Lost Wednesdays – Antenna http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu Responses to Media and Culture Thu, 30 Mar 2017 23:48:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Lost Monday: The End http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/24/lost-monday-the-end/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/24/lost-monday-the-end/#comments Mon, 24 May 2010 15:25:03 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=4238 [Antenna Editors’ Note: As this is our last weekly Lost post, it’s now time for us to graciously thank Jason Mittell for this wonderful addition to Antenna. And now, back to your regular scheduled programming …]

My short take on the finale (before a supersize post) is that it was outstanding, both subverting and fulfilling my expectations. In the still emerging storytelling mode of complex primetime serials, the finale is almost bound to disappoint, by being too ambiguous, too forced, or too atypical of an episode. Lost‘s “The End” – a name more apt than we realized – finds the sweet spot for me, concluding on its own terms in ways that seemed surprising while watching, but completely organic and earned in retrospect.

In my blog about the different type of answers that Lost might – or might not – deliver, I discussed a number of plot mysteries that I felt needed to be answered to prove satisfying: in addition to resolving the reality status of the sideways narrative,

an explanation of Widmore and Eloise’s roles in the island and time travel narrative, what Jacob and MiB were doing with their duel lists of candidates on the cave and lighthouse, what really happened in the incident, and what Desmond is up to. If these aren’t explained, I’ll be pissed, because the narrative has framed them as key enigmas that need answering to piece together the action.

Based on this list, I should be pissed – while we got a clear(ish) answer about the sideways and Desmond’s actions, there were few answers about Eloise, the incident, and the lists (as well as many other enigmas). But I’m oddly content with these questions being left open, as Lost pulled off what might be its greatest trick in a long history of narrative subterfuge: it made me not care about what I thought I’d cared about, refocusing my attention on the narrative future of these characters rather than the island past. “The End” is all about moving forward and letting go of what you thought was important, and it amazingly succeeded in making that theme manifest in my own viewing experience.

Lost has always been a hodgepodge genre mixture, with elements of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and puzzle narrative draped on its core of adventure melodrama. The finale let go of most of the puzzle storytelling and pulled back to the emotional core that hooked in its fanbase long before we knew about DHARMA or frozen donkey wheels. “The End” serves as an argument for what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have been saying all along: we ultimately care about the characters and their fates way more than the island’s mysteries. Ultimately, I think whether you like the finale (and thus the entire sixth season) or not will come down to how convincing you found that argument – personally, I was sold.

Looking back, it becomes clear that the entirety of season six was about making this argument, refocusing our attention on the characters and away from the mythology. The sideways world functions this way for both the characters themselves and for viewers, providing the wish fulfillment of a happy ending and the joy of returning departed friends and reunited relationships without the baggage of the island mysteries. As Christian says to Jack in backroom of the church, “This is a place that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here.” On one level, the “you” is Jack and his friends, but it is also us – we are here because we care about these people. And in the sideways realm, “there is no now,” just as we’ll have the show to rewatch in an eternal present tense.

And it is also all about letting go. In the first scene of “LA X,” Rose tells Jack “you can let go now,” ostensibly referring to the armrest he was clutching during the in-flight turbulence on sideways Oceanic 815, but now we know that he wasn’t ready to let go in either timeline. Season 6 was about Jack’s journey toward peace of mind and clarity of purpose, both to save the island and come to terms about his troubled relationships and sense of self. Most of the characters went on parallel journeys, and the show invited us to mirror their process as long-time fans learn to let go of our preconceptions of what we want and expect from the show.

Clearly not everybody was ready – Ana-Lucia and Ben are left to work through their issues in the sideways realm, while Michael is still trapped whispering on the island (making him a notable absence from the finale). And judging by the mixed reactions from fans and critics this morning, many of us are also not ready to accept the terms of the final journey – the fact that it doesn’t bother me how much was left unsolved is just a testament to the effectiveness of the finale’s character arcs and emotional storytelling. I do hope that fans disappointed with the final season will rewatch it with an open mind, as I’m convinced that it will work in retrospect quite well, save for a few annoying missteps (like Sun’s aphasia and the mostly dead-end temple story) – but I’m certainly braced for many commenters condemning the lack of mythological closure and loose ends, ready to blame the producers for failing on their obligations. Season six’s greatest flaw was that it was all set-up – but “The End” provides one of the biggest payoffs imaginable.

One critique I’ve seen flash across Twitter is that in the end, the show boiled down to religious (specifically Christian) propaganda, as the afterlife awaits sinners who come to terms with their deeds and repent in church. As a proselytizing atheist, I have little patience for religious parables, but I found Lost‘s take on the afterlife to be pretty non-religious, despite culminating in church and being led by Christian Shepherd (and kudo’s to Kate for calling foul on that name!). Sure, you can read it as overtly religious, but I see it as more humanist, emphasizing that what’s most important is each other and the life that we live, not the promise of an afterlife.

Compared to the much-decried Battlestar Galactica finale, there is no God (or Gods) here, as divinity is found solely in the human. Given the opportunity this season to frame the whole story as a the tale of dueling island gods, Lost chose to make the powers that be flawed humans, resisting the theistic at every turn. The mystical force of the island is a light that shines in every person, a humanist ethos if ever there was one. And fate is what we make of life, not what life makes of us. The show’s long-standing debate between science and faith ended up a draw – Jack’s redemption was in finding his own peace and sense of self, not in faith of anything grander. But clearly science per se was trumped by larger abstractions like glowing caves and purgatorial realms. In the end, it’s the people that matter.

Diving more directly into the episode – which should be noted was directed by Jack Bender and scored by Michael Giacchino as well as anything I’ve ever seen on television – one place that Lost has always excelled is building tension for some rip-roaring action sequences in its season finales, and the on-island story of “The End” featured some of its best builds and climaxes. The fight between Jack and Locke was everything that it should have been, as preceded by six seasons of head-butting – and Kate riding in to the rescue certainly fulfilled much of her often-untapped role in the ensemble. We also got excellent moments of cross-cut deadline-driven narrative tension, with the second bananas at the plane (with not-dead-yet Richard and Lapidus) frantically trying to make repairs while Jack puts the cork back in and Kate and Sawyer go for their last swim. Nearly nothing happened on the island that helped me understand the mythology – but it was a rollicking fun ride, and that’s what Lost does better than any other show out there.

If the island scratched the action itch, the sideways realm provided many moments of melodramatic release. Nearly every character’s moment of realization worked for me, with particular joy in Sun and Jin’s awakening over the ultrasound, and Juliet and Sawyer sharing an epiphany over an Apollo Bar. Ben and Locke’s final conversation confirmed how utterly original and compelling they were as a pairing, and Hurley’s assurance that Ben was an excellent number 2 reminded me that Ben rightly told us years ago that he was one of “the good guys.” These were moments for the fans, reminding us of how far we’ve come with these characters to reconnect with the relationships and journeys. There were tears, cheers, and gasps – and that’s really all I could ask for after six years of commitment. But the most emotionally affecting moment for me was the final one, with Vincent lying next to dying Jack – the producers have long joked about Vincent’s centrality, but making sure that Jack didn’t “die alone” was the greatest function that could be served.

It’s too soon to rank “The End” on the spectrum of series finales, but I am having a hard time coming up with many that worked any better. Six Feet Under is my gold standard, concluding with an emotionally-devastating device that feels both surprisingly original and completely true to the series. I’m not sure that Lost quite reached that peak, but it certainly came close. For a show all about misdirection and mystification, the finale was surprisingly direct and clear, even if it wasn’t about what we thought it would be. I’m looking forward to rewatching season 6 to see it all come together once again.

Random favorite fanboy moment: too many to mention in the episode, so I’ll point to my own pleasure in writing these weekly posts and launching some great conversations. I’ve come to appreciate how hard it is to write coherent criticism on a deadline – and gained much respect for the gaggle of TV critics who do it every day. (And see Chris Becker’s list of reviews for more great Lost reading.) I’ll surely be posting further thoughts in coming days on my blog [updated: as promised, I wrote another long finale commentary], and I hope those of you who came to Antenna just for the Lost discussion stick around for daily doses of smart media commentary and discussion.

Thanks for reading, and Namaste.


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Lost Wednesdays: Three Choices http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/19/lost-wednesdays-three-choices/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/19/lost-wednesdays-three-choices/#comments Wed, 19 May 2010 13:04:53 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=4077 Yesterday I wrote a long post on the status of answers in Lost‘s endgame for my own blog, so I’m a bit tuckered out from Lost blogging. Even though this week’s episode regained the momentum and structure of the sixth season, with the requisite character developments, plot twists, and sideways enigmas, I found it less compelling for critical commentary than last week’s wholly atypical episode. Not that “What They Died For” was unenjoyable or lacking in what I was looking for in the penultimate episode of the series, but I’m far less moved to criticism than earlier in the season.

The episode featured a number of excellent character moments, with each of the three (arguably) most central characters making a crucial choice that will undoubtedly set-up their fates for the finale. Jack’s long arc as hero came to fruition as he volunteered to take over Jacob’s role as island protector – while Jack has rarely been my favorite character, he has emerged in season six as a compelling central protagonist. I’m not going to claim that there was a master arc in place for Jack throughout the entire run, but looking back, it’s pretty impressive how he’s developed from arrogant surgeon trying to take control and fix everything, to a crushed addict struggling to find meaning, to a passive follower looking for a leader, and finally to a man of faith taking responsibility for himself and his community without being motivated by ego or proving himself. Given that he was initially slated to die in the pilot, Jack has surprisingly reinvented the hero figure for a serialized story.

On the other side of the moral compass, Ben chose to embrace his villainy once again. I think his crucial moment came in finding Alex’s grave and then seeing Widmore – for him, the title “What They Died For” refers to his daughter, reminding him of his vendetta against Widmore and his lack of other commitments or allegiances (nicely offset by his sideways bonding with Alex and Danielle). He has always been a follower of whomever can grant him the most power, and clearly siding with Locke appears to be his best bargain. Having Bad Ben back just feels right – but we well know that he could switch sides at a moment’s notice if Jack or another leader makes him a better bargain. Ben’s move shooting Widmore just before a possible moment of plot explication is classic Lost, reminiscent of Charlie gunning down Ethan way back in the first season – we can mark it down as probably the last death of a character who seemed destined to be in play later in the game.

And in the sideways story, Locke makes the choice he’s been flirting with since “LA X”: to let Jack fix him, played perfectly by Terry O’Quinn. We’re still unsure what the significance of this choice might be, as Jack and Locke seem like the two characters least able to cut through their fog to see their island lives. Perhaps it will take an intimate moment with Jack’s hands on Locke’s dural sac to awaken them both, but their mutual realization seems to be a key climax on the horizon. We still don’t know enough about the sideways timeline to know the broader significance of Locke’s choice, but it feels equally as weighty as Jack and Ben choosing sides on the island for Locke to let go of his guilt – and possibly his delusion of happiness in a fake world.

This episode was previewed in LA over the weekend for a live audience, and the scuttlebutt coming out of the crowd was that the deep mythology of “Across the Sea” pays off somewhat this week. Certainly Jacob’s explanation of both his ancient mistake and his quest to find candidates to overcome their flaws and choose the mantle of protector resonated with what we learned of his origin story. I was a bit disappointed that Jacob told Kate that her name being crossed out was his choice due to his respecting her motherhood, especially as I’m holding out hope that Kate plays a key role in the narrative to help counter some of the gender critiques I discussed last week.

I had theorized that the cave of chalk names had actually been the MiB’s lair to track Jacob’s choices, but now I think I had it reversed – the more scientifically-minded Smokey seems like the likely owner of the lighthouse, using technology to track Jacob’s candidates and their off-island lives, while Jacob preferred the low-tech chalk. Thus back in “Lighthouse,” Jacob’s manipulations to get Jack to destroy the mirror seems more calculated as a ploy to wipe-out Smokey’s scientific surveillance. Whether this really matters, I’m not quite sure.

In the end, the two candidate lists come to matter little, as what’s most important is that Jack chose to take the job (albeit with a highly abridged job description) as Jacob anointed him “like me.” While many fans have feared that this season would be reduced to the dueling whims of two island gods we’d never met before “The Incident,” clearly the finale is set-up to elevate the stakes of the core conflict established in season 1: Jack versus Locke, but now with each granted supernatural abilities. Thus while we might ultimately see the battle of the gods in the finale, at least they are earthly gods we know well.

Random favorite fanboy moment: Desmond’s manic maneuverings in the sideways timeline remain mystifying, but quite enjoyable as he gets the band back together to set-up his master plan, with an assist from Hurley in a van (alas, not a VW) and a corrupt Ana-Lucia. Is the culminating concert David’s piano recital or the Widmore party? Only a five-day wait to see – and thus next week will feature a Lost Monday!


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Lost Wednesdays: A Very Special Episode http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/12/lost-wednesdays-a-very-special-episode/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/12/lost-wednesdays-a-very-special-episode/#comments Wed, 12 May 2010 13:39:49 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=3860 I knew this episode was coming for a couple of months, with rumors of a deep Jacob backstory in the works, with anticipation that it would deviate from Lost‘s storytelling norms and feature a notable guest star. But it’s worth pausing to recognize how bold and unconventional this episode was, especially coming in the final hours of a six-season series. It features no regular characters, aside from a brief flashback to a five-year-old episode. It takes place in an unspecified time, probably around the time of ancient Egypt Rome.* It focuses on three characters, only one of whom has a name (at least until the end), and one who has never been seen before. And it is one of only two episodes of the series that tells its story in chronological order (along with season 2’s “The Other 48 Days“) – conventional for other shows, but radical for Lost.

* UPDATE: Per Sean’s comment and blog link below, I buy that the shipwreck was Roman era. But that leaves the island’s Egyptian symbolism unclear, suggesting a previous habitation yet unseen.

Thus it’s not a surprise that the immediate reaction, at least on The Twitter, was highly divisive. Some celebrated the revelations, while many decried the lack of answers; while many saw it as a distraction from the main story, others enjoyed its mythic sweep. For me, the episode worked very well – not an all-time classic (yet), but an impressive attempt to fill-in vast swaths of backstory without getting too expositional. What stood out was how it truly embraced its mythological tone – we frequently refer to the longform backstory of serialized television as “mythology” (I believe this stems from X-Files fandom), but this episode was literally mythological. Littered with symbols and drawing upon a range of religious and mythic sources – twins! games of fate! murderous mothers! – “Across the Sea” paints the background for the island setting where we’ve spent so much time, but never knew how to find the glowing core. While the answers it provides may not be fully revelatory, they frame the show decisively as a modern myth, much like the sources that the producers frequently cite as role models: Star Wars and The Stand.

The idea that Jacob and Adam (the only name given to him in the episode) are brothers isn’t a huge shock, although I doubt many people anticipated that they would be twins raised by a murderous island protector looking for an heir. For a show steeped in tales of Bad Daddies, the origin story being centered around a Murderous Mommy (now Eve) was a shift. Though the show’s recent treatment of women has been problematic, a point made eloquently by Mo Ryan on her podcast two weeks ago,** making the island’s previous protector a woman makes me more convinced that Kate will end up in a similar role by the end of the series and that Locke’s willingness to dismiss her candidacy (and Claire’s usefulness) stems from centuries of stewing in his Mommy issues. As it often is with serial narrative, it’s hard to judge a show’s politics (and aesthetics) without the full arc in place.

** UPDATE: Mo continued her gender analysis in reviewing this week’s ep – but avoid the comments unless you want to get infuriated.

Much of the episode’s mythological chatter would read horribly on the page, but Lost‘s frequent ace-in-the-hole has been the quality of its actors being able to make hokum sound sincere. Even though Jacob and Adam are infrequent guest stars, and this is Allison Janney’s sole appearance, all three of them completely sell the stakes of their conversations, making me buy it despite the silliness of glowing streams, enchanted wine, and obscure rules. The tone of the episode was purposely broad, framing the mythic narrative as a pre-modern tale of archetypes and supernatural forces preceding science. I was on board with that tone, but it’s certainly not everyone’s taste – and for the viewers who are primarily invested in the arcs of the main characters, this was surely an annoyance and distraction from the show they thought they were watching.

But what about viewers who claim to want “answers”? I’m guessing for many, this episode was frustrating on that front as well. Rather than the style of explicit answers that annoyed me regarding the whispers, the deep mythology created a sense of understanding rather than explication. I have a much better sense of what the island is, why Jacob is tasked with its protection, and what the smoke monster represents – but I really can’t explain it in any way that would make any sense. Many fans want things more explicitly answered, but if that’s your goal, I think Lostpedia is a better site for rattling off answers – the show’s sense of mythic storytelling is more about grounding the narrative in a consistent world rather than filling in every gap.

Of course some answers were given. The origin of the donkey wheel was alluded to – I assume that Smokey worked with future inhabitants to install the wheel, only to discover that it didn’t allow him to escape, but rather moved the island in time and space. And Adam and Eve were clearly identified in a true surprise – not castaways travelled back in time, but truly the original figures of our story. I found that revelation quite satisfying (although I could have done without the replays from season 1), and the more I’ve thought about it, I think tying island’s the mythic sweep to one of the show’s first mysteries is pretty impressive – I have no illusions that the producers knew all this back in 2004 when we first discovered Adam and Eve, but they planted an open-ended seed that could yield a satisfying narrative payoff in the long-run.

The risk that doesn’t payoff was choosing to place “Across the Sea” as Lost‘s antepenultimate episode (sorry, but I had to slip that in…). It break-ups the narrative momentum from last week’s bloodbath, and risks pissing off viewers leading into the finale. Is there a reason why we couldn’t have known the backstory of Jacob and Smokey prior to now? As the only true stand-alone episode in the series history, it seems better suited to midway through the final season to deepen our understanding of the complex relationship and motivation between the dueling brothers. As is, it seems like Cuse & Lindelof wanted to keep it up their sleeve for a grand reveal, but I doubt it functioned quite as they’d hoped. But I still quite like the episode, grading on a curve for its audacity and degree of difficulty, and finding myself enjoying it even more as I think and write about it. And let’s hope that next week provides a more typical Lost experience to get the haters back on board.

Random favorite fanboy moment: “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” Thanks for giving me an epigraph to use in my book!


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Lost Wednesdays: There Will Be Blood http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/05/lost-wednesday-there-will-be-blood/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/05/05/lost-wednesday-there-will-be-blood/#comments Wed, 05 May 2010 13:53:42 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=3653 We knew that there would be casualties. There’s no way that a show like Lost would make it to the end without the island demanding more sacrifices. And I fully expected that Smokey’s attempt to leave the island would result in blood spilled of characters not wearing red shirts. But I didn’t foresee tonight’s bloodbath, with four of our main characters, including three original Oceanic passengers, taken down at once.

I’m always excited when we don’t get a “previously on Lost” opening, as it means that there’s too much story to tell to waste time on a recap, although with last week’s hiatus, I did start out a bit confused as to who was where and aligned with whom on the island. But we fairly quickly got the gang back together, with a brief detour in the cages that was just enough of a taste to remind us of the unpleasant time spent there in season 3. I was glad that Sawyer finally briefed Kate on her crossed-out status in the cliffside cave, allowing her to realize that she’s simply an also-ran to Smokey. I do hope that there’s a payoff in the end about her  inconsistent presence on the lighthouse wheel vs. cave wall – my optimistic theory is that Smokey turns out to be mistakenly assuming that the candidate must be male, and thus can cross off women at will, but in the end his fatalistic misogyny (stemming from his mommy issues?) will be his undoing.

The rampage and shootout heading toward the sub was quite compelling in Lost action mode, with Kate’s shooting coming as quite a shock. I don’t wish any real ill will toward Kate despite her shortcomings as a character, but I really hope that wound proves fatal – a shot just above the heart followed by failed medical attention and a frantic underwater rescue stretches the limits of plausible survivability, even for Lost. And as this week’s episode makes perfectly clear, many of our heroes are going to have to die. But clearly my wish for sexist Smokey to be outplayed by Kate runs counter to my need for violence with consequences.

Sayid’s sacrifice came first, after a nice callback to Jack and Richard’s game of explosive chicken on the Black Rock. Jack’s faith first failed to convince Sawyer, and then failed to save them all, so it took Sayid to reassert his humanity, seemingly shaken back to the top of his consciousness by Desmond, and anoint Jack as the chosen one before running off with the bomb. Sayid doesn’t get the heartfelt death scene that most original cast members do, but he’d already died once during “LA X” and we’d long mourned for the old Sayid, so I thought it was an appropriate death for the noble torturer. And I don’t think it’s culturally unimportant to see a devout Muslim soldier blow himself up to save a band of mostly-white Americans – where else would you see that on TV?

Poor Frank Lapidus didn’t get enough screen time in life or death this season. Bonked by a piece of debris during the flood, Frank seems to have drowned with the parting words, “Aw hell.” This being Lost, he might not be dead, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he washes ashore next week clinging to a floaty piece of submarine. But if he does come back, he better get to do something besides offer cheesy one-liners, because otherwise it’s been a real waste of having Jeff Fahey in the main credits just to see him hanging around the crew.

And then there are the Kwons. We finally had a chance to see them together after three long years of story time (especially for time-traveling Jin) and two and a half years of screen time, and although their reunion was underwhelming (and Sun’s bout with aphasia looks even sillier now), I still have a soft spot for Lost‘s first effective romantic couple. So their death paid off their tragic romance, as Jin’s loyalty trumped his own survival in accepting the fact that he’ll never meet his daughter in order to keep his bilingual commitment to stand by Sun. The haunting love theme from Lost returns as they drown, evoking memories of Charlie’s season 3 demise.

However, their deaths lacked the finality and emotional punch of Charlie or other earlier deaths, as these characters live on in the sideways realm. Since we still don’t know how these two timelines connect, can we truly mourn Sun, Jin, or Sayid? (Frank’s absence in sideways-land is only slightly less noticeable than his presence on the island.) And depending on how the final episodes resolve, the sideways versions of these characters might live on in some way, in some timeline, or in some configuration. Maybe Ji Yeon can be adopted by the sideways Sun & Jin? The lingering uncertainty about the reality status of these timelines undermines the emotional impact of these deaths, as we know the characters will be back in some form or another. Although seeing Hurley breakdown on the beach was a masterful moment of driving home the emotional stakes, regardless of the larger temporal contexts.

This episode solidified Locke/Smokey’s role as Big Bad, as my own hesitation in accepting the seemingly simplistic take of good Jacob vs. bad Man in Black gave way to a clearer position of villainy. I’m still somewhat rooting for Locke though, as my allegiance to him as a character crosses his various incarnations – I hope in the end that somehow the Man in Black can be defeated by John Locke himself, as I don’t want to believe Smokey’s dismissive rants that Locke was just a deluded little man.

Speaking of Locke, my favorite moments were in the sideways realm, as we got great character beats between Locke, Jack, Claire, and Helen. The emotional payoff of Locke’s relationship with his father being based in guilt rather than anger was fabulous, with the wink of the plane crash quickly giving way to the sincerity and depth of Terry O’Quinn’s performance. Jack connecting with Claire and building a family out of the ruins left by his father was similarly satisfying, making the sideways realm enjoyable despite the persistent confusion of how the process of Desmond-inspired epiphany is playing out – did Locke see the island in his near-death experience? If not, why did Desmond run him over in the first place? And if so, wouldn’t he behave somewhat differently toward Jack? A lot is still up-in-the-air with only a few hours left to go.

Random favorite fanboy moment: Bernard’s appearance in the sideways world was a nice reminder of why I still want to see Rose & Bernard’s island fate, and his apparent awareness of Jack, Locke and Cooper suggests that he too has drunk Desmond’s kool-aid. Hopefully more to come from the good dentist…


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Lost Wednesdays: Everything in its Right Place http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/21/lost-wednesdays-everything-in-its-right-place/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/21/lost-wednesdays-everything-in-its-right-place/#comments Wed, 21 Apr 2010 11:58:52 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=3224 I imagine that a lot of people will gripe about “The Last Recruit” as a moving-the-pieces episode, as both timelines saw characters rearranged into new groups and locations. But to me it felt less like a table-setter and more like the first half of a two-hour finale. Perhaps it was the sailboat, which featured prominently in season 2’s finale “Live Together, Die Alone.” Or the musical score that reminded me of various tromping-through-the-woods-in-a-taught-manner scenes that are a staple of many seasons’ finales. But the episode felt like it was building to something big – which we now must wait two weeks to resolve.

The episode definitely feels like the beginning of the endgame. On island, the sides have been drawn, with four teams in place. Team Widmore is out for blood, willing to blow people up and double-cross allies. Team Sawyer broke free of Locke, but traded Jack out for Claire, a risky move considering Locke’s seeming focus on Jack as the titular last recruit. Team Locke seems in control despite being betrayed and bombed. And Team Ben/Richard/Miles is off rearming itself, forgotten about for the time being but certainly poised to return with a combination of grenades and sarcastic one-liners.

I quite enjoyed Jack’s conversations with both Locke and Sawyer. While it’s no surprise that Christian’s on-island presence was Smokey, it was nice to have it quickly confirmed (although I’m still unsure about his appearance in season 4 off-island flash-forwards). I love UnLocke’s contemptuous mockery of the old Locke, if only because it makes him seem like such a dick – and also undermines RealLocke’s entire faith-based character arc. And now that Jack has taken up Locke’s destiny-driven mantra, it’s fun to see Smokey play on Jack’s vulnerability.

Certainly the biggest emotional moment on the island was the long, long, long-awaited reunion of Sun and Jin. While the moment was heart-warming, it was almost undone by two distractions. First, the idea that Sun lost her English a couple of episodes ago simply as a plot convenience, with no significance beyond an attempt to heighten the stakes of the reunion, feels like an awkward waste of time. And more in the moment itself, seeing Sun & Jin run together along the sonic fence border made me (and many others on Twitter including this this cartoonist) cringe in fear of a brain-melting reunion – my wife exclaimed repeatedly, “Shut off the fence!”, which was definitely a distraction from the romantic melodrama. I can’t help but thinking that this was intentionally designed to produce this cocktail of sentimentality and fear, but after years of waiting for the moment, I wanted to be able to enjoy the reunion without fearing that one of them would pull a Mikhail.

The off-island storytelling changed the pattern to create a further sense of acceleration, moving beyond the single-character flashback and focusing on bringing the characters together, both by Desmond’s interventions and blind luck (or fate, if you’re feeling Jack-ish). I’m still not convinced that last week’s hit-and-run was just a ploy to get Locke & Jack in the O.R. together – and if it was, Desmond needs a better strategist, as it seems pretty risky. Based on Sun’s reaction to her stretcher-side vision of Locke, I imagine that the post-enlightenment characters do see him as a major threat. Overall, I quite enjoyed all the players getting their moments, and I look forward to Desmond’s motivational speech convincing them all to do… whatever it is they need to do. But we’ll have to wait an extra week to find out!

Random favorite fanboy moment: Had the fence not killed the mood, I would play it sentimental and tag the Kwon reunion. But instead I’ll give it to Sawyer’s great quip about Lapidus stepping out of a Burt Reynolds film.


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Lost Wednesdays: Revving Up the Engine http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/14/lost-wednesdays-revving-up-the-engine/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/14/lost-wednesdays-revving-up-the-engine/#comments Wed, 14 Apr 2010 13:48:16 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=3130 I was a bit concerned going into this week’s Lost. Given the high satisfaction of last week’s Desmond-centric episode, I was afraid that the pace would slow down this week with a lighter entry focused on Hurley, much like how this season’s Kate and Sun/Jin episodes deflated the excitement from their previous weeks. But while “Everybody Loves Hugo” was no all-time classic like “Happily Ever After,” it definitely kept the gas pedal down on the floor – and not just in Desmond’s final scene.

The on-island story moved forward, offering action, revelations, and key character moments, often at the same time. I quite enjoyed both Hurley and Jack mulling their leadership strategies, and both actors sold that conversation as years in the making. When they finally get to Locke’s camp, I was impressed by Hurley’s confident leadership that felt completely organic and in-character. And Hurley running away from the exploding Black Rock offered a nice variation of the “walking away from an explosion” shot.

Speaking of explosions, I anticipated that Ilana’s casual confidence with the dynamite would yield poor results, but I was shocked by how quickly she turned into a pile of Arzt. We know enough about how Lost tells stories that we should expect to see her again, filling in the gaps in her story about a life of training in service of Jacob, but I’m still impressed by how willing the show is to kill off a character whom we expect to be a major player going forward – I guess like the island, they were done with her.

Libby is another character who was shockingly dispatched before her time. Fans have been clamoring for years to get an explanation of her presence at the mental hospital in Hurley’s flashback – the producers have suggested that Cynthia Watros has been unavailable and/or uninterested in returning to the show, and chalked up the dangling thread as a casualty to the realities of serialized collaborative production. I felt her return in the sideways world completely paid off her character and her relationship with Hurley, making it the most satisfying aspect of the episode. The best returns-to-the-living cameos in the sideways episodes have been when the character’s presence matters emotionally to the main characters, as with Alex in “Dr. Linus” and both Farraday and Charlie in “Happily Ever After” – Libby certainly falls into that category, as her presence transcends her function as a red-pill plot device to awaken Hurley.

A far less successful return was Michael’s ghost communing with Hurley. Everything about those scenes felt forced, a shoehorned attempt to bring back a dead character for a victory lap rather than an organic storytelling moment. While I enjoyed needing to stop and think about when was the last time Michael and Hurley saw one another – at the ferry dock when Michael traded his friends for Walt and a one-way ticket to the mainland at the end of season 2! – the actual conversations between Michael & Hurley seemed to be contrived solely to give Harold Perrineau a little work.

The worst scene in the episode – and possibly the season of a whole – was Hurley’s investigation into the whispers. For fans clamoring for “more answers!”, this should be convincing evidence as to why some mysteries are better left untouched. First off, the highly contrived reappearance of the whispers seemed unmotivated except as to remind us that we cared about them once. Then we got the typically-frustrating Lost maneuver of a character claiming to know an answer but refusing to share it, but instead going off on his own to deal with it.

And then the answer – ghost whispering? really? – was underwhelming and seemingly inconsistent – the last time we heard the whispers was in the temple, and I felt that the mystery was basically answered: the whispers are some cool pseudo-mystical communication system used by The Others. I didn’t need to know much more than that. But now we’re told it’s really ghosts getting ornery, which doesn’t track much with either the reasons the whispers start in moments of suspense/peril, nor their relation to The Others, who’ve yet to display any clairvoyant abilities before. Of course, being Lost and all, this “answer” might not be quite as final as it seems, and we might learn more in the final hours that clarifies these inconsistencies – but this moment confirms to me that not answering a question is much preferred to answering one poorly.

And then there’s the final moment, where sideways Desmond – who’d been poking around at Hurley to get him to question reality & pursue Libby – runs down wheelchair-bound Locke in the school parking lot. So are we to think that Desmond can share consciousness with the on-island world and this act was revenge for being thrown down a well? Why else would Desmond want to hurt Locke, who unlike the other characters seems to have already found true love in sideways-land? Where is he getting his marching orders? These are the type of questions that I definitely do want answered, hopefully in a more satisfying fashion than with the whispers.

Random favorite fanboy moment: in the opening moments over a black screen, I exclaimed to the voiceover, “it’s Pierre Chang!” I wanted more from him in sideways land, but nice to hear him narrate another work of documentary exposition.


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Lost Wednesdays: Our Scottish Savior http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/07/lost-wednesdays-our-scottish-savior/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/04/07/lost-wednesdays-our-scottish-savior/#comments Wed, 07 Apr 2010 13:46:44 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=2882 Who doesn’t love Desmond? Most of Lost‘s other characters inspire a range of responses from lovers to haters – even the universally acclaimed performances of Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn eclipse the mixed feelings that some fans have toward their actual characters. But I’ve never come across anybody without a soft spot for the Scottish time-hopping lovelorn button-pusher. And when he was unwrapped as the package last week, fans were atwitter (especially on the Twitter) with anticipation that Desmond would save us from the ambiguity and frustrations of season 6 thus far.

The rescue was not as complete as I’d hoped – the title “Happily Ever After” had cued me to expect resolution in at least one storyline. I had anticipated that Locke would succeed in leaving the island, triggering the end game via the flash sideways. Instead, we spent most of the episode in Desmond’s sideways life and started to see the blurring between realities become manifest. And in the end, that was highly satisfying, mostly because it gave us an excuse to hang with Desmond for every shot of the episode.

I’d jokingly referred to the episode in advance as “a very special Lost,” given Desmond’s centrality and the anticipatory hype. But while no adolescent confronted an emotional trauma and life lessons were not learned, the specialness came from the structure. Most episodes this season have followed Lost‘s paradigmatic structure of bouncing between on-island and off-island storylines. Throughout the show’s run, episodes that deviate from this norm are marked as distinctive, and often become fan favorites – this week featured the sandwich structure of brief on-island segments surrounding a lengthy continuous flash (back or sideways), as seen before in this season’s “Ab Aterno” and notably the third season’s “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” At the level of structure, episodes like this are designed to be noticed and stand out from the standard fare, and they usually deliver with major plot revelations and twists.

It’s too soon to tell how significant these plot revelations really are. While we are shown that sideways world has lingering traces of the “real” world we’ve spent years in, we still don’t know the cause of that transformation in relation to Smokey and his quest to leave the island. We have enough clues to suggest that they are related – the wish-granting allusions that Eloise makes to Desmond echo Locke’s dangling offers to Sayid in “Sundown,” and Widmore’s warning that if Locke leaves, they will all cease to exist “The Package.” I still feel that the sideways are the result of Smokey’s departure, but how that relates to Jughead and Daniel’s cross-reality physics experiments is still unclear.

Many season 6 episodes are designed as direct counterpoints and comparisons to earlier episodes, both in title (“What Kate Does”) and content (echoes of previous Sawyer cons in “Recon”). “Happily Ever After” served as a cover-band medley of Desmond’s greatest hits, with a callout to Charlie’s own literal “Greatest Hits” moments with Claire and Desmond – the repeated meet-cute with Penny from “Catch-22” (with location repurposed from Desmond’s first encounter with Jack), teaming up with both Minkowski and Sayid from “The Constant,” the replay of Charlie’s drowning and “Not Penny’s Boat” from “Through the Looking Glass,” and Widmore’s whiskey and Eloise’s function as extradiegetic timeline referee from “Flashes Before Your Eyes.”

These clever callbacks and references are still hard to evaluate. If the final episodes explains the sideways in a way that feels like a narratively unsatsifying cheat, we’ll probably look back at these parallels as desperate attempts to recapture the magic of previous seasons of greater glory. But if – as I desperately hope and optimistically believe – the sideways are unpacked in a way that offers narrative integrity and emotional payoffs, the parallels will be impressive flourishes and ornamentation on the high-risk brand of serialized storytelling that Lost has pioneered for network television. As is, we’re left with the hope of Desmond as our Morpheus, eager to hunt down fellow travelers and offer them red pills. But who will emerge as The One? My money is on Hugo…

Random favorite fanboy moment: I’ve been eagerly anticipating Daniel Faraday (aka Widmore) to show up and drop some science on us. While that moment was not as enlightening as I’d hoped for, I embrace whatever I can get from my favorite twitchy genius.


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Lost Wednesdays: A Bug and a Package http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/31/lost-wednesdays-a-bug-and-a-package/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/31/lost-wednesdays-a-bug-and-a-package/#comments Wed, 31 Mar 2010 14:26:41 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=2777 After last week’s major mythological backstory, this week returns to the season 6 formula that is making many fans impatient. We fill in gaps in the sideways stories on Sun and Jin, confirming speculation that the couple is unmarried and that Sun has not learned English. We move pieces around the island, setting up a confrontation on Hydra Island between Teams Jacob, Smokey, Widmore (who now seems to be playing for Jacob), and Sawyer. We get the expected (yet satisfying) answer that Desmond was behind the padlocked door on the sub. And we still don’t know how all these things relate – nor did the episode confirm or deny my latest theory.

I still contend that these episodes will eventually be more satisfying once we know the larger context, and that the feeling that nothing is happening will be greatly reduced once we can burn through them on DVD without spending a week mulling on possible storylines. That was certainly my feeling when rewatching season 3, and I still have faith that the producers have earned our patience and trust. But for now, I can’t help feeling that episodes like “The Package” function more to confirm my story assumptions rather than offer great revelations or drama.

One of the elements of season 6 that I am finding more satisfying is how the show is offering a little guided tour through its past. Some commenter or blogger (the reference has escaped me, alas) pointed out that the way the show is revisiting old locations resembles the finale of Survivor, where we get forced reminiscences of people and events from the season. For a long-running series, these memories matter quite a bit to viewers, and any concluding series needs to address its past or frustrate its fans – I’m particularly fond of how The Wire gives us brief glimpses into characters who’ve left the show (if they survived) in season 5, reminding us that life goes on even when the story has moved on.

The conceit of the sideways stories allows Lost to revisit characters, regardless of their mortality, giving us a bit more time with a two-eyed but still menacing Mikhail this week. But I’m finding the island tour to be even more interesting, bringing our heroes to various locations long abandoned in the forward thrust of storytelling. These moments work the best when the places mean something to the characters, like Jack revisiting the caves or Sawyer remembering good times in the cages. Jin’s time in Room 23 felt a bit more forced to me, as he’d never had any relationship to that space and it raised more questions than it answered about the room’s role in DHARMA – wouldn’t Jin know it from his DHARMA days? And why did DHARMA have a comment about Jacob in the video? Perhaps the scene served to refresh our memories for forthcoming revelations, but on its own, it’s less than satisfying.

Speaking of unsatisfying, the “convenient aphasia” device of having Sun lose her English speech via head injury felt way too much like like a clichéd device, which would have only been worse had it been amnesia. Even though Miles voiced our disbelief, it still stretched credulity for no apparent reason – but again, the rationale might appear later in the story.

But no rationale can explain the annoying and narratively-damaging “bug” that appeared throughout the episode’s ABC airing counting down the return of V. While it did produce some amusing Twitter reactions – and an article about the Twitter reactions – it was particularly egregious in an episode dominated by subtitles and notecards, some of which were eclipsed by a big red V. As they say on The Twitter, #ABCfail.

Random favorite fanboy moment: Desmond’s expected but satisfying reveal as the “package,” along with bagpipe music in the teaser make me optimistic for next week. As does Damon Lindelof’s tweet: “in one week, the conversation is going to change.”


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Lost Wednesdays: The Cork Island http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/24/lost-wednesdays-the-cork-island/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/24/lost-wednesdays-the-cork-island/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 05:55:32 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=2635 Tuesday was one of the oddest days in my Lost fandom. I am in Los Angeles, staying a few days following last week’s Society for Cinema & Media Studies conference to do some research in the form of interviewing television producers. So today, I drove up to Burbank, entered Building 23, and sat down with Lost writers Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Gregg Nations. It was a great conversation (no spoilers, of course!) that I hope to post to my blog soon enough. And then I watched the show’s east coast feed with TV critic Todd VanDerWerff and his Slingbox, before rewatching the episode on my hotel’s HDTV in west coast time and writing this up to post before I head back early Wednesday morning. So Lost has taken up the majority of the day, limited only by not wearing my What Would John Locke Do t-shirt.

Thankfully “Ab Aterno” is an episode that deserves such attention. It’s quite rare for Lost to focus an entire episode on a single character’s story without flashing back and forth to the contemporary island, especially featuring only one series regular (in which Nestor Carbonell certainly delivers here), but a lot has been leading up to the tale of Richard and the Black Rock. The episode has two main tasks: provide a rationale for Richard’s crisis of faith through an emotional backstory, and unload a bunch of island history to deepen the mythology. It succeeds at both, although I think one was stronger than the other.

Richard’s story is not hugely surprising, as we’d been long suspected that he’d been a Black Rock slave granted eternal life in service of Jacob. The background of his wife’s death and his guilt was emotionally resonant, and it was nice to see a character whose past trauma was not parentally motivated. The first part of the flashback seemed to move a bit slow, but it did establish Richard’s torment before Blackie’s rescue to help motivate his willingness to serve. The emotional core really paid off in the scene with Hurley and Isabel, as Lost hit its romantic melodramatic notes quite well, approaching the feel of another single-character story, “The Constant.”

The mythological revelations about Jacob and Blackie were not quite revelatory enough for me, even though I found their chemistry compelling. We’re still not exactly sure who is telling the truth, and while Jacob seems to be representing the forces of good, he comes across like a tool. Blackie is clearing playing Richard for his own self interest, but I’m still not convinced that popping the island’s cork and releasing the darkness will be as horrible as Jacob warns – and I still contend that’s what the flash-sideways represent. The game and the rules that they are playing by are still unclear, and I’m not certain if there are clear policies for what dead people can appear on the island – why was Isabel there in the 1860s? Was she a manifestation of Smokey as a ploy to earn Richard’s trust? But her body wasn’t on the island, which seems to previously have been a limit.

Based on the gift of the white rock, it appears that the cave probably belongs to Smokey instead of Jacob, suggesting that Locke has not been as truthful to his followers as it had seemed. What with the creepy malevolence of Locke staring from the hillside and Blackie breaking the bottle of wine, the black=bad assumption seems to be settling in, although I’m optimistic that it’s not that simple. And despite sitting a room a few hours ago with people who have all the answers, I still remain unclear as to which side I’m on.

Random favorite fanboy moment: seeing that the Black Rock’s wave-induced journey into the jungle destroyed the statue was a particularly elegant way to answer a bunch of questions with one swift gesture.


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Lost Wednesdays: Sawyer Becomes Starsky http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/17/lost-wednesdays-sawyer-becomes-starsky/ http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/2010/03/17/lost-wednesdays-sawyer-becomes-starsky/#comments Wed, 17 Mar 2010 14:39:05 +0000 http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/?p=2581 With a name like “Recon,” we knew it was going to be Sawyer-centric, and we knew it would have moments where we didn’t know who was the conner and who was the conned. What we didn’t know is that it would feature the backdoor pilot for a Starsky & Hutch remake/spinoff starring Sawyer and Miles.

In a much retweeted comment last night, Todd VanDerWerff wrote “The Flash-Sideways really are starting to feel like the Simpsons Spinoff Showcase.” And while I won’t complain as that’s one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, it’s true that the sideways stories are playing out new possibilities with these characters that do feel like drastically different shows and genres – the heartwarming family drama, the high school drama, and now the cop show.

In “Recon,” the core idea was that when James Ford’s parents died, he needed to make a choice to avenge their death within the law or outside of it – in essence to become Sawyer or to become Batman. What’s uncertain and potentially significant is how much of his choice was made due to the moment in “The Incident” when Jacob gives him the pen to write his letter. It seems to be playing out that Jacob’s meddling made these characters into the flawed and tortured souls that we’ve come to love, and that perhaps the sideways represent an It’s a Wonderful Life version of the world if Jacob had never been born (or at least never got himself up in everyone’s business).

I’m on board with that idea, as long as it’s more than just a road not taken – these tales need to matter more than just mirror images in a lighthouse or comparable plot-generating device. And it helps when the alt-stories are as fun as in “Recon,” as the James/Miles chemistry is great – and Charlotte gets a chance to show a new side of herself in James’s bed. And with the dangling thread of Kate on the run (insert requisite “Son of a bitch!”), we know we’ll be returning to this tale.

Back on the island, Sawyer’s playing both sides with Widmore and Locke, but I’m guessing the key reveal is the locked door on the sub (is it Desmond? Penny? Aaron? a pallet of Apollo Bars?). And Claire finally snaps over Kate’s foster motherhood, with a quick return to sanity that felt a bit rushed. But my favorite moments were Locke’s conversations with Sawyer and Kate – based on what I’ve read (and heard on the excellent Geronimo Jacksbeard podcast), the actors have no idea what’s coming up for their characters beyond what is in each script, so Terry O’Quinn probably has no clue as to whether Locke is lying or not. Not surprisingly, I believe every word he says as he stumbles to speak as precisely as he can about his own past (and I can’t remember a lie he’s told this season), so I’m quite intrigued by what he reveals.

One of the knocks on the show has been the dominance of the daddy issue theme, serving as a stock motivation for every character’s tortured past. But might this be more than a theme? Might the way that Jacob manipulates his candidates and their associates be through paternal alienation? Might the bad daddies be a plot device as well as a theme? Might Locke end up being everyone’s good father? (Cue intertextual Stepfather reference now!) And might Smokey’s mother issues signal another dichotomy to line up allegiances? Regardless, the explicit connection between crazy mothers makes me think that Aaron’s going to matter quite a bit when all is said and done.

I’m at SCMS in LA this week, so I look forward to talking Lost with any of you at the conference!

Random favorite fanboy moment: Watching at the hotel, I didn’t have the option to pause and rewind, but if I had: Liam in the police station looking for Charlie? Hmmm…


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