Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 5

Lost is almost here, and now I have to race through the reasons. But that's what love does to a guy. It makes him blog like the wind.

Seeing the main cast improve in leaps and bounds:

This is probably going to sound incredibly bitchy, but I'll say it anyway; when I saw the pilot of Lost, the one thing that didn't impress me was the performances by almost all of the cast, who seemed to have been cast for their sometimes excessive pretty rather than their ability. I'd liked Harold Perrineau from his work on Oz and the Matrix sequels (where he was the only human in the cast), Naveen Andrews was suitably enigmatic and awesome as Sayid, and I was happy to see Daniel Dae Kim finally stop jumping from show to show to land on a hit. Best of all, Terry O'Quinn was around, and he had always been reliable. The rest? Nothing going on. A bunch of anonymous faces of no interest. I doubted they would hold my attention.

As I have said before, the supporting cast is filled with great character actors, and the second season added the imposing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje to the main cast (a plus negated by the presence of Michelle Rodriguez, whose appeal escapes me), but still I was unsure. And yet, by the end of season three, I was convinced the casting directors had been almost totally right. Over time the cast has grown into their characters and several actors I thought so little of have shocked me with their intensity.

Dominic Monahan and Jorge Garcia had been the comedy relief for so long that seeing them break out of that was a great pleasure. Monahan had a lot of big dramatic moments to pull off, especially in the third season, and even though I'd grown tired of Charlie Pace, I still spent most of Greatest Hits crying. His scenes with Henry Ian Cusick (who also grasped great opportunities in both Catch-22 and Through the Looking Glass and ran with them) were especially affecting.

Meanwhile Garcia has had to portray a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, his first season enthusiasm and gregariousness swallowed up by grief and regret. With the mysterious Libby gone and no one on the island taking him seriously, Garcia has done an amazing job of portraying the miserable effects of his low-self-esteem while still coming up with the comedic goods whenever necessary. Thankfully that sadness was lifted in the underrated comedy episode Tricia Tanaka is Dead, and especially when he proved himself to the "cool kids" and saved the day in Through The Looking Glass, one of the many great moments in that absolutely phenomenal finale.

Through The Looking Glass had several impressive performances, but I'd hand the award for best performance in a Lost season finale to Matthew Fox, an actor who struck me as blandly handsome when I first saw him in the pilot, but has shown an impressive willingness to make the heroic Jack seem weak and self-doubting even in his most noble moments. Another of the things I've loved most about this show is that the main character is almost insane with grief and confusion for almost the entire duration of the show. Canyon will disagree with me vehemently, maintaining he is nothing more than a weepy jerk, but she is lovely and wrong. The arc with his increasing mental degradation pays off brilliantly in Through The Looking Glass, not just in his weepy drug-crazed moments but in my favourite scene in that finale, his confrontation with Ben and subsequent violent breakdown. As he beat Ben to a pulp, I found myself gasping in horror, stuck on the edge of my seat with my hands over my mouth.

Violence on TV shows, certainly on action shows, can often mean nothing. It's all throwaway cool and flash, which is fine if that's what you need at that time (I watch 24 for exactly those reasons). However that scene in the season finale was loaded with all of the frustration, misery and anger that Jack has tried to hold back for the three months he has been on the island, and the knowledge that for once Ben might have been telling the truth made it all the worse. At that moment, Jack lost. I'm amazed that the showrunners are brave enough to make the hero of their show become an animal, even though he was motivated by the thought that Sayid, Bernard and Jin were dead.

The strongest actresses on the show, Yunjin Kim and Elizabeth Mitchell, have had a variable third season. Yunjin Kim (and Daniel Dae Kim) have had little to do for a while now, and their flashback episodes are the ones I tend to think will be the most uninteresting. Of course, whenever I think that there is often some astonishing and terrifying piece of Paik-instigated violence perpetrated by Jin, which always upsets me.

This season saw all of the dreary adultery setups from three seasons pay off, with the knowledge that the date of conception of Sun's child was of crucial importance, and I realised how compelling and powerful she could be with good enough material. During D.O.C., my heart was in my mouth throughout. Yet another thing I love about the show is how it makes the tedious stuff pay off well. Perhaps not everything has worked out as well, but this plot, which had often made me drift off, suddenly became fascinating. Maybe that's my failing, and I should have even more faith in the showrunners, but nevertheless, I know I'm not alone in rolling my eyes whenever this plot comes up. Only the two Kims save it, and Yunjin has begun to really shine. D.O.C. and facing up to Sawyer in Exposé were her season highlights, and I enjoyed them greatly.

As great as she is (and I do think she's really really great), Elizabeth Mitchell has, in a third of the time, become the most compelling female character on the island. At first seemingly nothing more than another impenetrable Other, it soon became apparent that she wears two faces. In front of the castaways she appears cold and scheming, but in her flashbacks, and in front of her captor, Ben, she is scared and heartbroken. Her second flashback episode, One Of Us, was another series highlight, as Ben manipulated her with images of her sister and the outside world into doing his bidding.

Mitchell had already impressed me during the season, serving as a great foil for Ben (much more on my love for Ben later) and possible love interest for Jack. However, n that episode she absolutely blew me away. She was so totally robbed of millions of acting awards! Previously I only knew her as Kerry Weaver's neglected girlfriend in E.R., and had little to do. Here, acting showcases like her confrontation with Ben in the kitchen, or seeing her sister on the Flame station monitors, should get her a lot of work when she leaves this show (I'd like her to get awards as well, but she really got messed around this year. I'm genuinely annoyed by that). Also in her favour, on the Tale of Two Cities commentary she is endearingly obsessed with hott Matthew Fox and bondage. It's really cute. And a bit weird.

So, yay for the cast! They have proven me wrong and become superawesomespecial, and yet almost all of my love is reserved for Josh Holloway, as lovable rogue turned haunted victim and vengeful misanthrope Sawyer. While watching the first few episodes I despaired at the casting of this square-jawed lunk, pouting in the background or getting up in several grills with his macho idiocy. Though I understood that the dynamic of the show depended on the conflict between castaways (at least until the Others provided a much more worthy source of drama), it pained me to see him growling and seething.

And of course, I ended up loving him. His half-hearted tough guy act, his doomed attempts at reconciliation with the castaways he has annoyed, his growing love for Kate, and the flashbacks showing his painful upbringing; I was powerless in his thrall. Holloway had initially struck me as a pretty boy with a bit of charm, but I sold him short. He's immensely charming, and it's a joy to see him bouncing off the other characters, most of whom seem to loathe him. The conflict between many of the other characters creates tension; a lot of the time, conflict with Sawyer means funfunfun. You could randomly pick almost any scene with him and Hurley and you'd be onto a winner.

Of course, I was also wrong that he was just a charmer. Not to say that charm means nothing; it may come from his natural likeability, but he sure knows how to play off it with expertise. Anyway, on top of even that, he has become a compelling dramatic presence. His early season reaction to facing death at the hand of evil Other Danny Pickett was nerve-wracking, and even though I knew there was no way they would kill him off, I still got all panicky. Best of all, his final confrontation with the man who destroyed his family, the unbelievably evil Anthony Cooper, was another season highlight. Provoked by Cooper's indifference to his pain, he kills him in a deliberate echo of Jabba's death in Return of the Jedi (a wonderfully nerdy touch), and from his behaviour in the finale it looks as if his future self will be haunted by the hollow victory he scored over this life-ruining face from the past. I've even forgiven Sawyer for killing the lovable Other Tom, even though I'll miss M.C. Gainey terribly.

Holloway's agonised reaction to the taunting of the real Sawyer haunted me for days after. He had proven himself to me a thousand times over, and my admiration is boundless (and kudos too to Kevin Tighe, who gave a career-best performance in that episode). I can't remember who it was who said Holloway was the breakout star of the show (it was in something I read a long time ago now), but that scene proves they're onto something.

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