To have loved and Lost

Was it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?

I should have seen it coming.

One of the first big mythological reveals Lost doled out on its path back to the bamboo field came from Eloise Hawking in season five’s 316.  Having gathered Jack, Ben, Desmond and Sun around a giant Foucault pendulum in the basement of the church, she explained how the island disappeared at the end of There’s No Place Like Home and how the Oceanic 6 could get back to the island to rescue the ones they left behind.  At the time I felt the scene was forced, hasty and artificial.  But, because there were still so many answers to come, I figured they would get better at dishing them out.  I was wrong.

With a final season that featured remarkable acting and a musical score that should be a shoe-in for an Emmy, Lost still limped to its conclusion because what had been its strength for five years broke down and became its weakness.  The superior story weaving that the writers unwound since day one collapsed under its own tremendous weight. The writers found themselves having to close five year’s worth of lose ends and revealed themselves as better at posing questions than answering them.

This played itself out in a repeat of the pendulum room often during the final season, especially the reveal of the whispers heard in the jungle since season one.  Six years of mystery explained away in one brief exchange between Hurley and a dead guy, then on to the next thing.  Six years littered with 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 explained with an almost dismissive “Jacob had a thing for numbers.”  With it, one of Lost’s earliest and eeriest mysteries is shown to be as important as the numbers on the bibs handed out to track runners before a race, which is to say they weren’t important at all.

I suppose this should have come as a surprise.  Writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse warned us in the run up to the final season that they would not answer every question, pledging to tie up only those they deemed important to what they felt the show was about: the characters’ respective journeys.  My views of season six and the finale are and will continue to be enormously critical, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for demeaning the writers’ enormous skill.  I fully understand what they did with the end of the show and why they did it.  Judged in only the light of what they wanted, the show’s end was brilliant.  I’m not knowledgeable enough about television history to judge The End against finales past, but I find it hard to believe that any of them could have been more complete and beautiful.

Watterson, you’re being bipolar.  No, I’m not.  (Okay, that part was probably bipolar.) I’m explaining that I understand Lost and its finale and I appreciate it for what it is, but that I don’t like what it is.  I’m comfortable holding those seemingly opposite beliefs at the same time because I know there is a difference between what I ultimately wanted the show to be and the story the writers wanted to tell.  The part of me that understands the writers’ intent is okay with the inadequate answers and unsolved mysteries and I love the ultimate resolution to the characters’ lives in that light.  But the part of me that wanted the end of the series to be so much more is bubbling with discontent, which it is time to investigate more deeply.

First, to make it understandable, I need to explain the Lost I came to love.  My Lost was a Lost built with layer upon layer of mystery, mythology and missing pieces.  Some layers stood on their own, others built a symbiotic relationship with each other so deep that it led to the breakdown I wrote about above.  In the Lost I loved, a deeply flawed and miraculously healed character named John Locke literally dug up a sci-fi treasure that would shape the show for five seasons.  Those two elements – character and mystery – depended on each other for their own advancement, and the show was at its best when they developed together.  By the same token, the ultimate ending I was looking for was one in which they ended together – character and mystery.  We know now that didn’t happen. The writers went characters first and now fans like me are left with our discontent.

Going character first meant no epic, mind-blowing revelations or plot twists that Lost pulled off so well so many times.  I remember drawing forward in my seat watching Ben turn the frozen donkey wheel at the end of season four, the pain of willingly leaving the island he so obsessed over clearly evident on his face.  Character; mystery. Perhaps there is no better example than my favourite scene of the series: Sawyer gripping Juliet’s hand as she dangled in the hole dug at the Swan station.  Heart wrenching character-driven emotion layered on top of the sci-fi elements sewn with the Dharma Initiative’s quest to reach the pocket of electromagnetic energy.

Without tying the end of the characters’ journey to the remaining mysteries of the island, the finale lacked previous seasons’ ability to grab us by the heart and the mind.  The end went almost exclusively for our hearts, and though it succeeded in that regard, it failed to fully tap into everything that made Lost so great.

That leads into my biggest disappointment, which is that the final season was poorly executed.  I justify my assertion with one word: Dogan.  Remember Dogan?  Instead of wasting our time with him and the temple (which itself was never a great Lost mystery) they could have gone deeper into the history of the island and fleshed out Jacob and MiB to make Across the Sea more meaningful.

Measure it this way: how much of what happened at the temple was relevant to the finale? None of it.  At its core, all the main characters did was go to the temple and runaway before Smokey wiped everyone out. It was a setting for no significant storyline progression that couldn’t have been done otherwise.  After five years of accepting the island’s magical healing powers (also never explained) fans would have accepted Sayid surviving and falling into MiB’s camp for what would have been obvious reasons.  Instead we got week after week of muddy water, clamps to the nipple and a Japanese guy with a thing for his baseball.  Precious time wasted.

Applying the same standard to the season’s major narrative device yields a different result but brings the same disappointment.  The purpose for the flash sideways is obvious now, as is the reason it had to figure so prominently in the season.  The revelation that all the characters were dead was huge, and it had to be earned.  Fans would never have bought into it if the flash sideways wasn’t given the attention it received before the finale.  But we were left to linger for too long with no sense at all of its purpose.  Had the diversionary storyline of Desmond trying to connect all the passengers for Oceanic 815 been introduced earlier than the eleventh episode of the season, the pace and path of the season would have been less frustrating, especially early on while the island timeline was bogged down with the temple.  Again, very heavy on character, very light on mystery.

I am also disappointed that the construction of the season and the finale put the flash sideways revelation as the last big element of the characters’ journey to fall into place.  The specific information that the sideways represented a sort of heavenly waiting room was wholly confined to the developments of season six.  The writers tried to tie it to the rest of the series with the conversation between Christian and Jack, but it didn’t work for me, again because it was too character centric.  Look at all the questions left unanswered: Why can’t women carry a baby to term; Why 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42; Why all the hieroglyphics; Who built the plug; Who found the island in the first place; and so many more.  None of those questions are relevant to the way the writers chose to end the show, but they are why I and so many other fans obsessed over it.  To not build them into the ending does indeed leave us feeling like we got the middle finger from a creative team willing to give it high and hard.  As I said above, I respect them for having the guts to do it, I just wish they hadn’t.

I wish they had given a better payoff to the fans who picked the show apart frame by frame.  The fans who poured over every detail of the blast door map, researched every name and anagram and found every Easter egg deserved a better end than they were given.   There turned out to be no magic bullet that they all missed, no clue that turned out to be bigger than all the rest.  As far as these fans are concerned, the series may as well have ended after Juliet smashed the hydrogen bomb because very little of what they loved about Lost – what I loved about Lost – made it through to the end.  Their fanatical loyalty was not given due reward, and that is too bad.

ABC’s marketing and promotions department deserves some of the fault here.  “The time for questions has passed. The time for answers has arrived.” went the pre-season tease.  The writers play no role in those promotions.  Those who do are either willful liars or completely detached from the show they promoted.  Their material helped build expectations that those involved with crafting the show knew would never be met.

Yet there are things I think fans can assume even though they weren’t ever addressed.  I’m comfortable saying the plan to reset the timeline by blowing up the hydrogen bomb didn’t work.  The flash sideways turned out not to be the reset timeline, and on the island all it did was flash the characters forward to 2007.  (Though one would think this would have been significant enough to the surviving members of the Dharma Initiative to earn further exploration in the storyline.)

So it ends with the same question we ask ourselves after any long relationship runs dry: Was it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?  Did thick heartstrings keep me from fully foreseeing this disappointing end as it began to unfold last season?  It’s a question we can only answer for ourselves, and my answer is yes.

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Ab Aerteno

“Ab Aeterno” may have been the most anticipated non-premier, non-finale hour in Lost history because the focus of its story, Richard Alpert, undeniably held the key to many of the secrets Lost fans are desperate for.  Yet it did not just meet those expectations, it exceeded them. Tremendously.

Lost critics found easy fodder with the acting early in the show’s lifetime, but the entire cast has elevated its performance to a new level of excellence in the show’s final season.  Carbonell delivered the latest gem playing his character as a simple man who fears his God and loves his wife.  Faced with death and certain damnation, he is sold into slavery and chained in the bottom of – you guessed it – The Black Rock.  Thrown to the middle of the island, desperate to survive but afraid to die, he makes a deal with the very devil he is so afraid of facing in his afterlife.

Aside from being revealing, nothing to that point of the episode really gave us the deep mythological answers we have been waiting for for so long.  That all changed when Jacob “baptized” Ricardos in the ocean, forcing him to admit that he is alive, not in hell.  Then we got the masterfully-executed scene with Jacob describing the island as the cork that keeps the evil – that is, the Man in Black – trapped in the island where it cannot harm the rest of the world.  In one simple analogy the writers answered one of Lost’s biggest questions: What is this island?  Now we know.  For sure, there are still island-related questions left to be answered, but now we have a much better understanding of what has been going on behind the scenes of the Lost storyline these six seasons.

Jacob granting Ricardos his wish to never die also solidified one of the key differences between him and the Man in Black.  We’ve seen MiB routinely make false promises to his recruits, from promising Claire her baby back to promising Ricardos his dead wife.  This is what the devil does to you: he lies and deceives.  Jacob won’t make promises he can’t keep, and he tells Ricardos as much.  He wants Isabella back, Jacob tells him he can’t do that.  He wants his sins absolved, and again Jacob says he can’t do that. But he can give Ricardos eternal youth so that he won’t have to answer to the devil in hell for taking a man’s life.

I left this wonderful episode with one fresh theory.  In the season premiere we got the mysterious shot of a sunken island in what we came to know as the flash sideways world.  I theorize that the sunken island means the battle between light and dark has ended and the island is no longer needed as a cork to trap the evil.  I’m not prepared to guess which side won, however.  If I had to, I would lean to Jacob winning because what we have seen of the flash sideways world doesn’t seem to indicate that evil is running rampant.

There was so much more to take from this episode, so many observations.  I will layout some of them below:

The episode began with an extended version of the scene when Jacob visits Ilana – why show this in this episode?  It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Ricardos storyline.

Richard questions his faith…in Jacob. In fact, he lost it, trying to kill himself and when that failed trying to take up MiB on his offer.  Questioning faith has always been a theme.

Have you noticed how often this season characters have had their face half lit, half dark? Most famously done in Widmore’s bedroom with he and Ben in The Shape of Things to Come, it seems to happen a lot this season and has to be symbolic for something.  Perhaps the culmination of this long battle between Jacob and MiB, between light and dark, as Locke describes to Walt in Pilot Part Two.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Lost is that no detail seems to be chosen randomly, and that shows again in Ricardos coming from the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  According to Wikipedia the name translates to Island of Hell, a perfect connection to this episode and Ricardos’ story.  It is also home to the deadliest aviation incident in history (at that time).  Two airplanes collided on a runway at the island’s airport, which was an unscheduled stop for both flights.

The way Richard killed the doctor is exactly the same as the way Desmond killed Inman in Live Together, Die Alone: An unintentional blow to the back of the head.

I don’t know why this didn’t hit me until now: The Black Rock.  When Jacob sent Ricardos back to MiB, he sent with him a white rock as a gift.  This was the white rock Flocke took from the balance in the cave and tossed into the ocean. Black rock, white rock. Light, dark. Good, evil.  Just another wonderful detail that makes Lost so much fun.

You’d be freaked out, too, if you saw a giant statue in the middle of the ocean.

Smokey went after the ship, just like he did the cabin of Oceanic 815.  Is attacking new visitors to the island his way of ensuring Jacob doesn’t succeed?  He kills everyone to eliminate anyone who might be a candidate but leaves those who he thinks can be his recruit?

Okay, the boar eating one of the dead slaves was gross, but was I the only one who wondered if the boar Ricardos and MiB roasted later on was the same one?  I don’t think I could eat a boar that I just watched eat a person.

I noticed two strange camera shots in this episode.  The first occurred with MiB talking to Ricardos in the ship, the second when Jacob questioned him on the beach about his encounter with MiB.  Both shots were abnormally close up, almost fish-eyed. Did anyone else catch that?

Hurley takes a Jacob line telling Isabella that sometimes it takes people a while to see what they need to see.  That scene was almost as great as the Desmond-Penny phone call in The Constant. Had we had more build up with their relationship, it would have been equal.

In their conversation at the end of the episode, MiB tells Jacob not to gloat because “It doesn’t become you.” What does that mean?  Perhaps he is telling Jacob that winning over Ricardos doesn’t mean Ricardos is a candidate to take his place, or to become him.

We’re probably in for a bit of a downer next week, coming off an episode as great as this.

The Flash Door Map

Lost was a lot of work to watch, no doubt about it.  Being a dedicated Lost fan was tough because you knew you were in it for the long haul.

I don’t care what the show is about, how it is structured or who is in it. I just want a good relationship.

It’s this commitment that has to be there for a show to ascend to carry the mantle of “the next Lost.”  TV watchers talk about the structure of the drama, the complexity of the plot and the chemistry among the characters, but a show with all of those things won’t reach Lost-like heights if viewers aren’t ready to commit.  The harder a show makes it to be a fan, the harder it will be for us to commit.

If ABC wants freshman dramas Flash Forward and V to fill the gap about to be left by the end of Lost, it has a funny way of showing it.  Both shows were put on a three-month hiatus after Thanksgiving, allowing budding fans to virtually forget about the show and, perhaps more importantly, missing out on great promo opportunities in the run up to the February 2 premier of Lost.  (ABC’s horrid V promo notwithstanding.)

Now, both shows are back in full swing but only one is likely to make a second season.  The going money appears to be on V, but I’ve never watched one second of an episode so I can’t say whether or not it deserves to come back.  I have, however, watched every episode of Flash Forward from before and after the break.  With that experience, I can unequivocally say that it absolutely deserves a second season.

The true mythology of Lost began to unfold in season two as characters discovered clues in the hatch indicating that there was more to the island than rumbles in the jungle would indicate.  The biggest clue came when Locke saw the blast door map during a lockdown.  Flash Forward got its blast door map last week when Dyson Frost built a massive maze of the futures he saw in his hundreds of flash forwards, all of which lead to one date: December 12, 2016. The end.

We saw the map wash away after Mark saved Dimitri from the elaborate set up Frost created to bring about the future in which Dimitri dies and Frost lives.  This isn’t that different from what happened with the blast door map, as we only saw that once as well.  But what is important to the show’s long-term success is that Frost’s futures map gives us something to latch on to and debate about.

Unfortunately I’m not finding any screen caps of it anywhere, including ABC’s official website, which is indicative of the show’s general lack of passionate support.  ABC needs to get this image up on its site so that fans can engage and start talking about it.

Through what I feel has been a largely disappointing final season, I’ve come to realize that it was not the characters that drew me into Lost – it was the mystery.  Characters of course have their own mysteries, but it’s the larger mysteries of the island and Dharma that I found most intriguing.

Flash Forward has its mysteries, too, and it is setting them up and knocking them down light years faster than Lost ever has.  The pilot and the second-half premier contained more plot revelations and progress than an entire season of the senior megadrama. I like that, and I’m betting the primetime TV audience will, too.

 

Would You See?

“If you’re dead – and that’s a big if – wouldn’t you want to know how it happens?  Ya, but if you know maybe you can prevent it.”

What did you see?

That has been the pre-eminent question for the characters in Flash Forward through the first three episodes.  It wouldn’t be much of a show if everyone saw themselves sitting in their respective cubicles filing TPS reports, so of course each character is pulling his or her hair out over what they saw.  Last week, in episode three, we saw the flash forward of a new character trying to deal his way out of a German prison.  But unlike the rest of the main characters, what he saw after he woke up from the blackout may be more important than what he saw during the 2:17 in question.

In his case, seeing his near-future brought obvious pleasure as he was out of prison.  But as we learned with the other characters, the future isn’t always so bright.  Which has be wondering: If you could have a flash forward, would you?

Would you see?

Would you be willing to take a glimpse of your future knowing you could see your comfortable world turned upside down?  You’re pregnant but don’t know how.  You’re with a child you thought killed in war.  You’re with another man.

You don’t see anything.

I would.  How could you not?  A glimpse of your future?!?  If not for the sake of curiousity, then for a chance at answering the age-old question: Can you change the future?

Here we come to the essence of Lost and what will certainly play a central role in the plot as Flash Forward unfolds.  The Lost characters believe you can, a point Jack brought them to with varying degrees of difficulty.  Rather, they believe you can at least try, or should try if the future you would prevent is worth preventing.

Agent John Benford apparently also believes you should try to prevent the future if you know it will be less than desirable; we’ve seen him burn his daughter’s friendship bracelet.  But then we also see him trying to recreate the bulletin board he sees in his flash forward, so maybe he is conflicted between wanting to prevent a future in which he will have gone back to drinking and lost his wife to another man, no this sucks.

The Lost-Flash Forward similarities continue to mount

“It’s called a leap of faith, Jack.”

The epic confrontation between Jack Shepard and John Locke outside the orchid station in the Lost season four finale put it all on the line in the never-ending debate between the faithful and the faithless.  There hasn’t been a defining moment of that magnitude yet with Flash Forward, but a discussion of faith does arise with the show’s central characters as they face the prospect of a future they have already seen and don’t much care to see again.

Time and Destiny

Time travel of one sort or another emerged as a central plot device during Lost’s fifth season and fans responded with a massive collective nose bleed.  It doesn’t seem at this point like we’ll see the Flashies jumping back and forth throughout the calendar, but destiny is approaching center stage, and with it comes the endless debate over whether or not you can change the future.

The Losties – primarily Jack – believe you can change the future and enough believe you should at least try that they were willing to give Jack a shot at it.  In Flash Forward, the jury is still out.  Agent Benford took a tentative step toward affecting the future by burning his daughter’s friendship bracelet, but neither show seems to buy into the butterfly effect so the effect of this on changing the entire course of his flash forward is doubtful.  We are definitely seeing destiny begin to unfold as the characters start to come into contact with the people they will see in their flash forwards.

Flash Maybe

Like most television viewers, I first heard of ABC’s new mega-drama Flash Forward during Lost’s “The Incident” parts one and two last May.  The timing of its introduction coupled with the obvious connection between the title and one of Lost’s signature plot devices make comparisons between the two shows inevitable.

Is this fair?  Yes, I think it is.  ABC is clearly wants Lost’s fanatical fans to throw themselves into Flash Forward with equal dedication.  The fact that fan favourite Dominic Mohagan is slated to star in the series (though he was not in the pilot) should certainly help that cause.  Casting Sonia Walger as the main character’s wife will help as well.  (Does this signal that Walger’s already light duties as Penny will be even less needed in Lost’s final season?)

Even without ABC’s attempt to link the two shows, comparing Fast Forward to Lost is fair for the plain and simple fact that, over its five seasons, Lost established itself as the gold standard for intricate serial dramas (which I call mega-dramas).  To not compare the two would be like not comparing Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus.

But it would be unfair to judge one episode of Flash Forward against more than 100 episodes of Lost, so let’s not rush to judge Flash Forward.  Instead I’ll just note some observations without casting judgment.

What jumped out to me most about the premier of Flash Forward is that it seemed to cover an awful lot of ground awfully quickly.  Our characters learned that everyone on the planet blacked out for two minutes, seventeen seconds.  They also surmised that rather than merely dreaming, everyone had a pre-memory vision of where they would be at 10 p.m. pacific daylight time on April 29, 2010.  We even got several looks at what the show’s central characters saw.  This is obviously significant, they realize, and decide to investigate.  The final scene had two characters learning that someone was awake during the blackout in a cliffhanger that I have to admit left me with chills.

Think back to the beginning of Lost.  The pilot gave us a plane crash, a brief introduction to the central characters and a tantalizing glimpse at the mysteries that lurked in the jungle.  Then, the show spent another 23 episodes enduring us to the characters while dropping enough mystery morsels to gradually build our interest.

Flash Forward could have gone this direction, but it seems that the writers have not.  I can easily imagine a first season with episodes focused on each character’s glimpse into the future, each one weaving an ever-intricate web with the others.  Along the way we would get bits and pieces of the big mystery, closing the season with the big reveal that someone (or a lot of someones) stayed conscious through the blackout.

The fact that the Flash Forward writers crammed so much into the pilot doesn’t mean they chose to forgo the kind of in-depth character development that Lost is known for, but it does sound a potential alarm.  The pace of reveals in the pilot seemed forced, to the point that it was getting a little ridiculous.  If that keeps up, it could signal that the show won’t spend the time enticing its viewers with an emotional investment in the show, choosing to wow them with one plot twist after another instead.  Doing so would misdiagnose the reasons for Lost’s success.  Yes, it has mind-blowing plot twists, but without the painstaking – sometimes too painstaking – level of detail and devotion the show built up the fans would have long ago given up on the show.

To be successful, Flash Forward must find a way to give its viewers more than just a mysterious plot.  Last year’s Lost season finale had us all hoping against hope that Sawyer would hold on to Juliet in the mineshaft because we love Sawyer and wanted to see him happy.  The fact that I can’t recall a single character’s name from Flash Forward’s premier episode means the show has work to do before building the loyal followers ABC wants to keep tuned to the network when Lost ends.