thoughts on “lost”

May 24, 2010

these will be brief.
on the internet, that magical, mysterious vortex, someone paraphrased this stephen king quote quite skillfully:
“if being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.”

theriverjordan.tumblr.com repurposed it thusly:
“If reading Harry Potter was about learning how to live, then watching LOST was about learning how to die.”

now, i am not going to gush, nor will i enter into a spoiler-filled rant (though if you do not want to be spoiled, you should not even be on the internet, honestly).
all i want to say is this:

learning how to die was the entire point of the show. fuck all the science fiction. fuck all the mythology.
the theme of the show was about learning how to die.
sometimes it’s random. sometimes it’s heroic. it’s always final. whatever happens happens.
dying alone is something no one should endure. live together, die alone is now re-understood.

i think this theme was the entire reason so many characters had the names of enlightenment philosophers, to nudge us towards the righteous theme of de montaigne’s essay, “to philosophize is to learn how to die.”

in that regard, the finale was unspeakably on the mark, unspeakably touching.

while it is true that threads remain unraveled, and certain questions tug at the corners of my brain, i appreciate the experience overall, as well as the courage to confront and welcome death.

die together.

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I’m ashamed to admit it, but I recently watched the Lifetime “Pregnancy Pact” movie. I’m not going to try to pin the blame on anyone else (though I should probably blame our commenter Kerry, who covered the real story extensively at bostonist); I watched the movie because I wanted to see what happened to Thora Birch.

If you asked me years ago, I would have bet that Thora Birch would have become a major actress. There’s nothing delicate about her performance in “American Beauty,” a role that doesn’t require her to leave the archetype of sallow, disaffected teen, but her performance in “Ghost World,” showed an actress of real complexity. She easily could have fallen into the trap of reiterating her character from “American Beauty,” but instead she added nuance and charm to Enid. You can see it in her mannerisms; she carries Enid with what can only be described as an awkward strength. It’s a very physical performance, even as it’s mostly static; Enid is often still or stilted, turning the frame into a comic book panel.

But then she disappeared into a glut of Lifetime and low-rent horror movies (these are arguably the same thing). And when Ellen Page burst on the scene, Thora Birch became the former Ellen Page.

So too, it seems, did Claire Danes. In a profile this weekend, the New York Times referred to Danes as “the Ellen Page of the 90s” given her clear on-screen intelligence. This intelligence became blunted by a series of roles that saw her as nothing more than love interest.

“For quite a while I was bemoaning the fact that I kept playing people who fell in love,” Ms. Danes said. “That was their primary job and experience, to become gaga over a man. It was just starting to feel routine.”

The Times goes on to mention “Shopgirl,” where it’s more correct to say that she is the object of affection rather than the emotional one. Still, the point is taken: in “Shopgirl,” our proto-Ellen Page hardly had to stretch herself.

Are there only two emotions for women on screen: to be scared, and to be in love? Read the rest of this entry »

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.

After Thursday’s episode, I’m not so sure that “Lost” still deserves to be reckoned as one of the greatest shows on TV. Don’t get me wrong, the episode was still good, the acting still crisp and the story still intriguing, but things aren’t quite the same over on the main, non-Hydra Island. The “Lost” that we fell in love with is gone. Gone is the focus on character and exploration of personal redemption; in its place, mystery and obscurity for the sake of obscurity, the introduction of ever more and more organizations for the sake of further narrative complications, and the transformation of Walt into a spiritual Ghost Walt because of the producer’s inability to stop the effects of aging. For shame, Carlton Cuse, for shame.

I’ll say right off the bat that it is without a doubt too soon to write off “Lost.” The third season got off to a slow start, with the show turning into a bizarre version of Cool Hand Luke as Sawyer and Freckles went to work on a chain gang for the others.

katesawyergunpoint.jpg

He Just Bugs the Establishment!

Still, things righted themselves in the end, and season 3 turned out to be incredibly entertaining. If not quite as good as season 1, the show was certainly better than in season 2, and the season 3 finale introduced wonderful new storytelling opportunities that had the show poised for greatness. Unfortunately, that potential is currently being squandered. The creators have unleashed a torrent of new characters rather than working them in gradually; instead of a flash(back/forward) focusing on an individual castaway or other, we received a jumbled flashback of multiple characters. It’s as if the show started to listen to its critics, started to listen to those who said everything was moving too slowly and that nothing was being revealed (legitimate criticisms), only the creators didn’t know what to do and decided just too move everything really fast and to have characters ask direct questions (yet without answers).

Although past experience has told me that the show will probably recover, there are more than a few reasons for concern. To adumbrate but a few:

1) Poor track record with new characters. There have only been two unmitigated successful additions to the main cast: Ben and Desmond. Now think about just how many characters they’ve introduced. Every other one, including Juliet and Ekko, has had a problematic relationship with the show. All the (new) tailies were killed off, casting a pall over the entirety of season 2. Only Bernard is escaped alone to tell thee, and he was a preexisting character. Why were so many new faces introduced only to be killed-off? Were there stories necessary? Why does no-one ever grieve? Each new character presents new challenges, and the show rarely rises to the task, leaving a mess of unsolved problems. We’re still waiting on the Desmond-Odysseus connection and any number of other mysteries. Read the rest of this entry »