Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, March 01, 2009

LOST In Space

"We have to go back, Kate. We have to go back!"

This post is a shout-out to what has become a semi-obsession with the only TV show I regularly watch, other than The Bachelorette. (Just kidding. I don't watch that anymore after what Suzie did to Veronica.) :)

Why do I love LOST so much? Let me count the ways:

  • The writers. I don't know how they do it: an indecipherable plot (and I mean that in the most appreciative way) weaving in and out of different times and places; flashbacks or flash-forwards that always tie in the current action with distant plot lines; a cast of more than twenty major characters with interwoven histories; and a ridiculous amount of symbols and allusions from science, literature, religion, history, philosophy and art. But they have balanced all of these elements over more than a hundred hours of programming. They have kept and rewarded their audience's fragmented attention over six seasons, and yet each episode stands on its own as a captivating hour of television, each hour almost always paying off with a bizarre, unforeseeable twist, an "Aha!" moment that has become addicting. (Each episode I swear I'm going to see it coming, but I rarely do, and then I'm like, "Dude, that was sweet," as I munch on the final unpopped kernels of popcorn from my dark and suddenly spooky family room.)
  • The production values are superb. Lush Hawaiian locale, authentic retro scenery from across a half dozen distinct time periods, funky sci-fi props, crisp editing, eerie score. You won't see anything look or sound better on TV than an episode of LOST.
  • I identify with Jack Shephard, a frustrated doctor with major control issues who has leadership and greatness thrust upon him, all the while waging internal battles between faith and science. Plus, we both look really bad in a beard.
  • I identified the Island with our time in Wyoming. (In fact, I came to call Worland, "The Island.") A magical, frustating, isolated, and timeless place overrun with warring factions, a menagerie of motives and mysteries.

It might be hard to jump into the show now if you haven't been following it. As I said, the plot is so complex, so recursive and tangential, that it might be impossible to catch up entirely without back-watching every episode, which are available at abc.com. But it's worth a try.

When I first got into the show in season three, I became frustrated because it seemed there were so many loose ends that they could never be tied up, like the producers were just messing with our minds to hook us into the advertising revenue of the next show. But now, as LOST reaches the midway point of its penultimate season, the loose ends are starting to be tied up and the diffracted plot seems to be funneling back into a semi-cohesive narrative. (However, I think some of the tie-ups are forced, and I don't honestly believe that writers/producers had even half of the over-arching plot worked out when they started in Season One.)

But now I've learned to accept and even relish the ambiguities of the show. The point isn't to figure it out. The writers aren't going to let you do that, especially because, like I said, I don't think even they know how things are going to turn out. The Island on the show is a character in itself, and I think it's a meta-symbol for life: something powerful, compelling, and indescribable tears us apart and and brings us together, thrills us and torments us, casts us off and then redeems us. The point of the Island and the show isn't to solve the mystery. The point is to dazzle your mind. At this point, I'm just enjoying the ride.

The genius of the show is in its complexity. I compare it to what you would find if you were an alien dropped into the middle of present-day Iraq. You would find factions of US troops, Iraqi soldiers, Al-Qaeda terrorists, Western mercenaries, Shiite loyalists and regular civilians, all with they own agendas and motives. You may (or may not) find weapons of mass destruction, nuclear reactors or chemical weapons, statues of Saddam and ancient Mosques. If you dug deeper, you might find Mesopotamian temples and artifacts mixed in with American trinkets and bullet casings. In short, you'd find one tremendous mileu of humanity, horror, and history, and it would be impossible to try and sort it all out and explain it to another foreigner in any concise way. In the end, the history you pieced together may not make any real sense or mean anything, but it would be a description of the untidiness and indecipherability of life, and you might best represent that as art through a hundred hours of programming over six years.

(One final thought: has any show ever generated a more loyal and intelligent fan base? You can enjoy just the pagaentry and drama of the show, or you can peel back layer after layer of allusions and symbols in a quixotic attempt to fathom the shows true meaning. There are dozens of high quality blogs and websites dedicated to deciphering LOST, and some of them are so detailed that it's like reading a college dissertation on each episode. Here are links to a few of my favorites:)

Doc Jensen: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1550612_20245769_20261566,00.html
Erica: www.longlivelocke.blogspot.com
J. Wood: http://www.powells.com/blog/?author=104

Dark UFO

4 comments:

Jenny said...

Hands down, Lost is my favorite show. When I borrowed season one from a friend about the time that season two was getting started, I watched the entire season in two sittings and dreamed of The Island for weeks afterward.

My entire family is hooked and my mom will often call me right after an episode is over and scream over the phone, "WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN?!" The world asks that question, Mom.

I think that Lost has changed the landscape of television. Ever watched Battlestar Gallactica or Jericho, back before it got canceled? They were all trying to capture what Lost had started. But nothing can match that moment when you first see The Others walking through the jungle with a child dragging a teddy bear along on a string. That is good television, my friend.

Matthew said...

I have never watched a single episode of Lost, because we don't get network TV and limit ourselves to DVDs only. But I have heard everyone rave about it so often that I am interested in checking it out. It sounds weird and engrossing... two good qualities in any TV show.

You ask:
"One final thought: has any show ever generated a more loyal and intelligent fan base? "

I don't know about more loyal, but from the way people describe Lost and its cultish fan base, there seem to be parallels with Twin Peaks.

Ever seen that show? It aired originally in 1990-91 and never enjoyed the apparent mass popularity that Lost does. But it did develop a cultish following from people who enjoyed dark weirdness and labyrinthine plots involving the supernatural and mysterious fources. But it was canceled after a season and a half. There was a movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, that was even more intensely weird and attempted to wrap up some loose ends.

I think I might have seen one or two episodes of Twin Peaks when it first aired, but I really only got into the show when it was rebroadcast in its entirety on Bravo (back when that was still a network that emphasized quality). I got hooked and I think I watched every episode.

Anyway, Lost sounds similar. Maybe you would enjoy Twin Peaks too... a show way ahead of its time.

Em said...

Never seen it. But did you know Matthew Fox is from WY? I have it on good authority from my aunt's close friend's sister. She (the sister) babysat his daughter while he was visiting home, taking a break from "The Island." (Not Worland.)

Em said...

BTW, you make Worland sound a lot better than it is when you compare it to the Island like that.

I clearly need some of your tv-watching optimism.