors who influence the look of the show and its serial reception with their own trademarks. Production values are very important features as well (e.g. the budget and the filming locations). Even the length of the episodes and the time slot the network puts them in are distinctive features of reception for a serial show. All these features work together on making it easier or more difficult for audiences to follow the serial development of such shows. Giesenberg puts it:

“[TV-series] regular return, its recognizability, -which means its identifiability within the course of the programmes, the dependence of the single episode on the coherence of all episodes is what has made TV- series the prototype of the whole presentation of programmes on TV. ”[32]

This is, nevertheless, only a short range of items which are serialized. Seriality is omnipresent within the machine processing nowadays or the products that are being produced with these machines. Even the building of houses is serialized within row houses. Not to mention our daily routine, which is serialized after the same pattern day after day (e.g. waking up, taking a shower, going to work, etc.). But all these aspects of seriality would go beyond the scope of my work. As interesting as these aspects are, they are of no importance to my further work and so I am going to leave them mentioned but not analysed.

In later chapters I am going to talk more about the serial elements of TV-series and analyse the two TV-series Lost and Supernatural according to these aspects. In the next chapter I am going to talk about an important serial feature of TV-shows: Characters.

3) Characters

Although there are several distinctive features that can be applied to the serial analysis of TV-series (e.g. plot or setting), I will take a deeper look into the characters of TV-series because characters, in particular antagonists and protagonists, are the most important features to my further analysis.

The success of a serious TV-series stands and falls with the credibility of its characters. To achieve this kind of credibility, a character has to be as “life­like” as possible with several “traits or qualities which may be conflicting or contradictory”[33]. The audience has to be able to identify themselves to an extent with these character traits. “[...] The novels and plays we respond to most strongly [...] have forceful characters [...]”[34] and are “nothing other than pawns in a ritualized game ”[35]. This is a very common point of criticism that usually Soap-Operas have to deal with.[36] Because of the low budget and the short amount of time to film scenes the characters are often considered “flat, stereotype, superficial and unworldly”[37], although their fictional worlds are considered not only to be “a temporally parallel, but a contentswise parallel replica [...] of [our] everyday world”[38]. Such stereotypical characters are “a stable and repetitive structure of character traits”[39] and are often not very well accepted by the audience. Well-written characters have, however, a very specific influence on the recipients: “Through the power of identification, through sympathy and antipathy, they can become part of how we conceive ourselves, a part of who we are [...] [and] it seems difficult, if not impossible, to enjoy a novel or play without, at some level, identifying with the characters in it.”[40] Gunter Giesenberg has his own theory about the audience's identification with the characters:

“[...] Characters are not to be seen as models or offerings of identification, but as ordinary as possible. This even applies to rather exotic [...] scenes, because the foreign setting just builds the background for well- known situations and behaviours.” [41]

This quote tells that an audience should not see characters as larger than life beings and adds the aspect of the setting to the credibility of characters. If a character is presented well enough then even the most obscure setting is well received by the audience and is not seen negatively. Setting is more important to the reception of the whole TV-series than to the character's, but as we the quote above shows, characters have the power to make a series believable.

To be received as realistic as possible characters have to have, aside from character traits, certain aims and goals they strive for. “These goals vary -with context (e.g., personal or social /political). Their pursuit by characters marks the basic trajectory of [...] narratives. ”[42] In addition to that, “we primarily experience the character's motivation as comprehensible through our imagination of his or her experiences and feelings”[43] ’. This, again, refers to the character's credibility in TV-series. On the one hand, credible characters seem not only to have a variety of emotional output that makes them more believable, but on the other hand a certain amount of mysteries that make a character more interesting. These mysteries often circle around a character's past that has not been fully told or actions the character has done off-screen. In addition to that, it is not only important to mention the mysteries of a character's past, but also the character's development over the course of the series. So-called flat characters have little or no development at all, while the more interesting ones show a steady development from season to season. The development happens if the character “has any sense of self-actualization [...] of a pre-defined rule”[44] of his or her traits, thus adding another level of credibility to the whole series. This development is, again, a point of identification with the fictional characters that let them seem more real and life-like. Another very important aspect of a character in a TV-series is, of course, the actor who portrays the character. Actors are “the agents of narrative actions, carried out in pretense ”[45] that fill written characters with life. There is, nonetheless, a problematic situation for receptionist, when famous actors are being typecast in certain roles: “[...] If an actor plays types which are distinctly different [...] we ought to distinguish between distinct characters regardless of the actor. ”[46] This is not always as easy as it seems and may take away a lot of the character's, and therefore the series', credibility. This quote hints another problem that comes with actors: Actor changes. If an actor leaves a show or dies, there are two possible ways of coping with the loss of the actor. The first possibility is to write the character out of the series (e.g. the moving to a far away country, or the character's death). The other, quite problematic, possibility is to cast another actor to portray the same role, which seldom happens in TV-Series.[47]

However, a character is only as believable and as well-written as its “counterfigure ”[48], another character that acts as the antagonist and discomfits the protagonist whenever it is possible. This leads directly to the subitem of this chapter: Protagonists and antagonists.

3.1) Protagonists and antagonists

A first definition of what protagonists and antagonists (or heroes and anti­heroes) are can be found within Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory:

“[...] The most obvious definition of the 'hero' or 'heroine' of a novel or play would be the person with whom we 'identify', with whom we sympathize or empathize, or whose position or role we imaginatively inhabit. The anti-hero, by contrast, is the character with whom we might identify, but only in wilful resistance to prevailing codes of morality and behaviour. ”[49]

The relationship between protagonists and antagonists “renders their characteristics even more apparent than type formation does anyway ”[50], thus making their interaction even more important. Yet, to fully understand the relationship between protagonists and antagonists I first have to clarify the terms. A character that is seen as a protagonist fulfils certain qualities that the audience can easily relate to and plays the most important role in the narrative, thus making him the hero of the story. “The hero assumes the function of a protagonist who focuses the narrative upon himself and his actions and places them in perspective through his world of experience [...]. ”[51] In contrast to that, the antagonist is the one who crosses the protagonist's path more than once and who follows his goals and tries to achieve these without thinking about the consequences for the antagonist. The antagonists do not necessarily have to be evil masterminds who want to bring the protagonist down no matter what, they can even be protagonists of a story that develop an urge to achieve their goals and therefore trying everything to get to their goals. This is especially important for the later chapters that deal with protagonists and antagonists in Lost.

As I mentioned, a story does not necessarily have to have only one protagonist. There are a variety of examples, including Lost and Supernatural, in which multiple protagonists exist. However, if there are multiple heroes, as in Lost, then a “hierarchic system”[52] has to be mentioned - the character ensemble: “This delineates a heterogeneous group which develops individual roles and values in a shared polyphonic and installs a flattened narrative style.”[55] This shows that in multiple protagonist constellations a group dynamic exists that not only affects the narrative style of the series but the character constellations as well. These group dynamic actively effects the different plots of the series to a point where a single plot line is not enough to fulfil the demands of multiple protagonists, thus requiring a so-called multiplot.[54] The multiplot is a number of different plot lines that run parallel to each other over the course of the series and do not necessarily have to end with the same result. This is explained due to the fact that the more protagonists a TV-series has, the more they are placed in the spotlight and the more of their personal background stories have to be told. As a matter of fact, this leads to more and more story lines that can be tied into each other but do not need to. These multiple protagonist series are especially attractive to spectators because they “can project themselves into an imaginary circle of friends and acquaintances”[55].

The statement shows that watching TV-series has become more and more of a social event that not only gathers people in front of the screen, but on it as well. The more protagonists a TV-series has, the more choices spectators have in choosing who their favourite character is and analysing the different character traits provided by the authors and actors.

This observation can easily be adopted to antagonists in the same way. Multiple antagonists can be observed and analysed by the audience to determine whether or not the particular antagonist is a real threat to his protagonist. That is, in fact, one of the main aspects of the relationship between protagonists and antagonists. There are two different types of antagonists. First, the antagonist who crosses paths with the protagonist in every possible way. Second, the antagonist who crosses paths with the protagonist on a single theme. An example for the theme-based, as I call it, antagonist, which will be more necessary for my further analysis of Lost, is the relationship between Jack Shephard and John Locke in Lost. Jack who is a man of science does not believe in Supernatural happenings and sees the world around him as levelheaded as possible, while John Locke, as a man of faith, believes that the island is a miraculous place. This is, however, only a short example to which I will come back later on. While Jack and John are not necessarily protagonist and antagonist the whole time, they become hero and anti-hero when it comes to the theme of science and faith. This is a very interesting aspect of character development. Early literary based protagonists and antagonists, e.g. Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, do not cross paths on a mere theme, but on everything the other one illustrates, thus making them hero and villain. The pattern of heroes and villains, however, is not comparable to what protagonists and antagonists are described during my thesis. As everything, this pattern has evolved into what I call theme-based antagonists and it opened a door to a variety of possibilities of character development. Thus, almost blurring the borders of protagonist characters and antagonist characters up to a point where close observation on characters is necessary to realize the pattern.

This chapter shows that there are several different possibilities of writing a character in literature or TV-series, as well as several different possibilities the audience can respond to the written characters. In addition to that, the pattern of protagonists and antagonists seem to be not as established as one might think. In the next chapter I am going to talk about the different forms of TV- series that exist: Series, serial and cumulative narrative.

4) Series, serial and cumulative narrative

When talking about TV-series and their structure, one has to distinguish between three different types of series: Series, serial and cumulative narrative.

“Ifthe stories that are told within an episode are alsofinished within this same episode it's called a series. ”[56] These series do not have any linear narrative or coherent plot over the course of the seasons. This means that the “happenings of one episode don't have any consequences for the following ones”[57], thus creating a form of short story cycle that always deals with the same characters. Series are a very early form of conceptualizing a TV-series, because they do not use any cliff-hangers whatsoever, but tell a different story with the same characters from episode to episode. This model has been used in early crime shows such as 'The streets of San Francisco' (ABC, 1912-1911), as well as in a number of family shows like 'Flipper' (NBC, 1964-1961).[58] This format is also called the “Bonanza-model”[59] in which multiple plots within the episodes do not necessarily have to deal with the same themes or returning guest characters, but always deal with one or every main character of a TV-series.

The serial is a slightly different model than the series. The serial has little to no episodic plots but tells one big storyline over its course. “If the plots of the episodes are connected to each other and they altogether tell a story that leads to future events it is called 'serial'. ”[60] This is, of course, the opposite model to the series, because it does not allow the spectator to miss a single episode in order to understand the plot of the whole TV-series. This model is essential for the success of Soap-Operas such as 'The bold and the beautiful' (CBS, 1981- present) or dramas such as 'Gilmore Girls' (The CW, 2000-2001).[61] The episode's story withdraws into the background and the overall story lines get more and more important. However, it is not impossible for spectators to return to a serial after having missed a few episodes. Of great importance to serials is the introduction to every episode in which a faceless narrator says: “Previously on [TV-series' name]” as well as the most important scenes of previous episodes are “shown in a nutshell”[62]. Soap-Operas make it even easier to return to, because every bigger story line ends after a few episodes and is followed by another one that audiences can easily understand.

The model of the cumulative narrative is the last model that can be used to create narratives on TV-series. It is basically a combination of the series and the serial. “Small plot lines or cliff-hangers are being tied into an episodic narrative in order to connect single episodes with one another. ”[63] These small plot lines are, however, not as important as one might think, thus providing the audience with the possibility of watching the episodes in a not established order. The episodic story lines are not tied into each other, as it is with serials, but an overall story line exists to make the TV-series more compelling. Summarized, the cumulative narrative uses the episodic story lines of the series and the overall story arc of the serial in order to create a combination of both models.

The following two paragraphs deal with the three models of TV-series in comparison to Lost and Supernatural. I am going to compare the aspects I just pointed out to what both TV-series provide the audience with in terms of the narrative structure.

4.1) Lost

Lost is a TV-series created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof. It aired from September 22nd, 2004 to May 23rd, 2010 on the US network ABC. Lost consists of 121 episodes spread over six seasons. During season one, J.J. Abrams moved on to direct different projects and Jeffrey Lieber cancelled his status as a showrunner but stayed as a producer on the show. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse became the new showrunners and had that job description until the end of Lost. The filming locations are all to be found in Hawaii.

Lost's narrative structure shows the most accordances to the model of the cumulative narrative, however, not fitting the whole pattern. Throughout all the seasons Lost has had two different narrative time lines. One of these story lines always takes part in the present on the island and tells what the survivors of the plane crash do. The second narrative time line changes over the course of the seasons, starting out as flashbacks of a character's past in seasons one, two and three, changing into flash forwards of what the characters are going to do in seasons four and five and ending with the character's happenings in the afterlife or purgatory in season six. The stories of the single episodes are very character driven and focus almost completely on these characters. However, every episode ends with a cliff-hanger that connects the episode to the next. This is definitely a feature of the cumulative narrative. In addition to that, there are several long story lines that run over the course of the seasons which connect the plots of the single episodes to each other. These story lines usually end with a really huge cliff-hanger in the season finale and leaves the audience uncertain over the characters' fates. They are:

— Season 1: Surviving on the island; Opening of the hatch.
— Season 2: Attacks of'The others'; Explosion of the hatch.
— Season 3: The life of'The others'; Chance of getting rescued.
— Season 4: The hunt for Benjamin Linus; 'Oceanic 6' being rescued.
— Season 5: The life of the 'Dharma initiative'; Return to the island.
— Season 6: The search for Jacob's successor; Fight against man in black.

These are the main story lines that run over the course of the TV-series that connect every episodes to one another. However, these story lines are mostly based on the first narrative time line, which takes place on the island. The second narrative time line is used to provide the audience with a certain character's feelings, motivations and past lives. An episode that focuses on the background story of a character uses this character as a focalizer of the happenings around him and deals, in the second story line, more with the character's history. The following chart shows the several focalizers on Lost:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

What differs Lost from the model of cumulative narrative is the fact that in cumulative narrative the story lines that run over the course of a season are mostly of lesser importance to the TV-Series. The major story lines in Lost, however, actively influence the stories of the following seasons, which is a pattern that belongs to the serial. After these observations, it is safe to assume that Lost does not fit any narrative model completely. It has, however, patterns of the serial and the cumulative narrative, thus making it a mixture of both models.

4.2) Supernatural

Supernatural is a TV-series created by Eric Kripke. It first aired on September 13th, 2005 on US television network The WB and last aired with the finale of season six on May 20th, 2011 on The CW[65]. The four seasons that I can analyse consist of 82 episodes. Creator Eric Kripke functions as showrunner for these seasons as well. The TV-series is entirely produced in Vancouver, British Columbia. Supernatural shows striking narrative similarities to Lost. In fact, the narrative structures of both TV-series can be compared very well. While Lost handles at least fourteen main characters in every season, Supernatural has only got two main characters. It is the story of the brothers Dean and Sam Winchester who live in a world where ghosts, monsters, demons and angels exist and they hunt the evil ones down. The story lines in the episodes are in most cases closed within the same episode[66] but end with cliff-hangers that advance the overall story line of the seasons, thus providing Supernatural with typical elements of the cumulative narrative. These overall story lines are:

- Season 1: The search for their father.
- Season 2: Sam's psychic powers.
- Season 3: Saving Dean from going to hell.
- Season 4: Lilith's breaking of the 66 seals of the apocalypse.

The overall story arc is, however, not a distinctive feature of the cumulative narrative in Supernatural, because the story arc is just too important for the course of the whole TV-series and actively affects the following seasons. Just like Lost, the seasons of Supernatural always end with a very dramatic cliff- hanger that sets the course for the next season. Another important narrative feature is the fact that almost every episode deals with a different supernatural being that must be hunted. The following chart gives an overview about that:

illustration not visible in this excerpt[67]

This chart is especially important not only for the narrative analysis of Supernatural, because the episodic hunt of evil creatures can almost be seen as a stylistic device, but for the analysis of the antagonists, which I will provide later on, as well. According to that, Supernatural has the features of a serial and a cumulative narrative and can not be classified that easily. It is again a


[1] Reinecke, Markus. p.4

[2] Yildiz,Canan.p.13

[3] OEDp.1612

[4] Giesenfeld, Gunter. p.11

[5] Bayer, Christiane. p.6

[6] Ibid. p.5

[7] Giesenfeld, Gunter. p.11

[8] Ibid.p.1

[9] Mielke, Christine. p.669

[10] Bayer, Christiane. p.7

[11] Ibid. p.7 in: Giesenfeld, Gunter. p.14

[12] Ibid. p.8

[13] 13 Bayer, Christiane. p.8

[14] 14 Ibid. p.8 in: Giesenfeld, Gunter. p.15

[15] Bayer, Christiane. p.12

[16] Giesenberg, Gunter. p.3

[17] Bayer, Christiane. p.12

[18] Ibid. p.12

[19] Giesenberg, Gunter. p.7

[20] Mielke, Christine. p.661

[21] Bayer, Christiane. p.13

[22] Mielke, Christine. p.588

[23] Bayer, Christiane. p.15

[24] Ibid. p.15

[25] Ibid. p.15 in: Boll, 1994, p.40

[26] Bayer, Christiane. p.18 in: Boll, 1994, p.41

[27] Ibid. p.20

[28] Ibid. p.20 in: Boll, 1994, p.42

[29] Ibid. p.20

[30] Ibid. p.20-21

[31] Ibid. p.21 in: Hickethier, 1991, p.10

[32] Giesenberg, Gunter. p.2

[33] Bennett, Andrew & Royle, Nicholas. p.62

[34] Ibid. p.60

[35] Schweinitz, Jorg. p.285

[36] Reinecke, Markus. p.13-14

[37] Ibid. p.14

[38] Giesenberg, Gunter. p.5

[39] Schweinitz, Jorg. p.218 in: Neale: Stereotypes. p.41

[40] Bennett, Andrew & Royle, Nicholas. p.60 & p.61

[41] Giesenberg, Gunter. p.4

[42] Hogan, Patrick Colm. p.147

[43] Ibid. p.147

[44] Schweinitz, Jorg. p.279

[45] Riis, Johannes. p.269

[46] Ibid. p.269

[47] Recasting of actors is a common process in Soap-Operas. However, it has recently happened in the drama series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” as well, in which the leading actor, Andy Whitfield, has been diagnosed with cancer and has not been able to continue his role as Spartacus.

[48] Schweinitz, Jorg. p.279

[49] Bennett, Andrew & Royle, Nicholas. p.67

[50] Schweinitz, Jorg. p.280

[51] Trohler, Margrit.p.460

[52] Ibid. p.462

[53] Ibid. p.462

[54] Ibid. p.459

[55] Ibid. p.472

[56] Reinecke, Markus. p.1

[57] Yildiz, Canan. p.1

[58] Reinecke, Markus. p.8

[59] Ibid. p.7 in: Liebnitz, 1992. p.165 (after the US TV-series Bonanza (NBC, 1959-1913))

[60] Ibid. p.8

[61] Ibid. p.9

[62] Yildiz, Canan. p.8

[63] Reinecke, Markus. p.9

[64] This chart counts more than 121 episodes, because there are a few episodes in which more than one character acts as a focalizer. If one or both of these characters have a latter episode in which they act as focalizers alone, the episodes are counted twice, thus making a total of 124 episodes.

[65] Several episodes deal with more than one supernatural being, thus counting a total of 98 episodes instead of 84.

[66] Supernatural has moved to The CW after two networks, The WB and UPN, merged together to form The CW.

[67] Exception: “All hell breaks loose - Parts 1 & 2” (2x21 & 2x22), which acts as a two-parter.

Excerpt out of 102 pages


Supernaturally Lost - TV-series as a modern form of narrative
The serial development of protagonists and antagonists in 'Lost' and 'Supernatural'
Technical University of Darmstadt  (Institut für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Lost, Supernatural, Antagonists, Protagonists, serial development, seriality, TV series, serial, series, cumulative narrative, character, setting, music, Abrams J.J., Lindelof Damon, Cuse Carlton, Kripke Eric, Gamble Sera
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Rouven Dirb (Author), 2011, Supernaturally Lost - TV-series as a modern form of narrative, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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