Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Some thoughts upon rediscovering Lost

I watched Lost until the middle of the third season. It was the time of the writer's strike and the quality of the show reflected the talent vacuum. The stories lacked their usual emotional power, one of my favorite characters was killed, and I thought it was likely Lost would be canceled long before any of its mysteries could be answered. So I stopped watching and didn't look back. Later, I heard things that made me regret my decision, but it was too late. The plot of Lost seemed far too convoluted to allow missing one or two episodes much less half a season's worth. By that time, I had distanced myself enough from the story that I didn't care so much anyway about what the hatch numbers were, what the smoke monster was, or whether or not The Others were the bastards everyone thought they were.

Once the show ended and I heard friends and co-workers reacting to it, it gnawed at me a little. I was tempted to watch the series on DVD but, because of the complicated plot, the only way I could imagine getting back into Lost was to watch it again from the beginning, and there was no way I was going to spend money on DVDs just for backstory. Sure, I could get them over Netflix, but that seemed painfully slow. Then my girlfriend bought a Wii and we learned we could stream certain shows and movies over it any time we wanted as long as we had a Netflix membership.

I started slow, watched a couple episodes at a time, but the closer I got to the last episodes I'd seen, the faster I went. This past Saturday morning I planned on getting a lot done; writing, organizing, cleaning. I got up early, did two loads of laundry, stretched out on the couch, turned on the TV and the Wii, and - other than to eat, drink and crap - I did not leave the living room until around 11 pm. I was able to resist a bit longer on Sunday. I cleaned the bathroom, shopped, and organized my desk, but I was still pretty much stuck in front of the TV from around noon till 9 pm.

I've heard differing opinions on how the series ended. I'm only at the end of the third season so I'm far from forming my own opinion, but considering how much time I spent watching the show this weekend, writing something about Lost seems as inevitable as it is practical.

Some thoughts upon rediscovering Lost

1. One of the most appealing aspects of Lost is the interaction between the action in the jungle and the bits and pieces we see of their lives before the crash. The first two truly emotionally powerful episodes for me were "Walkabout", when we learn that the plane crash somehow gave John Locke back the use of his legs, and "The Moth", when John Locke convinces Charlie to kick his heroin habit. "Walkabout" was the episode that convinced me I needed to keep watching the show, and it made Locke my favorite character.

I think one of the things that drove me away from Lost is that the interplay between the past and present stories stopped working for me. I remember two episodes in particular in the beginning of season 3 - "I Do" when Kate marries a police officer played by Nathan Fillion and "Stranger in a Strange Land" when Jack has a love affair with a mysterious woman in Thailand - when for the first time I was completely underwhelmed. It wasn't that I didn't see the usual thematic connections between the past and present scenes - I did. They just weren't emotionally potent. I didn't care.

2. One of the problems I had with the flashbacks either had something to do with the writers running out of ideas, or with Lost simply not being what I expected.

When I started watching Lost, it reminded me of The Stand. There are a number of obvious comparisons, but more specifically the characters of of both seem, for the most part, like ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. At least as far as the original survivors are concerned, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find these people in any kind of adventure story: a surgeon, an abandoned pregnant woman, a lottery winner, a drug addict, a spoiled rich girl, her overprotective brother, etc. Sure, there are exceptions; most notably Sawyer, Sayid, and Kate. But for the most part the survivors are not the kinds of people you would expect in a story of a mysterious island, magic, monsters, and Hulk knows what else.

But as the series continues, the flashbacks reveal stranger and stranger lives. Using the example of Locke in "Walkabout" again, we learn that Locke worked at a Box supply company and dreamed of adventure. He was so lonely one of the only people he could talk to was an anonymous woman on phone sex line. Eventually, concealing his disability, he took a flight to Australia for a walkabout adventure and was humiliated when they refused to let him on the journey. A normal guy with a tough life, lonely, dreaming of more. That's fairly simple.

As the rest of the flashbacks emerge however, Locke seems less and less ordinary. The story of Locke is the story of a toy store employee whose life changes when his father seeks him out to con him out of a kidney. After he loses his kidney, Locke stalks his father until convinced to give up his obsession by a woman he loves. He loses the woman when she learns Locke helped his father fake his own death and sneak hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a safety deposit box. In the aftermath of his break up he joins some kind of cult/collective stockpiling guns and weed. Locke's life there is ruined when he unwittingly leads an undercover cop into the compound and refuses to kill him. Years later, living off disability, Locke is approached by a man who believes Locke's father is trying to con his mother out of money, Locke warns his father to back off, the son winds up dead. Locke's father throws him out of eighth floor of a building. Locke survives but is paralyzed from the waist down.

The story of John Locke crashing onto the island is not the story of an ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances. It is the story of a bizarre man with a bizarre goddamn life put in bizarre circumstances. The flashbacks seem to change from the stories of ordinary, believable people dealing with difficult lives, to the stories of people dealing instead with intrigue, blackmail, bloody revenge, and adventure. And that changed the feeling of the story for me.

Using the example of Jack, I find most of his flashbacks very believable. Most of them deal with either his marriage or his issues with his father. But meeting a mysterious, beautiful woman on a beach who randomly screws him for a month until he abruptly goes nuts and forces her to tattoo his arm and is subsequently beaten up by her brother and his friends for getting a tattoo? Yeah, that's just. You know. Stupid.

3. Libby's death probably pissed me off more than any other. For reasons that shouldn't be too tough to figure out, I strongly identify with Hurley, and having her taken from him sucked. Obviously it sucked for her too. I've heard that at some point Michael briefly returns to the series. Perhaps for just a cameo. Regardless I hope it includes Hurley elbowing him in the crotch.

I also hated to see Eko go. He was a cool character with a lot of potential. According to Lostpedia, he asked to leave because both of his parents died in 2005. It also says he was offered a role in Lost's final episode, but he asked for too much money.

4. I really want to feel sorry for Desmond, but I think he's just a whiny little shit. If Lost were the Marvel Universe, Desmond would be Silver Surfer, moping on an asteroid about not being able to get past Galactus's force field, about all the planets he helped destroy, about how humanity sucks, about how his girlfriend's daddy won't give him expensive booze.

5. Ooh, okay, If Lost were the Marvel Universe. I think I have a good topic here.

Jack would be Captain America. That's a no-brainer. A Captain America with a lot of emotional issues, but he'd still be Captain America.

Sawyer would be Wolverine.

I don't want to make the easy bald/wheelchair comparison between Locke and Professor X. However, Locke is a manipulative prick who fucks with other characters' heads because he thinks he knows what's best for everybody else. So, it kind of fits.

Considering he's both devoutly religious and fairly bad-ass - and at the same time walks a round with a heavy stick he's carved words into - I think Eko has to be Thor.

Shit, I guess all those guys bitching about Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in Thor would really want to beat my ass.

Boone and Shannon - Aurora and Northstar.

With Charlie, we could either go the musician route and say he's Rick Jones or the addict route and say he's Iron Man. I like Charlie, so I'm going to say Rick Jones.

I would like to say that would make Hurley the Hulk, but I don't really see any similarities there. I guess you could kind of argue for Longshot because of Hurley's "curse" but he doesn't act like Longshot. He sure as hell doesn't look like Longshot.

6. Speaking of comic books and Lost, that leads me into something I've been thinking about since I started re-watching it.

When I said I originally watched Lost until the middle of the third season, that may have been misleading. I didn't watch Lost as the episodes aired until the third season. I watched seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. My girlfriend at the time rented the first few discs on Netflix. After that we were hooked and bought the DVD collectionss. It wasn't until the third season that I got to see an episode as it aired on the network.

I still think the beginning of the third season was fairly weak, but I also think there's a big difference between watching a series for the first time on a DVD or streaming it on Netflix versus watching it as the network airs it. When I initially watched those first two seasons, I didn't have to watch commercials or wait very long between episodes. My cliffhangers weren't hanging from quite so high. And I can't help but wonder if at least part of my dissatisfaction with the third season had to do with the new inconveniences of advertising and weekly network schedules.

That made me think of quite a few instances in comic books when I questioned whether it made more sense to step back and judge a work as a whole, or if you had to take into account whether or not the creators met a schedule. As superhero comics have become more geared towards the trade paperback market, I think the question has become more complicated.

In fact, Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof provides a good example. He wrote the mini-series Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. I just picked up a hardcover collection of the series last week. It wasn't the best story I've ever read, but it was pretty damn solid. Of the three Hulk/Wolverine minis I can remember, it's certainly the best. However, I would probably feel a lot differently if I'd been collecting the series as the issues were released. The first two issues were released in 2006, and #3 didn't hit the stands until 2009.

Likewise, there was a lot of noise when delays hampered the complete release of Civil War. Its creators fired back that there were also significant delays in superhero comicdom's sacred cows Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when they came out as single issues. I would agree with anyone who might point out that comparing Civil War to Watchmen is like comparing Police Academy 4 to The Godfather, but it's still true that the experience of reading Watchmen issue by issue, at a pace dictated by the publisher, is much different than picking up a Watchmen tpb and going through it at your leisure.

As a reader, as a viewer, I prefer to have the whole story to go through as I choose. It's true for me in TV and comics. While I could never say I don't watch TV, I rarely watch network or cable TV. I watch DVDs and I watch streams. The list of series I have watched only, or mainly, on DVD or on the Wii is growing, and many of them are counted among my favorite shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Office, Firefly, Dexter, etc. It kind of bothers me to think I might not have enjoyed them as much if I watched them when they aired, but then I think it's stupid to be bothered by that. I just got the show without the commercials. Win/win.

Likewise, I almost never buy floppies anymore. I only buy Hulk comics in single issue because, as I've written here before, it seems kind of silly for me to have a weekly column about the Hulk and to not know what's going on in the character's books. Not only is it usually a little cheaper to go tpb-only, but it gives me a more satisfying reading experience. If not knowing what's going to happen as quickly as some others know what's going to happen is the price I have to pay, so be it.

Well, that's all I have to say about Lost for now, at least. I'm almost done with the third season, and then there will be three more to go. Maybe I'll do my first "The Whole Story" column for a TV show. We'll see.

(P.S. PLEASE READ BEFORE LEAVING ANY COMMENTS - I love it when people leave comments and don't want to discourage it in any way. In fact, if I was given a choice between getting 1,000 hits per day without anyone leaving comments versus getting no more than 10 hits per day with everyone leaving comments, I would choose the latter. A hit means nothing. A comment means you read what I wrote and gave a crap enough to get involved, and that's pretty damn cool. However, if you're going to say anything about Lost feel free, but please just remember I haven't seen the entire series yet. Yes, I have heard some of things that happen. It was inevitable. But I would like to preserve as much of the surprise as possible. For some reason I've had bad luck with people dropping spoilers lately. Heroes. Lost. Today at work an intern spoiled a huge character death for me in season 4 of Dexter and I haven't even gotten to season 3 yet. I know, I know. You're crying yourself to sleep thinking about my Desmond-esque woes.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post man. As a die hard lostie i will be happy to geek out at any given time about lost, bearing in mind where you are in the series and only using chronologically appropriate topics.

That being said, Michael totally comes back to the series, somehow...