Go with a smile!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Notes about "Lost"

When I was working for the Factory I remembered that there were people out there who were talking about "Lost". They were watching it so much that I was curious about what the show was really like. I finally finished watching the whole thing - all six seasons of it and I just felt that it was one of the great TV experiences for me.

I like it that many people on the show are geeks. I think that was necessary because mostly the people who would watch a show like this would be geeks. The Dharma Initiative is full of nerds and geeks. Charles and Penelope Widmore are geeks. Daniel Faraday is definitely a geek. Even the action heroes are geeks: Jack the surgeon. Sayid the torturer cum engineer. Sawyer the redneck cum bookworm. Charlotte. Miles. Juliet is a gynecologist. Jin is a fisherman. Sun is a gardener. Michael is not a geek but he’s a construction worker. The leader of the Others for most of the show is Ben and he’s a geek, although an extremely cunning one. Even Jacob is a geek.

Charlie and Hurley are not geeks but they’re affable jokers.

Plot holes in “Lost”
1. Was the Man in Black supposed to get off the island with the help of the candidates, or was he supposed to kill all of them before he got off the island? Because from the fact that he tried to murder them on the sub, it seems that he doesn’t mind killing them. And if he wants to kill them, why doesn’t he do that in his smoke monster form?

2. Is it really so important whether or not people are selected as candidates? When Jack found out that he had been spied on all his life, and realised that he was a prospective protector, he took it very badly. But the irony is that the protector who was there for the longest time – Jacob – didn’t even give a shit about it, though he was served by two very capable leaders in Richard and Ben. Jacob already said that it’s just his own personal shopping list. Things look very different from the perspective of a God! Which brings me to the next point: is Jacob a good or a bad person? Why did Ben run the Others like a very paranoid and secretive leader? Was that a reflection of what Jacob was like? Could the purge have taken place without Jacob’s consent? (No, I don’t think so.) How on earth could Jacob ever be a “good guy”? If Jacob really wanted the candidates to lead the island, why was his attitude towards the survivors so unfriendly in the first place?

3. Why would Charles Widmore change his mind about the island so drastically? First, he was the leader of the others. Then when he was exiled, he hated the island so much that he didn’t mind getting mercenaries to kill everybody on the island. Then somehow Jacob managed to convince him to make another 180 degree change on the attitude by bringing Desmond over to save it.

4. If it was so important to research on pregnant women, why were the Others so nasty about kidnapping pregnant women? And why did they have to capture the children as well? Why did they capture Walt only to let him go? Why did they capture Jack only to let him go?

5. The early behavior of the smoke monster did not match its eventual role as the main antagonist. It killed the pilot of the 815 – but why? There was no need to do so because the pilot would have been useless in helping them get off the island. The only purpose it served was to delay the eventual revelation that whatever radio signal would have been jammed in any case. It posed as Christian Shepard in order to lead Jack to the water. But did it want the candidates to survive at all? Anyway, for a story that had so many twists and turns, it was probably a job well done that I could only find five main points to nitpick with, given the 90 hour running time. Also, the great part of “Lost” was not that everything had to make sense: after all this was a show that succeeded in spite of mightily stretching your incredulity. This is a show succeeds because it gets away with it, not a show that succeeds because it leaves a lot of things unexplained. You had to smile at how tall some of the tales were. It’s strictly for people who enjoy seeing that in spite of having your leg pulled all the time, there was still a coherent tale somewhere there.

Anyway, there were some loose ends that were never followed up on. The story telling may have been extremely improvisional, and as a result there were some elements that were not followed up upon, because they couldn’t weave it into the story.

1. Walt. I’m sure that they wanted to make him special in some way, but how were they to do that? Anyway he spent way too much time off the island to be of any importance. Maybe at most he is a future candidate. I can’t imagine Hurley living forever because cardiac problems will get him in the end.

2. The whispers. The whispers were also under-utilised. After so many people who had heard them, and didn’t really believe that they did, the payback was exactly one conversation between Michael and Hurley – not exactly a great return.

3. The Hurley bird. What purpose did those things serve, if at all?

4. The Dharma Initiative animals. What was the shark, the polar bears and the rabbits for? They didn’t exactly serve great purposes. In any case, the producers had stated that animals were very hard to film.

5. The numbers. Hurley believed that the numbers were evil, and was even more convinced of that when they were broadcast to a crazy guy. But then again, they saw the Dharma station being built, and it seemed nothing more than a harmless serial number.

6. Room 23. It was used to brainwash Karl. And then…? Did it have any purpose other than to show how evil the Others were?

7. Oldham. The Dharma Initiative’s torturer who was great for one scene, and then disappeared for the rest of the show. But all in all, I have to say that Lost was a great show and I enjoyed watching it – probably even more than the other shows that I enjoyed watching – and I’ve watched very few of them. Most probably only “X Files” and “Northern Exposure”. Overused plot devices in “Lost”

While in general I have nothing but admiration for the level of creativity for the plotting of “Lost”, there were times when they used a few plot devices too often.

1. The Flashback.
One of the great plus points of “Lost” is that the storytelling is not linear. Or rather it is bilinear, meaning that most episodes have two stories that are interspersed with each other. One of my favourite plays that I saw in school (ie this was written by a teenager) was four people sitting at a mahjong table, and they were complaining about their lives: everybody had something to be unhappy about. And this play was written 10 years before “Lost”. So it is a time-honoured narrative device so common that even a teenager knows how to use it. But it’s used very well here.

The problem was that the flashback had been used too often, and too many times. Kate’s flashbacks were notorious for being about just another person she had to run away from while being a fugitive. Sawyer’s involved conning people all the time. Probably John Locke, because he was such a complex character, and Sayid, because he had such a complex background, had the more interesting flashbacks. Hurley’s flashbacks were entertaining. Claire, Charlie, Shannon and Boone, and Rose and Bernard did not have sufficiently complex backgrounds to merit more than one or two flashbacks.

Jack’s flashbacks were good enough, and not only was he the quintessential “Lost” character, his father was the quintessential bad father. The notorious episode “Stranger in a Strange Land” which was profoundly pointless served as the catalyst for the producers to declare that the series would only be six seasons long. The long term planning paid off, because it introduced the concept of flash-forwards in season 4, the constant travelling through time of season 5, and the flash sideways of season 6. It introduced three new storytelling formats and that improved the series remarkably.

It also made the series completely different. Seasons one through three were focused on throwing the viewer into a completely alien and strange situation (typified by Jack waking up in the bamboo grove) and then explaining how the people came to be, and how they got there. Seasons four through six managed to explain a few other mysteries, but it focused on driving the story forwards. Seasons one through three could be watched by new viewers with no problems at all. Seasons four through six would be impossible to watch without some knowledge of what went on in seasons one through three.

2. Charlie’s heroin addiction
Some of the silliest episodes have involved his heroin addiction. Of course it was the backdrop to a tragic story, and that was how it worked best. And it also involved his ability to belong to a real community. That was in essence what Charlie was all about: the dichotomy between withdrawal (no pun intended) into his own shell, and belonging, and making an impact. He could have been one of the principals, but his rashness in killing Ethan Rom early on put paid to that possibility.

The problem is that heroin addiction is not really going to be a big issue when you’re on a desert island. There’s no heroin there, so you just have to rough it out and do cold turkey. And let John Locke handle you. So I suppose the scriptwriters decided to fly in a plane load of heroin and then let Charlie decide if he was really going to handle it.

The episode where he ostensibly quits for the first time looks pretty OK. But after that, in the second season, there was this “will he or won’t he” thing where we never knew whether or not he was using. We only knew that he kept a stash in the jungle, but never that he was ever going to use it. I’m not sure that that’s the way that things work for real heroin users. They never keep a stash unless they’re going to use it. And when they are clean, they stay clean by not ever having a stash.

3. The pawn sacrifice
“Through the Looking Glass” is one of the best episodes in the series, often only rated behind “The Constant”. A zenith that followed the nadir of “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Personally, as a Beach Boys fan, my favourite part of that episode was how Charlie had to key in music from “Good Vibrations” to turn off the Looking Glass. But Hurley langgahing the Others with the DHARMA van was a close second.

The emotional heart of that episode was Charlie’s sacrifice. They didn’t know what to do with Charlie, so they killed him off. But they killed him off well, by making Desmond have constant premonitions of his demise. Then they had one episode of Charlie bidding farewell to the world. That was a great episode.

The next four sacrifices were not that great. Michael had to die because there wasn’t any way they could have allowed that murderer to survive. And it was due to a failed attempt to stop a bomb from going off, so it wasn’t really a premeditated sacrifice. Neither was Julia’s. But Julia and Michael died trying to save the rest of the gang.

To be clear, the sacrifices are: Charlie trying to communicate with Penny and disable the Looking Glass, Michael trying to defuse the bomb on the Kahana, Julia trying to nuke the Swan, Sayid taking the bomb to the end of the submarine, and Jack trying to turn back on the Heart of the island.

All the sacrifices involve one or more of the following: bombs, going beneath the surface, being in the open sea, great levels of electromagnetic energy. Desmond and Sawyer had non-lethal sacrifices, when they turned the failsafe key and jumped from the chopper respectively.

To be sure, there was another type of sacrifice, and that was to fulfill the premonition of one’s death. Charlie, John Locke, Daniel Faraday, Jacob and maybe even Charles Widmore satisfy this pattern. But this is not the traditional sacrifice. Then there were the deaths that were more like misadventures, that did not serve to save anybody’s lives, like Shannon, Boone, Ana Lucia, Libby, Mr Eko, Sun-Hwa, Jin-Soo and Charlotte. As well as the entire DHARMA initiative.

It was probably the case that everybody had to die. But I think that after people got sacrificed one by one, they started getting less satisfying. Definitely, other than maybe Sayid and Jack, they didn’t have the impact of Charlie’s.

4. Claire’s baby
I think that some of the producers had admitted that the purpose of Claire was to produce some form of vulnerability for the group as a whole. They wanted to produce some plot points where Claire would be kidnapped. But it got pretty boring in the end. And the time when Charlie got shut out of the loop and had to try to kidnap Claire’s baby in order to baptize him – that was pretty ludicrous.

Kate being a foster mother to Claire’s baby was more interesting, and it would prove to be a point of conflict between the two of them after Kate returned to the island. So that’s all right.

5. Tearful reunion
After a jungle trek or a dangerous mission, there will be a tearful reunion on the beach. If a person or a bunch of peoples disappear after a long time, and they go back to beach camp, there’s always a big welcome. This is pretty inspirational for a few times but after that it gets a little trying on your patience.

6. All the Best Cowboys have Father Issues.
It was almost a cliché that all the main characters had problems with the father. Jack’s father wasn’t emotionally available, was a drunkard, and fathered Claire out of wedlock. Kate’s father was a molester. Her mother was the one who turned her in. Sawyer’s father killed his wife before killing himself. John Locke’s father was the swindler who victimized Sawyer’s father. Shannon’s father wrote her out of the will. Hugo’s father disappeared and ran away. Sun Hwa’s father was an evil chaebol boss.

7. Character stereotypes.
Jack fixes things because it’s in his nature to fix things. Sayid kills because it’s in his nature to kill. Kate runs away because it’s in her nature to run away. Sawyer’s a conman / playboy because … After a while this gets ….

8. “I lied”
How many times does Benjamin Linus have to say that?


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