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Lost – “What They Died For”

“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.

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Lost – “Across the Sea”

“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).

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Season Premiere: Lost – “LA X”

“LA X”

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.

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The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing

The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing

January 28th, 2010

If you haven’t seen it yet (which seems unlikely, but whatever), The Onion’s fantastic bit of satire surrounding the final season of Lost making fans more annoying than ever is a wonderful piece of work. With the help of executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, they capture the sense of obsession that surrounds the show’s fans, and there’s just enough nods to the show’s mythology (and to other fandoms: check out the ticker for a shout-out to The Wire that slayed me) to make even the most obsessed crack a smile.

Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

However, I believe that the Onion has failed to represent an even more annoying segment of Lost viewers that will threaten to destroy the internet as we know it come February 2nd (which is, let’s remember, only five days away). These are the viewers who have either predetermined how producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse must end the show or predetermined that they absolutely cannot end it to their satisfaction. These are the people who believe they deserve to have their questions answered, and that they are in some way owed a finale that lives up to their precise expectations.

And they’re the real problem here.

[Before reading the remainder of this particular article, you are required (okay, okay – urged) to go check out Maureen Ryan’s fantastic, spoiler-free interview with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, which I’ll be referring to liberally throughout the piece. You can find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 at her blog]

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One: The Ramifications of Jacob

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One:

The Ramifications of Jacob

Every good season finale should do two things: it should place into context the actions of the previous episodes, and it should in some way hint or infer what might happen in the future. Of course, there is no exact science on how to do these things: there doesn’t need to be a distinct cliffhanger in order to excite viewers about what might take place in future episodes, and at the same time there doesn’t need to be a tidy conclusion to the action of the season for it to feel as if it has all come together.

One day out from “The Incident,” Lost’s fifth season finale, what I find most interesting is how the events of the episode manage to tie up absolutely nothing, end things on a cliffhanger with almost no evidence upon which to base hypotheses (which I’ll get to in Part Two over the weekend), and yet forced viewers to rewrite their opinions of the entire season thus far whether in regards to character motivations, theories of time travel, or even something as simple as the allegiance of an entire faction.

While the show has often used flashbacks and flashforwards as a way to alter the very fabric of the show, for the most part that was either illuminating a new plot point (people leaving the island), an individual character, or a macro-level showrunning decision that’s impact within the narrative itself was fairly limited. In this instance, what the show delivered was the installation of an idea so gut-bustingly radical that it does all of these things, introducing new plot elements and giving new depth to characters and their allegiances, while taking the usual show-running involvement and building it into the show itself.

In some ways, the two characters that we meet at the beginning of “The Incident” are the showrunners within the show, those who are there to pull some strings, to set into action events, and to watch as they unfold. However, there are obvious limitations to their abilities, and two very different philosophies behind them. Their identities, and the potential influences that inspired them, are the most important factor heading into the show’s sixth and final season, and the one that I’m going to try to wrap my head around here.

Because, in my view, the past, present and future of this island, these people, and this series all depend on them…or, more accurately, on their action or inaction. And so, in today’s first of two posts trying to figure out just what the finale’s events mean for the seasons that have come before and the show’s final season, let’s take a gander at the biggest revelation at all: the existence of two men who (arguably) rule them all.

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Lost – “Dead is Dead”

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“Dead is Dead”

April 8th, 2009

Forgiveness is a really interesting emotion, primarily because of how subjective it is. There is a great moment in “Dead is Dead” where Locke suggests that he and Ben discuss the elephant in the room, being the fact that Ben, you know, murdered him, and Ben immediately heads into a long and rambling explanation of how he had to do it, how it was the only way, how he knew he couldn’t leave it to him, etc. Locke, meanwhile, just shrugs: “I was just looking for an apology.”

Locke, of course, has a very different value of forgiveness, having been through so much, and in his new resurrected form Locke is more sure of himself than ever; he forgives Ben because he’s now alive, and he now has purpose, so who is he to really complain?
The problem with the episode is really not a problem at all: Benjamin Linus’ flashbacks are designed specifically to show us those moments where his empathetic nature emerges, some sign of the young boy who went into that Temple returning as part of this new individual. However, in the present day, we see that Ben is still just as much a monster as before, and I think there’s something inherently problematic in the way he treats these situations with such moral dichotomy.

But it’s supposed to be problematic, and Michael Emerson delivers another knockout performance, and “Dead is Dead” succeeds based on the show’s emphasis on his duality.

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Lost – “Whatever Happened, Happened”

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“Whatever Happened, Happened”

April 1st, 2009

[I’m still technically on a blogging hiatus (hence, if you were wondering, my lack of coverage of Chuck, or HIMYM, or the season premieres of Greek and My Boys), but I learned my lesson last year when it comes to Lost – when I went back to revisit past reviews, I found that I hadn’t reviewed “The Constant,” and that fact still haunts me to this day. As a result, Lost is one show I want to consistently recap, even if doing so will become more challenging over the next couple of weeks as I prepare/participate in/recover from my trip to Los Angeles.]

“Whatever Happened, Happened” is an odd episode in the sense that it is most definitely eventful in terms of its on-island material, certainly one that I couldn’t resist blogging about, as the fallout from last week’s episode becomes a struggle between life and death, between right and wrong, between past and present, but its off island material (and much of its subtext within the main storyline) surrounds one of the show’s more consistently weak elements, a love triangle that has turned into a square without an uptick in real interest. It’s an unorthodox episode for Lindelof and Cuse to tackle themselves, at least on the surface.

Very quickly, though, we realize that this episode isn’t about Kate’s relationship with Jack, or Kate’s relationship with Sawyer, but actually about Kate. It’s the first time in a long time that she has emerged as a character in her own right, less interested in discovering who she was or even who she is, and discovering instead what role she is supposed to be playing. Too often, Kate has been a foil and not a real character, and when you really consider it she hasn’t had a substantial or effective episode in a long time.

This one isn’t perfect, but with Lindelof and Cuse at the helm we get a couple of tantalizing hints, a predictable but well executed “flash” for Ms. Austen, and a compelling if not groundbreaking metaconversation about time travel – I’ll take that.

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