Lost, Season 4

Charles: don’t read this. Anyone else who hates spoilers, be warned! The rest? Read on, if you’re interested in opinions. That’s all I’ve got anyway, but since Stephanie was so eager to see my comments, here they are.

To start with, a disclaimer:

In discussions of Lost, I’ve seen the several trends, and I’m going to comment on each one before I give my thoughts and opinions. You’re free to disagree. But I want you to know from the outset, I’m not really interested in extended dialog about Lost. To me, Lost is just a TV show. Seriously. And I’m not going to waste time on arguments about it.

I’m not so dispassionate about all TV shows, mind you: I push Dead Like Me onto people very passionately; I will hold you down on the ground if that’s what it takes to get you to watch the genius of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, or Life on Mars. But Lost has enough fans, and if you’re not one, that’s fine. If you get all in my face and start claiming that Heroes saved you, because Lost was jumping the shark, I might laugh at you, or mumble something, but I won’t bother with a full argument.It’s just not worth it to me.

So for this particular post, I’m instituting a new comment rule: you may ask questions. No declarative sentences, just questions. I reserve the right to delete any comment that doesn’t follow that rule. Keep ’em simple, keep ’em interesting. If you have opinions you want to express, aside from questions, go do it on your blog. (I know you have one if you’re reading this!)

Okay, so, trends I’ve seen in discussing Lost:

  1. I hate Kate/Jack/Locke/etc. 

    I take this as a sign of good writing, because it’s not always the same character. If everyone hated Locke, that’d be that, and it’s be boring. Locke would be The Bad Guy, or at least, The Good Guy in Disguise Who Awaits Plot Twists to Reveal the Truth. But in fact, different people hate different characters. Our dislike for whichever character bugs us in Lost is often much more organic. It’s kind of like how, in every group of people, there’s going to be one person you like the least, and have issues with eventually. In a sense, we’re trapped on a desert island with the characters, and our own reactions are probably as much a testament to the successful immersiveness of the concept.

    A lot of Korean Lost fans who discuss the show online dislike Kate. They apparently (Lime tells me) feel negatively towards her because of her behaviour: that is, how she switches from guy to guy, playing them off against one another, so you can never tell where she stands. Which is, of course, a valid response as a reader — humans care about characters as if they’re people because well-drawn characters push the same kinds of mental or emotional buttons in our heads that real people do.

    But it reminds me of how one of my profs in grad school said to a rather irate student who was angry at Holden Caulfield for insulting doctors (since her dad was a doctor). The prof said, “Okay, but could we please go beyond talking about characters like they’re real people?” Why I dislike Kate’s character has more to do with the fact that a lot of the time, it feels like there is no there there. She’s mostly a love-interest, a third point in a triangle, the thing for two of the leading men to fight over. Likewise, while a lot of people dislike Ben for being so cold-blooded, I find that this is precisely what makes him interesting. Ben is a bastard. He will mess you up, he will double cross you. Yet he does have feelings, he has things he is desperate to achieve. He’s very human, even despite still being, largely, a mystery. Ben has contradictions in him, which makes him a great character. Kate’s self-contradictions have all been a bit too, er, predictable, and a bit too focused on Jack and Sawyer. Juliette is a much more interesting character, because it’s still not clear which side — if any — she’s on, and why.

    Still, even going back to the level of basic human reaction, different viewers get invested in different characters. The cast has grown even wider, with the people who’ve dropped in on Season 4: a geeky scientist, a wise-cracking psychic who’s also Asian-American (nice niche to exploit); Michael’s back, with guilt to spare; and we’ve seen much deeper into the world of Charles Widmore, including a really tantalizing future plot where Sayid is working with Ben against Widmore.

  2. What’s with the flashforwards? They’re screwing up the present-setting plotting, and robbing us of all mystery.

    Well, I understand the concern, and I think writing flashforwards is risky since it really can rob the past struggles of suspense… if it’s poorly done. And yes, the writers of Lost indeed have fumbled at times in the past.

    But one should always remember that what one sees in those futures is almost certainly being built up to deceive viewers. For example, when we see Sun at Jin’s grave, declaring tearfully, “I miss you,” what are we to make of it? This suggests that Jin is dead, but that doesn’t mean it’s so. Jin’s fate could be any number of things: maybe he died when the tanker blew. Maybe he survived somehow. Maybe he was caught up in the same timewarp that caused the island to shift in time in the finale, and he was able to swim to shore. Maybe he was actually rescued, but is in hiding somewhere that Sun’s father can’t screw up his life. There are many possible explanations for why Jin is absent. (I think he is indeed dead, but there’s no way to know without watching the whole series, if even then.)

    The objections to the flashforwards, to me, may or may not become more valid depending on what happens in Season 5. I think, however, they may well be linked to the time-travel plot device that is affecting Desmond, that is used to move the island, and so on. Also, it’s quite possible that future action and past action will be eerily contemporaneous since, after all, time travel does exist in the world of Lost. (We haven’t seen travel to the future — yet — but that doesn’t make it impossible. Likewise, all this discussion of “going back” that we’re hearing in the flashforwards may not refer solely to spatial movement.)

  3. The relationships issues are getting boring!

    Yeah, well, that’s relationships. Sometimes they’re like that in real life, too. In fact, the best relationships on the show are the most screwed-up ones… Ben’s with Juliette; Juliette’s with Jack; Sayid’s with Shannon — because how the hell was that going to work out anyway? — and so on. I have to admit that the whole Jack & Kate shackup toward the end of Season 4 has me feeling quite annoyed with Jack, but again, that’s good writing, if you ask me. How far he’s fallen: he’s an abject nut dependent on Kate, of all people. (He really should know better, and I’m guessing his guilt must just be overwhelming him to the point of nonfunctionality.) In fact, the person most deprived of relationships — Hurley — is the most in touch with reality. Maybe.

  4. What’s with the time travel? The Ghost-Whispering? All that other kooky stuff?

    It’s just a science fiction trope, man. Get over it! I wasn’t expecting so much of it. I’m not sure how well it’ll end up being handled. Already, we’ve got some paradox issues, and I don’t care what the writers say, there is always an element of paradox when you have time travel. Unless you do away with causality or something wacky like that. For example, Farady-in-the-past knows for sure that time travel is possible. This will almost certainly affect his research plans, and has already sent his life on a different trajectory… yet how could it have, if it hadn’t already happened? Of course, the past can be edited then fine, but it still affects the future… unless you do away with causality, or something.

    As for the other time-travel — like Locke’s childhood visitor still being the same age in the present — that’s all just neat stuff. I’m curious to see where the island ends up. I’m thinking it could be the recent past, but probably some time in which the island didn’t exist, so as to avoid any kind of weird interference or destructive process. It’ll be interesting.

    The ghost-whispering, all those visions of the dead, and Jacob? I have no idea. I’m not so crazy about this stuff, because it vaguely reminds me of how Shadowrun mixed Tolkien’s (or, rather, AD&D’s) magic and demihuman races with a cyberpunk setting. Why the hell do we need orcs hacking the Pentagon’s clockwork mainframe? I just don’t see the attraction. But some people get off on mixing genres, I guess. Some of them know what they’re doing, and others don’t.

  5. Screw this! Heroes totally kicks Lost‘s ass!

    Fine, you go on and watch Heroes. Why the hell are you reading this? By the way, Heroes actually was, well, it was okay, at least in Season 1 (I watched most of it during boring bus rides in Laos) but really, it was kind of like Superheroes for Dummies. Dummies being people who have never read a comic book or watched a superhero movie, or pretend they haven’t. It was okay, but, I mean, old hat. The concept was an RPG way back in the early nulls. (Remember White Wolf’s  Aberrant, anyone?)  I mean, is that the way it works now? Rarefied concept -> popular niche concept -> Wacky RPG-> NBC TV show? Because, hey, I got this Wraith campaign I ran back in the late 90s that would make a great TV show…

    The thing I like about Lost, flaws aside, is that it is really a retelling of several different stories, but most centrally the Castaway story… yet it’s about modern, and essentially American(ized), castaways no so much lost on a desert island, but adrift in our modern world. The characters were all completely “lost” long before they got to the island. Last semester, I hammered away at the idea that we could understand a lot about a culture’s hidden anxieties by examining its pop culture. My student wrote about Lost at one point, and argued rather brilliantly that Lost is the post-9/11 TV program. While Heroes has the explicit threat to New York in its storyline, its Lost that embodies a sense of adriftness, a sense of desperation and distrust, of fear of unknown, dark powers, of factions, of lies from above and from all around, conspiracies from within and without. It was a fascinating little essay.

I think that’s about all I have to say for now. I’ve put off things so long that it’s all vague, and I apologize if this is a disappointment, but I know I won’t get around to watching Season 4 episodes until long after the series is all finished — so much else to do — but when it’s running, I still find the show compulsively watchable. I’ll probably have more to say when the next season starts, but for now, I need to do other things. And no, I haven’t read this or that special Lost website. The franchise is probably full of hints, but I’m full of other projects…

Still, if you have any questions, feel free to pop them into the comments. Actual questions only, this time, folks! Post ’em if you’ve got ’em.

2 thoughts on “Lost, Season 4

  1. Zenkimchi,

    No, the questions are just for this post. All other posts, you can write normal comments.

    I hardly have the patience to watch all of those videos, but the thingie at the end was interesting. Happily, there’s a quick summary of the rest here.

    I don’t get the discussion of Richard Alpert and his toes — is it just people linking the statue to him, or what?

    As for his apparent longevity, I was kind of assuming he’d either time-traveled, and that his visit to Locke in the past came after meeting Locke in the present, or else (more boringly) that he’d just been on the island since, and time had passed more quickly (with a little regenerative effect from the island thrown in).

    But noting all the energy people have put into digging through ephemeral content online, I kind of have to say I’m content just to let it be a TV show, and let it stand or fall on the merit of the episodes. It’s nice that other people engage in the other stuff — I occasionally get interested in that too — but mostly, I just watch the episodes and, on the DVDs, when I have them, the extra content included there.

    I think the whole ARGing of entertainment media has come a bit early. It’s really going to boom in about a decade or two, when people will be able to actually immerse themselves in this stuff while walking around downtown, running to catch a bus, or whatever. (With AR gear that is designed to make walking around feasible.) Then again, maybe that’s good — maybe we’ll have better ideas about how to make cool AR stuff when the tech is around.

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