"Hidden Agendas, Endless Investigations, and the Dynamics of Complexity:
In this paper, I explore a particular kind of narrative construction pervasive in contemporary American television series. Popular shows such as Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 24, Alias, or Fringe all similarly construct long-running narratives around their protagonists’ attempts to solve central underlying mysteries. By doing so, these series amass ever more complex backstories and perpetually complicate their individual webs of intersecting subplots and long-term story arcs. Drawing on narratology, concepts developed in television studies, and Mark Fenster’s work on Conspiracy Theories, I argue that the series’ success is indebted to a particular way of telling their stories—which I call the ‘conspiratorial mode’—that makes them ideally suited to operate within the competitive environment of post-network television. This article sketches the narrative structure of these conspiratorial shows, situates them in the context of contemporary television, and considers their curious dynamics of narrative progression and deferral. Finally, its goals are to suggest reasons for the recent resurgence of conspiracy narratives in television beyond and apart from a paranoia that is supposedly widespread in contemporary American culture.