Thursday, December 16, 2010

4. Lost (Everything That Rises Must Converge)

JACK: "I don’t believe in destiny."
LOCKE: "Yes, you do. You just don’t know it yet."
-John Locke, always the mentor;
"Exodus Pt. 3" (Season 1, Episode 25)

Run time: September 22, 2004 – May 23, 2010
Created by: Jeffrey Lieber & J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof
Broadcast via: ABC

Oh, Lost. No show quite incites either loving devotion or dubious dislike like Lost. So let’s just get this out of the way: Lost is a good show. A really fucking good show. Any hate thrown towards it is based on personal bias more than actual lacking for craft. Okay, there are things about Lost that are less than cool (I’ll get to that later). But as I’ve already stated about my favorite show, no series is perfect. If you’re still not with me on the “Lost is good” talk, let me say that I understand there are plenty of reasons to hate Lost; I too used to be a proud member on the Fuck Lost bandwagon. But just because something has faults doesn’t mean it can’t also be good or beyond loving. The fact that Lost is ultimately about that last sentence I just wrote only further ascertains it as one of the defining shows of pop culture, not to mention one of the best mysteries and interactive puzzle games ever created.

I should even note that I am not the biggest fan of the first and second season. While I do find them to be very entertaining and full of intrigue, they just don’t grab me to the same degree that the best of the best have (although the “We’re gonna have to take the boy” moment and “The Other 48 Days” episode were knockout brilliant). Get passed that though, and you will be justy rewarded with four solid seasons that take Lost from what everyone initially thought it was going to be into mind-bending new territory that truly had not been explored on TV before.

Lost is one of those shows that is immediately rewatcahble, endlesly absorbing because every scene, seemingly every frame is filled with more than just what the scene itself suggests. Subtext is a big name of the game for Lost, and following the threads during each episode means leaving nothing to chance (or excusing any detail from utmost scrutiny). Such thinking never really got anyone any closer to the answers, but the fun of discovery along the way makes for a huge part of Lost's drawing power. It's like a crazy religious tome, each chapter unfolding another layer in the mystery of everything. The storytelling is wild and all-encompassing, and in the end is merely a blueprint for something much bigger than itself by itself. Which is why Lost became the pop culture phenomenon it did while it was on the air (and audiences were forced to wait season-to-season, week-to-week and unravel the mystery collectively) and the cult uber-show it has already became in the home viewing market.

Lost is perhaps most notable for being the first show created and aired in the 21st century that became a cult-canon series on par with both Star franchises (Trek and Wars, both of which cast a wide influence on the show). Yes, The Sopranos was the most successful cable television series ever, and The Wire has an extremely articulate and passionate fanbase, but this does not compare to going to ComiCon and seeing Losties mix in with the Trekkers (and I’m not quite sure what you call diehard Star Wars fans, but probably not “Warsies”). This is an especially big feat since most noteworthy programming these days is coming from cable. Yet lo and behold, Lost came from ABC, the most basic of basic networks. And despite it’s network limitations (or sometimes, like Arrested Development, because of it), it has thrived; I should mention that I heard when they wrote their scripts they laced the dialogue with plenty of profanity (this was obviously edited out by the end of post production, but it was done to establish and maintain intensity during scenes). For seeming like a silly network show, Lost is well known (and loved) for provoking ideas, hinting at symbolism and literature and thousands of other pieces of pop culture, messing with your conception of time and principality (are you a person of science or faith, and is there really a difference?), and creating a new realm of pop mythology. It combined many religious views, philosophical queries, scientific theories, superhero sagas and ancient mythologies (along with name checks to many of the best in each of those fields), turning them all into something else. Something modern, yet something classic. And it got a lot of people thinking. Any show that inspires people to read so many different books and study science or philosophy and create art the way Lost has must be deemed a success.

Watching it for the first time, Lost can be quite overwhelming, especially if you focus on some of Lost’s tackier idiosyncrasies. Things go by in the blink of an eye, yet obviously huge amounts of details are poured into several significant scenes. The production quality is astonishing; the sets especially are something to be marveled at. And being filmed primarily in Hawaii gives each exterior scene a gorgeous hue.  I could mention all the dazzling characters that pop in and out of this chronicle - and holy crap, are there myriad mesmerizing men and women and smoke monsters in this fantastic voyage to and from one crazy island . But same as Baltimore is to The Wire (and again, that mansion is to The Shining), The Island is the real star of the show. Like the mansion, it remains shrouded in mystery, yet such an entrancing and mythic place. In the end, it was something people fought over, something that gave life and took it all the same, filled with beauty and horror, as well as things that made life make sense (and things that confused the fuck out of people).

Being made by people, no show can be perfect, including Lost. Being on a network helped Lost in gaining a wide mainstream audience as soon as it started, avoiding the dreaded poor-ratings-means-cancelation-means-obscurity debacle. I will also state that many shows benefit from being limited by the censors (The Office, Arrested Development and Always Sunny are three that immediately come to mind), though I don't know if Lost might have done better at a cable network or not. Being on a network did force showrunners Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse to do some pretty silly things, like force source music down our ears, rely on stock story structures for the pointless stuff that had to fill up mandated episode counts, and tone down its potential for some serious scenes and manic moments of unfettered cinema because, hey, kids could be watching. Most of these mistakes and missteps were rectified by the end of the third season, however. ABC agreed to give Lost a definitive end date, and from that point forward, it was game time, with Lost having enough cache that the creators could start getting away with more risky (and rewarded) measures. The two-headed mythmakers Darlton went full speed ahead and engaged us in some of the most epic storytelling this side of The Chronicles Of Narnia (the books, not the movies), Back To The Future or the first three Indiana Jones movies (the last one I'm not counting).

Despite this epicality, the weaknesses may seem prominent at first to the uninitiated, but they erode over the course of the first three seasons. As already mentioned, the stories get better once the cast and crew knew what they were working toward with an actual ending in mind. The acting seemed to rise with it, and everyone's performances consistently got more and more involved (and involving). I’m not usually a fan of incidental (or source) music, especially in television. Usually, it’s contrived and artificial and reminds me that I’m being told to feel something (even if it’s already abundantly clear). Lost starts out very much this way, or so it seems. Perhaps this ties to my not-as-embracing views of the first two seasons (which, again, are good), but the music seems to fit with my bitter views on source cues (at least initially). Again, give it time. Any nonbeliever will start to realize that the leitmotifs and fanfare are actually thematic. You must respect the attention to detail and care that went into crafting this story of a group of plane crash survivors who will never be the same again. It affirms that the writers knew what they wanted to do from the beginning, but had to contend with the demands of the moneymen before being allowed to put the final acts into effect.

Again, there are plenty of seemingly reasonable excuses to hate Lost. But most do not hold up under debate. If it’s not your cup of tea, so be it, but that it your choice, and not directly reflective of any shortcoming on the creators’ part. If you wanna poke holes in Lost, you can, but these guys covered their asses pretty well, and they’ve already called themselves out on anything you may find stupid long before you have a chance to come up with your snappy one-liner. Really, the simple fact is that anyone can find reasons to hate anything. But just as true, you can take something on its own terms and not feel slighted if it sometimes conflicts with your idea of what something is supposed to be.

Lost deals a lot with time. The series starts off relying of flashbacks to different times in our characters’ pasts, revealing how they got to where they were before they ended up in the infamous Oceanic Flight 815. But by the end of it, we’ve flashed backwards and forwards and sideways and there’s even some time travelling involved (if you have to ask, don’t; just wait until you get there). Yet strangely enough, for a show so centered on time, it ended up caring very little for it. In the end, “now” is all that matters, and the people who were with you during those “now is what counts” moments are the ones that matter most, because whether you know if or not (whether you like it or not), they define us by helping us to think and feel and even act for ourselves. Take the journey to The Island (not the Michael Bay movie) and you’ll never be the same. And you’ll never forget what it’s like to go back.

I love that the opening title credits are simply a black screen with a white-lettered LOST logo coming into focus before moving on. No need for another theme song about being which characters are stranded on an island (thankyouverymuch, Gilligan’s Island). The end credit music (the same song every time) are sort of tribal and mysterious, a respite from the reeling your mind has inevitably been through during whatever episode you’ve just watched. A very fitting end for any visit to The Island.
BEST CHARACTER: John Locke (played by Terry O’Quinn)
Named after the seventeenth century philosopher, Locke is a hero so bad-ass that he eventually got promoted to villain. He was always the most intriguing main character in a constantly evolving main cast, and his first flashback story (in "Walkabout") set the standard for all future flashback episodes. His started as the story of utter tragedy, but his faith and determination ended up being a part of the true heart of the show. Locke was the first person who learned how to embrace The Island and accept letting go (even if he never could quite get the hang of moving on, Locke was an important spiritual guru for the first few seasons of Lost). Very few actors could pull off the range of emotions and events that John Locke goes through; Terry O’Quinn not only pulled it off but succeeded in making all Lost fans true believers, even in those moments of great doubt.
BEST SEASON: 5 (of 6 total)
Each season upped the game laid out by the previous, but season five raised the stakes in so many ways, turning Lost into a nonstop thrill ride. It also skewed traditional on-island narration with focused non-island flashbacks/forwards, instead opting to go forwards, backwards... really all over time and place, in the span on a single episode – anything but linear storytelling, trusting the audience to trust it. The ride never got quite as wild as season five, culminating in our meeting Jacob and the Main In Black, as well as unveiling The Incident that caused pretty much everything that came before and after.
BEST EPISODE: “The Constant” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Just about any season finale could have taken this spot (especially season three’s “Through The Looking Glass”), but in all honesty, the best single episode experience you could have goes to “The Constant.” Even if you’ve never seen an episode of Lost, it would be hard to not get sucked in, not just because of the crazy science-fiction-mixing-with-island-action, but also for the emotional weight. Any Desmond-centric epsode is bound to pull at the heart strings, as Des is a man torn away from the woman he loves, wanting to stop at nothing to have her back (this is in a endearing way, not a creepy one). This episode best sums up a bit of everything that makes Lost what it is. It starts out typically jarring, throws some cool sci fi-esque and romance plots together, threading them with into the ensemble island drama and turnsingit into majestic pulp pop gold. And like other Des-heavy episodes, a new layer of the show’s overall philosophy and mandate is revealed.
BEST MOMENT: “We Have To Go Back!” (“Through The Looking Glass Pt. 2,” Season 3, Episode 23)
Jackface! You gotta give it up to the writers on this one: What a way to mess with your audience and reward them at the same time after three frustrating and fascinating seasons about a group of strangers meeting and making memories on The Island. From this point forward, everything changes, and it’s one of the best “beginning of the end” moments in all of fiction. This moment defined what Lost means the most, a fragile moment of dramatic humanity mixed with twist-storytelling and a narrative device that defied our expectations while setting up all new ones.

-Pop Candy published my Top Five Self-Contained Lost eps

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