The Year of Desmond
March 5, 2008
About a month ago, I asked whether or not Lost was still one of the best shows on TV. I think it’s safe to say that the jury is still out on this one. The fourth season is a dramatically different viewing experience, and I give the writers and producers a lot of credit for being so adventurous. Yet I’m not convinced that the new format is a change for the better. The show always walked a tight rope (how many cliches will our intrepid correspondent manage to work into this piece?) between plot-heavy revelations and subtle character development, but this season the scales have firmly tilted in favor of plot points. The story of the Oceanic 6 has overpowered the show, leaving little time for some of our favorite characters, i.e. Jin, Sun, Rose, Claire, etc. In this regard, this past week’s episode was a breath of fresh air, much more like one of seasons’ past than one of this year’s muddled Locke-Jack-Ben standoffs. And, to top it all off, it still managed to further the plot, giving us a look inside at the world of the freighter.
Perhaps the reason that this episode was so successful is its subject, Desmond. Of all the characters introduced after the first season, Desmond is one of two that can be considered a completely realized character. Desmond broadened the show’s storytelling possibilities, adding multiple levels of mystery. Yet in his complete realization he is the figure of much of what is wrong with the show. Desmond’s arrival coincides with the show’s descent into its own mythology, (they spent an entire season pushing buttons in a hatch!) and his oracular turn in season 3 always ran the danger of choking the viewer on the fate/free will binary that so much of the show is based around. Desmond’s arrival is one of the show’s first major widening of scope that eventually turned a show about a group of castaways into a geo-political game of assassination (kinda).
Like Desmond, “The Constant” walked that line between bizarre-for-the-sake-of-bizarre and character study. Desmond Hume’s sudden Billy Pilgrim-esque ability to become unstuck in time could have been another one of those Lost mysteries that go nowhere and are never again referred to. But because of the constant, because of Desmond’s emotional connection to Penny, the episode was still grounded in the realm of realistic genre. With it’s balance of mystery and character focus, the episode recalled the heights of the first season’s Numbers. Unfortunately, Desmond’s time story also has the potential of becoming like the numbers, a once great unknown that over-permeated the show. In a sense, the numbers lead us to Lost‘s biggest challenge: how to make a surreal supernatural adventure story relatable–a must in any drama. On that front, all I can do is mention the case of Alice. Her adventures delighted us, but the further down the Rabbit hole she went, the harder it became to care about Alice, and the sooner we wanted to leave.