Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Who are we to argue with taller ghost Walt?": Lost

The new, fourth-season version of Lost, stripped down and angry, as if it has something to prove, is a much more consistent show (so far) than Lost before. Every episode moves with a sense of purpose that had previously been missing in early episodes of prior seasons, and even the flashbacks (back again this week, in order to reveal the backgrounds of the gang on the freighter) seem tied directly in to everything. But if the show is relentless now, it's reached a point where it's almost all plot, and there's no room for the occasionally clumsy stabs at poetry that the show made in its first three seasons (and I'm willing to trade all of the Bai Ling flashbacks in the world for things like that shot of Sun standing alone in the ocean from season one). I'm still not sure how I feel about this tradeoff, but this week's episode (which I apologize for getting to late) makes about as good a case as anything for jettisoning other things to the wayside and just getting on with the business of hurtling toward an endpoint. This was a crazy fun episode, chock-full of plot points, character interactions and answered questions, to the point where I feel sort of silly for quibbling at all.

The most significant answers we got in the episode had to do with the crew of the freighter, gathered by Abbadon as some sort of super-elite squad o' death. Of course, the obvious question stems from why, exactly, Abbadon would need a crew consisting of a physicist, an anthropologist, a pilot and a guy who talks to the dead (or, maybe, sees versions of them from the past or future). The need for the now-dead Naomi (as the muscle) is sort of apparent, as Abbadon clearly knew there would be hazards out there on the island, but the need for, say, a physicist is not immediately clear, and it's the tease-y kind of puzzle that works so well dancing around the edges of Lost's central mysteries.

The scenes where we find out just what the freighter four were up to before they came to Lost island have the potency of season one flashbacks, even as I wanted a LITTLE more room for them to breathe (though I'm not sure I should complain about that, as the old Lost would have very slowly doled out this information over the course of half a season -- given the choice, I prefer this method). My favorite flash was that of Charlotte, out there in the desert finding the body of a polar bear wearing some sort of Dharma branding (and, of course, there can't be any coincidence that her name is, technically, C.S. Lewis), but I also liked that oddly creepy scene where Miles took the money and confronted the ghost (which we never saw -- unlike Charlie's "ghost" last week). I also liked the way the show has conceived of Miles, as someone who speaks sarcastically to the living and dead alike. I'm sick of ooey-gooey psychics on TV, so I enjoyed the presence of one that seemed as if he really did spend all of his time talking to the dead.

All four of the gang on the freighter don't seem terribly surprised that there were Oceanic survivors, even though the world at large was told there were. We learned Lapidus was not surprised because he was supposed to be on the plane that day, but we've yet to learn why Miles or Charlotte seem unsurprised or just why the sight of the plane on the bottom of the ocean so moved Faraday, to the point where he seemed completely inconsolable.

The on-island action didn't really accomplish all that much, but at least it moved like a rocket, and it was filled with moments that were nifty little callbacks to previous seasons or allowed the characters a few brief moments of humor. The best thing that knowing an end date has given to Lost is that it now moves with a sort of swaggering confidence -- not that of a show that knows it's a hit but that of a show that has something to tell us or, at least, something to fool us with. The show broke out the fan favorites this week, in lieu of last week's more emotional episode, including Sawyer's nicknames and Locke's bizarre connection to the island. There were even cool callbacks to prior episodes (like with Locke revealing he didn't have a kidney -- finally a reason for that flashback!). Brian Vaughan and Drew Goddard are probably the two best writers on the Lost staff for calling back to little bits of continuity and making them seem like part of a whole, and this episode proved the two could work well together.

That said, I'm still not sure if this relentless forward movement is everything I want out of this show. It's nothing concrete yet, but the swaggering confidence, as awesome as it is, seems to have left some of the clumsy earnestness by the wayside. Now, granted, clumsy earnestness isn't always what you want out of something like this, but it always felt sort of charming coming out of Lost. Lost has gained much in the way of momentum, but I do worry about what it's left behind.

Not all that much though.

1 comment:

Wally said...

Ahoy!!

Now that Lost is back I get to complain about anyone who says anything nice about it again. :)

You're right about the momentum of these first two episodes; it's clear that most of the writerly energy is invested in bringing new pieces into play, while most of the on-island business is the usual 'permute groups of characters and move them across geography so we can get to the next big plot revelation' fare. Goddard and Vaughn are the best writers on staff and each has a golden ear for offhand poetry in dialogue; since the characters they're working with now are largely either stupid or insane or merely convenient, they don't get to the loopy grandeur of their Buffy work (or Vaughn's lovely Y: The Last Man). But it was a strong outing for the show overall.

Still, I take issue with this: of course, there can't be any coincidence that her name is, technically, C.S. Lewis. It's not coincidence in terms of story construction - the names are all nearly allusions, sure, starting with Jack (straight out of Lord of the Flies!). But within the story's framework it coincidence - and knowing that she's named C.S. Lewis isn't ultimately going to give you any insight into the character. It's cuteness, not wisdom. This is the kind of thing Lost has traded on since the beginning, like having the soccer players' jerseys in the S1 finale match up with The Numbers. It's there so you'll have something to notice, but once you've noticed it, you've exhausted the significance of it.

The names on Lost are like side quests in Grand Theft Auto: they give you something to do so you don't dwell on the thinness of the main plot. That may not be their conscious intention, but that's their function. The more incidental connections occur on the show, the less mere life the writers need concern themselves with. Consider the S2, S3, and S4 additions to the cast: do we have a single person on the island without a hidden agenda or secret bit of lunacy guiding them? All these conmen, madmen, and psychics are shortcuts.

I've enjoyed the last couple weeks of the show, and I'm glad to see it moving along at a reasonable clip. And the flashbacks and flashforwards have been meatier these weeks than before (the S3 finale flashforwards were almost wholly without substance - their essential purpose was simply to be flashforwards). But as usual, I'd caution against lowering our expectations too much. The show is still largely empty calories.

(I have an extra dose of bitterness in my veins because I just rewatched the stupendously bad S2 finale, 'Live Together, Die Alone.' That's the Desmond flashback two-parter in which Libby, of all people, turns out to have funded Desmond's journey around the world, purely fucking coincidentally. Its main function was the clear the air after the static, embarrassing Season Two, and it accomplished that. But it didn't transcend its function until the last five minutes, which were essentially a gimme. Disappointing, especially considering how much tighter and fast-moving the show has been for the last 10 episodes or so.)