Friday, May 14, 2010

The Placeholder

 "Can you believe I turned out to be a such a dick???"

Having not been online for the past week    TimeWarner Cable sucks balls!    I feel an obligation (or perhaps a deep seated pathological need, for which I should receive counseling) to put up something about Across the Sea, the latest episode of Lost, this very minute.

But I am truly at a loss as to what it is I should put up.

Never before has an episode of any show so confounded me, both for good and for ill, and so the idea of doing a long dissection of such a densely packed episode fills me with trepidation.  Others have done so, and you can find several of those others via the links to my favorite Lost recappers which I provide on the left side of this page, but I don't simply want to write another liked/didn't like piece on Across the Sea (or, as I like to think of it, Happy Freaking Mother's Day).  Instead, I would like to come to a somewhat more definitive conclusion about the piece before I go hog wild writing sheafs and sheafs about something I know deep down I did not quite understand.

But, you know, I'll probably write sheafs and sheafs, anyway, after the jump...

What I do know for a certainty is that I was not entertained.  One of my favorite television writers, Mo Ryan, quite often frames things simply by declaring whether or not any given episode worked for her as an hour of television.  While that litmus test is one I can understand, and with which I normally agree, Lost has always been the exception to that rule.  Lost is something more than a television show, as the fact that you are here reading an article written by some nameless nobody more than attests.  Lost is a hybrid.  It's a cross between a television show and a novel, with a bit of the epic feature film thrown into the pot for seasoning.  As such, I hold it to no normal standard of "good" or "bad" on a per hour basis.  Ideas, actions, motivations, and plot developed in one episode may not pay dividends until many dozens of hours later, and that has always been a good thing as far as I was concerned, because always those dividends have been so large as to make worthwhile any difficulties there were in achieving them.

But there are no longer dozens of hours left in which to pay things off, and it was always easy in the past to take the above stand on Lost because I have never    not once!    found a single hour of Lost to be less than wildly entertaining.  People often talk of Jack's tattoos (Stranger in a Strange Land) as the nadir of the series, but, while acknowledging that it was a weak episode for Lost, I still found the story of Jack's tattoos extremely entertaining.  Bai Ling's breasts may have done most of her acting for her, but that was cool with me.  (I am a guy, after all.)   And I did think the episode revealed quite a bit about who Jack was (and who he would later become), so it never felt like a wasted deviation.  It wasn't great, and it was marking time while the creators were determining how they would really start unfolding their end game, but it was definitely entertaining.

Across the Sea, however, didn't entertain me, and that was a first for any episode of this show.  Part of the episode I found very interesting, and part of it I found very maddening, and a few parts of it even seemed slightly insulting, but at no time was I engrossed in the story.  At no time was I entertained.  It just seemed a little too much like medicine, and I cannot but help wondering how, or if, it's relevance will grow in the slim amount of time we have left.  Like Ab Aerterno, which was the very first episode of Lost I did not like (but which was, unlike Across the Sea, entertaining), almost everything that was dramatized in Across the Sea was either something I already knew or had guessed.  That makes for slight drama, and the long stretches where characters told us things (as opposed to the story showing us things) only subtracted from the episode's slight entertainment value.

Yes, we got some answers, but as has been a recurring theme this season, the answers we received were all tangential to any questions I may have had.  I didn't truly care who Adam and Eve were any more than I cared what the Whispers were, or what the Numbers meant, or how the statue was destroyed.  While I have truly enjoyed this season greatly (including loving the Sideways story lines, and liking very much the Temple and its inhabitants), it does seem bizarre to me that so much time has been devoted to tangential questions like the Whispers and the statue and the Numbers and Richard Alpert's Chiquita banana love story.  Darlton told us to be prepared to sacrifice mythological answers for character resolution this season, yet that is not what I have seen so far.  The first two thirds of the season seemed to open the door for great character resolution, while the last third has so far concentrated almost exclusively on plot and lower case "a" answers to lower case "m" mysteries, none of which ever really mattered to me in the first place.

And yet something makes me think that I am giving short shrift to Across the Sea here, and possibly to all of this season in the process (a season, as I said before (and will say again and again, even if I must do so in a parenthetical within a parenthetical) I have heretofore enjoyed very much).  Darlton have always made me love them every time they went in a direction I did not see coming, and my stated desire this season was that they end the show go in a direction I did not see coming.  Well, I didn't see a lot of pedantic storytelling coming, so win-win for them there, but maybe I only think it's all pedantic because it's SO different from what I expected.  Maybe it is just way over my head.  Or maybe just half of it is way over my head, with the other half being way, way over.

I find it hard to believe that guys and gals I KNOW are master storytellers are suddenly incompetent.  Check that: I find that IMPOSSIBLE to believe.  Whether I come to like Across the Sea or not, and whether I feel the same ambivalence about the next three and a half hours or not, I will not suddenly retroactively question the meaning Lost has had for me.  It cannot suddenly become retroactively meaningless.  And I can never imagine a time in my life where I will not be trying to force Lost DVDs on anyone I can convince to watch them.

So, I will take a long time before I am willing to say any part of Lost is crap, even if on first blush a particular episode that aired in the 15th position of the final season makes me want to say so clearly and loudly.  Because, until I can prove to myself otherwise, the problem here is with me and not the show.  That's how much respect I have for what Darlton (which name denotes to me dozens of different people, by the way) has accomplished to date.  That is just how much they have moved me again and again over and through the years.  I simply do not move easily, to either laughter or tears, and so their ability to provoke such responses in me on a consistent basis over six long years means I will not dismiss any part of Lost easily.

"It's not the destination; it's the journey." 

The line above is a cliche many people do not want to hear as Lost comes to a close.  But cliches are cliches for very good reason, and that is because they are usually so true that they have ended up being repeated ad nauseam until they, ahem, made us nauseous.  We got sick of them, causing us to doubt their very substantial truths, but many of them, if not most, are still as true today as they were back when some douche in black first uttered them millennia ago.  For me, Lost has reaffirmed as true the "journey over destination" cliche again and again for six years now.  In fact, my whole life has proved that cliche true (at least to me), as has nearly every piece of fiction that has ever moved me to either laughter or tears.

It's not that it doesn't matter to me if I do not like the ending of Lost.  It actually matters a great deal.  But the fact that it does matter so much is simply stark proof of how immutable the greatness of everything which has preceded the ending has been, and how great it will always continue to be.  And much of that greatness was achieved by the Lost creators taking some of the biggest narrative risks in the history of narrative, time and time again, and in their setting for themselves the impossible task of laying out a story that is complex and lengthy enough to create the serious emotional heft that moves to write bat-shit crazy stuff like this, and you to read it.  I will never fault them if they do not pay that risk off to my satisfaction, and I would never even begin to pretend that my satisfaction should ever be a part of their thinking.

Whether you are writing for millions of dollars on network TV or writing for free on the internet, you always have to write for yourself first and foremost.  And then if  what you write moves people, so be it; and if does not, then tough noogies for you and your audience.  Because you never achieve greatness writing for everyone at once.  That way lies not just madness but, even worse, boredom.

So, I will be back with a more standard recap of Across the Sea after I watch it again this evening.  I want to go over the bits and pieces of it here just as I would with any episode, but before I could even attempt to do so I had to get all the above off my chest.  Call it a caveat the size of Montana, or an apologists swan song, or the rantings of a crazy man in deep denial, but it is what I feel.  It is truth.

In fact, it's as true as anything I have so far written in this blog, and it is to Cartlon Cuse and Damon Lindelof's extreme credit that even something I consider a bad episode of television could so move me to write it.

But now I have work to do, so I am publishing this without proper editing of any kind.  I want this up now, and I want to get out and mow my lawn before the storms come.  I cannot do both at once, but I am going to do so anyway.

And isn't that just so very Lost of me?


  1. I've enjoyed your stuff, Schmoker. You have made me laugh a lot over the past few weeks, and you have occasionally made me sit back and think. Today you actually touched me, because you expressed my feelings about this latest episode to a T. You expressed how I feel in a way I could not.

    Very nice, Schmoker. Keep it up. Glad to have you back. Fuck Time Warner Cable.

  2. Quite frankly, you're being nicer than I would be. I think shark jumping is a cliche that could be used very appropriately after the past few episodes. But you do have me wondering if it's me and not them just a bit. Just a little bit.

    But as you seem to be saying, if I am not entertaining, then it's a failure no matter what. The ideas may not be as dumb as I think, but that doesn't make me entertained in retrospect.

  3. I'll be very interested to see what you say after you watch it a second time. A second viewing did not do much for me, but it did take the edge off. Ultimately, the problem with this episode was that it likely should have taken place a year ago. Jacob and Nameless should have probably been introduced long before season five's finale, too.

    It's just too much new too late in the series run.