Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Being a good man isn't enough.": Lost

I sort of imagine that the Lost writers room is a lot like that Intro to Philosophy class you took freshman year of college. You know -- the one with all of the kids who wanted to have deep discussions in high school and then figured they could in college and "Philosophy" was the place to do that? And in the back of the room was a football player who needed three credits of humanities to graduate finally?

Anyway, when you were in that class, everyone would have lots of deep discussions (provided it was a smaller class and not one of those ginormous ones) about things that seemed really deep at the time but later proved to not be all that deep after all. But, hey, you had some good times, some laughs, some interesting talks that were gateway drugs for heavier theories of the universe. Lost often seems to engage issues in this "Intro to Philosophy" manner. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing (that's the kind of show it is). Its "depth," such as it were, is deceptive because it drops a lot of big names and big ideas and expects that namechecking to be mistaken for intelligence (and, honestly, when you compare this to just about any other show on basic network TV, it comes up as the winner in the brains department -- just look at it compared to Heroes or even 24). To that end, characters are named after philosophers and whole hours are structured around questions like "faith vs. science" or "fate vs. free will" in manners that don't really engage these conundrums.

That said, this latest episode, "Flashes Before Your Eyes," really DID engage the fate vs. free will question in an interesting way. That's not to say that it moved past that Intro to Philosophy way of looking at the question. But it did find a fascinating way to dramatize the question, mostly because it centered around a little-known character (Desmond) and one of the show's more bizarre elements of late (his seeming precognitive powers). The whole episode seemingly occurred in flashback, but that device, for once, seemed to be important, because it gradually became obvious that this wasn't a traditional flashback. This was, as Rosemary said after having the mousse, really happening.

The whole thing had the feel of a good Twilight Zone episode (and, indeed, I'm pretty sure that someone who had never seen this series before could watch this episode and follow the vast majority of it), and it set up one of those "only in genre fiction" conflicts that so make me love the pulp nature of the show: If you knew someone was going to die, how long would you keep preventing that death before letting it happen? And, what's more, this finally gives Charlie, a character who's had nothing to do since his first flashback early in season one (one of the show's worst hours), something to play, even if it is wandering around the beach, looking out for things that will fall on his head.

A few words about Fionnula Flanagan before wrapping this up. I've liked her for a while now, but she always seems to get cast as a maternal type. As the menacingly strange woman (who seems similarly unmoored in time) here and as the brittle housekeeper with a secret in the movie The Others, Flanagan has shown that she has a gift for the ever-so-slightly horrific. It's not that I don't like her as a stereotypical mother (she was fine on Brotherhood); I just think her true gifts lie down the path of being a more frightening figure.

I honestly was largely pleased with this episode. I've always been a Lost apologist, but I feel a lot better off about apologizing for it after last week's episode and this one. They have something of the joyful adventure tale with a dollop of pseudo-seriousness that made the first season so fun while also advancing the storyline. On Lost, the characters are often chess pieces, yes, but they're chess pieces in one wild game that I find incredibly entertaining. Lost aspires to so much that it falls short often (and it's all the more disappointing when it does), but when it hits its mark (as it did last night), there's little that can compare to it on network TV.

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