Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 3

Not long now until the pop-up primer version of Through The Looking Glass screens on ABC, which could very well look a lot like Amelie Gillette's version for the A.V. Club. Also excited is Jeff Jensen, as usual, who has written a list of things we need to keep in mind prior to the first season four episode, airing tomorrow night. All I need to remember, Mr. Jensen, is my list of reasons to love Lost! Here's another one, which is fairly self-explanatory. So I'll go on about it for way too long anyway.

The many WTF moments:

For a sci-fi show Lost has very few fantastical elements, and those that feature heavily (such as Swan station) are treated in such a matter of fact way that they become part of the furniture. Much of the mystery revolves around misinformation, deceit, subterfuge. It's often just about people on an island of indeterminate and invisible power, with the bulk of the episodes focusing more on flashbacks that dramatise and reveal character moments from the past. I've said it before and I'll say it again; if you don't want to know more about these characters and their psychology, don't watch the show. The ratio of character reveals to sci-fi nerdery is about 100:1. That is bound to annoy some people. If I was still a kid, I would hate the show. Where are the UFOs? Why don't they have jetpacks or teleporters? Why should I care if Sun had an affair with some bald guy? (Of course, I did end up caring, as mentioned before.)

However, every so often the show has a conceptual and/or visual blowout, changing the direction of the show with a big shock moment. Opening season two with the reveal of Desmond's civilised set-up in the Swan station, followed by the 108 minute countdown, and then the total headfuck of the Orientation video, is the point at which my admiration for the show transformed into total love. It all came from nowhere, totally changing the tone and direction of the show, while remaining thematically true to the previous season (Locke's faith in the island became faith in the button and the numbers).

It happened again with the reveal of Jacob. Set up to be a meeting with a shady character whose identity had been kept a secret from the public with a shroud of secrecy hiding the name of the actor playing him, speculation ran wild. Jack's dad, Christian, was the most popular candidate, with some fans backing Locke or Sun's dad instead. Of course we got none of those, and once again the showrunners changed everything with a nerve-wracking and surreal sequence that alone posed more questions than had been answered in three whole seasons (see below for a clip). It was probably my favourite six minutes of screentime in all of 2007, and that's including the amazing gamechanging finale.

That finale worked so well because so much time had been spent setting up the parameters of the show format, to the point that you take it for granted. That structure rarely gets messed with, so whenever it does, it's an event. Even more than The Other 48 Days (showing what happened to the tail survivors) and Exposé (what happened to two characters assaulted by a bafflingly hostile fanbase), the Desmond flashback episode, Flashes Before Your Eyes, was the biggest departure yet, and maybe changed the way we should view the show format. It not only created some huge WTF moments, and introduced the creepy Ms. Hawking (described in a Lindelof commentary as a kind of temporal enforcement agent making sure the time lines don't get messed with), it made you wonder if the flashbacks are more than just a narrative device. A popular theory is that they are false memories implanted in the castaways, but this episode made you wonder if there was even more going on than that. I don't believe that theory, and still think they're a narrative tool, but for a moment there, I wasn't sure.

Of course, the most astonishing and iconic WTF moment came in the first episode, as Smokey/Cerberus announced its arrival. At that moment the show became something more than just a really well-produced soap opera based on Survivor. Over the season we were teased with hints of its true nature, and when it finally revealed itself to us (and not just to Locke), it utterly confounded expectations. Destroying trees and dragging Locke into a Cerberus Vent (which seemed to me to open up as if alive, but I might be mistaken), it was terrifying. Even better was its next big appearance, photographing Eko's memories. The first half of season 2 has longueurs, but this appearance by Smokey redeemed it.

Many who claim to have figured out what the mystery of the island is have to take into account that there are still new mysteries being introduced even now, so how can anyone truly figure out what the endgame will be? At any moment the rug can be pulled out from under us just like before. I love the speculation (love it!), but even know, past the halfway mark, we're just pissing in the wind.

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