Thursday, March 15, 2007

TV Report: A Half-Season of Lost

We're more or less halfway through the third season of Lost, and I've made no secret of my disappointment with it. In point of fact, I've been feeling too much of a lull since about the middle of the second season, and it's frustrating the way they've settled into a routine of inaction and acceptance. According to last night's episode, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 have been on the island for 80 days. And in 80 days, there has been a lot of complacency. These people are trapped on an island with a lot of crazy, weird shit going down, and they seem perfectly okay with that. As long as they can sit on the beach, read books, get food drops, and play ping pong, they seem perfectly content to never get back to their homes and lives. And that, more than anything, seems like the biggest problem with the show. Yes, the show never answers its mysteries or builds on them in a significant way. Yes, the show backtracks too much and takes too many sidetrips instead of getting to the point. But the biggest problem is that the characters just aren't very interesting anymore. We barely ever learn anything new about them, and they barely ever try to change their situation. It's frustrating as hell sometimes.

But, of course, I'm still watching the show. I'm invested in what's going on, because I've been a loyal viewer since I saw the first season on DVD.

Here are my thoughts (spoiler-filled, natch) as to what's been going on with this season so far.

1. "A Tale of Two Cities"
The season premiere really pulled a shocker out of the gate with one hell of an episode teaser. Opening in what seemed to be any American suburb, we recognize characters we've seen before (Ben, Ethan, Nathan) and then--bang--the teaser kicks into overdrive with the sudden appearance of the Oceanic plane going down, passing right over the town as it does. That's a nice revelation: seeing the Others and their home smack in the middle of the jungle. I guess that left me hoping for more, but then the episode just sort of laid there. The whole thing focused on Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, who are simply the three dullest characters on the show (especially Jack and his three facial expressions). To make matters worse, the flashback was yet another Jack-gets-angry-and-throws-shit episode. Yeah, Jack has anger issues, I knew that. His dad is a drunk? Yeah, I knew that too. And the stuff with the Others... Juliet was a potentially interesting character, and I do like Elizabeth Mitchell, but this was a hard episode to like. The Others are generally unlikable people who seem to take pleasure in fucking with people. There wasn't a lot that enhanced the overall mystery, except for a couple of things: first, I was interested in the way Ben seemed to know right off where to send people (and whom to send), almost like he was expecting the crash; second, that the Others obviously know a lot about the survivors; and third, that Sawyer was basically stuck in a giant Skinner box, which lends credence to the theory that this whole thing is one giant sociology experiment.

2. "The Glass Ballerina"
This episode seemed to be taking place more or less at the same time as "A Tale of Two Cities," and that just reminded me of what I hated about the second season opening: that the first three episodes showed actions taking place concurrently, taking three episodes to advance us pretty much to the point where season one ended. Why not just make the season premieres two hours long? You know what might be interesting? If someone went through and re-edited Lost so that the whole thing takes place in chronological order. Just a thought. Anyway, "The Glass Ballerina." Any focus on Sun is welcome; I'm interested in her story and the development of her personality, and they rarely focus on her. Still, the combined Sun and Jin flashbacks didn't tell us anything we didn't already know from the first season. Otherwise, nothing added, nothing interesting. Of all the episodes that have aired so far this season, this is the one I've most forgotten.

3. "Further Instructions"
Oh, right, the hatch imploded. Remember that? And Charlie was acting all weird after it happened? This was the first episode of the season I actively enjoyed. It was like having the original, cool, capable, badass John Locke back, instead of the tired, navel-gazing, incapable John Locke of season two. A polar bear hunt? Excellent. Rescuing Mr. Eko? Awesome. Locke has been my favorite character almost the whole time (until he got boring last season and I transferred my interest to Ana Lucia), and having him back was a breath of fresh air. I didn't even mind his flashback, even though it only served to show us what we already knew about Locke from both flashback and experience: he's too trusting and it often bites him in the ass. Seriously, though, what's with Charlie? He went from intriguing to sympathetic to unfortunate to kind of a douche. The best part of this episode was Locke's vision, which symbolically explained the situation while adding the tiniest flashes of insight to everyone's purpose.

4. "Every Man for Himself"
Is Peter Greenaway directing Lost now? I utterly hated this episode for so many reasons, but chief among them was the cruelty shown by Ben towards Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. The Others haven't exactly been models of cooperation and understanding so far (am I the only one who wanted to punch Miss Klugh right in her smug face?), but the cruelty on display just got overwhelming for me. What is the point of it? To get Jack to cut out Ben's tumor? They couldn't have just asked? And how the hell does Jack diagnose the shape and location of Ben's tumor after glancing at an x-ray for three seconds? Jesus, what a letdown this episode was coming after "Further Instructions," which really felt like a comeback. And what was all that stuff on the beach with Desmond apparently seeing the future? Are they going to be able to make that interesting, or not? I'd be lying if I said that didn't seem intriguing to me, but this whole thing with the Others seriously just started pissing me off here. And the flashback was just dumb: really, Sawyer is a con man with a heart of gold, I had no idea.

5. "The Cost of Living"
This whole episode was a mess, and a lot of people were ready to call "Jump the Shark" on this one. I disagree; I don't think this show has jumped the shark, and I don't know that they can. The premise is weird enough, and so is the tone; if Kate could find a horse in the jungle and that wasn't jumping the shark, Mr. Eko getting killed didn't do it, either. Anything is going to seem normal. And Mr. Eko just seems weird to have made such a big deal about the survivors in the tail section and then kill them all off (except for Bernard, and he and Rose apparently just disappeared into thin air). Everything else seemed to be all over the place, but I'm glad they investigated the hatch and saw the Eyepatch Guy on camera in another location. But what's with Locke? Why can't he function anymore? Nikki had to show him where the monitors were, WTF?

6. "I Do"
Another pointless flashback: huh, Kate can't make a relationship work? No way! As cliffhangers go, it wasn't a bad one, Jack deliberately botching Ben's surgery. At least Jack was finally taking control of his situation (or attempting to), and that scored some major points with me. And Kate and Sawyer finally did it; I wish they'd just accept each other and give it a go. That whole will-they-or-won't-they thing is about the least compelling thing on the show (except for Jack, he just sucks). Still, this episode did leave me wondering if I was even going to bother with it when it came back in February. But of course, I did.

7. "Not in Portland"
Giving Juliet a flashback was a nice little change-up. Does this mean that her character is going to be more important to the future? Where they giving us a glimpse of the DHARMA Initiative? Did this even involve the DHARMA Initiative? What is the mysterious organization Juliet was recruited by? Of course, we get none of the answers, but it was refreshing to have another viewpoint on this series instead of learning more about how Jack gets pissed off at the world everytime someone drops a hat. And that dude that was trying to kill Sawyer? So glad he's dead; that's the kind of angry animal that just needs to be put down. I hope this means that some of the show's rampant cruelty is going to take a break, what with Bluto finally at rest. And I wish they'd just get going on this thing with Alex and what the Others need children for. (Side note: I thought Tania Raymonde, who played Alex, was incredibly cute on Malcolm in the Middle, and seeing her as a lovely young woman now is doing wonders for my soul). We all now, for a long time now, that Alex is Danielle Rousseau's daughter, so can we go somewhere with that already? That whole creepy Clockwork Orange brainwashing room thing was almost interesting, but I quickly forgot about it because, like everything with the Others, it's probably never going to be explained, anyway. This show really needs to start providing some answers and filling in some puzzle pieces. It has a serious issue with storytelling; creative writers would fill in a piece here and there to let you see some of the larger picture, instead of just expanding the borders further and further until the smaller threads get lost. (Another side note: I want to see what Mr. Friendly's back story is. He's just so interesting to me. He's always trying to be friendly with Jack, and seems genuinely hurt when Jack doesn't return it. Why? What's his interest in Jack?)

8. "Flashes Before Your Eyes"
This was the episode everyone loved: Desmond finally explained his weird behavior via a flashback/flash-forward that seemed to imply he had the ability to travel through time. Actually, his entire life had flashed before his eyes, including his future. But here's my problem with that explanation: if he saw Charlie get hit by lightning, how could he also see Charlie drown? Is he still seeing the future happen? I mean, the future keeps changing as a result of actions taken in the present, so how does Desmond keep seeing it? It still brings up a lot of questions. Points, though, for putting Charlie in Desmond's flashback. The show seems like it's back to establishing weird connections between the characters, which was one of the more interesting aspects of the show. My mom wonders if Penny's father isn't one of the guys in charge of DHARMA or Hanso or whichever organization we're supposed to be worried about anymore. There's some evidence to bolster the hypothesis: first, Desmond joined the race around the world to prove to Penny's father that he could do something, which might imply that Penny's father knew where to send Desmond to get rid of him; and second, as we saw on the second season finale, Penny has men in Antarctica looking for something, and they saw the island when it was momentarily visible during the electromagnetic event. How does she know where to look? This episode got me thinking about the show's overall mystery again, which makes it one of the better episodes for me.

9. "Stranger in a Strange Land"
So far, this is the absolute worst episode of Lost. Jack gets angry (big shock), Jack gets a tattoo (so what?), and the show provides us with an inaccurate translation of said tattoo. Wow, thanks for that, I was going nuts trying to figure out why Jack has ink. Gee, aren't there other characters on this show who can benefit from some character development? I can't take much more Jack, the guy bores the living shit out of me and his flashbacks are absolutely pointless. Why can't they just kill him off? Even with an appearance by my beloved Bai Ling, I could barely pay attention to this episode. Nothing happened. Oh, except that we saw that the people carried off into the jungle by the Others in season one are still with the Others. Incidentally, this was the episode that made some people I know wonder if ABC is trying to kill the show with its false advertising; the promos (which are not made by people who produce the show, but by ABC's marketing idiots) promised the answers to three mysteries. Well, what were they? How can you not be disappointed after a set-up like that? That whole glimpse of the Others's judicial system...meh.

10. "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead"
The highlight of this episode for me was seeing former Playboy model Sung Hi Lee in a cameo. Boy, was I in love with her. Otherwise, I had mixed feelings. I'm glad to have a break from the Others, and I was thrilled that they finally gave Hurley a fucking episode this season, but the flashback was, once again, pointless. Hurley has bad luck. Yes, and..?? I knew from the teaser that this was going to be a lame one. The second that Cheech started telling a young Hugo that having hope things will work out isn't ridiculous, I wanted to vomit: dude, just by a new part for the engine, hope is going to make your ignition work about as much as love is going to make it run. What a stupid, stupid lesson to teach a kid. I guess the real mystery solved on this episode is why Hurley eats so much (huh, he's insecure, I had no such inkling). But on the other hand, it was nice to see Hurley, Sawyer, whiny puss Charlie, and Jin acting like guys and just hanging out over a project. I liked that; finding the van and getting it to run again as a side project just to have something to do. That felt very realistic and nice to me. The idea that hope made the hippie van run again is seriously ridiculous, though.

11. "Enter 77"
Let's get this out of the way right now: the ping pong game was stupid. Just like the golf game in season one, it felt like a pointless distraction from the actual story: Locke, Sayid, Kate, and Rousseau finding the Flame Station. My real problem with this episode wasn't the ping pong game so much as Locke's continuing stupidity. Why is he no longer a capable spiritual warrior type? Why is he such a fuck-up? The only explanation for his complete moronity in this episode is that he's in league with the Others now (a theory my mom believes is true, but which I hope isn't). Still, I was intrigued by the episode, including the Eyepatch Guy and the talk of "hostiles." Are these Hostiles in fact the Others? And does that mean that the Others really have nothing to do with DHARMA and the Hanso Foundation? It seems like it, doesn't it? I'm glad to see this show raising questions that are actually interesting again. At this point, I became really involved again. Even the flashback, though teaching us nothing new (Sayid regrets having to torture people) didn't seem too big a distraction.

12. "Par Avion"
Let me get one thing out of the way first: last night was the first time in the history of this show where Claire looked straight up HOT. She never gets to look hot or, really, do anything. At this point, she almost seems like dead weight, but she did something no one ever does on Lost anymore: took an interest in her own survival. That was a good plan, to put a note on a bird. Of course, I might've mentioned the Others and the polar bears and the smoke monster and all the weirdness, but maybe she figured no one would buy it. Still, not one mention of being in danger? Are they really so comfortable now? This is like the season of Gilligan's Island where they got power and built a car; aren't their lives supposed to be about surviving? And what happened with Claire's baby? Wasn't there supposed to be something weird about it? Some psychic chick didn't want it to be born? Anyway, here's the thing about Locke: I'm glad he threw Eyepatch Guy into the electrical field. Hey, they wanted to find out if it worked, right? What better way? He wasn't going to offer any more information about the list being so close to home, and we've seen the willingness of the Others to kill their own in order to protect themselves (like Miss Klugh in the previous episode); they weren't going to trade Jack for a button-pusher. Locke still gets it right sometimes, is all I'm saying (just like he was right last week when he told Sayid to just shoot Eyepatch Guy because he wasn't going to fire first). The two biggest things going on: Claire and Jack have the same father (which explains why Jack's father went to Australia after losing his job at the hospital), and Jack was playing football with Mr. Friendly. What's going on?

Well, indulge me while I theorize a couple of things.

First, what if this whole operation with the Others is some sort of counter-experiment directed at destroying or disproving the DHARMA Initiative? They're obviously funded by someone somewhere, because they were out recruiting people like Juliet. What if one of the people in charge of finding subjects is Penny's father? He found Desmond and sent him to the island on a permanent vacation.

Second, these Others have some sort of a plan, because they apparently have a list of people. Nathan said something to Ana Lucia about their being a list; Miss Klugh gave Michael a list of people to bring back after freeing Ben; Eyepatch Guy talked about the list, and even seemed to know that Lock had been paralyzed. Seriously, when Eyepatch Guy started implying he knew their stories, I almost wanted to look at the DVDs (which I don't own) and see if he appeared in any of the previous flashbacks. Someone should check that out. So the Others have a list, which implies that these people were picked for a reason and somehow all directed onto the same flight. Is it possible? Anything seems possible with this show.

Third, what if one of the people involved with the Others is Jack's dad? What if he faked his own death in order to get his son to Australia and get him on the flight? Was Jack seeing his dad's ghost in season one, or was it really his dad? Jack's dad has connections now with Ana Lucia, Sawyer, and Claire--that's a lot to be a coincidence, especially on a show like this, where everything seems to happen for a reason. Jack's dad must have some larger involvement to keep coming back.

Fourth, and this may be a long shot, but what if Mr. Friendly is Jack's uncle? Have you noticed that he and Jack's dad have the same hair? Maybe that's why Mr. Friendly was so hurt when he tried to be nice to Jack and Jack gave him the brush-off. It's out there, but why the hell not?

So, I guess the moral of this rambling is this: Lost finally has me, for the first time all season, really thinking about the possibilities of what's going on. It's been a long while, and I'm glad to have it back.


John said...

I didn't read your rundown of last night because I haven't actually watched it . . . tonight . . . and so I also skipped some of your theories for the same reason, but I agree with your points about all the flashbacks this season - they are driving home points that were already previously made and could have been spent on something better. The reaction to any given flashback is pretty much a direct correlation with what you think of the character. None of them were so bad that they were embarrassing, but they were kind of like outtakes or DVD extras that were deemed repetitive and removed from the series.

In regard to the Others, one thing that has occured to me is that I don't believe once during the course of the show they have ever killed anyone - or if they have, it has only been in a fight situation. They've abducted people, sure, but we still don't really know what they were doing with them. And now we see a bunch of abductees all happy and healthy. Could it be that they aren't actually evil at all and, since this is being told from the point of view of the air crash survivors, they are really the good guys being seen through very skewed and paraniod eyes? The flashbacks are hints to the character flaws that lead to the mistaken perceptions that are going on in this island?

John said...

Okay, read the rest and have this to say: Way back when Mr. Friendly first appeared with the beard and all, I thought it WAS Jack's dad.

So there's that.

SamuraiFrog said...

Good observation. Credit should go to Becca for leading me there; when we saw the football game going on, she turned to me and said: "Um... Uncle Friendly?"

I would be frustrated as hell if the Others turned out to be just a case of mistaken perception, because then Lost turns into a grand scale of what Roger Ebert calls the Idiot Plot: a plot that could be resolved in minutes if everyone involved weren't a complete and total idiot. Why all the fakery and danger when a simple explanation would do? It works up to a point, but I think that crosses a line when that woman tried to shoot Sun on the boat.

Allen said...

Nice to have you both back. I expected it, though. As I have said, 2nd acts are the hardest. They are the most boring and meandering. Since Season 3 is smack in the middle of the show, we are in the 2nd act, so I knew it would get more interesting the second half of the season. Okay, that's done.
Regarding the boring Jack flashbacks (Jack's mad at his dad, Jack has tattoos...) Let me posit this:
Jack's dad is more integral to the show than anyone realized at the beginning. I think it's a fortuitous coincidence (or maybe not) that his is the voice that you hear say "Previously on Lost". He has been connected to a quarter of the Losties, and who knows how many more. Isn't his body on that island? Didn't Jack cart the corpse in the baggage? I think Jack's flashbacks about his dad are really to inform Christian's character and not so much Jack's.
The tats: They read "HE walks among us but he is not one of us." There is a theory that one of the two decaying corpses in the cave are Jack's from the future. There is another theory that Jack is actually the leader of the Others but, again, from another time. The tats have a certain import to the mythology.

According to Damon Lindelof, "Flashes before your eyes" was the first show that didn't really have a flashback. Desmond DID travel through time. Actually what he said was 'all of that rally did happen to Desmond'.

Every television show is going to hit or miss. It's inevitable. Lost has an agenda and it's a noble one. To tell this one story (which migh take place over 120 days), with epic sci-fi mythology and, for the first time in tv history, do it the creators' way. Without pandering to advertisers. There will be a couple of missteps this year. And you will no doubt be dissapointed in the season's cliffhanger. But, if you stick around, I think we will all be very pleased at the outcome.

SamuraiFrog said...

As I said in the post, I really think Jack's dad is going to have some surprising connection to everything going on. Otherwise, why have him keep turning up?

It wouldn't be the first time in TV history it was done the creators' way; Babylon 5 and Farscape both did the same thing, and with less titting about and descent into boredom. The first time for a network, maybe.

sparkylulu said...

I never watched Farpoint or Babylon 5 but I had heard that they were of the same nature.
Pretty big deal for a Network, though. There is much more at stake.
Do you think there is significance to Jack's father's name being
"Christian Shepard"? and Jack's being an interpretation for Jacob, the father of the tribes of Israel?
While I'm at it, have you read about the similarities between Lost and Watership Down?
I have never read Watership,although now I would like to.

SamuraiFrog said...

The jury's still out for me on whether or not "Christian Shepard" is meaningful or just another in a long line of character names on Lost that sound meaningful but aren't (like the number of characters named after philosophers, or Miss Klugh).

I catch a number of literary references on Lost, specifically to fantasy novels. I knew from the very beginning that "Henry Gale" was a phony right from hearing his alibi about the balloon, "Henry Gale" being the name of Dorothy's uncle in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It was the same when I figured out "Ethan Rom" was an anagram for "Other Man," although other people nailed that just as quick.

There are actually more references and parallels to Watership Down than the Lostpedia suggests. In a strange way, it's following the story almost exactly. In fact, if the outside world is the Sandleford warren, the beach might be safer than it appears, because it might be Watership Down. The camp of the Others appears to be Efrafa, with abused Carl as Blackavar and resisting Alex as Hyzenthlay. I'm not sure who Keharr is, but it could be Desmond. Jack is Hazel, Sawyer is Bigwig... the important question is, which one is Fiver. I would've said Walt, but...

Actually, a number of characters are playing the role of Bigwig--Locke, Sayid... Mr. Eko might be Captain Holly. And there are a number of Fivers too, particularly Hurley and especially Desmond. Maybe Rousseau is Keharr... she did lead them to the boat. Hmm...

If the Watership Down parallels continue, there's some major violence in the future.

That theorizing all makes sense (I hope) if you've read the book. Can you tell that's one of my favorite novels? I first read it when I was eight or so, and I've read it several times since. That is an interesting parallel to think about...

sparkylulu said...

Ity's been on my list but I kept missing it. I should get to it.