Saturday, May 22, 2010

What We Watched For: The Big Angry Lost Post, Part 1 of 2.

If you have never seen Lost before, never feel like watching Lost, frankly just don't give a damn—but would, at least, like to understand where my head is right now—just watch this sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, in which you, the viewer, are Eric Idle, & Damon Lindelof, Lost producer/writer, is John Cleese:

Now. Before I even begin to consider the rest of this post, I must calm my nerves, which have been running high (& threaded with bile) since "What They Died For" aired this past Tuesday night—or, really, since "Across the Sea" & its whole bundle of fun. I can only imagine you feel the same, so here is a video of the world's most adorable animal being tickled. (I mean, really. It's debilitatingly cute. Like, able-to stop-armies-in-their-tracks cute. This could easily be used for evil.)

Better? Okay. Here's how this is going to go. This post was written—in my scant spare time not poring over Lostpedia & listening to back-episodes of The Official Lost Podcast, of course—between last Tuesday's stomach-pitting letdown, "What They Died For," & what promises to be a free-fall through space-time into a deep, fiery Hades (maybe literally?) this Sunday night.

Part 2 will be written post-finale, to see how my predictions, hopes, fears, etc. pan out—& to say some closing words on the series as a whole (AKA, to decree, once & for all, whether it was really just a colossal waste of everyone's time).

(On that note, I would like to take this time to formally thank all contributors to the Lostpedia, as well as express my deep personal regret at your anticipated mass-suicide on Monday morning. Please, for the love of Jacob, go out with dignity: do not drop your dynamite / electromagnify yourselves / otherwise lose your plot-usefulness in groups of 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, & 42.)

In all seriousness, though, Lost-fever—we in the business (of being inside my head) call this "Dharmageddon"—is sweeping the nation. Many nations, in fact, as I learned on the aforementioned Podcast, in which Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof butcher the pronunciation of names from all over the globe—Romania, Kazakhstan, Canada. Each write-in gushes—simply gushes—over the show, expressing fandom that extends to near-disturbing heights: they consider skipping proms, canceling weddings, all for fear of missing the upcoming finale. I mean, my friend & I had a running joke that we would come to our two-person viewing "party" dressed up—I as Sideways-Timeline Desmond (who is even more of a badass when in a parallel universe), he as the Smoke Monster—but it's already been done! A woman on the Podcast describes her boyfriend's plans to party down dressed as the Monster, the Man in Black, & all of the people he has impersonated—what she calls "the Full Smokey" (which I pray to God is nothing like The Full Monty; Dr. Manhattan's cyan wang was a sufficient dose of CGI man-parts, thank you). Meanwhile, while we anticipate a slow, bitter descent into oblivion with the "This Sip Represents a Bullet Through Your Heart, Damon Lindelof" drinking game, we apparently have many more (inter)active choices at our disposal.

This show is more than just a passing brainteaser for some people. This is real. This is a cultural event from which people could manifest real problems (another shout out to all my will-drafting brothers at the Pedia), &—here's the kicker—it's poised to be dreadful. Here's why:

I return to the aforementioned Monty Python sketch—which was intended as a throwaway joke, but which, upon reviewing, turned out to be a frighteningly apt allegory for the entire series. Yes, the bunny is Charlie, the meaningless sacrifice—but most importantly: John Cleese (Damon Lindelof, hater of "whom") consistently leads the Eric Idle character (you) to believe that something really weird is going on—which it sure seems to be, with ever-complicating villains & double-crosses & sheer bizarreness—right up until the end, where we realize the misdirection was all for naught. Eric Idle knew what was going on from the very beginning: that is, nothing special.

Because there has been some real sleight of hand here—or, rather, some flat-out, Cleese-style denial—as to the intent & the process of this show: while it is clear (or, at least, not provable beyond a reasonable doubt) that Lindelof & Co. had certain wildly general aspects of the series planned from early on, the utter fiction that they had Matthew Fox (among others) purporting—that there was a clearly-structured multi-seasonal arc—was just that: a ruse. A con. The dazzling flash of $100 bills we "weren't exactly supposed to see."

This was, of course, a brilliant way to ensnare viewers—especially the smart ones, the kind that will make a Wiki page & analyze every camera angle. Every cliffhanger, every bizarre plot point was leading somewhere; it was a puzzle you were asked to slowly, ever slowly, piece together. Once this set-up was in place, it didn't matter one whit what happened onscreen—I mean, for fuck's sake, there was a giant mechanized monster made of electrically-charged smoke, & we still tuned in wide-eyed, waiting for the day it would finally make sense.

This kind of bullshit-credence power must be a real high; over the third & fourth seasons, the implausible twists just got bigger & bigger—which only ensured they would be increasingly impossible to one day explain (e.g., "He wants us to move the Island"). I can just see Lindelof & Cuse, sniffling & bloodshot in the writers' room on a Wednesday late-night, traces of the "magic box" dusting their days-old stubble, hands lightly twitching over scribbled pages of ideas ("Rose & Bernard were the polar bears all along"; "Desmond can fly") as they egg each other on, mumbling "We can just explain it later. Yeah, totally. We'll get to it in season seven."

Now, like recovering addicts, they bristle at any mention of their former recklessness—as emphasized both in their exasperated podcasting & stark plot. There just isn't enough time to tie up the ever-unraveling ends set loose early on, & they know it, & they're embarrassed—or, in Lindelof's cocky wheeze, more like indignant. When prodded for "answers," they respond:
Cuse: Basically, there are rules, but there is not going to come a time between now & the end of the show where some character is going to sit down with all the characters & say, "All right, let me break it down: here's a chalkboard, here's a list of the rules, 1-10, that govern what exactly goes on on the Island." ... Some of them will become clear; others, you as an audience member are going to get to speculate about.

Lindelof: Yes, for those of you who feel like you need to see that scene, please rent The Matrix Reloaded, & watch the scene between Neo & the Architect. & when you watch that scene, & when you wake up—

Cuse: You will understand why we did not put it in Lost.
—Official Lost Podcast, 5/7/10

In fact, what we understand from this discussion is that these two are just not very talented writers. A scene like the one described—short only a chalkboard—does, in fact, appear in "What They Died For," as Jacob calls the four remaining candidates to a fireside Q&A; Cuse & Lindelof believe, for whatever reason, that their show must present all or nothing, mystery or Powerpoint—black or white—when, in fact, good writing (much like life) does not function this way. As the season wheedles down to its final moments, I fear that their Manichean chokehold will prevail, will culminate in some kind of showdown between "Good" & "Evil"—while I wonder, still, where my Man in Gray has gone, & if perhaps he could work explanations into dramatic scenes or plausible sentences.

In that vein, recent Lost promos featured a clip of that terrifying little song Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka sings/screams as his boat rockets through the hallucinatory Tunnel of Your Worst Nightmares.

This is, in some ways, an apt choice—because at this point in the series, thanks to the hundreds of yanked chains on which they drag us through to Sunday, "there's no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going." (But not in a fun way.) There are, of course, even more ways in which this reference is entirely unfit. This scene in Wonka (which, by the by, scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a wee one) is all about exposing the darkness that lurks beneath the light, that is contained within; there is no sweet without sour, no jolly candy factory without lurid imagination—no good thing that is truly untampered. Except, you know, the Magical Light That Is the Heart of the Island.

In fact (we realize, reluctantly), contrary to Wonka's deluded mumblings, we all have a very good idea of where we are going: the Man in Black is Evil—the noun, the big cheese himself—& the Island is supposed to keep him corked from the world. He wants out, Jack wants him dead, & there's a Source of Light That is the Good Inside Every Man just waiting to be called upon in maudlinness.

Gone are the days of Dharma. The Black Rock. The Others. Gone is token scientist Daniel Faraday to ground the stupidity Deus Ex Machina strange happenings of the latter seasons in equations. In fact, I would imagine that viewers brought up on the sci-fi-science of the early seasons feel not unlike lurking apostle Richard Alpert, in one of the few potentially viable episodes of the season: wanting desperately to end that which suddenly reveals itself to be purposeless.

More, even, than this born-again 180 to dreariness & "fate," I miss the real depth & exploration of character apparent in early seasons—the flash-backs that breathed life into each castaway, illuminating their current actions, their motivation, their particular animus. As the series wrapped ever-further into its own mystique, these flashbacks fell by the wayside—in favor of Flash-Sideways, flashes through time, etc.—as did the tangible sense of character that came with them. What was once flesh & bone has dwindled to hollow sketch, caricatures lifelessly puppeted through their old plot patterns (e.g., "I am a bad man who will do anything for my lost love"; "I am a double-crossing, power-hungry bastard"; "I have little to no personality & do nothing but 'run away'"). Nuance, too, fell away with the introduction of the black-white divide; Sayid, once the paradoxically sympathetic torturer, becomes a psychopath who must redeem himself with martyrdom.

Worse, though, are the characters who divorce entirely from their former/intended selves in service of putting some slapdash bow on this tangle of thorns. I call upon a particularly facepalming example from Mr. Lindelof:
"So, here's the thing. Faraday basically said, 'If you blow up this bomb, the Hatch never gets built; if the Hatch never gets built, Desmond never forgets to push the Button; & if Desmond never forgets to push the button, then there's not an electromagnetic event that crashes 815.' What he doesn't take into account is that, as a result of detonating a nuclear device in 1977, that might create some other changes in people's lives. If you step on a butterfly & there are, like, massive changes, imagine what would happen if you were to detonate a nuclear bomb!"
—Official Lost Podcast, 2/3/10
Right. Because it's highly plausible that a cutting-edge, savant-like physicist wouldn't understand a phenomenon featured in an Ashton Kutcher movie. His credibility is, it would seem, yet another sacrifice to these Escher-ish methods of plot construction, in which explanation comes later to prove it existed beforehand (e.g., "Adam & Eve").

When confronted with any discontinuities or dead ends on the Podcast, Lindelof blusters: "I like to answer them like this: THERE'S A SMOKE MONSTER." By his reasoning, because they wrote pseudo-magical implausibilities into their show, any error—of production or storytelling—is given Carte Blanche; because they hamhandedly reintroduce longstanding mysteries, that means they had them mapped out from the get-go. It's backwards logic to justify backwards writing, & so the series continues its multi-season tailspin—which will culminate this Sunday, I'm sure, in an epic Hindenburgian crash. Let's just hope that we fans, marooned in bitter disappointment, fare somewhat better than our favorite castaways. (I am not putting up with any fucking polar bears.)

Didn't catch those last paragraphs? Let Michael Emerson & Josh Holloway sum it up for you:

(Side note: I want that Spanish announcer narrating my life, all day, every day. Everything would sound so scandalous & intriguing, even when set to elevator music...)

All right, gang. The time has come. Once more unto the breach, to strut & fret your hour(s) across the flatscreen & then, blissfully, be heard no more. Godspeed, gentlemen (& token Kate), & may the (electromagnetic) force be with you.

That said, as of right now, here is my prediction for the final moments of Lost:

As a Dragon-Ball-Z-style showdown of Jack vs. Smoke Monster reaches epic heights, with Light & Smoke & Island Blood (AKA, water; see Podcast 5/14/10) crashing all around—& probably some pleading from Kate, & a few manly tears from Jack, & comic relief from other few surviving characters (or, you know, the Whisper-ghosts). Just when all hope seems LOST... A close-up of someone's eye opening. Pupil dialates. Cut back: It's J. J. Abrams. "Honey!" he calls out to his wife, clicking on the bedside lamp as she reluctantly sits up. "I just had the weirdest dream. But it would make such a good show!" & then Ashton Kutcher pops out from under the bed & yells "YOU ARE SO PUNK'D, AMERICA. I TOLD YOU: ONE DAY, YOU WOULD LEARN TO RESPECT ME."

So, we'll see how it lives up to that.

Today's Headphone Fodder:

I am currently recovering from all of the brain/willpower this took with a classic album—one that was featured in the show, to my utter, utter, soul-crushing dismay—Iggy Pop's Raw Power, specifically

However, I think I ended up justifying that situation to myself: "The one light in this darkest of darkness is that it would seem that Sawyer listens to 'Search & Destroy' on repeat in his underwear whilst chugging Jim Beam. Which is great (& not unlike yours truly), but they had to blaspheme severely in order to achieve it."

Ultimately, I have chosen this album because, thankfully, there is nothing more to say than this: It is one of the greatest albums of all time. Iggy Pop was the godfather of Punk—& of all that is good in Rock 'n' Roll. Worship him, now—& get out your Lost-related frustration by fuckin' shit up along to a deliciously raw soundtrack.

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