Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Previously. On LOST.





And now, Todd and David discuss the premiere of :Lost:.

Todd: To be perfectly honest, I was quite worried about this episode. The previous two premieres (that crackerjack two-hour pilot and last season's riveting Man of Science, Man of Faith) were both so good and so expertly set the tones for the seasons to follow (namely, breathless action adventure and dark 'n' dreary pomo scifi something) that this episode couldn't help but be a disappointment, especially after a long stretch of episodes in season two that had a tendency to drag.

Plus, the episode was yet another Jack flashback. I get that he's the central character, and I like the way the show uses him to critique traditional American ideals of heroism, but I feel like we know almost everything about his backstory that would possibly be relevant (I can't wait to see an episode where he can't get a table at a restaurant and then tears up and screams at the wait staff).

Yet, somehow, this was a captivating and compelling hour, building easily on last season's finale, deepening the show's mythology, yet never betraying its central ripped-from-the-pages-of-pulp-novels characters. And all of this with only five series regulars!

The opening reveal (The Others apparently live in a suburban cul de sac in the middle of the island) wasn't quite as good as last year's Desmond reveal, but it came close (perhaps the greatest problem with it was that we were expecting it after the Desmond bait-n-switch last year). The gradual discovery of the extent of The Others' operations on the island, however, was well done. Rather than clunk us over the head with exposition, as Lost is wont to do, the various settings (the cul de sac, the underwater hatch, the zoo) were dispatched almost casually, with none of The Others stepping in to say, "Hey! Look! We have a zoo! We kept that polar bear from the pilot here!"

What's more, the central Jack flashback, while never revealing anything that much of a departure from what we already knew, was an important link in the storytelling chain. Jack drove his father back to the bottle, which drove his father to Sydney where he drank himself to death. Jack's mission to bring back his father (which we learned about in season one) was just another instance of this perpetually tortured man bringing further guilt upon himself.

To some degree, it's easy to deride the show for making Jack such a whipping boy (and eventually, it's going to feel completely absurd), but at the same time, the producers should be praised for turning Jack into a figure who teeters on the line that separates heroism from obsession -- what other network TV show would do that? In the best Jack episodes (Jack torturing Boone with rudimentary surgery in an attempt to save his life, Jack trying to save a woman only to find himself flummoxed by a miracle, Jack chasing after his ex-wife in a state that bordered on madness), we see just how warped people who have an extensive idea of what is "right" and "wrong" and then center everyone else's moral code around themselves can be. Jack is a good doctor and a natural leader, but he's also got a side to him that is constantly threatening to implode and take everyone else down with him.

There were some bad scenes -- Evangeline Lilly remains the cast's weak link -- but this was a better-than-average episode for Lost. Even the obligatory Sawyer-as-comic-relief scenes worked, perhaps because it's been so long since we've seen them (though I like to think it's because we got to see the put-upon tough guy basically turned into a trained bear). Elizabeth Mitchell, the only new regular we got to see this week, also acquitted herself well -- already, she and Matthew Fox have tons more chemistry than he ever had with Lilly.

The best element of Lost has often been its ability to wed the surreal to the hyper-real, its attempts to turn a beautiful landscape into an absurd landscape upon which its characters' dreams and nightmares can play out on. Freed from the burden of the hatch (which was interesting at first, but quickly turned into the same story point over and over) and a mythology the show could only, out of necessity, allude to for a whole season (The Others are refreshingly upfront in this episode), the show can get back to what it does best: simple morality tales, spiked with an occasionally over-obvious touch of human drama.

I know I'm in for another season.

David: Good call, Todd. What I really appreciated about this episode was, as you say, the lack of exposition while providing a lot of background info and more breadth to The Others as people. While I love the opening to Man of Science, Man of Faith as a piece of real technical skill (and it has that total "Whaaaaa?" Lost factor to it), I'll disagree with you and say this season's reveal was even BETTER. Really, it just expanded the idea of MOSMOF's opening, which is an almost ordinary and mundane, yet very bizarre and artificial dot of civilization on the island: the Others at a book club bickering over a Stephen King novel! How out of the ordinary, yet so ordinary!

Despite the slight sameness (like Todd said, I was definitely expecting something incongruous to open the season) there was something fantastic to it, because we learned far more than we've ever learned about the Others in those opening four minutes, a frenzy of excitement as Henry Gale/Ben barked orders at old faces like Ethan Rom and Goodwin, appearing for mere seconds amongst the chaos as Oceanic 815 rained down onto the island. The episode continued in the same vein, dropping typically cryptic hints and clues that I'm sure will frustrate more casual viewers. I'm happy to let the general mysteriousness slide, though, because I felt it fit the mood of the episode very well. From Jack speaking to Others ambassador Juliet through an invisible layer of glass, to Sawyer's encounter with another prisoner in the bear cages, to Kate's extremely surreal breakfast on the beach with Gale/Ben, and most jarringly the image of a locked door opening to reveal a column of raging water, the tone was peculiar and disorienting throughout. Again, the strange environment that the Hatch presented last year has been reshaped and expanded upon here, as the Others' camp seems to be a strange combination of a military zoo, a beachside paradise and Wisteria Lane.

Jack's flashbacks obviously couldn't quite live up to the Island material, but his descent into unhinged mania was a nice parallel and added to the unsettling feeling of the episode. Concerning Jack's character and Todd's comments on the writers toying with his 'hero' status--is it just me, or can one draw parallels with Seth Bullock of Deadwood? Like Bullock, Jack is someone who is an icon of morality in his community (Jack is a doctor, Bullock is Sheriff) but he suffers from the burdens of expectations placed on him, and he carries a whole heap of repressed emotion that can explode suddenly and surprisingly (seen most prominently in the episode S.O.S., when Jack rages at the unseen Others from their border). Just a thought, but personally I like how they've developed Jack's character from the heroic do-gooder running amongst the wreckage we saw in the pilot into someone far more ambiguous and unstable.

What was best about this episode? Knowing that the writers have no less than three other fascinating situations on the Island to dig into before they embark on the real meat of their planned arcs. The 6-episode 'miniseries' look like an extremely smart move, as that gives enough time to resolve all the loose ends of the season 2 finale as well as set up the central mysteries and conflicts of the season ahead. I'll echo Todd again when I say sign me up!

(By the way, I'd highly recommend checking out the Lost video podcast by showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. It's not particularly revealing stuff plotwise, but to me it lightens up the show a little when you realize the writers really aren't as ponderous and mysterious as all that, but in fact pretty funny and happily aware of the super-geekdom of their fanbase.)

(Another side-note: If you're looking for BSG stuff, check out an interview Todd participated in with stars Mary McDonnell and James Callis and executive producer David Eick here. And if you're looking to discuss the series premiere of The Nine, you can do that here too.)

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