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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Lost has Lost Me

"Why are you crying Daniel?"
"I think we've jumped the shark."

I’m pretty much done with Lost. I mean I'll still watch it if I have the chance, but I've lost (ha, pun) a lot of investment in the show. While I had problems with the time-travel and the whole freighter people having a part in the larger mythology that’s not what did it for me. In fact, it’s not any particular element of the show. Rather, the failure of any compelling fundamental story structure present in the way the show itself has gone along.
Think back to previous seasons. There were clear protagonists with very clear goals. Remember when the show had characters instead of being a fantasy travel show? When they had problems and hopes and weren't just treated like pieces on Locke's Backgammon board? And there was a collective objective for everyone to get off the Island and a more metaphysical super-objective of each character redeeming themselves via acts to get them off the Island, or for them to chose to stay. That was the entire show for 4 seasons. I assumed that season 5 would be the inverse, where they’d spend the season trying and failing to get back to the Island. Instead, they got back like three episodes into the season. So, what is the point of this season? Is it to hit us over the head with backstory which has already been inferred or which was far more interesting when it was mysterious?
What is this season even about? Season 1 was the characters being introduced to each other, us, and the Island. Season 2 was the introduction of the tail section and Desmond. Season 3 was about the Others and probably enough history of the Dharma initiative that I'd ever need. Season four was about getting off the Island.
Time travel, when used as a storytelling device rather than a cohesive part of the larger plot is lazy, and sadly it seems to me that there was no point in the whole addition of time-travel to the show than to tell backstory in ways other than flashbacks. I thought the flashback’s worked just fine. Even lazier is the fact that Miles can talk to dead people, which seems superfluous since we’ve been seeing and talking to dead people since the first season, only now it’s less nuanced and more conventional. I mean really, Ben already told us about how he took Alex and raised her so why did I need to spend a whole episode seeing what I've already been told? The same can be said of Rousseau and her team. We had the story, why did we have to see it? I'd rather spend time seeing how the characters are dealing with their situations.
And that's what’s most disappointing; that the characters have taken a back seat to the mechanics of this not so compelling and aimless plot. Or it might as well be aimless. You don’t have to tell the audience where you’re going, but you better give them something to look forward to. Lost has not given its audience anything of the like so far this season. I just don’t know what the stakes are, what the objective is, or what’s standing in the way of that objective. If it was to get back to the Island that happened too quickly. And overall it has to be about characters even at the expense of the plot. I'm sorry, I don't care about the mechanics of the smoke monster as much as I do about John Locke coming to terms with the fact that he's been resurrected. And once you tell me how something works, its not going to be half as cool as if you had left it mysterious. That's what Lost had done so well, to tell us the least amount of information we needed about the larger mythology to understand how the characters have roles in that mythology. Now that model has been turned on its head.
As far as I can tell this season is about trying to get the survivors back together on the Island during the same time period because they’re supposed to be back on the Island, because they're supposed to. Though that's never a good reason when you're telling a story. And obviously Locke has to do something with some ancient device that will fix things and get the two groups back together even though Ben already killed them all and Jack is in the ditch with the bones of everyone else from Dharma. Even if that’s the case what’s the point? Why should I care Why add this whole wrinkle (of the survivors being with the Dharma bums) to the story? Are they just buying time? How does any of this have to do with what we've seen so far in the show and how it will end, other than give us unnecessary back story? Please, these aren’t rhetorical questions. I want to care. But they just haven’t given me anything to latch onto.
Lost was excellent at story structure, even when it struggled in other areas. But now its lazy, and not balanced at all. Arcs take too long, like getting back to Penny and Desmond, or too short, like Sawyer and Juliet.
Brian K. Vaughn is really the only different element in the creative workings of the show this season. But I don’t think it’s his fault. His Y: The Last Man was one of the best comics in recent years and was wonderfully structured, wildly compelling, funny, and interesting. Maybe Damon and Carlton were too busy with Star Trek? Which, mild spoiler alert, will include time travel. Enough with the time travel! I thought that maybe Lost would be the first show to really make it work. Alas, no. To me, Lost is like Marty McFly’s photographic self in Back to the Future; slowly and painfully fading away from its vibrancy and life.


Parker said...

Aimless is a harsh word. Seemingly aimless, yes, but why must we toss in hyperbole when we haven't seen the whole shebang?
I'll agree that the show is missing a driving force, one as strong as its first four seasons. I suppose the show could have continued to meander on the island for six years as fans waited, a la Gilligan and Friends, to see if they'd be rescued, never once tossing a stick into the cogs of the narrative machine, and we could have been happy with flashbacks to tell us how things happened. Obviously, that's not the point of the show. You appear to be (pardon the cliché) tossing the baby out with the bathwater; abandoning a show you've clearly invested a good number of hours in, simply because the show's developed a (probably temporary) narrative device to shake things up. But, you can't blame time-travel for the lack of focus; that burden falls on our seemingly unfocused characters, and their motives for return (and their motives for staying). But, as we (slowly) reveal the reasons for each character's purpose for coming back, we're getting a sense, I believe, that show is less about the good of the whole, and more about the good of the individual. I may be wrong, but that's naturally where the show had to go once getting off the island was no longer the goal. But I must ask: Would you still have stuck around had the show continued to wander on the island for six years, with the "Get off the Island" motivation still in tact? You've stuck around probably for the same reasons I've stuck around: because the show is never the same thing twice. If anything, it's abundantly clear that LOST refuses to become a mere shadow of its former self. I see shows like 24, or Alias, or any number of serialized dramas get bogged down by nostalgia, as they try to reinvent their own first season "wheel" during their final days, by giving us (the fans) what they think we want (see ER for a recent example).
I can't say that LOST's attempts to be strikingly different from it's previous seasons will prove successful, as it seems more and more viewers are tempted to bask in the warm blue glow of American Idol's spinning (and hypnotic) logo, but I'm on board... Why? Because of episodes like "Dead Is Dead" - Yeah, I know what happened to Alex, and Rousseau, but I now realize I had it only half right: Ben's not quite the demon we all want him to be. That's information I NEED to know... To see him put his gun down on the marina after seeing Charlie, or to see him push Alex in a swing like any loving father would? Those moments are what keep this season alive for me. I'm not in it because I want my characters to get somewhere concrete, or to find something tangible; I'm in it to see them figure out their purpose. A weak motivating device? Yeah, sure, but when I'm THIS invested in the characters, I'd be happy with learning how they learned to tie their shoes (not really, but you get the point, right?)
All in all, your points are valid, but they reek of prematurity. If LOST didn't have an end-date, I'd probably be gone too, but knowing that we're nearing the end, I'm okay with seeing how it finishes, and I'm okay with its leaps in logic, or bizarre turn of events (this time travel thing, as you may know, both bugs me, and fascinates me). The show is in the same hands it's been since the very beginning, and I trust that that same focus has not been lost. I doubt any single writer could influence how Team Darlton plans on telling their story. I know they've mapped this thing out, and they're (awkwardly) getting us to a certain point in this season to where the final season will be well worth my while. I'm convinced of this, and I'll defend my position till I'm proven wrong on May of '10. Of that you can be certain...
But, I'll leave this with you, in regards to the show's time-travel device: Are flashbacks all that dissimilar to time-traveling? A sort of dramatic time-travel, if you will... I believe strongly that since minute one, this show was always going to be about time travel. I believe that whole-heartedly. Have I drunk the Darlton Kool-Aid? Probably, but I'm having fun, so I couldn't care less...

erin said...

See, I liked Ben before this season, especially before "Dead is Dead." (which sadly enough was one of my favorites of this season) I really did. I am sick of the whole Ben is TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY EVIL/BEN LOVES TO CUDDLE BABIES bi-polarness of this season. And I am really really really disappointed over the way Charles left. Seriously? Having a baby with an outsider? How do they get more others, then? Are they really just glorified inbred super-hillbillies, as we thought seasons ago?

And don't get me started on the smoke monster. And "Higher, Daddy, Higher!" *shudder* It seems like the writers are either oblivious to what in the backstory is interesting or they are intentionally exposing everything they ever thought of because they are sick of hearing questions like "omg what's that smoke monster?" and spending entire episodes giving answers like "it's an Egyptian electronic instant karma device that is somehow controllable by people." Which we already knew. What it means for the survivors and why they had to return is totally ignored. And no one seems to care. And they push aside people who might ask questions or be upset without explanation (Daniel, Bernard, Rose, etc.) and introduce people who are bizarrely there to create unnecessary and masochistic obstacles ("what lies in the shadow of the statue?" oh poor Lapidis). It just seems like stalling. Like a season of episodes I normally skip past on repeat viewings.

Hurley episodes seem to bring things back to the core of the show, so maybe this next episode, though another "side quest" (if it looks like a fantasy RPG and sounds like a fantasy RPG...) will force things back into... something. I don't even know what to hope for anymore.