Thursday, 10 July 2008

Lost - There's No Place Like Home (3)

Okay, time to end this obsessive craziness. I've got other things to blog about. I hope.

Reason 3: The WTF moments

If I were to put the WTF moments of Lost into order, I think I'd have to put the first sighting of Jacob right at the top. Though the legendary gamechanging moment of the third season turned out to be the introduction of flashforwards in the finale, Jacob's first appearance was just as significant. Just as the show had taken a drastic turn when we first see the inside of Swan station at the beginning of season two, Jacob's ghostly nature injected a supernatural element into a show that had previously been more concerned with psychological experimentation and superscience. It's testament to the skills of the showrunners that this new mystery didn't wreck the show, and in fact has fed into other mysteries in the show that I, at least, had taken for granted, such as the whispers and the appearances of unexpected people or animals.

I'm debating whether to revise this list. A list I've not yet written, I'll admit, but still. If anything is going to make fairweather fans bleat about sharkjumping or fridgenuking, it's Ben climbing into a frozen chamber and turning a large wooden wheel in order to teleport the island out of harm's way. I can see that that leap into the bizarre would irk people, especially as the show has been pretty careful about introducing really weird phenomena, though that statement might say more about how quickly I have accepted the presence on the show of a magnet powerful enough to pull a plane off course and a seemingly sentient mind-reading organism or mechanism made of smoke. Plus, with the typically masterful performance of Michael Emerson there to sell it, I just went with it.

Sure, using a shaky looking wooden wheel to activate a force powerful enough to move an enormous landmass is definitely incongruous, but if the island was once home to an ancient civilisation of four-toed time-warping geniuses waiting for their Buddha-like messiah to arrive (or whatever the Hostiles are), then their technology would have involved wood and wheels and such like. Probably. The wheel wasn't the special part of the mechanism, it was just the lever. What lies behind the wall is what is important. Is it the "negatively-charged exotic matter" that Dr. Edgar Halliwax was referring to?A downed UFO? A black hole? Was Ben winding up an enormous spring that boinged the island up into the atmosphere? It could have been anything.

While that was the most dramatic WTF moment of the finale, there were other headscratchers as well, which open up interesting areas for speculation in the final two seasons. The next biggest event of the finale was the reveal of the true identity of Jeremy Bentham, which caused much anguish in my soul, mostly because Locke dying sucks, but also because the grim pallor and subtle distortion of Terry O'Quinn's face was horribly realistic.

While we have no idea how it happened, we can futilely speculate until our ears bleed. If he's no longer on the island, either he died while on a mission off-island, or after being exiled in the same way Ben was. If so, perhaps the island has been returned to the same spot it was at before. If it ever actually existed within the space/time continuum the way everything else does, that is. Now that he is dead, who is meant to run the show on the island? Has Sawyer stepped up? Or Richard Alpert? Are the islanders leaderless until Jack returns to fulfill what might be his destiny? And how did Locke die? Was it really suicide? If he knows something about the island being a null-space where death can be beated, he could have killed himself, knowing he would have to be returned to the island and therefore back to life. That doesn't help us understand what would drive him to kill himself, but it would explain why death would hold no fear for him. Though it doesn't explain why Ben has such a weird waxy face as well. Is this connected to Locke's death? Or is he aging backwards like Benjamin Button?

Luckily, with death seemingly no barrier to keeping actors on the show, we might see more of Locke off the island, as well as on island (if we get to see what happened on the island during the three years the Oceanic Six were in the real world, that is). That post-death existence has certainly made Claire interesting, at last. After three and a half seasons of nothingness, Claire is now finally doing something other than be a moody mom. Even better, she's not just a ghost, she's an off-message ghost.

Considering how the rest of the spooky visitors are telling their alloted hauntee to get back to the island, Claire is vehemently opposed to Aaron returning. If she is really an emissary of the island, and if Ben is right when he says that the only way to return to the island is for everyone to go back (which surely includes Aaron, Waaaaaalt, and probably Frank and Desmond too), then why is Claire saying Aaron must stay behind? Is it just because the growth spurt that the young actor playing Aaron would go through would render the show unfilmable, which would be understandable and forgivable? Or do the island's ghosts have free will? Harper's ghostly appearance before Juliet in The Other Woman seemed to be on the orders of the island, but Harper herself seemed very angry at Juliet, so maybe the ghosts retain enough of themselves to be considered partially autonomous. It's certainly food for thought.

If the teleportation was the most dramatic WTF moment of the episode, my favourite was quiet but so out of the blue that it shook me to the core and made me reconsider my apathy towards CS Lewis. Miles' conversation with her, during which he revealed that he knew she had been on the island before, blew my head apart with greater effect than if I had gone brujo-style berzonkers on iboga. All of a sudden her joyous expression upon landing on the island in Confirmed Dead makes perfect sense, and now I feel bad for thinking she was just a dope who liked the pretty trees. Her decision to stay on the island, in order to discover more about her past, was beautifully played, and made me remember one of the main reasons that I love the show; that what I often consider superfluous or ill-judged will almost certainly become important or moving in the future, so surely is it being crafted by the showrunners. Now I can't wait to find out more about her, or see her reunited with Faraday, if he's still intact following the sudden displacement of the island. Still, she'll have supersnarky Miles to keep her company.

Surely that counts for something, right?

Reason 2: The fanbase

To be honest, I'm slightly mad at some of the Lost fanbase, most specifically the fuckbat who put a Lost spoiler video on YouTube on the day the finale aired. As YouTube uses a picture from the video to illustrate what the content is like, I saw "Michael dies" in big letters, thus wrecking that shock. Wonderful. I was being very careful about avoiding spoilers as well, which made the moment all the more frustrating. This happened last year and infuriated the very people making the show, who are the people you really shouldn't be angering. What if they decided not to finish the show in retribution? It happened to Global Frequency!!! Stupid idiot leaking jerkoffs. And for what? To ruin people's day? Vengeance against Darlteluselof because they weren't interested in their spec scripts featuring Jack and Kate having sex on the bonnet of an enormous UFO? Or just a need to show off the level of their access to the show? Yeah, when I had Michael's death spoiled I was really thinking about how impressed I was at how well the person in question had sneakily eluded ABC's guards to bring us this information a few hours early. I totally didn't think about how I would like to give them a Chim-Chim cookie for their trouble. Or strand them on an exploding freighter.

It's especially annoying as the majority of fans, and the debates that rage between them, seem to delight the showrunners enough to play games with our expectations (as I've gone on about before). The finale had a nice example, with the showrunners addressing their method of keeping the viewers pleasantly confused while still slowly revealing more and more about the island. That battle between what they tell us and what the show shows us is a brilliant balancing act, played out in the Orchid station as Ben speaks for the showrunners and Locke speaks for the audience. We want to know what is going on with the fascinating Dharma guys, but those in a position of greater knowledge keep telling us to get over it.

To make it even more frustrating, Ben makes Locke sit down and watch another Dharma orientation video, a final cut of the Orchid station video that has been doing the rounds since last year's Comic-Con, which distracts Locke while Ben gets on with the business of making the island (i.e. the show) move. When it's over (or rather, when it rewinds at the most crucial part), Locke is desperate to know more, but Ben insists it doesn't matter. When the Vault explodes, it is as if a veil has been pulled back by Ben. We've been concentrating on that veil for three seasons now, but what lay behind it, i.e. the frozen donkey wheel and whatever the hell lies behind its housing, is where the real core of the show lies. The Dharma members themselves are important, as characters that have interacted with our heroes and villains (whichever they may have been), but what they were doing has no bearing on what else has been happening on the island. At least, that's how I interpreted that scene.

I also like that, considering how the Lost haters like to make out that the show is constructed to ignore the viewer's wishes (the mythical average viewer seemingly wanting nothing more than the answer to the question "WTF is up with that fuckin' island, man?", if they are to be believed), the showrunners seem to be eager to give the fans what they want, and will gauge their/our reactions to see what we want. At least, that's what this comment on Kristin Veitch's E Online column:

Dan: I'm part of the ABC Studios Advisory Panel, and they were asking questions about Michael's "fate" on Lost—very vague about whether he died or not, and also how interested I was in seeing him next season. Could this mean that, depending on the results, he might come back?! Also, when Ben says they all need to come back to the Island—is there any way he means Walt, too, and that he'll be a regular next season? Because, dammit, I miss the kid, and I need to know how he's special!
Kristin: I've unilaterally decided that Ben's declaration means Walt has to go back, too, but whether Darlton or the Island agree with me remains to be seen. As for Michael, well, that there info you have from the advisory panel is what Arsenio used to call a thing that makes you go "Hmmmm..."

Having been very nonplussed by the death of Michael, I hope that this hint is the real deal, and that Harold Perrineau isn't sulking so much that he won't come back. Fuck it, Lost showrunners, write a completely unearned resolution between him and Walt, if it makes him happy. Just get him back. Having Michael die so suddenly left a nasty taste in my mouth. Fix it! And let me hang out on set with you all and write episodes and everything. I promise my spec script features zero UFOs and lots of talk about free will and existentialism, mostly from the mouth of my new character, psychic French botanist Jean-Paul Heidegger.

Reason 1: Locke and Linus

So many plot threads were rushed through in the latter half of the season that some characters sadly got short shrift (and Miles and Faraday's flashbacks have been delayed to a later date), but my favourite aspect of the show, the relationship between Ben and Locke, was allowed time to develop to what has to be its natural conclusion. Little did we know at the beginning of the three-parter, with Locke and Ben traipsing through the jungle and trading jibes with Hurley, that their fractious partnership-of-convenience was soon to be dissolved.

Their progression from mortal enemies to grudging partners to bickering Odd Couple-style comrades was complete, and while they could never have become friends, Ben's apology to Locke for wrecking his life seemed heartfelt, though premature. Surely this wasn't the end of Blocke? Of course, as the show rolled to a close, and we realised Ben was never going to return to the island, certainly not before Locke dies, that would probably be the last time they spoke to each other. Perhaps there might be an unseen meeting between Ben and "Jeremy Bentham", but it's doubtful. After their hilarious snippy conversations in this episode, that's even more sad than it already was. And no, for once I didn't cry when Ben and Locke shook hands for the final time, but I was greatly ensaddenised.

To be honest, while it seemed Ben's motive for leaving the island was brought about by some kind of acceptance that Jacob was now communicating with Locke instead of him, the death of Alex seemed to have been a huge contributing factor to his sacrificial decision. His need to avenge her death certainly made him act rashly as he murdered Keamy, asking his foe if Widmore ordered the hit on Alex even though the evil mercenary was busy dying. His need to know who was ultimately responsible for her death indicates he is eager to even the score with Widmore, even though the ultimate cost is losing his hold on the island.

That's not such a drastic move if his status as Jacob's chosen one really is unalterably changed, though I now wonder if he was ever supposed to be the leader of the Hostiles. While Richard Alpert is willing to seek out Locke in an effort to test him during his childhood, he seemed to just stumble across Ben and choose him with little preamble. Was he just hoping to persuade an insider to help his band of hostiles to get into the Barracks? Perhaps making Ben the de facto leader of his group was the only way to convince him to do it, knowing that Ben's powerlessness was making him unhappy and responsive to promises of greater control over his life. Of course, that means the Hostiles are lumbered with a lame duck leader, but if our suspicions are true, that Alpert and the rest are immortal, then the time spent putting up with Ben's craziness would seem short compared to how we would experience it.

Ben being a placeholder leader certainly explains why he always seemed so frustrated with Jacob, and his parting shot, "I hope you're happy now, Jacob," makes sense in the context that Jacob communicated with Ben out of necessity rather than because Ben was his chosen one, and thus was less than happy with the liaison with humanity that he had been allocated. No wonder Ben has been so miserable and homicidal for the last season and a bit. Who knows, maybe he didn't even need to move the island. Maybe he did that as a screw-you gesture to Jacob.

As for Locke, he's in a weird position of being a leader of a group that knows more about the environment they are living in than he does. It's only by the acceptance of Alpert that he has any chance of being seen as a saviour by the Hostiles, though we do not know if his selection by Alpert is because he is a reincarnation of someone powerful, or is the past incarnation of Jacob (and therefore the only one who can properly hear Jacob in his shack).

Of course, Locke's obliviousness serves another purpose. He has been left ignorant of his destiny as a contrivance by the showrunners, keeping him unaware of the truth of the island as we see events through his eyes and any knowledge he has would be seen by us too. If I stopped to think about it I'd probably find a million contrivances in the show that would conspire to annoy me, so I'll leave it there. I'm happy not seeing the strings being pulled, and besides, I've been enjoying the games Ben has been playing so much I'm happy to be manipulated by the show for a long time yet.

There is something I'm tentatively unhappy about, though. As I hinted earlier, I had one problem with the finale that I couldn't get over, and has only served to trouble me ever since. While I loved the finale, and have watched it several times since just because it was so much fun and featured so many great moments, I'm finally becoming concerned about the amount of ground they have left to cover. The list of mysteries left unexplained remains enormous, and yet we only have two 17 episode seasons left to go. That might seem like a lot now, but this season was not much shorter but felt like it flew by. If next season manages the difficult task of running straight through with no breaks, it'll seem to fly by. Though I have no doubt we will finally understand the reason for the four-toed statue, and the electromagnetic anomaly, and the donkey wheel, and the true nature of Smokey, and any number of other mysteries, I've begun to worry that dozens of minor mysteries that have intrigued me will be ignored, or turn out to have been much more prosaic than I had imagined. Disappointment at the resolution of any story, especially one I have expended so much time and energy in following and thinking about, is inevitable to some degree, and I've been realistic about how the final episode will leave me feeling disappointed, but perhaps now it's beginning to hit home, that this wondrous story is coming toward a natural conclusion. I'm approximately this worried and upset...

In case you were wondering, that's not good. I'm not suddenly convinced the show will end up sucking; I still expect a satisfying ending. I just dread having no closure on some of the little things, especially some of the Dharma details, especially as they have been treated like a joke by Ben. We shall see.

But yeah, that minor concern doesn't alter the fact that season four was breathtaking, definitely the best one yet, with at least two absolute classics episodes (The Shape Of Things To Come and The Constant) and numerous astonishing moments. I'm sad that it's over, my obsession will be fed for some time to come. Once we have finished watching The Shield (two seasons in and we're deeply in love with it), we're going to go back and rewatch from the beginning, and see how much foreshadowing there is, and I might even join in with Darlton and ABC's Lost Bookclub, a lovely idea considering how densely layered with literary references the show is. Maybe this blog will be Lost-lite for a while. I think a few weeks of reading books by B.F. Skinner, Aldous Huxley and Nabokov might do me a world of good. ::picks up copy of Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy when no one is looking::


The Judge said...

The snore of it. Start loving this instead:

Admiral Neck said...

Been loving it for weeks now. Where have you been? Watching the second season of The O.C. and avoiding modernity? I remember a certain justice-obsessed lady acquiring a boxset of Firefly from The Awesomeness Fairy and not watching it for years. What was her name again?

Now watch Lost and Friday Night Lights and prepare to fall in love, you heathen. (I know you will love them. Why are you so compelled to resist? It's like a braincraziness thing you have inside your brain.)