Saturday, March 1, 2008

Lost: The Constant

As I absorb episode five of the forth season of 'Lost', I can't help but spare a thought for those who threw in the towel and jumped into bed with the first new scifi drama that promised 'answers'. The cheap one-season stand that was 'Heroes' doesn't come close to the level of dramatic excellence and scifi mystery that 'Lost' is currently operating at. Of course I'm biased, but unashamedly so, for me this is one of the best written shows on TV.

There is a moment from the beginning of season 2 that sums up the experience of following 'Lost' with the kind of faith that the Israelites followed Moses. Locke and Jack are fighting over the button, in the hatch they've found, on the mystery island, where everyone has visions and the weirdest shit ever is pretty much par for the course, when this exchange occurs:

Locke: "Why do you find it so hard to believe?"
Jack: "Why do you find it so easy?"
Locke: "It's never been easy!"

And aint that the truth. In the face of a sea of doubters – all of whom are now rushing back to 'Lost' like men who cheated on their girlfriend with some fantasy girl who turned out to be nothing but a fantasy without substance – some were men (and women) of faith, and with that comes reward. It's not often you get to say that about television shows. Run over such long periods of time it's rare to see ending that accomplish a sense of satisfaction, and the payoffs along the way fall somewhat hollow because the trust is betrayed and doubt pervails. Perhaps audiences patience were tried too hard by shows like 'The X-Files', which in the end spent nine years going nowhere in particular. Other shows have lost themselves too, great shows like 'Northern Exposure' which forgot that it was about the New York Jewish doctor in this tiny town in Alaska; or (god forgive me for saying) 'Quantum Leap' which never sent its hero home; and 'The Sopranos' which ended with more bing than bang.

You may think me premature, but I believe that all the signs in these first five episodes are that a) the Carlton Cuse and David Lindelhof have had a masterplan all along, and b) we are moving at pace toward that end.

Far from saying the last couples of seasons have been perfect – not something I expect, the journey is more interesting when flawed – I just feel that 'Lost' is the genius child that went through its still brilliant adolescence and is now hitting the level of maturity its writers always had the potential for and showed in flashes. Has the show ever been so dynamic (since season 1) for five episodes on the trot like this?

It helps of course that this week saw the next chapter in Desmond's (the ever brilliant Henry Ian Cusick) story, my favourite character in 'Lost' since his deranged appearance in episode one of season two. My favourite because not only is he Scottish, has a fine beard, refers to everyone as 'brother', and saved the world for three years by pushing the button, but because Desmond is the modern day Odysseus with girlfriend Penelope (Sonya Walger) his modern day, well, Penelope. Theirs is the great love story in this whole island adventure, some might even say it is epic ("spanning years and continents; lives ruined, blood shed. Epic"). And while the love triangle of Jack, Kate and Sawyer has made for good TV these past three years, the sincerity of Penny and Desmond's relationship is what really sells me, it is taken me to the edge of tears on more than one occasion, and the phone call at the end of 'The Constant' was no exception.

Then there was the time-traveling. You have to appreciate the way in which one of the biggest reveals (though we kinda knew it was coming) in the 'Lost' mythology was sidelined by the love story of Desmond and Penny talking for the first time in three years, saving Desmond's life. Not only that, but perhaps after years of trying, here's a piece of fiction that has finally explained the premise in a coherent manner. Maybe it's just me, but while it left me with plenty to digest, my brain didn't become 'fused' nor did I suffer an aneurysm. And how about the stuff with the Black Rock and Paul Robinson, aka Charles Widmore, aka the superbly sinister Alan Dale buying up the 1st mate's diary – found seven years after the ship disappearance with pirate treasure in Madagascar (can I hear you saw Polar bear in Tunisia?).

Speaking of which, what is the deal with anthropologist Charlotte? I have a suspicion she knows much more than we think and is closely tied to the original Dharma group. Some other questions left over:

• Can there be any doubt left that Michael is Ben's man on the freighter?
• Will Sayid get the chance to torture him if he is?
• Who is the captain?
• Who is everyone else on the ship for that matter?
• What's in the 1st mate's diary and does the freighter belong to Charles Widmore?
• Why does Daniel need a constant – is time travel why his memory is skew whiff?
• Why didn't the water drain out of the sink in the toilets???

Just eight episodes to go this season and I would recommend everyone make the most of them.


Unknown said...

nice shout-out to v mars. i watched lost season 1 and part of 2, and then i gave up on it. (i admit i also watched heroes season 1 and then gave up. you are right on that one.) i do feel like i should come back to lost. is that too bandwagonny?

Scott Henderson said...

Come and join in the fun – it's not really all that much of a bandwagon because so many people have left for good. To be fair those are people who just want to turn on and switch off anyway (perfectly reasonable). But if you love great TV writing then you'll find that Lost is as great as there has ever been.

I think a lot of people make the Twin Peaks comparison that Lost cannot stand up to. It's kinda unfair because at only 2 seasons long TP was a very different kind of beast that didn't have to live up to the demands of a drawn out multiple season story during network prime time.

I guess I perhaps have a certain smug satisfaction about it all because I spent last year hearing so many people say they were over it. The same people who are all over Lost now.