Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is "Lost" the Best Show on Television?

I'm a huge fan of the television program Lost. Let me get that out of the way up front, lest that confession drive you off never to read another line of this particular post or perhaps my blog, period.

Having just watched tonight's episode, I must immediately say several things.  Holy freakin' cow, Batman!  Kiss Buddha on that fat belly!  Give Shiva a high-five times four!  Polish the Invisible Pink Unicorn's horn and serve up another dish of His Noodliness' marinara sauce in honor of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

Not to neglect the younger crowd: O-M-G!!!

At times, the show has had some predicable writing and dialog, and it's been tough for the writers to juggle a cast with so many disparate and distinctive characters (even given the myriad of literally red-shirt-wearing extras killed off and main characters sacrificed in the name of love and DUIs, there are quite a few more members of the cast than the average drama).  But there was a point midway through the third season when all of a sudden, it was like the J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse sat down and said, "Hey, it's time to get serious, yo!"  (This point corresponds roughly with the demise of "Poochie" additions Nikki and Paulo, an event widely regarded as driven by viewer unrest and welcomed by all except perhaps actors Kiele Sanchez and Rodrigo Santoro.)

Last week's episode, though excellent in and of itself, had me wondering where the writers would take the show for the rest of the season, given we'd been only five episodes into a seventeen episode season, and the overall plot arc seemed fairly clear at that point.

Tonight, though: well, I already invoked more than my share of deities once in this post.  If I may tip my hat to Robot Chicken (and yes, I did resist adding "magic unicorn mayonnaise" once already), let me express their oft-parodied M. Night Shyamalan bit to say: "What a twist!"  Seriously, this was one jam-packed episode; my head is still spinning after having watched it twice and some parts three times now just to try to get my mind around all that went on tonight.

When the episode showed Jack waking up in the jungle (mirroring the shot from the series premier, sans dog Vincent), I immediately asked Beth, "So, is this 'real,' meaning they're back on the island now and we'll get flashbacks about how they got there again?"  And indeed, I seem to have been proven at least partially correct on that point given the Ajria Airlines flight and ensuing return to the island, which featured some of the best dialog in the series to date:
  • Jack asks good natured yet icewater-veined sociopath mastermind and island dungeon master Ben, "What's going to happen to the other people on this plane?"  Now, we've been clearly led to believe they're recreating Oceanic Airlines Flight 816, which crashed on the island in the series premier to start the whole shebang.  Ben replies: "Who cares?"
  • The pilot introduces himself as none other than Frank Lapidus, a.k.a. the helicopter pilot from the third season who helped rescue the "losties."  Jack asks to see him, and when Frank steps out of the cockpit, his grin at the coincidence of running into Jack fades as he notices most of the rest of the "Oceanic Six" on board, and he says, "We're not going to Guam, are we?"
  • Several things Daniel Faraday's mum a.k.a. Eloise Hawking (also a.k.a. "Ellie" the Other from the 1950's island?) says are quite good, from her explanation of finding where the island will appear (not where it is mind you, but where it will be) to her interaction with Desmond, telling him the island "isn't done with [him] yet."  Remember, of course, that she previously set in motion Desmond's past involvement with the island when she refused to sell him an engagement ring, leading to his proving himself in a sailing race that ended up landing him on the island (during which time Daniel Faraday, Eloise's son, in a time-slip to the "past" told Desmond to seek out Eloise in the "present" ... my head is beginning to hurt!)
  • Several of the characters take new roles on Ajira 316 corresponding to those taken by other characters on Oceanic 816: Hurley, for example, brings a guitar, much like his friend Charlie did previously; Sayid is being escorted by a U.S. Marshal, as was Kate previously; Locke's body is explicitly in the hold as a surrogate for Christian Shepphard (Jack's father); Ben boards at the last moment just as did Hurley previously; and so forth.
I'm just amazed at the level of connectedness we're seeing developed, not just between episodes and characters but between several years' worth of seasons of the program.

One example (and speculation on my part, but not unsupported): Early in the episode, after Jack has received the instructions on getting back to the island, Ben chats with him before leaving the church they're in.  Jack asks Ben where he's going, and Ben says, "Oh, I made a promise to an old friend of mine."  Recall that he promised Charles Widmore in the prior season he'd have his vengeance for Charles' role in the death of Ben's adopted daughter, Alex.  Futher recall that Desmond showed up at the church: Ben knows Penny Widmore, Charles' daughter and Desmond's love, is in Los Angeles.  And Ben later shows up for the flight beaten and bloodied... from his work in (perhaps) killing Penny?

And there's the constant barrage of allusion, to pop culture, literature, and mythology.  One of many such examples from tonight alone: Ben recounts to Jack the story of St. Thomas the Apostle, who in the Christian bible first told the other Apostles to bravely go with Jesus even to what seemed certain death, but who is better remembered as "Doubting Thomas" for the eponymous action of having to touch the risen (reincarnated?) Jesus' wounds as proof.  Jack has to lead the Losties back to an island described by Charlotte as "death." Locke's body has been in the back of a van whose company logo is an anagram for reincarnation ("Canton Ranier") and reports of whose death seems greatly exaggerated (and who will be on a flight numbered the same as a certain verse in John...), and he later leaves a "suicide note" for Jack saying that he wished Jack had "believed in him" (even more: the two characters have been set as antitheticals in episodes such as "Man of Reason, Man of Faith" previously).

Another is that the Dharma station where Eloise Hawking tells the Losties how to return to the island is called the "Lamp Post," which brings to mind the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe immediately through the wardrobe; i.e. a way between the two disconnected realities.  Or given the end of the Narnia stories, that the Losties are perhaps really indeed dead and need to realize that fact and move on (as some now-departed cast members seem to have done), all protests to the contrary by the producers and writers...  Sorry if I spoiled the end of Narnia for you, but hint: they're all dead, the Chronicles were a "dream," and it's time to move on to "higher lands."  Oh, and by the way: the kids in Narnia died (and then dreamed the whole Narnia bit)... in a train crash!  (This ties in with several previous literary allusions--though the consensus would be it's a red herring to make us think they're all dead.)

The intricacies of this show and the way the details tie together (and the number of lingering questions we're begging to have answered, like the four-toed statue on the island from season one, the role of Village of the Damned-esque child Aaron and what the heck has happened to him, where ESP-blessed kid Walt is going to show up again, etc.) remind me a lot of the fantastic work of the sadly-late Robert Jordan in his Wheel of Time series, where fans had to at times resort to primers and recap summaries prior to the publication of each subsequent novel in the series to freshen themselves on all the myriad details.

If you're not a LOST viewer or a casual fan at best, I'm sure the majority of my gush above has left you either confused or wondering if I'm something of a nutter myself.  Let me assure you that you're missing out if that's the case, but let me also warn you that should you seek out the DVDs of the prior seasons of LOST to get caught up, you are in for an addictive ride which might just consume several full days of your life.

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