Filed under: FlashForward.
I don’t think it was ever explained on air, but the Oxide Super stadium, where Suspect Zero is first spotted in the FlashForward TV series, is named that because it’s an anagram of Oedipus Rex, and alludes to this scene from my novel FlashForward, in which Theo (the character who became Simon on the show) reflects on Sophocles’s great tragedy:
Theo hadn’t been home for four years now, and he regretted it. Christ, he might be dead in twenty-one years — and he’d let a span of one-fifth that length slip by without hugging his mother or tasting her cooking, without seeing his brother, without enjoying the incredible beauty of his homeland. Yes, the Alps were breathtaking, but there was a sterile, barren quality about them. In Athens, you could always look up, always see the Acropolis looming above the city, the midday sun flaring off the restored, polished marble of the Parthenon. Thousands of years of human habitation; millennia of thought, of culture, of art.
Of course, as a youth, he had visited many of the famous archeological sites. He remembered being seventeen: a school bus had taken his class to Delphi, home of the ancient oracle. It had been pouring rain, and he hadn’t wanted to get off the bus. But his teacher, Mrs. Megas, had insisted. They had clambered over slippery dark rocks through lush forest, until they came to where the oracle had once supposedly sat, dispensing cryptic visions of the future.
That kind of oracle had been better, thought Theo: futures that were subject to interpretation and debate, instead of the cold, harsh realities the world had recently seen.
They’d also gone to Epidaurus, a great bowl out of the landscape, with concentric rings of seats. They’d seen Oedipus Tyrannos performed there — Theo refused to join the tourists in calling it Oedipus Rex; “Rex” was a Latin word, not Greek, and represented an irritating bastardization of the play’s title.
The play was performed in ancient Greek; it might as well have been in Chinese for all the sense Theo could make of the dialog. But they’d studied the story in class; he knew what was happening. Oedipus’s future had been spelled out for him, too: you will marry your mother and murder your father. And Oedipus, like Theo, had thought he could circumvent destiny. Forearmed with the knowledge of what he was supposed to do, why, he’d simply avoid the issue altogether, and live a long, happy life with his queen, Iocasta.
Except that, as it turned out, Iocasta was his mother, and the man Oedipus had slain years before during a quarrel on the road to Thebes had indeed been his father.
Sophocles had written his version of the Oedipus story twenty-four hundred years ago, but students still studied it as the greatest example of dramatic irony in western literature. And what could be more ironic than a modern Greek man faced with the dilemmas of the ancients — a future prophesied, a tragic end foretold, a fate inevitable? Of course, the heroes of ancient Greek tragedies each had a hamartia — a fatal flaw — that made their downfall unavoidable. For some, the hamartia was obvious: greed, or lust, or an inability to follow the law.
But what had been Oedipus’s fatal flaw? What in his character had brought him to ruin?
They’d discussed it at length in class; the narrative form employed by the ancient Greek tragedians was inviolate — there was always a hamartia.
And Oedipus’s was — what?
Not greed, not stupidity, not cowardice.
No, no, if it were anything, it was his arrogance, his belief that he could defeat the will of the gods.
But, Theo had protested, that’s a circular argument; Theo was always the logician, never much for the humanities. Oedipus’s arrogance, he said, was only evidenced in his trying to avoid his fate; had his fate been less severe, he’d never have rebelled against it, and therefore never would have been seen as arrogant.
No, his teacher, had said, it was there, in a thousand little things he does in the play. Indeed, she quipped, although Oedipus meant “Swollen Foot” — an allusion to the injury sustained when his royal father had bound his feet as a child and left him to die — he could just as easily be called “Swollen Head.”
But Theo couldn’t see it — couldn’t see the arrogance, couldn’t see the condescension. To him, Oedipus, who solved the vexing riddle of the Sphinx, was a towering intellect, a great thinker — exactly what Theo felt himself to be.
The riddle of the Sphinx: what walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? Why, a man, of course, who crawls at the beginning of life, walks erect in adulthood, and requires a cane in old age. What an incisive bit of reasoning on Oedipus’s part!
But now Theo would never live to need that third leg, would never see the natural sunset of his span. Instead, he’d be murdered in middle-age … just as Oedipus’s real father, King Laius, was left dead at the side of a well-worn road.
Unless, of course, he could change the future; unless he could outwit the gods and avoid his destiny.
Arrogance? thought Theo. Arrogance? It is to laugh.
The plane started its descent into nighttime Athens.