Wednesday, February 24, 2010

1000th Post Spectacular!

With this post, the blog hits its 1,000th post! It's taken six years to get here, and over the course of that time, I've gone from a college student to a business owner, an amateur writer to a published author, a fan of comics to a professional documentarian who's met many of the people I wrote about over the years. It's been a great run, and I wish that I had more time recently to write up more stuff. I'm trying to keep to at least one post a week as we move forward.

To commemorate the 1000 mark, I'm going to list some of my favorite posts from the past 500 posts. To check out the highlights of 1-500, go here. Here's the best of 600-1000.

The Invisibles: And So We Return and Begin Again - The first post in a sixty post series that would eventually become Our Sentence is Up, my book length analysis of The Invisibles. This series is what led to me getting the chance to direct Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods. The book will be available in stores this week or next, I'd highly recommend giving it a look.

Babylon 5: Sleeping in Light - The last post in my series length review of Babylon 5. It's a show that didn't always work, but had some great moments, and was a joy to write about. This is another series that I could see turning into a book at some point down the line.

The Sopranos: 'Made in America - Another long term blog project reached its conclusion with this lengthy review of the last episode of The Sopranos. I remember writing this out immediately after watching this show and trying to process the ambiguous conclusion, knowing that I'd seen something very special. And, FYI, Tony's not dead.

John From Cincinnati: 'His Visit: Day Nine' - It's another series finale, this one of the most intriguing and spellbinding shows to air on TV this decade. I loved the series and it was incredibly rewarding to write about. If you haven't seen it yet, grab the DVD and read my coverage from the era as you watch.

The Ever Expanding Spider-Man Narrative - Here's a post that's become even more relevant since it was written. I discussed the increasing prominence of the geeky guy becomes a hero and gets a beautiful girl narrative in fiction in the 00s, and why that's bad for both movies, and society. The misogynistic undertones of stories like Transformers, Zombieland or Superbad are troubling and I'd love to see stronger female characters who exist as more than prizes for geeky males.

Why Comics Matter - In a world where they're already rebooting Spider-Man and American Pie, and Battleship is next summer's big tent pole film, we need to be thankful that people like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore are still generating new, exciting ideas in comics and providing the fuel for future stories. That's why comics matter.

Film in 2007: A Medium in Flux - This was a key post that addressed my increasing love of long form TV over the critically acclaimed movies of the late 00s. Looking back, it's clear that a show like The Wire has made a bigger and more lasting cultural impact than No Country for Old Men, and that film will have to continue to evolve to offer something TV cannot.

Doctor Who: 'Parting of the Ways' - I've posted a lot about Doctor Who over the past few years, but this post marked the first time the show totally clicked for me, and sets the template for much of the writing I did down the line, namely an explication of the emotional potency of the show, and the way that it transforms the desires we all have for adventure and excitement into powerful, accessible cosmic narratives.

The End of Evangelion: In Depth - Perhaps the longest post in blog history, this is an extremely in depth analysis/celebration of Hideaki Anno's dazzling film The End of Evangelion. It frustrates me that so much of the writing on the series comes solely from a fan point of view, when it seems to demand a more academic approach. Either way, this is my stab at it, and it's one of my favorite posts.

New X-Men: Here Comes Tomorrow - The finale of my blog series on New X-Men, this is an in depth look at the misunderstood final arc of that run. There's so much to ponder here, and I tried to cover my view of it.

Lost: 2x15-2x22 - Here, I wrote about what's still my favorite episode of Lost, the season two finale "Live Together, Die Alone." Never again did the show reach the near religious transcendence of that episode, that skillfully weaved Desmond's story in with the destruction of the hatch and a series of major revelations about the others. A fantastic episode, and a lot of fun to write about.

Those are my favorites of recent years. Hopefully there'll be a new batch of great ones in another 500 posts. Thanks everyone for reading and stay tuned for more!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lost - 'The Lighthouse' (6x05)

Another extremely flawed episode has me increasingly worried about the direction of the final season, and still unconvinced about the effectiveness of the alt-verse flash sideways structure. This episode is just like a season one episode, a pointless off island story, a lot of leisurely scenes not doing much, one great scene and a solid cliffhanger. Sadly, that's not enough to make a great show, and particularly disappointing after how good the show was last year.

Let me start off with the alt-verse story, which once again doesn't work for me. Based on the three off island stories, which notably echo season one in their character focus, the alt-verse seems to be running a scenario in which all the characters get a happy ending, overcome the issues that plagued them in their original flashbacks and find happiness. In fact, you could connect these season six stories to the first three years' flashbacks and make a nice little story about people who have a lot of troubles and then resolve those issues and find some happiness.

The problem is the existence of the flashbacks in the first place was the series' greatest flaw, and revisiting that structure, and those issues, is an equally disastrous decision. The problem with the flashbacks previously was that they did not work as character development, they were pop psychology attempts to explain behavior that either commented on the on island action in a clumsy, overly obvious way or felt totally disconnected from the on island action and just took up ten minutes of screentime that could be better spent.

The alt-verse stories have a similar problem, and, considering we don't know how, if ever, they will link to the on island prime continuity, it's very difficult to emotionally invest in them. Why should we care about this version of Jack, who has a son we've never met before? Is it just because he shares qualities with the Jack that we already know? Or is it because this story is so compelling that we get emotionally engaged? I didn't, this sort of short story structure doesn't really interest me, particularly because it lacks the subtlety and nuance of real character development.

I don't think that every element of the show has to be tied into the series' mythology, or that giving out 'answers' is the only purpose of the show. I can appreciate taking the time to do a simple piece of character storytelling. One of my favorite episodes of last season was “Some Like it Hoth,” and the development of Miles and Pierre's relationship. The thing that made that work while Jack's story here didn't is that it was still integrated into the show. It wasn't a ten minute short story randomly intercut with a totally different story. It is possible to do character development and move a plot forward at the same time, and the very existence of the flashbacks or these flashsideways seems to indicate that the writers consider it impossible.

And, just like in the first three years, character development on the island has totally stalled thanks to the existence of the flashforward stuff. Fantastic characters like Miles or Ben are left standing around for five episodes, while we spend a whole bunch of time messing around with the same tired stories we've seen from Jack before, right down to yet another discussion about fixing things. The flashsideways story wasn't outright terrible on its own merits, but as part of the episode as a whole, it's a total disaster.

The creators promised a return to season one style storytelling, and they've delivered it. The thing is season one is an ok show with a lot of potential, so you can forgive the problems. Once you've actualized that potential to step backwards and erase it all is insulting to the audience. At this point, this season is the worst the show has been since season one, and in many of these episodes it feels like if you watched the flashbacks in The Incident and knew that Juliet died, you could jump from season one to season six without missing anything on a narrative or emotional level.

Some may say that's good evidence of accessibility. I think it's an abandonment of everything that made the show unique and special over the past four years. I'm sure some of that stuff will come back in as the season moves towards a close, but these episodes so far this year just haven't been very good, and abandoning those elements is a big part of why. The series was building such huge momentum last year, and it's all stalled out here. Again, I don't think the show will end terribly or won't be able to recover, but this has been a string of clunkers the likes of which haven't been seen since the middle of season three.

A big part of that, in this episode at least, comes down to the decisions made last season, namely to kill or exile so many interesting characters. Last year, we lost Daniel, Juliet and essentially lost Desmond, three of the show's best characters. Juliet in particular feels like losing the emotional center of the show, leaving a hole, in the same way that the last season of The Wire felt a bit off without Bodie there. She was the hub for so much of the show's narrative and character stuff that her absence stings all the more. On top of that, the alternating episode structure means that the three best characters left on the show, Sawyer, SmokeLocke and Ben didn't appear.

Anyway, there were a few things I really liked about the episode. Even though it's a big writing cheat, I like the Jacob/Hurley dynamic and loved the scene in the Lighthouse. That's the kind of mystical, spiritual strange setpiece that Lost does better than any other show, and it was wonderfully creepy and evocative, while also clearing up some of the bigger questions of the show in general. The meaning of the numbers is clearer, Jacob was calling these people to the island by sending out the message with the numbers.

The reveal at the end with Claire also worked well. Does this mean that Smoke Locke is back on the island, or does this scene take place before he left with Sawyer? I'm guessing it'll still be a few weeks before we find that out, but that ending reinforces the idea that forces are being gathered for a major battle between good and evil. SmokeLocke seems inspired by Randall Flagg from the stand, who also preyed on the weaknesses of vulnerable people to draw them into his cause. As the two sides consolidate their forces, we'll build to a similar big final battle.

That said, Claire as a character was never particularly developed or interesting, and the anger she has over losing her baby is the most cliched motivation you can give a female character. Lost in general has always struggled to write women, Juliet is the only female character to really click and grow and function outside the shadow of being either connected to a man or being someone's mother, which makes her death all the more frustrating. And Emilie de Ravin isn't a strong enough actress to really sell Claire's transformation. It does set up a potentially fun confrontation between her and Kate though, so we'll see.

So, this was an extremely frustrating episode. A lot of vague stuff was thrown out, but there's very little real emotional development going on, outside of hitting those same Jack beats again and again. The past three years, I've felt the show's universe expanding and the emotions deepening, this year has seen a contraction and retreat from that, thanks to a structure that's crippling the show and some really poor plotting and character arc construction on island, namely the decision to not have any emotional arcs for anyone except Sawyer and Jack. All is not lost, but a few more bad episodes could push the show so far off course it will be difficult to recover.