Thursday, 31 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 1

With only a few hours left until Lost returns to US screens, I finally, after several million words of guff, get to reveal my number one reason for loving this show, heartened by the coverage on several websites and the generally positive reviews for tonight's return, as well as the ABC webisodes entitled Missing Pieces, the last of which features the kind of event that makes Lost fans lose their minds. Remember my ravings about the extra content? This is what I was talking about.

And look! Yahoo! was inspired by this very blog and has listed five reasons to watch Lost. Not a single use of the word "metatextual", though. Pfft. So what's my number one reason for loving Lost?

John Locke and Ben Linus:

As I've said before, if I had to nominate a Lost character as my favourite, I would probably plump for Sawyer. Though I love the show (perhaps by now you, poor reader, will have a better idea of how much I love it), it can be quite dour and humourless, a situation barely rectified by the arrival of Buffy and Angel writer Drew Goddard. Like a Southern version of Han Solo, Sawyer's grubby charm and vaguely inept tough guy mannerisms bring the show to life whenever he's onscreen.

However, love him though I do, it's the "religious leaders" on the island that fascinate me the most. John Locke's transformation from worthless, put-upon loser to hero and possible messiah of the island would already have been fascinating, but even better is that that new power is so tenuous that he is forced to connive and work against his fellow survivors in order to maintain that power. Or is he? Perhaps he is actually trying to figure out what the power of the island is and then utilise it for the benefit of humanity. I don't believe that for a second, but still, we should keep that option on the table.

One of the most appealing things about Locke, something that most viewers can relate to, is that he has spent his life getting shat on repeatedly, but still believes his mother's comments that he is special and cut out for greatness. Most people will have had their ambitions go unfulfilled and feel they're not getting their due. Little does Locke realise that the greatness thrust upon him by the island is not for him alone, and others have been visited by people or animals from their past that are either manifestations of the island or are formed from Smokey matter.

In season two his position as top prophet of the island was threatened by the arrival of Mr. Eko, whose faith in his role in the scheme of things, not to mention his ability to stare down Smokey, was much more instinctive. While Locke's communion with the island appears more fragile, with episodes of paralysis and occasional breakdowns of communication throwing him into periods of extreme doubt, Eko just seemed to get on with it, perhaps because he already has a faith that Locke lacks.

That would be little comfort to Locke, whose faith is entirely based on the island's healing power and the presence of the button. Of course, even that wasn't enough to subdue his doubts, reinforced by the continual reveals of deeper levels of mystery on the island. His freakout upon finding Pearl station was memorable. Nothing could sway Eko, but Locke fell apart, almost dooming them all. So was Eko the real emissary of the island's message? Adewale's early departure from the show for what seems like obnoxious behavior on set tends to suggest he was intended to have had a bigger role to play, which is gutting. I really miss Mr. Eko.

Locke's mania at the end of season two was thoroughly depressing, seeing him slip back from his position of power to a state of fury and doubt. It makes you wonder if the island (standing in for God) has chosen Locke as his emissary because he is the right person, or because there is no one else who is able. As far as I could tell from SmokeYemi's speech in Eko's final episode, Eko disappointed it. If so, then Cuse and Lindelof will have redeemed their Eko plot by using his introduction and speedy demise as a way to show how ruthless and arbitrary the island/God is. It also means Locke was probably only around as a backup, and SmokeWalt's intervention in Through The Looking Glass was an act of desperation.

Locke's egotism, sense of entitlement, and desperate attempts to maintain what he considers his dialogue with the island are fascinating to watch, because despite all of this I still consider him a hero, even though he's doing really terrible, stupid things. He's even crossed the line to murder. Way to go getting Sawyer to do your dirty work killing your dad, but did you have to screw it up a few days later by killing poor Naomi?

So why do I still empathise with him? How much of myself do I see in Locke? Would I go to such crazy lengths to be considered special by a sentient and/or haunted land mass? I guess as I haven't had my kidney stolen by the man who would then throw me out of a window, I couldn't really say.

I've always thought Terry O'Quinn was a talented actor, but in Lost he excels, giving the joint best performance on TV. As well as his swing from self-pity to confident hero and back to whining, self-hating doubting Thomas in season two, his terrified reaction to his wheelchair-bound fate in The Man From Tallahassee was also incredible, as I have already bleated on about. There was only one thing that was bad about his Emmy win; he couldn't share the award with the other best actor on TV, the astonishing Michael Emerson as head Other Ben Linus.

Hired for a handful of episodes and kept on for good after Cuse and Lindelof rightly realised they had just stumbled on pure gold, Emerson's arrival on the show gave the slightly flagging second season a massive burst of energy. His duplicity in those episodes where he was trapped in the Swan station armoury was hugely entertaining, made even better upon realising that the terrified little man we'd come to know and hate was in fact the horribly confident leader of a murderous bunch of islanders with a mysterious plan. His unveiling in the second season finale made me ridiculously happy, and finding out he would be a series regular in the third season was even better. Perhaps that's why I didn't mind the first six episodes of season three; lots of quality Ben Gale action.

Whereas Locke's arrogant assumption about what he sees as his destiny comes from being cured by the island (something that might have happened anyway; who knows how the island's healing powers work) and not being killed by Smokey (though that belief got tested in the season one finale when he got dragged into a Cerberus Vent), Ben's belief comes from the appearance of his SmokeMother, and Richard Alpert's comments about how that means he has a special connection to the island (as with Locke, Alpert and Ben are wrong). There is also his sense that there has to be more to life than his miserable childhood, with no mother and an abusive father. I'm not sure his lot is as bad as Locke's, but I can see why he thinks he is deserving of the island's attention.

And not just the island. His position as leader of the Others and emissary of Jacob's wishes has already been defended with betrayal and mass murder, which means Locke was never going to be strong-willed enough to get the better of him. Thankfully a combination of Sawyer and Jack means he is in a position to take over from Ben, which means he gets to lead characters as unsavoury as Indestructible Mikhail the pro-grenade anarchist and the creepily fresh-faced Richard "BatManuel" Alpert. Erm, yay?

For now Ben remains as much an enigma as the island, and we're only going to find out more about his past as we find out more about the island, but even so we get hints as to his nature. Now that we know the new visitors to the island are not what they seemed to be, his efforts to prevent them arriving seem far more sincere. If the island and Alpert's people are so desperate to keep visitors off in order to protect their secrets, the murder of the Dharma Initiative makes more sense now (in interviews Michael Emerson has said he thinks Ben might turn out to be a good guy after all, though his methods are even more unpleasant than Locke's).

We've also come to realise that his control of his "daughter" Alex is borne of his worries for her health, which would be jeopardised by possible impregnation by her boyfriend Karl. That's fair enough, but does that mean the airdrops that still land on the island don't contain any Dharma condoms? There must be a better way to keep her safe than sticking useless Karl in Room 23 for a spot of brainwashing. ZOMG! Is Lost a satire of conservatism? "If you have unprotected sex you will die, young lady!!!"

Perhaps Ben's most diabolical scheme involved Locke and his really just outrageously beyond evil dad Anthony Cooper. What does Locke killing his father have to do with anything? It's obviously some kind of initiation, but it hints that the Others have a very odd concept of morality if they consider themselves Good People despite all of the murdering and kidnapping (or if not a twisted morality, then knowledge of the island so incredible that protection of it is more important than our own concept of right or wrong).

It also seems that access to Jacob depends on some act of evil or sacrifice, which Locke tried to sidestep. Either that, or Ben feels guilt about his actions when betraying the Dharma Initiative and killing his own father, and thinks Locke shouldn't get to win over the island without going through what he went through. Perhaps he also fears that if the island chooses Locke over him without this act of murder, then he killed his father and the Dharma Initiative for nothing. Or rather, he did it because he wanted to kill him, but can't take the moral high ground. That said, how cold is he in this amazing award-worthy scene? That might be a guy who isn't going to worry about the rights and wrongs of murder, at least not the rights and wrongs we worry about.

This is why I adore these two characters so much. Not only are they played by two incredible actors at the height of their powers, but their desperate need for acceptance by some unknowable force makes them do terrible things that we cannot really understand fully. Hopefully this will be left open to interpretation when the show is over. As I've said before, the show is a joy to ponder, and though I want answers to a lot of the questions on the show, I also want some room to hypothesise even when the final episode has aired.

Some fans have tried to describe the events of Lost as a metaphor for modern concerns, and with effort it's possible to make any work of art fit into a topical hole of any shape. The Others are the Taliban! Oceanic 815 is the American empire! Jack is George Bush, unable to govern effectively! Ben is Ahmadinejad! Whatever. I'm not as impressed by topicality in art as I once was, and didn't really want to think of Lost as fitting some contemporary straightjacket.

And yet, I still see Ben and Locke as two religious leaders, reverse Abrahams (did JJ Abrams come up with this idea?), sucking up to their God and getting the terms and conditions wrong. That's topical in the sense that it's a story that's being told now, but it's not exactly new. It's been told over and over again through time, but never like this. And that's what I like about Lost most of all. It's influenced by many myths and stories and legends and belief systems and scientific theories and delusions about the paranormal, but even as the story chimes with all of these other elements, in itself it is something new, told in a different way than we have been used to. It's every story ever told, and it's a story we've never seen before. I don't think I could love it more. And it's back, goddammit. It's back! OMG I'm hyperventilating!!! Welcome back, Lost! You have no idea how much I've missed you!!!


sjwoo said...

As usual, stellar commentary, Admiral. I've had nothing but love for Michael Emerson since he came on The Practice way back when, playing one nasty murderer. I don't know if I'll ever forget the slo-mo wink he's just the scariest thing. Anyway, we're very much looking forward to watching the new episode. The repeat of the Looking Glass eps last night was a hoot, with their VH1-Popup-Videos-styled factoids.

2.5 hours to go!

Dawn said...

He's so quiet....

Well...whadidja think, Dude?