In Defence of “Exposé”
May 21st, 2010
As we come to the end of Lost’s run, people like to write lists: most of these lists will feature “Favourite” characters, episodes or scenes over the past six seasons, but there’s a chance that many of them will focus on the “Worst” of the same. I don’t know if I’m really up for making lists of my own (especially since I put together my own list of important episodes before Season 6 began), but I do want to say one thing:
If I see “Exposé” on a single “Worst Episode” list [like this one, which is even more despicable since it uses “Pointless”], I am going to be incredibly angry.
I may not have loved the episode initially (my “review” from three years ago is a little all over the map), so I can’t say I’ve always held this belief, but over time I have become part of the minority who feel that “Exposé” was an intriguing episode which successfully made lemons out of lemonade. While there are bad episodes of Lost (see: “Stranger in a Strange Land”) which in their failures elucidate some of the show’s growing pains at various points within its narrative, “Exposé” is precisely the opposite: it is a confident hour of television, entirely sure of its function of bringing to a close an intriguing, if failed, experiment in the series’ narrative in a meaningful and memorable fashion.
As Lost has continued, and we’ve learned more about the island and the central themes to the series, I’ve become convinced that there is no way anyone could argue that “Exposé” is not a pivotal episode in the series’ development. Whether you choose to view it as hidden foreshadowing or (more likely) as successful retroactive storytelling, the episode captures in a single episode the complex morality plays which have been unfolding for six seasons, crafting a compelling standalone narrative that we can now see as a microcosm for the series’ larger conflicts.
In other words, I’m tired of the haters, and I’m here to tell you why.
Critics Ponder “What They Died For”
May 19th, 2010
Trapped between perhaps the most divisive episode in the show’s history and a sprawling two and a half hour finale shrouded in mystery, “What They Died For” is a bit tough to “criticize.” Generally speaking, the episode was dramatically strong and effective at providing momentum heading into the finale, but with no guarantees that the payoff will live up to our expectations there is this sense of uncertainty which means that this weeks reviews from critics are sort of hedging their bets.
Normally, you might claim this is in some way counterproductive, but it means that critics are focused on making connections to past episodes and offering their own takes on how the developments in this episode apply to larger ideas within Lost as a whole. It makes for another strong week of Lost criticism, as the setup work done in “What They Died For” is mirrored by critics setting up their own perspectives on the series as we head into Sunday’s finale.
So, let’s take a journey around the internet to see what the critics are saying, shall we?
“What They Died For”
May 18, 2010
“I think you’re mistaking coincidence for fate.”
[For more analysis of this week’s penultimate episode of Lost, check out my roundup of Critics’ commentary from across the web.]
Earlier today, TV scholar Jason Mittell wrote a rather fantastic analysis of the variety of different types of questions floating around as Lost comes to an end, nicely capturing the ways in which categorizing the questions helps us outline our own “priorities.” Say what you will about “Across the Sea” (as I, or the critics, did), but it has certainly forced Lost’s active audience to consider which questions matter most at this late stage in the series – rather than forcing us to see things a certain way, the episode forced us to see things of our own choosing, things which help form our personal view of the series heading into its conclusion.
When the episode was labeled as “divisive,” it’s easy to presume that the division lies between those who liked it and those who hated it, but the divisions go much deeper than that. The discussion of the episode brought to light how each individual viewer (rather than “groups” of viewers who we bundle into particular categories) has viewed the series thus far, and in doing so led them to the variety of questions which Mittell classifies; rather than eliding these sorts of big questions or attempting to lead viewers in a certain direction, Lindelof and Cuse sat their audience down by the fire and told them that they had a choice to see this show in whichever way they wanted to going into these final episodes, and they have been more than willing to take the criticism and praise found in the questions that viewers have been asking in the past week.
I make this point because “What They Died For” is all about human agency, about how and why we make choices and what it is that pushes us to do things which may seem morally reprehensible or potentially dangerous. The episode is an important connecting point between the show’s two realities, emphasizing the ways in which choices – and the trust implicit or explicit to those choices – shape both the show and its characters on the island and within the newly introduced sideways stories. By putting to rest any doubts about the position of free will within the series, one can’t help but feel that the show is also empowering its audience to enjoy the same type of agency as we head into the finale, picking up on the spirit (if not necessarily the content) of last week’s divisive episode.
And I, speaking entirely personally, think it worked really well, but I think we’re to the point where saying this objectively may be going against the point of it all.
Going “Across the Sea” with Critics
May 12th, 2010
Writing about Lost on a weekly basis has been consistently challenging this year not in terms of having anything to talk about but rather in terms of tempering one’s response. We all know that the show is close to reaching its conclusion, so we’re all thinking in the back of our minds that the success of the sixth season’s episodes may well depend on where things end up. We can evaluate how much we enjoyed the episode, and how it connects with the show’s characters, but we can’t really evaluate where it fits into the big picture.
However, an episode like “Across the Sea” desperately wants us to think about the big picture, and I think the reaction to the episode is a reflection of the repressed theorizing regarding the finale that people have been building up inside. “Ab Aeterno” provided a release, a chance to consider the island’s past, but we’ve spent the rest of the season withholding our opinion about the Flash Sideways story until we see where it’s going, just as we’ve spent the last six seasons withholding final judgment on the island mysteries.
It makes perfect sense why outright Lost skeptics would respond to this episode in such a divisive fashion, as they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to tear apart the show’s science fiction and this episode gave them plenty of lines rife for parody. However, even the most patient of fans have reached the point where they can’t keep withholding their opinions, and “Across the Sea” has everyone expressing their concerns about whether this is all going to come together and whether this was how the show should be spending its time.
And perhaps the point of it all was to bring our skepticism to the surface, to force us as viewers (or as critics) to put our cards on the table and take a stance regarding the season and the series thus far. “Across the Sea” seems designed to provoke viewers, but perhaps it does so because it knows that it’s better audiences ask these questions (or angrily revolt against the series) now rather than after the finale. Perhaps it’s all a fiendish trick to place us on one side or another heading into the finale whether we have a choice in the matter or not, revealing which of us are men (or women) of science (desiring a more concrete explanation for events) and which of us are men (or women) of faith, who even through a somewhat ridiculous metaphor are still believers of what Lindelof and Cuse are trying to accomplish here.
Either way, the showdown is already beginning, and the crosstalk between critics is as interesting as it’s ever been, so I’m going to at least consider “Across the Sea” a success in that regard as I try to capture some of that discussion (although don’t pretend I capture the depth of each individual review with these comments, and do click through).
“Across the Sea”
May 11th, 2010
[For more discussion of the episode, check out my breakdown and analysis of critical responses to “Across the Sea.” Also, for a review of the series’ penultimate episode, What They Died For, click here]
Do metaphors count as answers?
It’s the question I found myself returning to throughout “Across the Sea,” a story which feels so designed to discover answers that it never quite achieves a narrative in its own right, although I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight to its effectiveness. However, while you could argue we get some facts and details that help us piece together previous events, there is very little of what one would call “clear” answers in the hour. What we get are extended metaphors meant to give meaning, rather than clarity, to that which has happened before and that which will happen in the future.
Considering the breadth of questions we as an audience have at this stage in the show’s run, there is no chance that the show will ever be able to make everything perfectly clear, and when tonight’s episode actually tried to provide “answers” it often felt unnatural, inorganic. Where the episode worked best is in using metaphors and abstract ideas to solidify human emotions and character motivations: this is the story of Jacob and his nameless twin brother (who we’ll call Esau for the sake of the Biblical connection, even if their mother’s name makes it less than perfect), but it both implicitly and explicitly gestures to what we’ve seen unfold on the island for six seasons, and in doing so gives greater meaning to that journey even if the “why” question remains unanswered.
I don’t think “Across the Sea” is by any means perfect, but I think it did a most admirable job at crafting a story which crystallizes the show’s journey thus far, worrying less about the big picture and more about establishing where the individual portraits the show has created fit into the mysteries of the island (which may remain unsolved).
Critical Responses to “Ab Aeterno”
March 24th, 2010
While I remain content with my review of “Ab Aeterno” from last night, I think that this is definitely one of those episodes that warrants a second look based on the kinds of responses I’ve seen to the episode online. While being able to write about the episode in advance of its U.S. airing due to Canadian simulcasting conflicts is wonderful, and will last for another week at least, it means that I’m writing about the episode in a relative bubble, and there’s enough hyper-intelligent people watching this show that things will emerge which complement or contradict my own thoughts.
Considering the depth of mythology material presented by “Ab Aeterno,” and the fact that some people are throwing around comparisons with Season Four’s “The Constant,” there’s plenty of discussions surrounding the episode, so I want to highlight some of those reviews while, admittedly, using them to make some points that have come to me since watching the response last night.
March 23rd, 2010
Considering how important “Ab Aeterno” is to the Lost mythos, and considering how much I enjoyed the epiosde, I don’t think I’m going to have a whole lot to say about it – or, more accurately, I didn’t think I’d have a whole lot to say until I actually started writing about it. This does not mean that the episode didn’t live up to my expectations, or that there isn’t plenty of questions to mull over in the week to come. Instead, I simply mean that things were confirmed more than they were revealed, and the questions that were answered actually provided clarity as opposed to more questions.
In many ways, “Ab Aeterno” (which translates as “since the beginning of time”) is about the interrelationship between “how” and “why,” with its answers addressing issues related to both key questions. Structurally speaking, Season Six is no more clear than it was before, but the brief glimpse of Jacob and the Man in Black from “The Incident” is intricately fleshed out into the story of how Richard Alpert made the decision between a man who offered him everything he once had and the man who could assure him that there would be something to live for.
The result is a simple story of love and loss, and an important turning point in our understanding of why these characters are stranded on this island, and how they may play a role in its eventual destiny.
March 10th, 2010
“It was on this island that everything changed.”
I’ve got an extremely early wakeup call tomorrow, so I intend for this to be somewhat less lengthy than previous reviews. However, Lost delivered another solid entry into the sixth season this week, so it’s tough to be too brief: there’s a lot of interesting elements at play in “Dr. Linus” which reveal some new subtleties to the Flash Sideways structure, which reveal more nuance to Michael Emerson’s performance (which I thought was impossible), and which point towards answers to a few key questions without, necessarily, answering them completely.
And so there’s plenty to ruminate, speculate and potentially even pontificate on, so forgive me if my promise of brevity proves to be as inaccurate as the statement above: on the island that we know, everything stays the same, but Benjamin Linus’ story of the island of Elba reminds us that sometimes the most substantial change is how the stagnation of one’s position drives them to the point of disrepair. Napoleon remained Emperor when he was exiled on Elba, but his power was false, and it eventually wore him down: this is the story of a man whose quest for power met a similar end, but it is also a story where change seems plausible and, in another universe, an established fact of life.
From this point forward, it might also be the driving force of this series.
February 16th, 2010
In Esquire Magazine’s fantastic feature on Roger Ebert’s struggles with cancer and the surgeries which have left him unable to speak, there are a myriad of passages which are emotional and poignant. However, the one that resonated with me most is the section where Chris Jones talks about Ebert’s dreams:
“In his dreams, his voice has never left. In his dreams, he can get out everything he didn’t get out during his waking hours: the thoughts that get trapped in paperless corners, the jokes he wanted to tell, the nuanced stories he can’t quite relate. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he’s never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.”
Ebert’s story is hugely powerful, and while a fictional character can’t possibly compare I feel his story offers valuable perspective on the narrative arc of John Locke. For Locke, the island was like a dream (but not actually a dream, at least we presume), a place where everything he was unable to accomplish confined to a wheelchair became possible. When John Locke woke up on that beach able to move his legs, it was his miracle, and he went forward in the rest of his life as a believer, someone who felt renewed faith towards whoever was responsible for his miraculous recovery. He was “whole” in a way that he had never experienced before, as if his kidney and his legs hadn’t been taken away by his spiteful father.
But John Locke was always scared: he was scared that it would all be taken away from him, desperate to solve the puzzles of the island so that this dream wouldn’t end. Locke became a believer not because he felt safe, but rather because he felt deathly afraid of what would happen if the dream ended, and the tension that defined his life before arriving on the island never truly left him even when he was able to move his legs.
“The Substitute” is about John Locke, who he was and who he might have been, but it is also about what John Locke was searching for. At the end of the day, he wasn’t searching for faith so much as he was searching for a purpose, and we learn in this episode that Locke was no more chosen than anyone else, which in some ways would have given the man a sense of peace before his tragic end.
February 2nd, 2010
“Nothing is Irreversible.”
To say that I am excited about the final season of Lost is an understatement, but it doesn’t tell the entire story.
I was excited, for instance, for the final season of Battlestar Galactica, but that season had clear expectations in terms of dealing with the identities of the final five Cylons, and was divided into two halves so as to stretch it out further. With Lost, there is no such clarity, as the show could be headed in any bloody direction we could imagine, and it will be completely over in only a few short months. And this is a show that I started watching on day one, that I remained devoted to throughout its run, and that was an important part of my transition into TV criticism.
So “LA X” is the culmination of a six-year journey, and my only hope going into the premiere was that it would feel like the beginning of the end without feeling like the end of the beginning, that it would seem like it was the same show that came before while clearly marching towards a conclusion.
And what we got was an episode of television that turns the show’s world upside down while simultaneously fitting pieces together to work towards that conclusion, and by balancing the two almost to perfection Lindelof and Cuse have made this just as exciting and eventful as I hoped it would be, all while making me even more confused than I was before. It starts a season that promises to probe the above question in terms of an abstract impression of these characters and the journey they have taken on our television screens, a ballsy move that promises another year of complex but precise television.
Welcome back, Lost – we missed you.