On The Brink

September 22nd 2004. That’s when Oceanic 815 crashed and when Lost the TV show landed on our screens. (Actually I’m from the UK, so it hit here a little bit later – but we’re all caught up in this together now.) 6 years on and here we are, down to the very last few remaining episodes. If you’re feeling nervous about this, good. It means you care. After all this time, all these years, if you didn’t worry that the whole thing was going to end satisfactorily then your heart isn’t as deep into this as mine is.

So yeah, I’m worried. But worried only in the sense that I want the best and fear the worst. The good news is that Lost has always thrived on two constants for me: one is the continuous frustration at a show that flourishes on ambiguity, two is that the show hasn’t let me down yet. And Season 6, so far, has maintained that measure of frustration and entertainment Lost is so defined by.

Whilst I write an analysis, and there’s always going to be a part of my brain whirring away on my ‘objective’ ideas about what’s happening, I try in the most part to enjoy each episode purely as entertainment because I am, first and foremost, a Lost fan. I watch the show because I love the show. And so here, this close to the end, I thought I’d try and put my analysis brain to one side and share a little of my thoughts about Season 6 so far.

Season 6 had a terrific opening sequence, for a start. It’s since created ruffled brows and much pondering, but the swoop down through the window of Oceanic 815 (that didn’t crash) to plummet into the water to a submerged Island was just awesome. I just laughed and shook my head, enthralled and agape at this latest mindbender Lost had just thrown our way.

Of course since then we’ve had the revelation that the Island is, as Jacob has indicated, a kind of cork that sits atop pure evil and is all that stops hell from being unleashed. This raises the question of why all this supposed evil hasn’t spilled out into the Alternate Timeline world, but that’s an answer that ought to become more apparent once we garner full appreciation about the entire purpose of this Alternate Timeline. And it’s on this narrative hook where Lost has hung its season so far and we don’t yet know if it’s a genius endgame piece of the puzzle or a bad sidetrack.

Initial concerns that the Alternate Timeline was something entirely separate from the Island-world have been allayed though. Chiefly through Desmond’s (once again) fantastic episode Happily Ever After there was a clear connection to the Alternate Timeline and the Island Timeline. That episode went a long way to restoring confidence that we were in good hands, that our Lost creators have this all worked out, and it’s going to come together beautifully.

I am a little cynical about the Alternate Timeline business, mind. For one thing I am absolutely certain that this was not a part of the plan back in the early stages of the show. Indeed, I’d be surprised to learn they planned on having Sideways Flashbacks when they were putting Season 5 together. That’s no crime, of course. I’m not one of these people that staunchly believes the creators of the show are somehow cheating us if they didn’t have it all worked out from the start. If they did, great. If they didn’t, well, they’re not doing too bad a job at winging it as they go and making it all fit. There’s something to admire in both methods of creative process.

Not that it’s all fitting perfectly. There are some snags with Season 6. We expected answers, of course, and all but the most blinkered of us would assume that every answer would deliver a mindbomb to blow our brains apart. The Whispers was one such reveal – landing within a short scene and perfunctory delivery from Michael (his appearance was a surprise though, I thought he’d fallen out with the creators!) about how they were souls trapped on the Island.

In one short scene we got an answer that we’d all kind of figured was the case anyway, handed over with all the momentous build-up of a silent fart. Yet there should be more to come about this entire matter of life and death and what’s in between on the Island. There better be.

If ever there was one matter that Lost and I could have a big falling out about it’s handling the spiritual aspects to its universe. I’m not much of a spiritual guy and religion isn’t for me, but I appreciate how the metaphors and symbolism of such can add depth to fiction. And Lost has presented very early on the balancing act, the pivotal question, of science against faith.

The arc of the entire show seems to have begun deeply scientific (it was all Dharma hatches and pseudoscience that fuelled our theorising) and slowly morphed into a more faith-based study (life after death, good and evil and the judgement of such). I’m fine with coming along for the ride on that, so long as Lost manages to retain a general stance.

Some time back I speculated that Jacob and Nameless, if we were to ascribe religious connotations to them, could best be defined as a ‘source’ of religion – that these figures have always been around and it’s through stories and ideas about them that religions were formed. I liked this idea because it, for one thing, didn’t link them in to any one religion (which would, by default, cast out all other religions as false and would be a serious misstep for a show that has embraced many faiths).

I also liked the idea because Lost is an Island-based show. Islands are good as generalising, microcosmic platforms. Think Lord Of The Flies. Symbolic events on an Island can be allegorically applied to larger scale principles. Lost, in all its details, doesn’t work wholly cleanly in this manner – but in Jacob and Nameless it’s got the feel of such grand ideology. The Island as a stage where good versus evil in humanity gets worked out.

It’s looking more likely, however, that Jacob and Nameless are to be humanised before the end. Nameless has said he was once a man. Possibly some bizarre ‘incident’ with electromagnetism on the Island occurred to Jacob and Nameless to create their current situation – that would be a ‘scientific’ launch point into the faith-based world of the Island our heroes are now caught up in! Pick the theological bones out of that one!

Away from such heady ideas, though, Lost is principally about our main characters – the ones that survive now that landed on the beach way back on September 22nd 2004. Lost is their story, even though it’s sometimes more like a tapestry they’ve been interwoven into beyond their control. Free will is a key driver – as much as there is a destiny there is a choice. Again, this is a concept Lost has held hands with very early on and it may be the axis upon which the Island Timeline, the Alternate Timeline or whatever timeline emerges as a concluding world is founded upon.

Season 6 certainly did have, and still does have, a lot of expectation riding on it but I am pleased to say I feel it’s certainly found its footing and delivered some top notch episodes that lived up to the pressure. Happily Ever After, the Desmond-centric episode already mentioned, was one such highlight. But praise also the Richard Alpert outing Ab Aeterno which unfurled the long-awaited backstory of the ageless one with a suitably epic feel. There are few episodes that have been as fine as this and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

(Interesting, also, that both Happily Ever After and Ab Aeterno were both episodes that delivered a relatively straight narrative without interruptions of flashbacks, flashforwards or flashsideways. As good as the structure of Lost is with its trips back and forth along timelines it’s almost always compelling when it just tells a story in a regular fashion.)

There’s been a lot of other good stuff, too. Terry O’Quinn as Locke/Nameless is in delicious form, clearly relishing every second of every scene he gets to take centre stage. The Sundown episode, where Sayid turned on Dogen and the Black Smoke ran rampant, closed out with an eerie ‘Catch A Falling Star’ song and some of our heroes looking decidedly dark – I loved that! We’ve also seen Jin and Sun finally reunited, and the Alt-Timeline has allowed us some time with old favourites we thought we’d never see again like Charlie and Boone and Arzt, though Keamy was my personal favourite – Christopher Walken charm fused in Jean Claude Van Damme’s body!

Season 6 hasn’t all been rosy, though. Ben hasn’t been particularly well-utilised – indeed he’s been rather neutered. This once formidable conniver reduced to tagalong bit-parter. Ilana’s function met a rather abrupt and inconclusive (so far) finish and Frank is nothing more than a pilot waiting for a plane to fly off the Island (which is surely the only reason he’s been kept around and alive for this long).

The earlier episodes, the scenes with The Temple Others, were truly awful. What Kate Does is easily one of the worst episodes Lost has ever done. I was embarrassed by it, to be honest. Every week I get Mrs. Comet to watch Lost (almost always after I've watched it way before her!) and she's always quick to criticise and dismiss how rubbish it can all sometimes appear. Whilst for the most part I can deflect her critiques, with that particular episodes I simply had to nod and agree. It was a stinker. All that business with Sayid being tortured as a test and then Jack being made to give him a pill because of this ‘sickness’. Utter clag. A keen example of when being vague and mysterious doesn’t translate as compelling drama, just suspiciously inept storytelling with no firm foundation. We still don’t really have an explanation about this ‘sickness’ as Dogen understood it and now Dogen is dead so we probably never will. That’s just plain annoying. In any number of conversations and scenes Dogen could have relayed his point of view. Not for the first time has Lost favoured vagary over clarity but, when the show is done in just a few episodes time, it’s stuff like this which is probably going to bug the hell out of us all.

Claire was said to have this ‘sickness’ for example, yet she veers from being looney tunes to one of the gang as the mood takes her. Her character in particular this season has suffered from a serious lack of consistency. Maybe there’s a Claire-centric episode coming soon to tidy up some of these loose ends, though that doesn’t feel likely so close to the end; unless the surprise is that she is more important that we’ve realised?

Nagging points aside though, true judgement over the validity of prolonging certain mysteries, of leaving so much answered, can only be applied once the thing is finished. Going back to hoping for the best, Lost hasn’t let me down yet. In about a month’s time I hope I can say the same, just without the ‘yet’!


Andre said...

I am in agreement with most of what you have written.

It would be great to have a Claire-centric episode. That would really put a cherry on the sunday as far as Christian is concerned.

Funny that you only name two outstanding episodes and one bad one. After it is all over I hope you write a few more entries summing up your feelings about the whole series and revisit certain themes. I am particularly interested in your revised classification of best to worst episodes and seasons and why. How would seasons five and six ultimately stack up to the other four...

I hope you do not just close the book on this series with the final broadcast the way you did with Battlestar Galactica.

Thanks for taking the past week's hiatus to write these wonderful entries.

Corellian said...

They'd better give Ben a propper ending...

Anonymous said...

As long as we get an answer to what the 'Magic Box' is then I'll be happy. Been waiting since season 3 for an answer and apart from one mention in the season 4 finale we've gotten nothing! Also, any further info the following would be appreciated - The vaccine, the volcano and the Hurley Bird.

I have confidence that lost will deliver!


AngeloComet said...

Andre - When I get Lost on blu-ray, I'll probably watch the whole thing again and do an episode-by-episode retro view post. That's the current thought about this blog post-Lost.

As for BSG, well, that blog hasn't necessarily finished either. There's still Caprica that I have, like Fringe, simply put on hold whilst Lost finishes up.

Corellian - Agreed. In bold. Underlined.

Cimm - Again, I agree, though I think that question won't be directly answered but hopefully further revelations about what the Island is and how it works will provide some form of explanation about how this 'magic box' idea could be perpetuated.

Corellian said...

Both series are amazing. Nice to know you haven´t stopped the Fringe blog for good...

Fred said...

I'd be happy with LOST if they answered just 2 questions. 1. What is the story behind Jacob and MiB? 2. What is the island? And, no, I don't want vague quasi-religious answers, or parables, or even short answers like the one Michael gave about the whispers. (Agree AC, Michael's answer just didn't seem to fit the bill, and I think like you there is a lot more to it. What about Christian off island, and the apparitions of the blonde haired boy?).

Personally, I don't think we'll get anymore about Dharma (we got a lot in the ARG, and I think the show runners wanted the ARG to satisfy any desires fans had about Dharma), so it will remain this mysterious organization that had its part and played itself out. We may discover that some people in the leadership of Dharma are working with Widmore, but at this point that would be a waste of the few hours we have left.

Speaking of wasting hours, how much slower can they move the Alt-timeline? Something big has to happen, and happen quickly. Like a lot of fans, I want the pay-off for the Alt-timeline, and it had better be good--not like Ilana just suddenly blowing up.

To bring up one last point I had noted in the previous post concnering Sun's memories of island-Locke and her screamming "no!", are her memories complete, i.e. do they include all that happened on the island, including what we haven't yet seen (last few episodes)? If so, then it's a bad ending on the island.

Acharaisthekey said...

The temple and the temple others was by far the worst storyline of the year....it's too bad too, I was really pumped about all that temple mystery, but I'm o.k. with all of that because Jack (even in those bad episodes) is back and Locke is locke, but not really.

Widmore and Ben have both been dissapointments as well (Since really, they were the NAMELESS and JACOB before all this NAMELESS and JACOB stuff started), but I'm ok with that...because, just like every season....all I really care about is how the LOCKE v JACK (in whatever form they want to throw at me) ends. And this season, through the highs and lows...is primed to give me a huge showdown for finality between the two.

I will say though...I really wished they would have gone the WEIRD DHARMA SCIENCE ROUTE and SECRET OFF ISLAND SOCIETY route ...i feel there is more of a story there...not that I don't get the NAMELESS and JACOB deal, and it's cool....but I think it could have been a touch more sci fi with a hint of "SPIRITUAL" instead of the more "SPIRITUAL" with a touch of SCI FI.

I have loved this season so far, best since season 3, but if Jack and John Locke (nameless or not) don't end up on the beach at the of the show with Locke saying to Jack..."DO YOU KNOW HOW BAD I WANT TO KILL YOU?"....then I'll be slightly dissapointed......of course unless it's better then that, which I'm sure it will be :)