Thursday, 31 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 2

Perhaps this one should be a reason to both love and hate Lost.

The fanbase and their interaction with the show creators:

I'd bet that there has been no sci-fi or fantasy show ever made that doesn't have some kind of nerd following. The net is full of Adam Adamant fanfic, Threshold slash, petitions to bring back Surface, and craziest of all, millions of people who think Torchwood is actually competent (kidding, Torchwood fans! I'm sure there are only a few hundred thousand). So pointing out that Lost has a rabid fanbase is not exactly news.

Nevertheless, part of the joy of the show is diving into the sea of speculation and discussion that boils up in the days after each episode. The Fuselage, Sledgeweb and the excellent screen captures of the Easter Eggs, Lostpedia updates, AICN talkbacks, Jeff Jensen's wonderfully demented Entertainment Weekly column, Cuse and Lindelof's podcasts on; I spend the post-Lost hours poring over this content. Though it's possible to enjoy Lost on a surface level, the textual density of the show demands that amount of attention if it's to be treated seriously.

The AICN talkbacks are an odd one. Most of the time the threads are populated with dedicated fans of the show, dissecting what they have seen and throwing out new theories. However, the show also attracts huge opprobrium from a lot of haters who consider the show a busted flush whose creators are clown shoes and think the fans are idiots for sticking with it. Every show with an adoring fanbase has to put up with some amount of negativity, which is just the way of things, so I'm not saying Lost is any different, but Lost talkbacks get hit more than most by trolls bellowing that Cuselof are making it up as they go along or that, or that it will all fall apart before the end, or that the flashbacks are boring and stupid.

That's nowhere near a deal-breaker for me, obviously. It's also something it would be hypocritical for me to rail against. Much as I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, let alone that of my nerd brethren, expressing your opinion can often lead to being the party-pooper. Pointing out that Torchwood is a multi-level failure puts a damper on the party atmosphere of the fanbase, which is a shame, but still an inevitable consequence that I cannot apologise for. While Battlestar Galactica fans debated the significance of the season three finale, I had to resist the temptation to run in, all guns blazing, and start screaming, "All youse muthafukkas whose been saying Lost is being made up on the fly? What the hell was that? I know Dylan has embarked on the Never-Ending Tour, but his fifteen dates on Caprica are news to me. And Boring Tyrol is a Boring Cylon? What about his kid with Dopeyface? It's a hybrid too? Doesn't that make Sharon and Helo's baby less important? Bullshit, I say! Bullshit!" It struck me as ill-thought out and clumsy. How can Lost get slated all the time with the accusation that it is a series of ill-thought out twists, but BSG get away with so much inconsistency? There are arguments that Ron Moore and his cohorts knew where they are going, and I reckon their final plan is worked out even if the getting there has been a horribly up-and-down affair, but why does that show get a break, but not Lost? My boy Bobby D is similarly displeased, to the extent of wanting to punch things.

What interests me about this attitude to Lost (which seems to be borne of some disappointment that the show isn't what people thought it was going to be, as well as having a very slow pace), is that it's practically a metacomment on the main theme of the show; faith. Just as Ben and Locke battle to prove over their faith in the island, and Locke and Jack fight over their contradictory attitudes to what epistemological approach to take towards the island, fandom battles over whether the show means anything when the show hasn't been conclusively finished yet. Without the ending to wrap everything up, the fans could be wasting their time watching a show that will amount to a series of non-sequitur events and pointless digressions.

Hell, even one-time producer and writer David Fury, in an interview with Rolling Stone, has said that he thinks Cuse, Lindelof and Abrams have no solid idea of how it will end, and has warned the fans they're in for a disappointent. I think the showrunners really should have stumped up for that samovar of coffee he wanted. Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who was a producer at the time, commented on Fury's criticisms on LiveJournal, and this kind soul reprinted them, minus some content Grillo-Marxuach removed later.

As I've pointed out already, I'm convinced the showrunners know where they're going. Though sometimes events happen that are totally unexpected (the reveal of Jacob, for example), in time they make an an instinctive sense within the rules set by the show, and I have faith they will be resolved and explained. The polar bears make sense within the context of what we currently know, and eventually when we have more information, Jacob and the Incident (which could be linked to a drilling experiment gone wrong) and the longevity of Richard Alpert will make sense. Note that I said "instinctive". I can't speak for any other fans of the show, but so far the writers have done nothing that is too weird, and whenever they throw a curveball, it feels right somehow. It's like a test of Lost fanaticism -- you have a feeling that it's making sense even when it's gone nuts; if you don't, you're missing the point.

While those who have lost patience with the show will think new twists are just arbitrary crazy events thrown out during frantic writers' meetings and take it as proof that the show has gone off the rails, those who still believe in the show will sense that the Lost train is still on track even though they might not fully understand how or why. This is not meant as a diss to those who don't have time for it any more, and I'm not saying I'm right so there. I just have a very strong suspicion that the final answers will almost certainly turn out to be explicable and not just a series of arcane "facts" that only make sense to the 108 viewers still watching while clutching their Sawyer action figures. However, at this point in the show, watching it and being willing to give it a break when weird things happen is pretty much an act of patience and faith, and that's where the fracture in the sci-fi fandom massive lies.

Luckily there is that network of believers who have confidence in the creators, and I really don't think it's much of a stretch to accept that maybe the weirdness of the show isn't inexplicable and random. Here's another article of faith; I've had so much fun watching this show and parsing it and dissecting it, that even if the finale is an enormous letdown, I'll still think the experience has been worthwhile, partially because of the speculation within the fan community (my most recent lovable crazy theory find; the numbers correspond to boardgames loved by Abrams and Lindelof). I know I'm not the only one who enjoys the waiting game (when it's not delayed by production problems or strikes). Even the writers are listening and joining in, creating a dialogue between them and the fans that has had huge ramifications for the show. It's another thing to love; the showrunners interacting with the fanbase and tailoring the show towards them. When the fans complained (for no justifiable reason, IMO) about Nikki and Paulo, they were dealt with in a witty manner in the episode Exposé.

When fans became convinced the show was all occuring in the head of one of the characters (either Walt or Hurley), Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (who also wrote Exposé) wrote Dave, in which Hurley is told by the mysterious Dave that he is imagining his time on the island. The purgatory theory is brought up within the show from time to time, and the fan rumours about a bird calling out "Hurley" led to the bird making a reappearance in the second season finale. That in-show dialogue from the showrunners is certainly flattering, but it also shows they give a damn about what they're doing. Well, that and the amazing attention to detail within the show. I'll shut up about that now.

ETA: I'm really not suggesting people who don't get Lost should piss off. If anything, I want more people to get into it. I'm forcing my season three boxset on anyone who will take it right now, and even though one total hater dared, DARED, to suggest that Torchwood was as good as Lost, I won't be deterred. The Church of Lost is all inclusive. Even Torchwood fans are welcome!

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