Thursday, April 01, 2010

Playing Lost Straight

"What if you saw what the show meant but couldn't recognize it?” - Michael Emerson

In this final season of Lost, the greatest obstacle facing the show has become clear: the history of the show itself.  Spread out over six years---and puffed up with extraneous mystery when ABC thought they might have a ten-year ratings monster on their hands---Lost found itself entering this season with more story, characters and unresolved head-scratchers put together than any ten shows you could mention, and with a well of deep seated fear and mistrust that had swallowed whole a fan base accustomed to picking their favorite shows to pieces---just like I do every week.

It was a recipe that would get you thrown out of Hell's Kitchen, and it had fans forgetting just why they had been watching the show for five years in the first place (hint: it wasn't because we wanted to learn about the food drops).

Forced by their network to head-fake the audience repeatedly just to get six years out of a tale that probably would have been best told in four, the producers of the show are now reaping an unexpected lack of benefits from their having created one of the most complex and moving weekly shows in television history---because no one seems to want to believe anything they are seeing right now,  Additionally, many people are ranking all of the mysteries equally, letting themselves become as consumed with glass eyeballs left in the dirt as they are with the true meaning of the Island.  And, finally, many have just flat out come to their own conclusions (based on six years of second guessing while slamming Red Bulls until 3 am), and have decided that anything other than their own personal and imaginary answers are just so much bullshit not to be tolerated.

I knew this phenomena had reached critical mass when an endless discussion broke out over the way the ship and wave broke the four-toed statue, as if that little bit of action/adventure nonsense were critical to the end game of Lost and its deepest meanings.

Here was a totally meaningless mystery---in that it had no overall bearing on anything that happened in the main story before or since---and people were refusing to simply accept the explanation we were given; looking instead for a new mystery behind the old mystery revealed.  But---at best---the destruction of the Tawaret statue was just a symbolic moment.  There is no great import in how it was broken, when it was broken, or even that it broke at all.  If the statue were still standing, that wouldn't have altered anything that has happened since--other than maybe Sayid would have been even more unnerved when he saw it for the first time.  Maybe he would have unleashed a little Iraqi profanity had he seen it in its full glory, rather than saying, "“I don't know what I find more disquieting, the fact that the rest of the statue is missing, or that it has four toes. ..."

Find out what other body parts are missing after the jump...

Otherwise, the statue is a non-issue.  It was just a bit of fluffy fun thrown in with everything else, and the boat crashing into it was Darlton trying to have some more fun with it by answering the totally meaningless mystery of its destruction just to give us all a sweet callback, while simultaneously trying to fill out a thin episode about Richard's back story that they felt they owed to the audience.  But, by and large, the "fun" issue was missed by most, as I have seen endless posts devoted to whether or not the ship could really break the statue (even though the wave obviously could); whether or not its destruction led to the women on the Island dying in childbirth; how it was totally unbelievable that we had never previously seen the pieces of it lying in the sea (and was that fact another mystery?); and whether or not its destruction meant that those of us who still pray to Tawaret should start picketing outside of the ABC Studios.

No one in the audience sure seems to be having any fun anymore. Have Lost fans all turned into Zombie Sayid?  Have we all lost the ability to feel pleasure?

This is all just a shame, because Lost is perhaps my favorite television show of all time, and certainly in the top handful.  I can count the number of shows that have ever gripped me as Lost has on one hand, and I can count the number of shows that can currently move me as Lost can on one finger (uh... that would be Lost). 

So, I'm OK with the reality of the world we live in, and I accept how hard that reality makes it to create complex television.  Therefore I have no problem letting the occasional mediocre episode (Jack's Tattoos, Richard's heaving-bosom Harlequin Romance) have a complete pass, because they are exactly that---occasional.  Very freaking occasional.

As in, I could only come up with two off the top of my head to use as examples inside the parentheses.

Expecting 100% efficiency out of anything, let alone a television show (let alone a television show on a network like ABC), is a fool's expectation.  Nothing operates on 100% efficiency.  They spent six billion dollars on the Large Hadron Collider over at CERN, and they have trouble keeping it up and running longer than a Time Warner cable modem.  Star Wars had the Ewoks, and then later the prequels.  Raiders of the Lost Ark expected us to believe Indy road the back of a submarine---A SUBMARINE!---from the open ocean back to the Nazi Cave of Doom.  Avatar wanted us to buy that the corporate exec was evil and conflicted. 

Everything has problems.  Citizen Kane has problems; the Mona Lisa probably has problems; and the Bible definitely has problems.  But in the age of the internet, problems do seem to get magnified and replicated until that is all we can sometimes see, causing the tiniest of non-mysteries to take on gargantuan and unintended proportions.

It's time to start letting all of that go now (because it is no coincidence that the first words uttered in the first episode of the final season were, "You can let go now.").

We have to step back and recognize that Lost, no matter how many times we have watched an episode to see what was written on a blackboard, is still just a television show.  While its metaphors for life are deep and meaningful, the mechanics of the story telling---and the environment in which television creators must work to come up with that story---are the trees and not the forest.  They had to create a lot of extraneous and ultimately irrelevant story for a couple years while they worked on getting ABC to let the cash cow die a natural death.  That isn't their fault, nor should it impinge on our ability to enjoy the End Times.  And it definitely shouldn't keep us from believing the Answers when they are given to us.  If we are occasionally wrong over the next seven weeks, or if we don't figure out the handful of now intentional surprises that are coming are way, so be it. 

All this occurred to me as I went online Tuesday and Wednesday and found a surprising amount of "Meh" being poured all over this last week's episode, The Package, which I felt was a highlight for the entire series.  For me, the myriad webs of mystery all started to come together, with Grade-A answers coming at us fast and furious, and yet, a week after masses of people found meaning in a cork and a broken statue, no one else could seem to find any meaning in the most straightforward, this-is-what-the-frak-is-happening episode the show has likely ever done.  Characters talked about what they wanted, what their motivations were, and what is going to happen if/when they do not succeed in their respective tasks---and no one in the audience appears to have believed any of it.

Most of the complaints I read were of the "nothing happened" vibe, even though a whole ton of stuff happened (see the early recap below for a list of some of that stuff).  I think this is because we are so preconditioned to think that all plot we see is simply more misdirection.  So, a lot of us are having trouble now even recognizing that, yes, this stuff they are doing is for real, and it won't be invalidated or taken back by some Man Behind The Curtain-style reveal sixteen episodes down the road.

Because, hey, there aren't sixteen episodes left in the whole series.

What if you saw what the show meant but couldn't recognize it?”

They aren't going to do an hour where someone sits in a chair facing a camera and says, "Hey, this is what is going on, folks.  And this is what it all means."   It is now---finally---up to us to start throwing caution to the wind and putting two and two together sometimes, and I felt strongly they were telling us to do just that last night.  They used moments last night to explicitly say to us, "Hey, it's all for real now.  We had to head fake until ABC gave us an End Date---and we are sorry for that---but the end is two months away, people.  Wake up and smell the pineapple burning."

Think about these two moments from the show:

1.  Ben told the flat out truth about finding Sun injured, yet he was met with derision and scorn from all because they were all so used to the simple fact of his lips moving meaning that he was lying.  Repeatedly burned by the former Other leader and master manipulator, no one was willing to accept anything he said at face value anymore.

Hey, a stronger analogy to Lost and its audience could not be found. 

2.  Smokey confirmed he couldn't smoke his way across water, asking us, "Do you think, if I could, I would still be on this Island?"

Both of those scenes were, I believe, aimed at us.  They were not chiding us, and they were not making fun of us.  They were simply trying to clue us in to how things have changed now.  Both of those scenes told me that the Lost writers are begging us to start taking more things at face value.  They don't want us to be looking for double switches now, because it's too late for another endless series of head fakes, and the couple of surprises they probably do have coming are now intentional---rather than S2 or S3 time-fillers---and so therefore are probably things we are going to actually want be surprised by.

So, if Smokey doesn't fly across the water, then it's because he can't.  And if he doesn't pick Sun up and carry her back to his camp, then it's because he was telling the truth when he said that she had to come with him by choice, not by force.  And if Locke says he's got to take the plane, then he probably has got to take the plane.

Ok, that last one I got from Jorge Garcia, who went on record yesterday as saying that Smokey is "bound by water" and cannot take the sub.  And Jorge should know, since Jorge has read the all the scripts up to the finale now.

So if we do not start accepting what they are selling, then we are going to find ourselves watching the last hours and not understanding or enjoying anything.

Now, if we don't like what these real answers are, well, then that is OK.  To each his own, no doubt.  But not liking stuff doesn't make it not so.

I know there will be those will point to what is a near infinite supply of fakes and switches over the years.  But if you hold onto that attitude now, when it's all coming to a close, then you are letting the necessary evils of the television creation process overwhelm you into meaninglessness.  A hit show is an unruly beast.  Billions of dollars ride upon a hit show, so two guys locked in a room and writing scripts cannot do as they please.  They are not working in a vacuum.  If they could still produce six years of repeatedly amazing and moving story while working for the brainless behemoth that is a national broadcast television network (where they are so clueless that they put countdown clocks over subtitles during crucial moments of their biggest hit show), then the least we can do is give them the benefit of the doubt as the last two months begin to fly by.  They should have earned that amount of slack by now.

So, take a step back from the brink of trying to figure out for certain what the Sideways World is (even though this past week I think they actually told us several times what it is), and wait until we actually find out before you put up that next post that tells everyone how meaningless it is to you.  Walk away from the gunfight that you want to have over the broken statue pieces and the pristine condition of the boat once it settles into the jungle, and realize that eternal life bestowing demi-gods who can whip up tsunamis upon command can also probably allow a boat to settle as gently to the ground as did Dorothy's farm house.  And leave your confusion over who speaks Korean and who does not at the door.  Try to just start taking everything you see at face value and see where that gets you.

If you do, you will be wrong about a few things, but I think you may just be right about most everything else.  And I know your enjoyment in watching the End Times play out will increase exponentially.

1 comment:

  1. I see where you are going, but I think you are overestimating how many people feel that way. You are right that the boards are full of a lot of negativity, but a lot of fans just read the boards and do not participate. The people who are happy with the show may just be sitting back and enjoying it, and not writing about it.

    I'm enjoying the show, and I don't write about it. I like what you are saying about it, though. So keep it up. Maybe I'll come back and post again.