Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Let me begin with an explanation: I am NOT making an assertion with this article, and neither am I even making an accusation. However, two episodes into Season Three of Lost, I found myself torn right down the line between “Holy SHIT this show is good!” and “Do the writers have ANY idea where they’re going with this shit?” As such, I thought I’d take the question out into the (CC2K) world, and simply pose the question: Is Lost still ramping up, or has it begun its inexorable decline?
As we all know at this point, Lost began in the Fall of 2004 to great fanfare, and instantaneously good ratings. It was the brainchild of some ABC executive who had the idea of making a fictionalized version of Survivor (or Castaway, or Gilligan’s Island ; let’s be honest, the idea wasn’t fresh), and approached “It”-man J.J. Abrams, still basking in his success with Alias, to develop this further. What happened next is the kind of back-slapping, friend-of-a-friend-ing, fast-tracking story that makes writers like me seethe with jealousy. Basically, Abrams teamed up with other writers who bent over backwards to fawn on each other (the behind-the-scenes documentary included with Season One on DVD includes a lengthy interaction between Abrams and the other creator about how they KNEW they would be great work partners because of a Star Wars T-shirt that one of them was wearing when they met), and they were quick to point out that each idea they had was more brilliant than the last. After creating their treatment, the exec at ABC greenlit the pilot, and asked for it to be on the air in the Fall of ’04, which was only a scant few months away. That gets us to Season One.
The main choice that the creators made about this show was that, if it were JUST about plane crash survivors trying to get rescued, it would quickly get boring. So, they made the island itself a character, filled with mystical occurrences, inscrutable characters, and unexplained mysteries. The end result of that first season was one of undistilled wonder. Even as the viewers came to know the main characters (both through their words and actions in the present, and the then-unique, now-predictable flashback scenes), they also had to try to make sense of the strange and unusual things that happened on the island. That first year, there were rampaging polar bears, amorphous smoke creatures, a set of numbers with a terrible curse, a demon baby, one case of a sudden and complete cure of paralysis, abductions by a group known as “The Others,” and a “hatch” in the middle of the forest. It was nearly impossible to watch this first season and not become completely enthralled with the web that had been woven; the mysteries revealed just enough to entice, yet kept enough hidden to perplex. When Season One ended with the entrance to the aforementioned hatch getting blown open to reveal a large underground hole, it was fascinating to speculate which of the thousands of possible directions the writers would take it from there.
As it turned out, that hatch (metaphorically, of course) served as both Pandora’s Box, and Alice’s Rabbit Hole. Our characters wandered inside the hatch and found a massive subplot involving a mysterious corporation called Hanso, an enormous psychological experiment involving human guinea pigs, and a mind-numbing data entry task that was either a needless pain-in-the-ass, or the cog keeping the entire island together. And this was only the start. Over the course of Season Two, the writers added an entirely new set of characters (no easy feat for a show centered around a supposedly isolated island in the middle of nowhere), heightened the drama by adding a major ideological conflict (Jack’s logic versus Locke’s faith), and began the process of fleshing out the Others to great effect. In the final few episodes of the year, main characters were killed off, two others LEFT the island (!), and three others were kidnapped by, well, the Others. The writers were smart enough here to offer up some revelatory bones (we now know what caused the plane crash, as well as what happens if those numbers aren’t punched in every 108 minutes) even as they created more questions that would ultimately go unanswered (Who are The Others? What is the deal with Hanso? What the fuck is GOING ON? Etc.) In short, Lost grew exponentially in every way during its second season, and the end result was something utterly captivating.
All this brings us to Season Three, and today.
After only a very few episodes, it has become clear that this season is going to feature The Others very prominently. Already, we have seen them imprison Jack in an underwater chamber, throw Kate and Sawyer in cages that force them to perform menial tasks to get food and water, and do all sorts of various other things seemingly meant to break their spirits entirely. Along the way, we have gotten glimpses of their fully fleshed out society, and learned that they seem to have complete and total access to the rest of the world that our heroes tried so desperately to return to at the start of the series. Clearly, the mysteries of this island are growing ever deeper.
And yet, I am forced to wonder at this point if the creators are actually building to something, or if they’re just making things weird for weirdness’ sake.
Quick anecdote: during my senior year in high school, my English class wrote a serialized novel as a group. The teacher wrote chapter one, and each of us in turn wrote the ensuing installments. The story, which was relatively coherent at its start, devolved into and entropic mess by the end. The reason for this is that each writer was so intent on making THEIR MARK on the story, with new characters and/or new plot twists, that they eschewed everything that had come before. Earlier details were misrepresented or completely forgotten in the name of later surprises. It was awful, as only a high school English project can be.
Now I’m IN NO WAY accusing the writers of Lost of being no better than Mrs. Cordovano’s 12th grade class, but I AM saying that the overall plot of the show is starting to show some similar holes to the Darkwood Manor debacle. For example, entire storylines from Season One have been all but abandoned by Season Three (most notably: the polar bear, the inscrutable powers that Michael’s son Walt possessed, the evil creature that ate the pilot in, well, the pilot, et al). Secondary characters that were still MAJOR players in the early going (Charlie, Claire, Claire’s baby, Hurley, et al), have been largely relegated to the background as shiny NEW secondary characters have come to take their place (Mr. Eko, Desmond, Ben/Henry, et al). And perhaps most disturbingly (this has NO PARALLEL to my earlier analogy, by the way), the writers let off-screen events effect character choices, and then just sweep any complications caused by this under the rug. I am referring to Libby.
Libby was one of the second wave of survivors who we meet in the second season. She was a doctor or something, and despite being slim and pretty, was becoming romantically interested with the enormous and freakish Hurley. This relationship got MUCH more interesting during a flashback episode dealing with Hurley’s stay at an insane asylum. As that segment ends, the camera pans across the floor of the sanitarium and lands on Libby, who is another patient with an undisclosed ailment, sitting and watching Hurley. Clearly, they were building (or at least HINTING) at something great. And then…the actress who PLAYED Libby was arrested in Hawaii for drunk driving (along with another co-star). I don’t remember the specifics here, but soon after that, BOTH of these actresses were shot and killed on the show, with the creators INSISTING that this had NOTHING to do with their arrest, and that this was planned from the beginning. Nonsense. This subplot I just mentioned is far from closed, and yet there is NO WAY they can do anything with it now. It’s a metaphorical hangnail that can’t be cut away. The producers obviously are confident in the world they have created and the plot they are running, and so they saw the loss of this one strand as expendable to keep the image of the show clean.
But is this really the case? How much longer can we be strung along without any clue or insight into what is actually going on? Perhaps more importantly, once they finally DO let us know, will we be satisfied with the answer, or will it seem to be a letdown after years of rampant wonder and speculation (was anyone truly happy with the answer to “Who killed Laura Palmer?” and what WAS that X-Files conspiracy actually ABOUT, anyway?)
As I stated at the top, I am not drawing any conclusions here, because I don’t have any. Thus far, I am still a BIG fan of Lost, and I sincerely hope that it keeps me interested, even as I secretly hope it will let me down so I can let it go (This is a personal grudge going back to when I learned how easy and chummy the process was that allowed these writers to have the best job in television). But I DO wonder where it’s headed, both on a micro and a macro level.
What about you?