Monday, 28 January 2008

Lost Countdown: No. 8

Here's a reason for loving the show that I felt a little embarrassed about talking about, because I couldn't understand why it made me happy. Still, let's give it a try.

The thematic echoes:

The biggest criticism leveled at Lost is that Lindelof and Cuse are just making it up as they go along, a refrain from the haters that drives Lost fans out of their minds. I'll come back to that a lot, as it's connected to things that bug me about fandom in general, as well as some of the other reasons why I love it.

Let's say the doubters are right. The showrunners have no idea what's going to happen and are just adding stuff to each episode because it seems cool, or because they can't think of a logical way to further the plot. If that's the case, they're doing a great job of creating events that are thematically relevant to what has gone before. Even if the show were being made up on the fly, worst case scenario is that things would be introduced that had little or no connection to what has gone before. That's not the case here.

Visual and narratives motifs echo throughout the series in ways that either affect the audience subconsciously or, to the Lost nerd, as concrete proof that the show is being made by people who know exactly what they're doing. On a meta level, this enormously satisfying, as the plot rests on connections between the characters, and presenting a series of images and narrative motifs that replicate throughout the show in each character's stories reinforces this sense of connection.


The first shot of the show, the opening of Jack's eye, has come back several times so far. Parent issues have blighted the lives of almost all of the characters, as have car crashes, which have affected several characters, and even bound them together (Shannon and Boone link with Jack whose decision to save his future wife dooms their father). The numbers show up again and again, either as plot points (Hurley's lottery win, the Swan station computer) or in the background (e.g. on the top of police cars, or on football shirts). These are all elements of one of the overarching themes in the show; the interconnectivity of the modern world.


One of my favourite echoes, used to illustrate a changing power dynamic on the island, came in season three. Ben is confined to a wheelchair when confronting Locke from what seems to be a position of weakness, but as soon as his authority is reasserted, he regains enough of his strength to get around using a stick, much like Mr. Eko. Their relationship at that point begins to echo that one as well, with each of them battling over which one of them has access to the truth. Another great character echo is that whenever Locke comes upon a computer, such as the chess machine in the Flame station, he is compelled to interact with it in the same obsessive manner he did with the computer in Swan station. And then fuck shit up, to quote a Dub Narcotic song title.

It's not just on the small scale. The moment I realised the show was following a plan came with The Man Behind The Curtain, which featured a classic moment of vindication for the doubters (the reveal of Jacob) or something that the believers would just accept as something that would be explained in the future.


That wasn't the cool part, though. In a prior episode, Ben and his cronies leave the prison island en masse, and return to the Barracks with Jack in tow. A few episodes after that, The Others, faces obscured by gas masks, abandon the barracks after gassing Kate and Sayid, and embark on an exodus towards the Ruins. In The Man Behind The Curtain, we see the barracks gassed years before, and it echoes (or pre-echoes) the gassing of Kate and Sawyer. In Through The Looking Glass, the castaways leave the beach the same way the Others left the Barracks, this time in search of the beacon.

Throughout the season we saw these moments reoccur in different ways, that wouldn't happen if the show was being made up as they went along. The massacre at the end of The Man Behind The Curtain is such a deliberate echo of Kate and Sayid's incapacitation that it had to have been planned. The doubters may not be convinced there is a plan at work, but I am. Think me a fool, see if I care! [/defiant]


These echoes don't just provide the canvas on which the show is painted. They also give hints of what might be in store. The occurences of black and white objects suggest that the mystery of the show boils down to a tension between two opposing forces. By that I don't just mean the classic struggle between protagonist and antagonist, but perhaps the big secret of the show revolves around a duality theme. When the show started I was convinced it was something to do with twins or clones, but by now the popular theory among the fanbase is that our heroes have crossed into a parallel universe where their doppelgangers are dead but their relatives are still alive. If so, the black and white imagery is more than mere set dressing, and is in fact a clue. Or a hint. Or an echo of an echo.

Part of the joy of Lost is seeing this thematic structure being reinforced, and now that the show has reached a kind of midpoint with the future being revealed, we can look forward to seeing the echoes appear in the future, so that the echoes of the past echo forward into the future and then echo back to the present and possibly even into the past again. Lost fans will know what I mean, at the very least.

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