Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lost - The Candidate (6x14)

After a fantastic episode a couple of weeks ago, which built a lot of forward momentum, an ill timed week off and a generally week hour has slowed everything back down. This episode will probably get some big reaction for the deaths and ending, but it's a pretty terrible episode, with perhaps the most pointless flash-sideways of the season, and a plodding island story that kills a couple of people, but drags along the way and doesn't feel in any way like a show in the last couple of episodes of its life span.

Perhaps my biggest issue with the episode is a kind of unfair one, and that's that it just isn't good enough to be this close to the end of the show. When you've got four hours of show left, the stakes are raised, and not only does the show have to be good at its own terms, it's got to compete against all the possible stories out there to tell. Was this the best way to spend one of the show's final hours? I don't think so, and unfair though it may be, that weighed on my perception of the episode.

But, the episode itself is deeply flawed. Let me start out with a reliable punching, the alt-verse stuff. After last week's great drawing threads together episode, we go to yet another Jack wants to fix something storyline, something that was played out back in season one, but rears its head once more. I'm sure you can read stuff into the storyline, and if this had been the third episode of the season I'd be ready to do that. But, once you've blown up the alt-verse conceit in the Desmond episodes, just having Locke mutter something about the button isn't enough any more. This story had no place in this chunk of the season, and at this point, there's no way that the alt-verse storyline can pay off in a way that justifies the many digressions and tangents it's taken. At this point, things need to be coming together, and this story didn't do that at all.

The whole thing was a debacle, and arguably even worse than the dire Sun/Jin sideways scenes. Why was this here? Who decided this was a good use of show time? It's a baffling call, hitting the same tired beats again and again. I don't think it's inherently a bad idea to take time out from the drama to tell a small story near the end, but it needed to hit harder emotionally.

And, that sequence dragged the whole episode down by pulling momentum from the show every time it was cut to. That said, the on island stuff wasn't helping. We've already seen our characters shuffled around to various locations for reasons outside their control and imprisoned by larger forces for the entire season, so why not do it one more time? There's a lot of sloppy bits in the first half, not the least of which is the worst casting choice of the series, the guy playing main Widmore goon. He looks like he should be working in an office IT department, not shooting people on an island, and that takes you out of the scene.

Things continued in a fairly perfunctory way until the bomb on the submarine. This was a great sequence in many ways, it looked fantastic, and was arty and beautiful and reminded me of a James Cameron film. The sequence itself worked great. The problems came in the way it resolved a lot of the long running arcs of the season.

The whole season has had this runner of Sayid being turned evil, only he never really did anything evil, and there was no real emotional conflict about what to do with him. He was just sort of there, which is okay if he's being kept on the shelf to do something later. Instead he gets a pointless sacrificial depth that I suppose was meant to redeem him, but wound up making me just wonder why they brought him back in the first place. Both him and Claire had the 'infection' idea going on, but it's unclear what that did to them, I'd rather have seen this play out in a more dramatic way, and now that the character is dead, it's unclear why he came back for this season at all. With so many characters around, why not just let him die last year?

Lapidus is another baffler. I figured they were keeping him around to fly the plane off the island, but apparently he wandered around for a season just to die. Why have him there at all? It makes no sense, I enjoyed the character, but he never really got to do anything. I have no problem with having extraneous characters who don't have a purpose in the show's endgame, but at least give him a unique role, as he had last year with Sun. Ultimately, I'm annoyed that such a great actor got wasted saying one jokey line an episode for two seasons before getting killed.

The Sun and Jin death worked well, and nicely echoed Charlie's death in season three. I loved the shot of Jin's hand floating away after his death. What does this mean for the two of them in the alt-verse? We'll see. That said, this is another set of characters who wandered around the whole season with no real purpose and then just get killed.

But, I guess you could say everyone wandered around with no real purpose. All the talk of fate and destiny can be cover for lazy writing, and that's what this episode felt like. I always hate when a convoluted series of events is explained by “That was his plan all along,” and this episode just never gelled. I loved the execution of the final sequence, but the writing throughout was sloppy and squandered much of the momentum of the previous episode. I hope things are righted for the push towards the series finale, but it feels like the writers got distracted by the alt-verse and the Jacob storyline and forgot to actually give the characters any agency or emotional arcs in the final season.

Confusing Choices by Major Companies

It amazes me sometimes that major corporations can make choices that seem so obviously misguided, yet they pass through the many layers of approval needed to get a project greenlit. Here's a couple of things that have baffled me recently.

The first would be the just announced X-Men: First Class project. Of all the comics properties, X-Men is my favorite, but I've been generally unmoved by the four films to date. I'd argue that X-Men's serial nature makes it ill suited to film, which requires more structured stories. The X-Men stories that people remember, like Dark Phoenix or Days of Future Past, all draw on a lot of continuity and character development, unlike things like The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns. The major difference between X-Men and other comics properties is the fact that the X-Men characters for all of Claremont's run were actual human characters, unlike most DC or Marvel heroes, which are archetypes.

Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine and many others all grew and changed over the course of the run, and you can't capture that in a film. But, at least the first two X-Men films had a coherent internal mythology and did a decent job of capturing the characters and their dynamic. Last Stand didn't work creatively, but I don't think it ruined public perception of the franchise. So, I'm really baffled why Fox chose to stop making new X-Men movies and start doing prequels. Wolverine makes sense since he was the series' breakout character, but why do a movie about Professor X and Magneto? We all know how it will end, and I just can't imagine a really good movie possibly being made out of that premise. It's something that's interesting in the context of an ongoing narrative, but not in and of itself.

Audiences have consistently shown a reluctance towards prequels, outside of ones that are total reboots. So, why do that instead of just moving forward with 'present day' stories for the franchise? There was a great setup for a Young X-Men movie coming out of The Last Stand, focusing on Rogue, Iceman and Kitty Pryde. I'd have loved to see that, and it seems like the perfect way to target teens and do a soft reboot to alleviate the bad taste of Last Stand. I'm sure First Class will do okay, but I think doing something based loosely off New Mutants, with some of the existing characters in teaching roles and a cast of younger mutants based on the teen characters from the comics would be a much bigger hit with fans and general audiences. I'm as big an X-Men fan as it gets and I have no desire whatsoever to see First Class.

Another recent baffler is the comic book Ultimate New Ultimates. The Ultimates used to be arguably Marvel's premiere franchise, a best seller that was talked up all over the net, even its nonpresence, during the length delays, were a prime talking point. But, since the end of Millar's The Ultimates 2, the branding of the franchise has been absolutely baffling. First, Marvel did the apparently abysmal Ultimates 3 with a different creative team.

After this failure, it might have been smart to bring back the original writer, which they did. But, for some reason, Marvel chose not to go with a simple title that would explain what the book is about. Instead, they made Millar's book Ultimate Comics Avengers, and have another book called Ultimate Comics New Ultimates. As someone who loved The Ultimates, I'd be pretty inclined to buy new Millar Ultimates stuff, but even as a gigantic comic book fan, I have no clue what the content of either book is. And, who was the one who greenlit a book called Ultimate Comics New Ultimates? We know it's a comic and we know it's Ultimate. Why not just call it Ultimate Pages with Images and Text on Them That Are Previously Unseen and Still Ultimate In Case You Didn't Catch That the First Time.

What separates this book from Millar's? How does it draw from the previous Millar Ultimate series? I have no idea, and I'm not particularly inclined to work to find out. And, keep in mind, this is in the line that's designed to be accessible to new readers.

How are these choices made? Shouldn't the goal of branding to make it clear what something is. Apparently not in this case, and that's a big problem in comics in general. Book names are not self explanatory, what separates Uncanny X-Men from X-Men: Legacy from Astonishing X-Men from just plain X-Men? The big problem with any initiative to draw in new readers is that you can put out a book like the early days of the Ultimate line that is supposed to be accessible, but how is someone who isn't already familiar with comics going to know to pick up Ultimate Spider-Man instead of Amazing Spider-Man?

A similar problem from both Marvel and DC is trade paperback chronology. Trying to pick up Ed Brubaker's Captain America, there's a bunch of Volume 1s and 2s, but how do they all piece together? There's no master number system, so where does The Death of Captain of America Vol. 1 fit in comparison to Red Menace Book Two? I can understand not wanting to have Captain America Vol. 20 out there, but make it easier for people to read your books, not harder.

DC usually does a better job, but it can be hard to piece together stuff from company crossovers. I'd love to see an official guide to reading all of Geoff Johns' books or how all of Morrison's fit together. That would help them sell more books, because if you could show the connection between Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, that expands the audience of both titles.

I'm the kind of person who will do a bit of research to figure out what's going on, but a lot of people won't, and you should make it as easy as possible to follow a series. Marvel and DC aren't really doing that most of the time.