Monday, 2 June 2008

In Which I Am Presumably Person 1,000,000 To Use The Hilarious Phrase: Lost Has Lost It

OK, fair enough, “lost it” is a fairly major exaggeration, but the Season 4 finale left me distinctly cold. Sure, there was action, and drama, and killings, and self-sacrifice, and most importantly of all, flower-identification, but whereas last season concluded with a bat-shit crazy expectation-detonating cluster-fuck of a cluster-fuck, parts two and three of “There’s No Place Like Home” felt like nothing so much as an exercise in dot-joining.

Consider the latter half of the third season, when the show was spooling up from the mother of all lulls. Amongst the many methods the writers employed to keep me awake was the revelation that the group’s resident heroin addict/Gallagher rip-off Charlie Pace was headed for that difficult-second-album launch in the sky. Which as a Eastenders drum-roll episode closer, works really well.

For about four seconds.

Then the inevitable questions start rolling in from the Ocean of the Damp Squibs. Once we know someone is going to shuffle off the mortal coil, then a number of dramatic possibilities immediately vanish into the ether. You can’t kill him like you did Boone, for example, which entirely relied on the fact that everyone expected him to live. Same with the sudden accident that killed Shannon (though that may be just as well, as Shannon’s death was one of the worst things to happen in Lost since it began, execution-wise; and this from someone who hated the character with an almost indescribable passion). You have to make the death mean something, and you have to ensure that something about the demise of one of your main-iest of main characters still surprises people.

Did it work with Charlie? I’d argue yes, but just barely. The fact that his last act before he died was to warn Desmond as to the identify of the boat (well, as to what its identify wasn’t, what with this being Lost and all) did at least mean he died for something, even if that something thus far has gotten at four people killed (five including Naomi, who as far as we know was as “innocent” of Widmore’s master-plan as Daniel is) and led his precious Claire into Jacob’s cabin, getting up to who knows what kind of weird-ass shit. But much of those (already qualified) kudos are immediately rescinded because a) finding out the freighter wasn’t Penny’s didn’t really require a fatal sacrifice (I know jamie is liable to read this so I won‘t point out the Babylon 5 plot development for which the sacrifice of a main character really was necessary, but suffice it to say it didn‘t happen because someone needed to know who owned a fucking freighter), and b) the only reason Charlie did end up trapped in the saltwater Jacuzzi of death is because no-one in Lost World takes even the most basic of corpse-checking precautions (it was especially frustrating since Mikhail had “died“ twice already that season). We can tick the touching box, and the plot-developing box, but as something remotely sensible or particularly relevant at the time (finding out a character’s death may have been arguably important in retrospect is also not a development for the writers to be particularly proud of), not so much.

The reason why I bring all this up is that last night’s season closer felt like Charlie all over again, only multiple times. Just consider the various plot developments that raised their heads. We find out how the Oceanic Six escape, the reveal being that it was simply because they happened to be on a helicopter. Hardly breathtaking. Ben moves the island, which we’ve already known was on the cards for a fortnight (and of course we already know where he ends up courtesy of “The Shape Of Things To Come”). Jin takes an explosion to the face, but we already knew Sun believed her husband was dead, and presumably for a better reason than a vanishing magical island. Obviously I don’t for a moment believe Jin is dead, Mikhail and (in this very episode) Keamy prove that in this show, you don’t bet on characters being dead even if you do see a body, and certainly not when you don’t. The point is, if it is a bluff, then it’s still a bluff we saw coming (the most interesting question is, if Jin (and various Lostie red-shirts) did survive the blast, did they end up being caught up in the Island shift, or not?). Michael, too, was clearly living on borrowed time ever since “Meet Kevin Johnson”. The only genuine twist was the reveal of Locke in the coffin, which whilst hardly unpredictable, was at least not spoon-fed to us in advance (and was viscerally pleasing into the bargain [1]).

And then you get the other problem the Charlie storyline hinted at. Yes, I’m assuming Jin isn’t dead (and I’d better be right, too, otherwise it was a shitty, pointless death, without even the cold comfort that it gave depth and/or added viciousness to his killer, who is also dead, murdered whilst wearing a dead-man’s switch that, gosh darn it, we already knew was there), but, as I've said, given it was obvious that Michael’s time was running out, it’s pretty crappy for his death to involve nothing but fractionally extending the time limit of a bomb. Sure, that saved the helicopter, but the whirlybird had only ran into trouble a few moments beforehand, and that because of a fuel leak, which hardly qualifies as particularly dramatically satisfying. Aside from allowing Desmond to get to Penny’s boat instead of jumping into the water (one wonders why Ms Widmore‘s boat didn‘t head for the big plume of smoke to check for other survivors); nice and all but hardly worth killing one of your original characters for, exactly what good did it do? Other than to apparently piss Harold Perrineau off a lot, I mean. It was a massively crappy ending to a storyline that originally seemed so promising.

There is nothing wrong per se with presenting a journey when we already know the destination. Again, B5 had a tendency to throw us visions of the future from time to time, some of which involved some fairly important people graduating from not dead to dead (Christ, Londo tells Sheridan that he and G’Kar will kill each other twenty years into the future in the first episode), but the specifics were both vague and fascinating enough to keep us wanting more. But Lost seems intent on using the same trick again, and again, and again. It reminds me of the second half of BSG’s second season, when every goddamn week we got a teaser that the rest of the episode then spent three quarters of its run time working back to. It’s a neat narrative conceit once in a while, but pull it (something like) five times in seven episodes, and it just gets lazy. It just closes down too many narrative roads, and demands a certain type of writing to make events we already know are coming still feel like a surprise, but not feel like a cheat. The Lost writers only just pulled it off the first time with one plotline, so I’m baffled as to why they based pretty much an entire season on it. Perhaps people’s responses to the flash-forward idea made them think more of the same was a good idea, but people thought making Angel evil was a good idea, too, and it didn’t lead to Season 3 of Buffy featuring every character growing an Mirror Universe goatee and attempting to destroy humanity. This stuff is hard, it's limiting, it's of questionable dramatic pay-off, and this year it was ubiquitous into the bargaining.

Here’s hoping this shit gets sorted for next time around.

[1] There’s a whole article to be had out of how much Locke pisses me off. Suffice it to say that the fact that he apparently screws up leading the Others, comes begging for help, and ends up really, really killed, is exactly what the bug eyed mentalist bastard had coming after three years of always being wrong and getting a wide variety of people dead in the process.


Jamie said...

Interesting. I see many of your points, but I still enjoyed it, mainly because although you're right, it did join up the dots for this season, it still leaves a hell of a lot hanging and a lot of avenues to explore for the next season. In fact, I suspect that they'll probably do away with much of the flashforwards, since now they have essentially three years of time to explore for those who escaped the island and (especially) for those left behind; possibly even more time depending on where the island has moved to. So hopefully this technique that you have tired of will be in abeyance in the future.

I do agree with you and Perrineau about Michael's death though; that was a disappointing end to the storyline, and one I really hope was mainly truncated due to the writer's strike. I have a feeling it would have ended the same regardless if he had more screen time though. Still, here's hoping his character is utilised (and better) in some flashbacks or 'ghost' scenes.

The people I feel really sorry for though, are the redshirts on the freighter. Man, how callous was everyone about them? You'd think the least they could have done was have quick shufty. On the other hand, I'm not certain, but did the freighter get taken with the island when it vanished? If so, presumably the plume of smoke would no longer be evident anyway.

Anyway, considered as a whole, I think there was a lot to anjoy about this season and this finale; I think that for the majority of the time the flashforwards were effective, except that, perhaps, in some cases they gave us a bit too much information. As I said before, hopefully this problem will be rectified in the next season.

Oh, and thanks for holding the B5 spoilers! (finished season 2 a week ago, will attempt to start season 3 at some point, but general blue-arsed-flyness mitigates against it just now).

SpaceSquid said...

I'd be pretty surprised if Perrineau agrees to come back, frankly, given how angry he is.

I don't recall the freighter vanishing, although if it did it a) explains why they didn't check it out, and b) means Jin and the redshirts may indeed wash up on the island next season.

No worries on the spoiler front, you're still a little way away from the noble self-sacrifice as it's meant to be I was talking about.

Jamie said...

Yeah, I read that interview with him. However, hopefully if they decide to better serve his character in some sort of coda, he might be mollified. Fingers crossed.

I can't remember precisely, but I seem to recall that when the island vanished, in every direction there was a vast amount of nothingness. I might have to take another look at the episode at some point.

SpaceSquid said...

Yeah, but remember the shot you're talking about was the POV of those in the copter, who were between the boat and the island. Of course, the volume displaced may flatten as it expands, so it's entirely possible it could snag the freighter and not the helicopter, but I doubt the frames you're talking about would provide evidence one way or another.

jamie said...

As I said, I'm fairly certain it wasn't just one shot, there were shots looking in pretty much every direction surrounding them...

And you're basing your point on the ability of the Lost creators to follow physical laws and plausibility? ;-)

Gooder said...

Firstly I don't think you can use subsequient events to argue Charlie's sacrifice wasn't worth it. After all he knows is that ship isn't Penny's

Over all I've really liked this season as I think the flash forwards open things up and create mystery at what happend to move things to that point, they also still leave certain questions in the air.

1. The island has disappeared possible via the method of time travel,but I presume isn't actually the case or at least not the whole case
2. As far as we know everyone but the Oceanic Six, Locke, Sawyer, Ben, Miles,
Charlotte and Juliette are doomed to die floating the sea after the freighter
blew up (in fact Jin may already be in many pieces as is Micheal)
3. Ben has ended up in the desert wearing a parker somehow, something that
also explains the polar bears running around.
4. Mr Whitmore is obssesed with the island and Ben for some reason
5. Jack and Hurley both up end different kinds of mad, whilst Kate seems to
be slipping with dreams of Claire
6. Sayid appears to know more than he's letting on
7. Locke ends up dead after coming to find Jack because 'bad things' were
8. Charlotte was born on the Island
9. Nobody has mentioned the giant three toed statue at all
10. Sawyer whispered something into Kate's ear which three years later causes
a rift between her and Jack
11. Walt came to see Hurley and we don't know why exactly or even why he
was so important to the others
12 Claire is hanging out with Jacob, who remains a mystery as to what he is, or
even if he's real
14. Ben is out to kill Penny in revenge for the death of his adopted daughter
15. The six have to somehow get back and take dead Locke with them
I do agree the finale didn't have a 'big big' moment but then I don't really mind that as if you sit and think about it there are still plenty of things to wonder about.

Micheal's story does end suddenly but I do think it had run it's course as he found some redemption for his actions and don't really see where else it would have gone.

And I do think there was some nice character stuff in there (Sawyer willing to throw away his chance of return for the others for example).

SpaceSquid said...

"Firstly I don't think you can use subsequient events to argue Charlie's sacrifice wasn't worth it. After all he knows is that ship isn't Penny's"
Yes, I can. I don't even know what you mean, here.

I agree entirely that this season was eminently watchable, it's just the finale I'm objecting to.

Nor am I suggesting the writers are running out of hooks (as you point out with your list), just that they painted themselves into a corner with this season, and watching them get out of it wasn't particularly interesting.

As regard character moments, again I agree, but this is the season finale, and if all there is to appreciate are character moments (and bollocks to Sawyer, he said at the very beginning of the season he didn't want to leave the island, so the only sense in which he was sacrificing was leaving Kate behind) then I don't see how it can possibly doing its job.