Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Twenty minutes is a long time.": Lost

(OK. I tried to choose a non-spoiler-y quote and photo, because pretty much everything in this episode was spoiler-bait. If you haven't seen the show yet, go watch it. You don't want to be spoiled as to what happens. This is "Crossroads, Part 2" good. Srsly, you guys. You'll probably guess a lot of them before they happen, but you'll want to go in unspoiled. Last warning. Once the italics end, the spoilage begins. Turn away! Look away!)

So when did you know?

Me, back when I was considering such a foolhardy thing, I always thought it would be cool to write a Lost spec where the characters were off the island and trying to cope with what had happened to them (the flashbacks would become flash-forwards). When I realized that idea was foolhardy, I thought about another idea where the flashbacks would be in a parallel universe -- what if flight 815 had actually landed? -- but I could never quite crack the on-island story in that one, so I let it be.

So I often have that idea bouncing around in my head when watching Lost. And, honestly, I've been relating the show to Battlestar Galactica a lot lately (and there's a real streak of "this has happened before and it will happen again" on that show). So Libby and I were on the right track of what was going on during the funeral parlor scene, and we had it all pieced together by that last scene before Jack met Kate down at the airport. But that doesn't take away from the shock of the idea. While it was somewhat similar to Galactica's second season finale, the show effectively erased its premise, something Galactica didn't do. Granted, I'll bet they get back to the island, but now they've got something else to play with. (Me, I'm guessing time travel will be involved.)

Any way you look at it, it was a hell of a way to close out the TV season (which technically ends May 31 but traditionally ends the Wednesday before Memorial Day). Sure there are a few loose odds and ends next week (House and Boston Legal both air their finales Tuesday, weirdly), but the year is pretty much over, and Lost's third season has been just as tumultuous a ride as the season itself (it was, after all, a year when 2.5 million viewers just went missing completely, according to Nielsen, and a year when nearly every show in primetime was down from the season before).

Season three started rather slowly. The premiere was quite a fine episode, but the next five after that killed off a fan favorite character (Mr. Eko), kept the sparkling ensemble cast separated from each other and effectively had most of the characters locked up in cages. In addition, it seemed the show had abandoned all pretense of narrative momentum, content instead for navel gazing and answering questions that weren't begging to be answered (on the list of story points I was curious about, the Kate/Jack/Sawyer triangle was way, way down there). The first six episodes reached their nadir when Sawyer was conned endlessly (what is with the show's fascination with con jobs?) into believing his death was imminent and then shown a completely different island from the one he started on. It was just a weird, stupid episode, and it made it seem as if the show was truly just an endless game of three-card monte.

It didn't help that the cliffhanger the mini-season ended on was the least vital of the show's history. While I enjoyed that November finale as rollicking adventure, it was far from Lost at its best. It was easy to see why fans had completely lost faith in the show, especially after a second season that moved glacially and occasionally seemed to have no purpose (watch it on DVD; it plays better). The ratings slumped to the point where Criminal Minds beat the show, and it seemed the end might be near.

But over the long break between the mini-season and the back-season, something curious happened. It was almost as if the show got angry. Aside from the Jack's tattoos episode (the third back from break), every episode in the back half of the season has had something to recommend it, and many have been among the series' very best. Even the much-maligned Tricia Tanaka Is Dead gained a new purpose when Hurley drove the van he got working in that episode down onto the beach tonight and used it to kill an Other who was about to kill his friends.

Obviously, there were things in the season that didn't work at all, but the writers figured out ways to dispose of those things soon enough. I was sort of amused by Nikki and Paolo's arc, all things considered, and I liked the way the show turned the episode featuring their deaths into one big meta-love-in of itself. It wasn't the sort of thing I would have liked to have seen from week to week, but it worked as a one-off.

Other than that, though, the back season was the most tightly constructed the show has been since season one. There are dangling plot threads from the first two seasons all over the place, but the final 16 episodes of season three told one mostly coherent story with a beginning, a middle and an end that truly did "change everything." There was stuff I didn't like and stuff I would have tweaked, but it was all worth it for an episode as rich in payoff as the finale, which was two hours of riveting television.

It's hard to say where the show goes from here. There are a lot of stories left to tell on the island, but there are stories to tell off the island too. Is season four about going back to the island, with seasons five and six being about unfinished business? Who was in the coffin? And why do we have to wait until February?

I've always been a bit of a Lost apologist and fanboy (indeed, no show gets me more fannish than this one -- I almost hate to criticize it), but I have never felt more confident in the show's ability to reinvent itself than I do right now. This whole off the island thing could completely implode, but I'm more willing to see where they're going with this than I have been at any point in the show's run.

So, thanks, Lost. Thanks for getting angry. You put a great capper on a fine season of television.

We'll see you tomorrow, as the Studio 60 burnoff begins, and then we'll try to have something new up every day during the summer, but, by necessity, posting's going to be a little light.

Thanks for reading us in the 2006-07 season!


Rae said...

I also figured it out in the funeral scene but only because the car that almost hits Jack as he crosses the road is very clearly a new Saturn. I was getting all obsessed and annoyed that they wouldn't bother to put a more generic any-year car in that scene when I realized that they always play close attention to that stuff. That's when I figured out we were seeing the future, not the past.

Anyway, I don't usually comment but I've been reading for several months now and wanted to take this time to thank all of you for the time you put into writing thoughtful and interesting posts. I don't always agree with you guys but I do always enjoy reading your opinions on shows. I look forward to the 2007-08 season.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Thanks, Rae! We do what we can.

Anybody else out there want to talk about this episode? Praise it in less couched terms than my own? Rip it to shreds?

We're here for you.

Carrie said...

I've been completely apathetic about Lost since the end of season one, when I realized this could become another X-Files debacle. (What can I say, Chris Carter broke me.) However, the last seven or eight episodes have completely changed my tune. They are doing some great storytelling right now, and I only hope that the shortened seasons and definite end point will help them keep up this pace.

I think the flash forward idea is a good one. It was time to take the story in a completely new direction and this way they can completely change the dynamic of the show, without ultimately changing what it is about. My question is -- are they going to have the island parts as flashbacks now, and the future the main meat of the episodes? If so, aren't we ultimately going to know the fate of each character, and how will they keep us invested if this is the case? The beauty is, normally questions like these would infuriate me but for once I am completely engaged and ready to go along for the ride.

One important note: the love quadrangle between Juliet/Jack/Sawyer/Kate needs to end. Now. It isn't doing favors for any of the characters or actors, and it makes me want to throw things at my television. I like my television. I don't want to break it.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

My idea for Lost season four is that Jack and Kate round up everyone who left the island to go back over the course of the year. Whoever they're rounding up that episode gets a flashback to their last days on the island and their life since. And then they hook up with Penny. . .because Desmond was left on the island.

This is risky because it consigns the ensemble to flashbacks, but I'd be interested to see it.

Libby said...

Todd, I like the Penny theory, though, I haven't had a lot of time to suss it all out.

Does anyone else feel really apprehensive about where we go from here? Obviously this is a 'game-changer' as the producers had hyped it, but is anyone else nervous? I mean, what if I don't LIKE the new game? Did anyone ever think of that?


Wax Banks said...

I don't get it, guys! I assumed that the 'game-changer' is a long-term tease, not an alteration to Season Four. I'm guessing the guy on the rescue boat is as authentic as dear departed Zeke, and Season Four will be a lot like Season Three, but with flash-forwards.

If they get off the island it won't happen until at least the end of next year, I'm guessing. (Why should ditching those nigh-intolerable flashbacks alter the presentation of the 'present-time' narrative?) I'm surprised that people are assuming the show's gonna reboot Galactica-style (and remember how brief the New Caprica arc actually was).

I imagine announcements during the next 9 months will clarify that readily enough, but for now, I'm betting the flash-forward was a tease of something further in the future than Season Four. Which incidentally makes the whole thing a hell of a lot less interesting from where I'm sitting; since the show hasn't made the 'will they or won't they (get off the island)?' question terribly important since Season One (with a quick refresher upon Desmond's return), the 'game-changer' sounds like a formal change of pace, rather than any kind of narrative depth-sounding.

It can only help, though - assuming the writers actually have something to say, and aren't just making pure pulp.

Todd VanDerWerff said...

Wax, you're letting your withering contempt for the Lost writers get in the way. To return to the old format, only swapping in flash-fowards instead of flashbacks, they would either need a really good reason or be completely stupid and safe. And the Lindelof interview with Kristen over at Eonline makes it SOUND like the present will be the setting next year.

That and the fact that they reportedly re-signed Malcolm David Kelley (who can no longer play Lil' Walt) make me think the main story will take place on the mainland next season (perhaps with flashes to characters still on the island?).

Christy said...

Color me clueless. I didn't realize until the end when Jack told Kate they should never have left. I am so full of the Jack-Hate that when we saw the maps all over his place, and being in a flashback frame of mind, I jumped to the conclusion that Jack had been in on it from the beginning. Partially, too, I came to the wrong idea because Lost is all about what we know that just ain't so.