Lost Wednesday: Substitute Fanboy

February 17, 2010
By | 6 Comments

After Lost last night, Sean Duncan, Jonathan Gray & I had an exchange on Facebook about the list of numbered candidates scrawled in Jacob’s cave, noting that Kate was touched by Jacob but was not enumerated as a candidate. My reaction was that it’s further evidence of the patriarchal lineage surrounding the island, while Jonathan and Sean suggested that maybe Kate was touched just to engineer a love triangle for Jacob’s amusement. While I won’t go as far as to suggest that Jacob is a ‘shipper, I did find the cave scene particularly resonant with fannish practice.

As a long-time Lostpedian, I’ve spent time making lists of characters on Lost, charting their relationships to larger forces and each other, and occasionally crossing them out when they cease to serve a purpose. This type of fan “writing” is reactive, responding to the canonical story as issued by the producers, or The Powers That Be in fan parlance. Within the show’s storyworld, we’ve been led to assume that Jacob and the Man in Black are TPTB, authoring the experiences of our characters to fulfill a larger plan or destiny. But Jacob’s cave-wiki suggests that he is just as reactive as anyone – yes, he has larger strings to pull than Ben or Widmore, but he’s seems just as confused and powerless to control the ultimate destiny of the island as the mere mortals. And MiB positions himself as a victim to a larger trap or game, imprisoning a simple man and forcing him to play the role of smokey avenger that he seems to have tired of long ago.

Of course, the key word here is “seems,” for all we get in Lost is the proclamations of the various puppetmasters that they are simply pawns in a larger game, not kings in the here-and-now, and that they are all ultimately the “good guys.” Eventually (we hope) the chain of command will hit the top, and we’ll be able to sort out the white and black pieces for real – or maybe the game is Othello, with characters flipping sides between white and black? But for now, we’re left like Jacob, with his “thing for numbers,” to scrawl out possibilities and play the game of Lost until we finally figure out the rules.

Lost has booted up two new games this season. I discussed the first in the last two weeks‘ posts, with the playful possibilities of what the parallel timelines might mean (and how they might matter). No great revelations on that front this week, but the tale of alt-Locke was a sheer joy – not only do we see John and Helen in relative happiness, but we recognize that John’s “destiny” would have been much more fulfilling without Jacob’s intervention, averting not only his death by Ben’s hands but also his misguided search for meaning and redemption.

Lost‘s other game this season is at the meta-level of form and structure. TPTB alluded to parallels between seasons 1 and 6 over the hiatus, teasing the 2004 storyline. But this parallel also exists in terms of episodic structure – the sequence of season 6 episodes mirrors the structure of season 1. Each debuted with a 2-hour premiere featuring flashes to various characters on Oceanic 815. The next two episodes were focused on Kate and Locke respectively. We presume that next week’s will be Jack-centric, with a Sun/Jin episode to follow.

But what of episode 7, which flashed on Charlie in season 1? Assuming there’s no more resurrection on the island, will there be a substitute? Perhaps his namesake Charles Widmore, or his companion in death Desmond? And will episodes 11 and 12 give us repeated flashes to Jack and Kate as in season 1, or will we substitute other characters we’d like to follow like Ben and Miles? Such ludic speculation over narrative structure awakens my inner narratological fanboy enough to inspire me to take up cave painting.

Random favorite fanboy moment: too many to list whenever John Locke is onscreen, but it has to be Locke and Ben bonding in the teachers’ lounge. And Ben’s eulogy. And MiB ranting at the boy (Jacob?) “don’t tell me what I can’t do!” And…



6 Responses to “ Lost Wednesday: Substitute Fanboy ”

  1. Derek Kompare on February 17, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    The only flaw in your comparison between seasons 1 and 6 (thus far) is that season 6 is about eight episodes shorter, so the 1:1 relationship can’t be sustained. That said, I’m sure we’ll see Charlie again at some point (as well as Ana Lucia, Libby, and who knows who else) in the sideways timeline.

    I love how every moment in the sideways timeline–every moment–is ripe with narrative expectation. We’re not watching this as we would a straight-up story, but as a constant series of revelations. Look at how much about Locke was unveiled in this episode: his relationship with Helen (and, more mysteriously, with his father), his deception about the walkabout, his job (and job change), and his seeming acceptance of his fate (thus far, and begrudgingly). Moreover, every little moment of interaction or mention of someone else opens up other possibilities. Rose seems to be very close to her original timeline self, while Hugo is inverted, and Ben (! – I didn’t see that coming!) is completely alien to the Ben we know. I’m also wondering how/when he got off the island, presuming it was Jughead that sunk it in 1977; this may be our first hint that some other stuff has happened in addition to “the incident.”

    My fanboy moment: Sawyer taking the possessed/whatever Smocke completely in stride. He’s moved right on to just accepting whatever the island throws at him, reacting not with disbelief (as he still showed in early season 5), but with a resigned “now what?” Similarly, for those who think James has simply gone with Smocke’s option #3, don’t forget that he’s a con man. He knows full well that the MiB intends to use and (likely) discard him, but will play along for as long as takes to find an opening.

    • Jonathan Gray on February 17, 2010 at 10:36 AM

      I hope you’re right about Sawyer, Derek. It would be a nice move from a character who, for me, has gone from barely more stomachable than Boone or Shannon to being one of the best there.

    • Jason Mittell on February 17, 2010 at 10:50 AM

      Derek – you’re totally right about the LA X timeline prompting a distinct mode of viewing. It’s almost an extension of the “what if” marginal scrawling found in “Exposé,” taking what we “know” as viewers, and playing with expectations & assumptions. Darlton has suggested that these stories are accessible to novice viewers, but really it’s all about the game we play in our heads between the (previously) canonical backstories and our teasing out of possibilities & connections.

  2. Myles McNutt on February 17, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    As I alluded to on Twitter last night, a discussion of the episode on a message board over the ways in which the cave scrawl was communicated to the audience brought to mind some of your previous writing on the subject of memory in serials.The use of flashbacks to Jacob’s “recruitment” was seen as unnecessary to some (who argued that it was likely ABC-mandated) while effective to others (who didn’t necessarily need to be reminded, but felt that it helped the effectiveness of the scene).

    I don’t think the reminder was entirely necessary, as Lost fans have a fairly comprehensive memory for these types of things, and Lostpedia and other sites would surely have figured out the significance of those names pretty quickly. However, I think the reminder was helpful in that, for viewers who don’t follow through on every mystery, it points them towards the real mysteries surrounding the wall without coming out and saying it. The real story, as your conversation with Sean and Jonathan indicates, is that Kate isn’t on the list, or that Ben’s absence explains why Jacob was never “hands-on.”

    While the show could have easily placed those scenes from “The Incident” in the “Previously On” segment and left it up to the viewer, making an overt connection suggests that the presence of the those five names is more than just a small mystery, allowing even non-Lostpedia followers to turn their attention from the simple connection of names to the broader questions that it represents.

    Plus, when Terry O’Quinn eventually submits this for an Emmy, the clueless Emmy voters will be less confused, and more likely to give him the award he so richly deserves.

    • Jason Mittell on February 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM

      I had no problem with the use of the callbacks to “The Incident” in the “body” of the show rather than in the recap. In part, it’s because it’s consistent with the show’s form – even back in “Walkabout,” there were repetitions of shots to trigger recall. And I know that there are many casual fans watching who haven’t seen “The Incident” for 8 months and can’t be expected to recollect those specific subtle moments. I always use my sister as a litmus test, as she watches every week, but as far as I know, the only paratextual source of Lost arcana that she references is me…

  3. Jim on February 22, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    I thought I heard the Man in Black referred to as “Abraham” in the first episode of this last season–is that his name? That would play into the show’s long-standing “father” issues, originally posed as the overall theme way back during the first season.

    Alternatively, I have my own theory that the MiB is Esau, playing out an eternal competition with his brother Jacob throughout eternity on this purgatory-like island. And all the men and women are merely players for their amusement/dueling, pawns in the great game.