Monday, March 23, 2009

Thinking about LOST and 24...midseason 2009...

Warning – this is written for those who have followed the current seasons of both shows. Otherwise you are wading waist deep into a world of spoilers.

Well, against all expectations, 24 has begun to redeem itself from its last disastrous season, if the first half of the season is any indication. The White House has been threatened and compromised. Nothing new there. Jack is on the run from the “establishment” law enforcement authorities. Okay. People who help and believe him are in the minority and under detention or are disabled. Fine. People get tortured for information. Yes. Pushing the envelope by giving us Presidents we haven’t had yet (a female this time, replacing the now-Allstate spokesman first-black-president-then-first-divorced-president Dennis Haysbert). Noted.

So what’s made the formula different? We are away from CTU – it’s been dismantled. The FBI, which is clearly in the old CTU set on FOX, has been compromised. Jack and the people he is working with are constantly on location throughout DC, which is a substitute for the LA backdrop which was so familiar for so many seasons. These are cosmetic changes. We still see “CTU/FBI” in play, and DC is substituted for LA.

What has made this season of 24 memorable is the thread that has been woven from Episode 1 through Episode 14. Senator Mayer was questioning Jack’s means to his ends. This has been consistently themed, both implicitly and explicitly, throughout the whole of this season.

Senator Mayer asks “If we are to be a force for good in this world, we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

In the heady early days of 24, which began around the time of our illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the question of torture was not in the forefront of discussion. Get information from the enemy, no matter what it takes. And pinheads like Bill O'Reilly cheered it on. While 24 only allows us to play with this notion, not seriously discuss it, because in the world of 24 everytime someone is tortured they give up truthful, relevant, actionable, and timely information, the point is, the show is finally questioning, even though -so-ever-obscurely, its raison d’etre. If torture is really wrong, then Jack can’t exist and all his sacrifices have been a waste.

But Jack’s telling line in Episode 14 of this season answers that: “I wish we lived in a world that didn’t need people like me.” Jack has come to accept his “monster” status and the trail of bodies that he inevitably leaves in his wake.

There is no love interest this season, perhaps because we know that’s beyond a real possibility for Jack. Also, our key principals in seasons past have been sidelined – Bill Buchanan is dead, Chloe is trapped at FBI, and Tony Almeida has disappeared for the last few episodes. Bringing back Tony, and Carlos Bernard’s tight, tough performance is probably 24’s biggest coup of the year.

Predictions, thoughts, questions for the second half of the season:

1. What is the agenda of President Taylor’s daughter, Livvy? She's definitely shady.
2. Why is our villain, Secretary of Defense Jon Voight, so simplistic? He’s nowhere near as evil as we’ve seen previous 24 villains.
3. What is the connection between Larry Moss and Renee Walker? Why have we not been told this whole time? Neither have played the “relationship card” but it’s latent in many confrontations.
4. We know that Jack can’t be killed. He’s invincible. But we’ve killed his wife, alienated his daughter, brought him back from the dead, left him to be tortured by the Chinese, and chased him halfway around the globe. How is 24 going to end our season and still push our envelopes? One thinks of the end of Season 3, where Jack pauses to cry at the very end of the day as our clock runs out. Perhaps we’ll be left with something like that – but that would leave us hollow, and vitiate a good deal of this season. We’ll see.

Fair disclosure, I’ve claimed before that LOST is the greatest show of all time. I don’t retract that statement. What I’ve come to realize this season is that the LOST universe has started to become as far-flung as Star Trek’s. Because Star Trek’s universe is so wide, and because there are so many rabbit holes waiting to be explored, this season’s foray back into the 70s gives us all kinds of different flight paths, if you will.

As before, it’s best to explore this character drama one person at a time:

John Locke/Jeremy Bentham – he’s back and the nominology beloved by the writers at LOST continues. Bentham was a utilitarian philosopher, so John/Jeremy is trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number. Fair enough. The island can heal John, fair. But the island can resurrect him? Of course. We already knew that vis-à-vis Jack’s father – Christian. Locke has to meet up with Richard Alpert, our ever-the-same-age Hostile/Other, and maybe/probably take the mantle of leadership again – perhaps against the Dharma initiative and old friends.

Jack – we can assume that Jack is in charge again – though Kate’s using him for sex becomes more and more despicable over time – though Jack, like most men, is happy to be used. I think the writers might finally have him reunite with his father this season.

Kate – as I said, despicable. She’s going to play the role of homewrecker now in the happy lives of James/Sawyer and Juliet. Never fails.

Sawyer – our erstwhile villain and man-for-himself has become the perennial man-for-others and has taken on the mantle of leadership in the absence of Jack and Locke. There isn’t anyone who watches the show who doesn’t love this character – and women have an added component of, let’s say, “liking” him. :-) Josh Holloway has never disappointed, and I don’t think he’s going to start now.

Sun/Jin – their reunion will be exciting and heart-rending, surely. But what of their child?

Hurley – Jorge Garcia will continue to deliver comic relief and a fundamental distrust of Ben Linus

Ben Linus – Michael Emerson’s Ben Linus, the man we love to hate, has left the LOST writers a “gotcha” card to play later in the season because of his unexplained ass-beating shortly before he gets on the plane to the island. Watch for that to be explained before the end of the season.

Desmond – he’s our free agent – our link with the real world. Since he’s completed his mission vis-a-vis relaying Daniel Faraday’s message to his mother, he’s out of the picture…for now.

Charles Widmore – our villain – or is he anymore after rescuing Locke and trying to help him get back to the island? Surely this is now clearly a power struggle between Linus and himself, but in LOST style, we are left in ambiguity as to who is our “good guy.” But perhaps, there is no “good guy.” Perhaps everything ties back to the island and we can’t root for anyone. And more importantly than ever, we now don’t have a motivating reason to get off the island, because we’re 20-30 years in the past and so there’s no way to get back to the loved ones they have left behind in the (non-static?) future.

Sayid – our hit man who has lost both Shannon (but you can catch Maggie Grace in Taken, a brilliant little surprise of a movie) and his long lost love and now-dead wife. He’s going to continue to be our Jack Bauer. Perhaps.

Faraday + Mom – if we are to believe that Eloise Hawking is right – then perhaps there are other, smaller islands. Now that we know it’s on the move, and more importantly, that it’s trackable, it’s a short amount of time until Widmore will go there. Or will he? He must have already known about this technology and let everyone return to the island…

Predictions: None. Part of the fun of the show is that it’s not named “LOST” without a reason. Perhaps that is the greatest and most valid criticism of it by my friends – no consistent and coherent narrative. But I won’t stop watching anytime soon. And a large number of my predictions for this season came true, but I could only make them at the end of last season. So now I anxiously look forward to completing this season...

Overland Park, Kansas


Bodek said...

PLEASE change bishop Williamson's picture on Dinoscopus blog... His Excellency looks evil on the photo by Jens Falk (I think this is why this photo was used by mainstream media), while in reality he has a pleasant smile.

Stephen Heiner said...


Worry not - I've been working on digitizing an old, better photo.

I don't think it's evil looking, and neither does H.E. But I want a better picture up nonetheless. Thanks for your concern.