Tuesday, October 17, 2006

LOST 2 Review

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched the series and plan to, maybe you shouldn't read this as I will be talking about specific things that happened and you might feel like I give too much away, though I'll try not to reveal too many specifics. If you aren't planning on watching the series then definitely look away because this will fry your eyeballs with seering boredom.

It's fantastic that really great television is being made now. To me Lost seemed to be the absolutely essential antidote needed to all the TEDIOUS (can you hear me shouting Australian television creators?) reality television which is what, three years ago, made us give up on live-air television in the first place and limit our viewing exclusively to DVD. It's great to see a show that's all about narrative and character, that is brave enough to follow a complex narrative arc over a whole series (rather than that 'reset' style of television, where every episode must stand alone and any developments made in previous episodes are forgotten). From the bits and pieces I read and hear about television, shows like Lost seem to have inspired a return to storytelling in television. I only hope that Australia follows the trend and starts making some more drama, before all Australia's talent jumps on a plane bound for LA (cause we all know how that can turn out). And segueway, to the review.

I thought the pacing of the series was pretty good overall, Martin and I remained engrossed to the very end. However I did find the first half more compelling than the second. I loved the storyline that dealt with the other group of survivors on the island and to me the best episode was the one that took us back to day one of the crash but from their point of view. It was also a great way to introduce some new interesting characters (including a new female 'lead', played by Michelle Rodriguez, to change the group dynamic). Also, as life continues on the island, you start to realise that the drive to be rescued is diminishing, which is an interesting shift in focus. Many of these people have a more meaningful, fulfilling future on the island than they do in the 'real world'.

Thematically some lines were blurred, and we begin to realise that the Others (or Them as the second group of survivors called them) aren't straightforward bad guys and in fact we start to see that they've been, or perceive themselves to be, 'colonised' or invaded (though there is still a sinister implication that they are somehow responsible for the island and it's strangeness, and we're not encouraged to like them because they take away people's freedom and right to choose). All sorts of 'secrets' are revealed in this episode. What physically caused the crash (though it doesn't account for the mystical connections the characters have to each other and the island which is further explored in this season), what's in the hatch, the story behind the occupants of the Brazilian plane, what happened to Claire when she was taken...but of course secrets revealed lead to deeper secrets. We also get more backstory on most of the characters, flashing back to their lives before the crash. Many secrets aren't revealed, we don't know about the monsters (and we don't see enough of them in my opinion!), the polar bears, the visions and nor do we know why so many of the characters are connected (and these connections proliferate in the second series). Walt's strange abilities hinted at in the last series are not fully explored.

The series does interesting things with time, on several occasions taking us back further into their lives in terms of the flashbacks, fleshing out stories from the first season, like Jack's marriage, Kate's crime, Hurley's life before his big win (including the time he spent in the pyschiatric hospital and why he was there). Even on the island, there are episodes that lay two time lines together to tell a parallel story. It's interesting, because I hadn't realised how unusual it was to play with chronology in television in terms of storytelling and characterisation - I realised how much more flexible novels are in using unusual form and narrative sequencing.

My biggest problem with the series was characterisation. For some reason the writers decided to boil the characters down to a singular identity. Sayid becomes the Torturer, Charlie becomes the Junkie, Sawyer the Conman, Michael becomes the Father...Unfortunately, I thought they leaned heavily on stereotype in order to achieve this. Characterisation was a strength of the last series but it really fell down in Lost 2. Many of the flashbacks didn't actually contribute much to the individual stories and felt more as though they were being used as a device to connect the characters together (Sawyer is served by Kate's mother in a diner, Sayid meets Kate's soldier father in Iraq etc etc). Because characterisation was weak, I found that I cared less and when I didn't care, the stories didn't ring true. This was particularly problematic when it came to the storyline driven by Michael, the desperate father whose son Walt is taken from him in the last episode of series 1. The final episodes of series 2 (basically the climax of the season's action) was inherently flawed because I simply didn't believe in a transformation - that Michael would do anything, compromise the safety of anyone, in order to get his son back (it seemed extraordinary that he wouldn't have tried to enlist the help of someone - or coerce them - as opposed to what he did end up doing). The brief appearances of Walt (we don't know if he's physically there or if it's a projection or hallucination though he's seen by more than one person) at the beginning of the series are intriguing but seem to come to nothing. I am guessing Walt will feature in the next series (either that or it's shabby storytelling). But I wanted a bit more this series, just a kind of reassurance from the writers that they have a plan for Walt, and that they were in control of the narrative arc (whereas it actually felt that they had created too many threads and he got a bit lost as a result). I think they've relied too heavily on the potent image of a child being taken by strangers from a parent's arms (which was hugely impactful at the end of the last series) without following through - Michael tells us he's desperate over and over, but we're not really shown his mounting desperation in credible stages (show don't tell - it's the major rule of storytelling).

John Locke's character arc in the first series was a very intriguing one. He began as a stable, seemingly enlightened character with an apparently mystical connection to the island and all manner of useful skills, but as the series developed we learned that right up until the crash he had been an impotent and desolate man in many ways, with little control over his life, and his newfound enlightenment was tested. In series 3, Locke seems to come undone. What I was talking about before, where the characters are boiled down to a singular role - torturer, junkie etc - Locke actually becomes the box manager that we all knew he didn't want to be in the first series. He has a new role in life, a calling, and it's to push a button on a computer with an unknown purpose (except it has something to do with saving the world) that may or may not be an empty psychological experiment every 108 minutes. It seems to represent the most tedious, pointless bureaucratic job, except imbuing it with the 'superpower' of saving the world. Locke's faith is tested, which leads to the second primary narrative arc. The 'will I won't I press the button' storyline does feel a bit overworked though, it got repetitive. Also, though I respected the storyline, I wasn't anywhere near as interested in Locke the box manager as I had been in Locke the survivalist. I also didn't really believe he would so completely give up on his (mundane) calling after discovering some fairly ambiguous evidence that what he had been doing was possibly pointless, I think there needed to be one more thread there to kick him over the edge. Again, show don't tell - use action and drama, not monologue, to get the audience to believe the transformation.

In the first series the island seemed to have a life of its own; it was like another whole character, intriguing, beautiful, dangerous, perilous. John Locke says, "I looked into the eye of this island, and what I saw... was beautiful." It seemed to have a consciousness of its own, or sub-consciousness at least: a dreamlife. It seemed to have its own desires, to be self-protective, to want to enveigle the crash survivors into its heart for its own mysterious purpose. In this series, those characteristics are imbued on the 'Others' and the Dharma initiative (the team responsible for the hatch), the island seems to recede and become merely scenery. For me, this was the biggest disappointment of Lost 2.

But all in all it was exciting television. Someone dies early in the season (and it's not the season's only casualty) and you realise all bets are off, nobody's completely safe. There is an air in the show that anything can happen, you're never quite sure what the rules are (Star Trek, though it was great tv, was bogged down by its own conventions), it's a true ensemble cast which means that even main characters are, in a sense, expendable because the narrative isn't hinged on any of them individually. The flaws in characterisation and plot are so minor that it's a shame no one did anything about them (who lets these things slide? I guess in television it's an unwieldy diminished responsibility kind of deal - and as a writer, I know how easy it is to leave important stuff out because it's hard to distinguish between world-in-head and world-on-page - in television world-in-head would be world-in-meetings, a collective interior world...what seems patently obvious to a group of creators who live with the psychology of their characters every day might not translate as well on film when it is diffused through so many people - actors, cinematographers, directors, producers etc.)

Lost links:
Official site (I didn't hang round long cos I don't want to find out anything about series 3!)
Lost Season One Refresher
A reassurance that there's a plan


  1. Anonymous5:03 PM

    It's brilliant television. We love it here too. We're onto series 3 now ;-)

    Jacq x

  2. I felt the same way. It seemed a lot of the second half of the season was just fluff filler for season 3. It kind of just spun it's wheels in the mud, eking out small details to fill a whole episode. Don't get me wrong, I love the show but found the last few episodes when nowhere.