Sunday, June 1, 2008

Why LOST is the greatest show ever

Wait a minute, Stephen. Don’t you not own/not watch television? Yes, it’s true. I don’t watch television. I’ve never watched LOST on television. I’ve only ever seen it on DVD and, this season, on iTunes. The how of watching it aside, I want to talk about the why.

LOST is art. It aspires and achieves what network television has so seldom done in recent years – the show has challenged conventional ways of thinking, inspired and provoked meaningful conversations, and most importantly, as Shakespeare often implored his players, held “the mirror up to nature.”

Any discussion of LOST has to start with explaining two things: 1) You can’t really “jump in.” You have to start from the very beginning. There are too many allusions that build on in each other; 2) J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, the co-creators of the show, have always seen the Island as its own character, which has consistently provided the show with unexpected twists, turns, and possibilities. You have to accept that premise (among many, many others) to really appreciate the show.

So as for last Thursday’s finale: Wow. I don’t quite know how to address all the implications of this final episode, so I’ll go character by character and then close with some musings on the future of the show and on where next season may take us.

Jack – Jack doesn’t have the indecisiveness of Hamlet, but he certainly has his doubts. He has consistently proven himself – sometimes by going too far, sometimes by not going far enough – as a leader on the island. When he gets back to the real world, he seems to lose his way. He gets drunk, somehow breaks up with Kate, and then gets addicted to pills. The season ends three years from the “moving” of the island that occurs towards the end of this episode (“There’s No Place Like Home, Part III”). Locke’s prophecy seems fulfilled: “It (leaving the island) will eat you up from the inside.”

What is perhaps Jack’s “tragic flaw” within the milieu of the Island is his absolute inability to deal with supernatural events. Even though the Island literally disappears in front of them, Jack denies that it happened. Hurley’s “Uh, dude, it’s not there any more” line speaks for all the audience to Jack: “Wake up, homeboy. You evacuated the island. You shouldn’t have. You were wrong.” And now the six of you will reap the consequences.

Next season: Jack, broken though he is, will need to lead the “Oceanic 6” back to the island. He will be unlikely compatriots with Benjamin Linus, who is one of my favorite villains of all time. He will have to convince Kate – which will be difficult – but not near as difficult as the vendetta-driven Sun, who has her own possibly sinister motives now.

Kate – I’ve never connected with her as a character. Evangeline Lilly, or Evie, as she’s known to the cast, is a marvelous actress and has a great range of emotion and ability. She’s tough enough to be the action-hero type, but soft enough to be tender and loving – when she wants to. That is, unfortunately, my problem with Kate. She uses people for self-preservation. Yes, there seems to be some genuine love in her for Jack – but, for Sawyer too, n’est-ce pas?

Kate never forgives her mother, as we saw earlier in the season. Kate doesn’t know when to trust, as in the implied cheating episode with Jack this season. Kate doesn’t know what to do, at the end of the day, without a Sawyer or a Jack. The irony of her strength is that without a leader she is aimless.

Michael – Harold Perrineau made an unexpected return (though, such things are now more and more expected, as we get more experience with the show) and showed the same abilities we’ve consistently seen from his earliest days in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet to his more recent appearances in the Matrix trilogy. His self-sacrificing act in this last episode more than redeems his murders from last season. Though no one ever pretended to know the anguish of a father and the depths to which he might be driven in trying to rescue his son, I think that most of us still felt that, in the current of the recurring theme of choice within this show, Michael had other options than his cold blooded single, then double murder of Ana Maria and Libby.

Michael is dead, though as we know from observing Jack’s father Christian, dead people can come back to the island. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Michael, especially given that his remaining link – Walt, probably wants in on the journey back to the island.

Claire – Emilie de Ravin has provided us with a lovely accent and a captivating performance as a pregnant woman and new mother. Yet, we know that all this devotion and solicitousness for her son must be powerfully overcome for her to abandon Aaron in the jungle to follow her once-dead-to-her-now-alive-and-newly-a-best-friend-father.

Christian – the resurrection of Jack’s father has been planted as a possibility from Season 1, when Jack found his father’s coffin, which was traveling back with him to Los Angeles, empty at a crash site. He is a fascinating character, and found his metanoia in the alcoholic haze that ended his life. Jack, truly his son, ironically flees that same metanoia by resorting to drugs and alcohol. Jack escapes the burdens of leadership with this alcohol and it was modeled for him by his father, who was, for most of his life, seemingly able to maintain respectability while being a drunk. If we knew more about Christian’s wife, Jack’s mom, we might be able to glean more insight, but for now we know she was a Rose Kennedy to Christian’s total way of life.

As someone “authorized to speak for Jacob” we know that we will see an eventual confrontation/reunion between Christian and Jack next season and it’s a highly anticipated moment. His thread of life, which made Jack and Claire siblings, is one of the few that threads the United States and Australia and is an appropriate fret for next season.

Jin – we have not seen the last of Daniel Dae Kim’s incredibly well-acted character. The explosion of the freighter was purposely not a Jerry Bruckheimer firecracker. Jin’s a smart, savvy, not-fatalistic character. As he saw the helicopter flying away and knew that a bomb was below decks, I can’t imagine that he didn’t grab a lifejacket and jump off the boat. This leaves him in a position to be rescued by the boat that is being piloted by Jeremy Davies’ character Daniel Faraday. (as an interesting aside, it would be an entire article in and of itself to write about the selective nominology of the show – from “John Locke” to the character of the physicist being named Faraday, a pioneer in working with magnets, which the island has strong properties concerning, to the name of Jin, which means “treasure” when used for a Korean male – but alas, perhaps another time.)

Sun – this formerly traditionally submissive Korean female has used her settlement money from the accident to engineer a hostile takeover of her father’s company. Her anguish on the helicopter as she witnesses what she believes to be the death of her beloved husband is so real and raw that we are distracted from the very real explosions and other consequences of that moment. We, with Sun, are mourning Jin’s death.

Sawyer – what a complete metanoia we’ve seen in this character. No longer the cocky, self-assured, only-thinking-of-himself attitude (which made him so simpatico with Kate), he leaves us with an incredibly self-sacrificing act – leaping from the chopper to make sure the chopper would be light enough to make it back to the freighter with a leaking fuel tank. Sawyer has realized par excellence that the island provides a fresh start, a new world with the freedom for him to be good – to be self-sacrificing – which appeals to the best within his big Southern heart. Sawyer is able to do what Kate was never able to do. He mourns his accidental slaughter of the man who he thought precipitated his parents’ death. He later vendetta-kills Anthony Cooper/Sawyer, his namesake, but only when Cooper taunts and prods him. This killing is not cathartic for the already-changed Sawyer and instead of solace in his heart he finds vomit in his mouth. The new Sawyer hates killing for anything other than self-defense. We already saw the beginnings of this in his posture/attitude in his reactions/interactions in the Charlie/Ethan killing and the Ana Maria/Shannon accidental homicide.

Sawyer is proof that Kate could change – if she wanted to – because they are so mens nostra when the show begins. But perhaps beyond proof he is a beacon and example for her that trust comes, ever slowly, but it comes – if you allow it.

We can trust that the “thing” Sawyer whispered into Kate’s ear had to do with his daughter – and would precipitate a reunion of Kate with Sawyer’s old flame – a reveal fraught with several tensions already.

Sayid – our own Iraqi Jack Bauer. Sayid is not allowed to have a love. He is a killing machine, despite his entirely humane interior. He’ll never escape that, and we frequently see vignettes examining this dichotomy like we saw in this episode – Sayid murders an enemy, then spirits Hurley away to a safer place.

His wife is killed off by Widmore’s people – ostensibly – but we know that Charles Widmore has no motive to kill Sayid’s wife. The hit was probably orchestrated by Ben Linus in order to recruit Sayid – though if this is the case, it was done in an incredibly compressed amount of time – as the narrative in that episode takes us directly from the desert to Linus’ arrival at the hotel and seeing of Sayid on television. But I have learned, through Abrams’ and Lindelof’s tutelage, to never put anything out of the realm of possibility when it has to do with Ben.

Sayid will continue to be the protector of the group as we return to the island next season.

Juliet – Elizabeth Mitchell’s tender and ruthless fertility doctor is a personal favorite – no, not just because of her blonde hair and great and strangely Carrie-Anne Moss doppelgangerish looks (though those who know me know that's a necessary draw :-), but because of her singleminded devotion to return home. Home is her strength – particularly her sister and her miracle niece.

I knew from the moment we met her she would be a longtime cast member, and as we see her dismayed, drinking on the beach as Sawyer comes on shore, we know that she will continue to labor to that end of returning home. Though, unlike Jack, Juliet possesses within her the resilience to accept the possibility of having to stay on the island – if that’s what will be her fate.

Hurley – our comic relief and consistent reminder of the dream-within-a-dream possibility of the entire show as a conceit in his fertile mind.

Hurley also reminds us of the importance of the “numbers” which had largely faded from the show since Season 2 and the discovery of the hatch.

It is his “insanity” and ability to see dead characters that will prove an important skill in next season’s return to the island.

Locke – Terry O’Quinn’s masterful new leader/protector of the island is such a fantastic character in so many ways. The show’s writers have lavished flashbacks on him, and as a result the depth of knowledge about Locke’s character and life clearly explains his behaviors of leadership, trust, and faith.

Locke’s revealed demise at the end of the episode needs to be viewed from two perspectives.

1) Faraday revealed through his experiment that time passes irregularly on the island. Sometimes things happen before they happen – as in the slitting of the throat of the doctor on the freighter and his showing up on the island – he seems to arrive on the island before his death happens on the freighter. Time can also happen after they happen – as when the payload that Faraday requests comes some time after it is expected. Therefore, it is possible that Locke is coming back to the real world from a perspective of a lot of time having passed on the Island – or not a lot of time having passed at all.

2) Locke’s coming to the real world must represent a desperate move of urgency as Locke would never wish to voluntarily leave the island.

I love Locke’s ability to do what he thinks is best for the Island, despite how it may alienate him from everyone. His love of backgammon has ignited my own interest in that game.

Ben Linus – I can’t say enough about this character. He is evil, manipulative, tender, feeling, fated, fatalistic, energetic, strong, forceful, and most importantly for anyone who will survive on this show – a take-charge leader.

His quest to kill Penny Widmore will be part of the driving force of next season, as foreshadowed in the final episodes of this season. It is interesting that Linus, as a decades-long leader on the Island, is perhaps a reflection of what Locke will eventually become – and we see beginnings of this shared burden towards the end of the last episode.

Desmond – yet another character I love. His love story with Penny Widmore is genuine, real, and anything but cliché. There is a long arc completed in Jack’s “see you in another life, brother” moment when Jack and the others leave Penny and Desmond. Desmond, the one who had lived on the island the longest among any of the beach castaways, Desmond, who witnessed Charlie’s dying moments, Desmond, who Slaughterhouse Five-style, became unstuck in time. Desmond and Penny represent one of five “groups” that will tie together next season.

The Island – is it an alien spaceship? Whatever happened to the support behind Dharma in the real world? I think the more that the island reveals to us, the more it is shrouded in further questions. It can give, take away, murder, and heal. What is the monster? The entire raison d’etre of the island necessarily has to be revealed next season. J.J. and Damon have held off as long as they could, but the denouement must come next season – else how can we explain what must happen?

Predictions and thoughts:

Next season will be dominated by the return to the island of the Oceanic 6. Sayid and Hurley will rejoin Ben, Jack, and the body of Locke, which we know will not be above resurrection, before picking up Sun, Kate, and Aaron.

Charles Widmore will continue to try to find the Island. He will be opposed by Ben Linus, who will try to kill Penny Widmore in retribution for his own daughter’s death.

These characters constitute the first “group” of 5 involved in next season.

Group #2 is the Faraday/Jin boat. They possess a compass and if not gasoline, certainly manpower to paddle on a heading until they reach land.

Group #3 is Locke & the Others/Juliet & Sawyer. Look for romance between the latter two – not just because it’s a foil to the Kate/Jack romance, but because circumstances might force it.

Group #4 is the shadowy group that may or may not be associated with Widmore that Sayid and Ben are hunting. We can’t count them out as a Spectre-like organization that might be using Widmore as a puppet.

Group #5 is Penny/Desmond – obviously trying to hide from Charles Widmore – but how do you hide from a man like that in a world of satellite and GPS technology? They also don’t yet know the threat of Linus to kill Penny.

Flashbacks and the trademark “whoosh” of the show have to continue. Just as 24 (please, God, let this long break have restored that show’s writers to their collective senses) can’t be shot in anything other than real time – LOST can’t be seen in full real-time. Look for creative ways to manipulate the flashback method in next season.

Christian’s return from the dead allows us to resurrect Boone, Shannon, and any of the others who were killed off. Charlie came to speak to Hurley and Hurley leaves with Sayid after checkmating the dead Mr. Eko (a fascinating character). Look for new characters, but perhaps we will see some old ones return too.

This, and many more thoughts swirl in my mind. I’m excited about where the show will take us next, and further question our notions of mortality, the meaning of life, fate, choice, and free will.

I look forward to reading the speculations of other fans as we look forward to 2009 and Season 5.   I will update this post with links to other articles I find interesting.

Rochester, New York

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