Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lost: 2x03-2x14

I’ve now caught up to where I stopped watching Lost the first time, and am zipping along, heading off into the uncharted territory of late season two. At this point, I’m really liking a lot of elements of the show, but some frustrating stuff is cropping up as well. But, in light of what I’ve heard about later seasons of the show, I’ve got faith that it will all work out for the best in the end.

Let me start by jumping back to what is easily the high point of the series so far, the Dharma Initiation video in “Orientation.” Those three minutes are just pure joy for me, hitting so many of the themes and motifs I love in fiction, in a really alien way. Watching it feels like a message from a time capsule, and the glimpses of Hanson and the DeGroots are really intriguing. I want to know more about the Dharma Initiative, what kind of experiments did they do, where did all their utopian dreams go wrong?

I think it’s both a testament to the quality and density of those three minutes, and something of a knock on the rest of the show, that I’m left with more to ponder and want to know from that piece than from everything else that’s going on. I don’t deeply care what happens to any of the characters on the show, but I want to know about the Dharma group and their world and reality. The added bit that Eko brings doesn’t really tell us anything new, I’m looking forward to the discovery of the other stations and the other videos.

And, annoyingly, there’s been very little development of things out of that film in the roughly ten episodes that have followed. That’s okay when there’s interesting stuff going on, but frustration sets in when the stories don’t work. I suppose that’s true with any TV show, but because of the structure of this one, the frustration can become particularly pronounced. Narrative progress in the present tense can be very slow because we’re always looking back to the flashbacks.

That works great in an episode like “The Long Con,” where Sawyer’s flashback is emotionally engaging, a great little short story in its own right, and when juxtaposed with the island story, makes both more interesting. But, an episode like “One of Them” is really problematic because we’ve got an interesting story in the present, and a flashback that’s both totally redundant thematically to what’s happening in the present now, redundant to what we already saw in the first season present, and redundant to both earlier Sayid flashbacks. We get it, he tortures people and feels bad about it, but sometimes has to do it. The point is made, move on.

Was anyone really watching that episode really caring about the Sayid flashback? I don’t think so, and thus watching the show becomes something of a masochistic experience, where you ‘suffer’ through boring stuff in the flashbacks, and the drawn out pace of stuff on the island, to get to those moments of greatness like the orientation video. I think the major thing that makes me like the series more now, and be more forgiving of its flaws than when I watched it the first time is the knowledge that it will go to some more interesting places, and that a lot of this teasing will pay off in interesting ways. I’ve heard vague things, and they all really intrigue me, and make it easy to sit through the tedious stuff.

I think in a longterm series, you sometimes need that knowledge that things will get better. The Babylon 5 pilot is downright bad, but knowing that the show would get better made it easier to stick with it. Buffy was the same way, I don’t think I’d have made it through season one watching it live, but hearing how much people liked it, I stuck with it, and grew to love it. Watching Lost in season two, there was no clue where it would go, or if things would develop in interesting ways, and that magnified all the flaws.

I still think that the stuff with Sayid and Sharon’s death is a classic Joss Whedon, but done badly. When Sayid breaks into tears with Henry Gale, the moment doesn’t work because I don’t emotionally buy into their relationship. It seemed more like they were pretty casual, getting together simply because they’re on a desert island together. I think he’d be really troubled by it, but I don’t think it was ever true love, so much of his arc post her death doesn’t make sense.

The creators acknowledged, via Ana Lucia, that the desert island scenario is pretty sexy, and people should be “hittin’ that” all over the place, but things still seem pretty chaste on the island. There’s a morning after Sun and Jin thing, but how has a guy like Sawyer not been with one woman during the 50 days he’s been on the island. Now, maybe him and Kate did get together at some point during their flirty haircut phase, but it’s not made explicit, or really implied. I’m not saying the show needs to either just feature a lot of random sex, or a lot of soapy relationship, but realistically, people would get together in that situation, and I think you’d see more couples like Charlie and Claire were during the early days of the season. But, again, that seemed really chaste. It’s a potentially interesting area of human interaction, and I’d certainly rather see people developing relationships in the present than more flashbacks.

But, a lot of enjoying the show requires forgetting about what you want the show to be, or what normal human behavior actually entails. This isn’t a show about a realistic experience of what it would be to be stranded on an island. I’d love to see that show, but this isn’t it. This show is essentially a horror/adventure show about a group of people who have been brought together to battle an outside malevolent force known as the Others. It’s a lot like The Stand in that sense, and accepting that interpretation of the series makes it easier to just go with the flow and enjoy things for what they are.

I will say that early season two, the endlessly replayed hatch scene aside, moved pretty snappily. Having two fronts of action made it easier for the narrative to progress, and gave things more drive. Now that the two camps are united, there’s not the same sense of forward momentum, and a lot of characters feel superfluous. What is Eko doing that Locke doesn’t? What is Ana Lucia doing that Jack doesn’t? They haven’t been used in really interesting ways.

Things reached their nadir during the Charlie baby kidnapping episode, which just totally didn’t work, and featured the worst sort of TV dream sequence, the one with a really obvious meaning that feels falsely surreal and nothing like a real dream. I love dream sequences when done right, as in The Sopranos or Buffy, dream sequences that probe a character’s subconscious and build a world within their head. But, the dream sequence here is just giving motivation to smooth over illogical plot points.

It turns out I hadn’t stopped watching at 2x09, it was Charlie’s baby kidnapping fiasco that did it. Watching the first half of the season, I was like, “why’d I stop? This is good stuff.” Watching Charlie in a diaper, I understood why I stopped..

All of this is a way of saying that the show is as frustrating as ever at times, but I believe in it, and am enjoying it. I think the Sawyer double cross episode was fantastic, and did a great job of giving some edge back to a character who’d gotten soft. Was the ranch dressing frog subplot in the next episode necessary? Not really, but I’d prefer that to a flashback because it actually forwards our understanding of the character. The key issue about the flashbacks with me is it doesn’t let the character grow, it locks him into a psych 101 kind of idea that you’re doomed to repeat the past ad infinitum.

The Henry Gale thing looks good as well, and raises a lot of potentially interesting questions. But, I’m still left wondering when will we finally get another piece of film to peruse? Will there be an episode that’s all Dharma Initiative films? Can Marvin Candle narrate every episode, like Rod Serling? Only time will tell.


Havremunken said...

Trying desperately to avoid spoilers here, but I just wanted to mention that you will see more of the Dharma Initiative and their projects. The history of the island is a pretty major part of the story.

And I find that is all I can say for now. :)

Shlomo said...

great series of posts. Its interesting for me to hear your perspective as someone who also dropped LOST in the middle of season 2. however I happened to catch the season finale, and was pleased enough to jump back in and make it appointment-tv for the next three seasons. That being said, there are a lot of frustrating things about the show, mostly the ones youve mentioned. I've come to terms with that, I always talk up its innovations, but Im at the point where I dont try to argue with people who tried it and quickly jumped ship. But I appreciate your writing, and the sensibility you bring (though I dont always share your opinions--invisibles: dunno... what i read didnt do it for me).

Patrick said...

I can definitely see the point about not trying argue that the show isn't for everyone. There's some shows, like The Sopranos or Mad Men, where there's no waiting for it to get good, it's born into the world as is, and there's very little fat on the narrative. But, this show, or Babylon 5 are definitely ones where you have to work to get to the good stuff. I think the show delivers enough that it's easy to keep watching, but even if the next few seasons are all great, I'd hesitate to call it one of the all time greats, simply because these early days are so flawed.

But I'm definitely intrigued to see where it all goes. I've got about six left in season two, and will probably write up more after that.

Patrick C said...

I'm definitely interested in hearing your thoughts. I've only ever watched Lost as it aired, and am planning on re-watching it all on DVD before the final season airs.

In my opinion, the end of season two is kind of downhill for the show, reaching bottom of the barrel with the first six episodes of season three. It was at that time that I had planned on dropping the show, but there was such a long break in the middle of season three that I came back. Starting with Episode 7 of season three I really think it finally righted the ship and decided upon the story it wanted to tell.

A lot of the problems in season two, where the overall narrative did not seem to get advanced, with more and more questions being asked and few (if any) answers given, seemed to stem from the fact that the writers/producers had no idea how long there show would be on the air. Season one was such a surprise hit, they'll want to keep it going, and blowing their wad to soon could cripple them in later seasons. Once they decided on an "end point" to the show, they were able to really streamline the story and really get into the mythology of the island/survivors.

Patrick said...

I'm curious, have the producers ever talked about why they chose to stick with the flashbacks for so long when they seemed to have exhausted their narrative purpose by the end of season one, if not earlier? Was it a thing ABC forced on them, an attempt to string the show out, as they'd not set an end point, or the artistic direction they felt was best for the show?

Shlomo said...

during season two the flashbakcs were still probably linked to drawing out the story, since they didnt have the fixed end-point yet.

on another topic entirely: I found michael chabon's x-men 1 movie treatment. if youre interested I can dig up the URL. I'm totally obsessed with the idea of creating the archetypal x-men movie, and i think chabon definitely takes things in a better direction then the actual movie. Though his treatment seems to lack both the claremont character moments, and the morrison idea-over-loaded-ness.

Patrick said...

That makes sense, but I still feel like it would be better to give the supporting cast more to do, rather than burden people with flashbacks. One of the major issues I have with the show is it doesn't exploit its premise particularly well. Hurley throwing food around because he doesn't want to eat it in 'Dave' is a particularly notable example of completely ignoring the fact that they're on a desert island! It's one thing to just accept that everyone manages to find food to eat, it's another to actively destroy stuff rather than give it away.

Definitely send over the link for the Chabon draft. I don't love any of the X-Men movie projects, but I think trying to distill the concept of the series, under either Claremont or Morrison, into one film is folly. The book is essentially a soap opera, and you need long running stories, that let all the characters get developed, not the narrow focus of a film. I feel like "God Loves, Man Kills" functions as Claremont's pitch for an X-Men movie, and even that pales next to the heights of his serialized stories.

I'd love to see someone pitch an X-Men live action TV show. Heroes did that kind of thing to some extent, but there's so much material, and the brand has a lot of recognition, I could see it being a big hit. Though, you could argue that to a large extent, Buffy is that show. The late seasons in particular felt very much like Claremont X-Men, but slightly more grounded.