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The LOST Experience


Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching LOST on DVD and on “video tapes my friends made for me on their antique VHS equipment,” if you take my meaning. I watched the first few episodes of the show when it debuted in 2004, and enjoyed it quite a bit, but didn’t want to commit to a relationship with a TV show, even one as good as this. However, as LOST references have been creeping into the nerd vocabulary with increasing frequency I soon came to realize that unless I took swift action and watched LOST I was going to miss out on understanding what everyone was going on about. I did that with BUFFY and I’ve regretted it ever since. I had managed to avoid reading about it excessively but a few things — the numbers, the deaths of certain characters — had slid by. Still I was pretty fresh coming into the 50-odd existing episodes of the show.

I’ve now watched them all, and watched last nights episode “live” for the first time since 2004. So here are my thoughts on LOST, and it’s place in our nerd firmament, and there are many spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet, so it’s all in the jump.

First off, the one thing I’ve heard about is how LOST sucked in seasons 2 and 3. I have to say, watching it in marathon chunks, the opposite is true. Maybe this is part of the problem. As one of my friends quipped, “LOST shows that episodic television is being killed by the wait-for-the-DVD crowd.” That may not even be a joke, really.

Season 2 was one cliffhanger after another, with the mystery of the Hatch and “Henry Gale” becoming the driving force. Season 3 is a little odder. I liked the first six episodes, (Jack-Sawyer-Kate held prisoner) but the new season has been hit or miss. I literally nodded off during the Jack’s tattoos episode, and it had some of the worst dialog ever. Or maybe I just hate Bai Ling.

I kind of reject the notion that mysteries must be solved. COME ON PEOPLE, what would be the point? I do agree that the anticipation over mysteries can rarely be surpassed by the revelation itself, and that is a problem for Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and the rest of the writing crew, but if too much was answered too soon you would have a soap opera on a desert island without punching, fighting, and people getting shot in every episode.

But that is part of the problem with the nature of serial television. THE PRISONER is still the greatest TV show ever — 16 episodes and out, no questions answered. Nearly 40 years later, people are still arguing over it, and finding new things in it. God bless you, Patrick McGoohan, wherever you are.

LOST’s creators are not as lucky. If this had been a three year series, it would probably already be one of the greatest shows ever, but it isn’t, and it’s still pretty damned good.

But not perfect. While watching the DVDs, I remember some of the things that made me not like television:

TV acting and pacing. Especially in flashbacks, in times of stress people tend to stare at the camera a long time, look down, look back up and utter a line I knew they were going to say. I know they have to kill time, but this stuff takes me right out of it and makes me snooze. It is TV at its most predictable.

The characters must be dumb and action oriented.

Look, if I were stuck on a desert island with polar bear and hatches and ,y friends getting kidnapped and what not, I would spend every waking moment not spent finding food and shelter chewing over every single little thing that had happened on the island, like writing it down and snooping and investigating. I haven’t listened to every podcast or read every interview, but it seems the producers do not want to have characters discussing the actual content of the show. Instead every scene begins with something like “Hey, Charlie, have you seen Locke lately, [because he did something just before the last commercial break and it is still bothering me.]” or “Hey, Sun, have you seen Kate lately [because I really have the hots for her.]” That kind of stuff.

I wish LOST could do a clip show where everyone just sits around and TALKS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED. That would be the best episode ever. Or maybe that is what the Internet is for.

There are also things that are LOST-centric that I both enjoy and dislike.

• I don’t think the writers are making it up as they go along, but the characters do get progressively dumber. In the first few episodes, Sayid was Mr. Fixit with the radio stuff, and after they discovered the hatch everyone seemed to ignore its technology. Like that would really happen? Perhaps this is part of the “purgatory” set-up of the show, but it still annoys me.

• One dimensional characters. Yes, yes, they are all lovable and attractive, but even though everyone seems to have this interesting good/bad dichotomy going on, they also seem to have lost any interesting quirks. The exceptions are Sawyer and Hurley, who are both the comic relief. And yes, I know Sawyer is mad popular. How can you not love a sexy con man who likes to read Ayn Rand? Who also gets beat up, stabbed, shot, and humiliated all the time–chicks really dig that hero in jep thing. Slash ahoy! But I would hazard a guess that Sawyer ‘s little character quirks are also part of what makes him popular — certainly in the writer’s room, if no where else. The other characters are mostly defined by their backstories. Although I do like the fact that Paulo’s main function so far is to go take a dump at odd moments. We may have something here and it beatsplaying RuPaul in ancient Greece.

Oh yeah and Locke. Locke also has quirks, or at least he changes, and that is always interesting. I’m not too sure why he’s blowing up everything in sight lately, and it’s kind of annoying. It’s getting so if you find a place with running water, it is sure to be blown to smithereens in a little while. I wouldn’t place bets on the Others’ village standing by the end of Season 3.

I don’t think LOST has jumped the shark, but the stress of not knowing how long the thing has to go is showing on the writing. I have listened to a few of the podcasts (LOST is so much a creation of the internet — now that I’m hep to the canon, I have so much ancillary material to digest I may never get through it) and Lindelof and Cuse keep making references to “the fans.” That is terribly, terribly worrying. Catering to the fans is always the kiss of death, do you hear me? Have you learned nothing from the comics industry? Make a plan and stick to it. Of course, Michael Emerson as Henry/Ben was a great character based on a wonderful performance, so you had to keep him going, but for God’s sakes don’t do it because the “fans” demand it. If that is really what happens, no wonder ratings are down.

If only there was a way to get a MESSAGE to them about this terrible danger…I know everyone on the writing staff is a big comics nerd, but I don’t think any of them read The Beat…unless….wait…Brian K. Vaughan, the new LOST staff writer. He’ll take our phone calls! We’ve got to get through to him!

Brian! Can you hear me? The fans are bad! Stay away from the fans! The fans are b–

  1. Hmmm…well, Lindelof has said in interviews that the ideal plan is five seasons and then a theatrical film to answer all the mysteries left.

  2. Hopefully, a LOST film exists for more than just to answer the remaining mysteries.

    Absolutely, the fans are bad! Stick to your story. The ones who keep bitching about how “confusing it all is” are weak willed anyways.

  3. Wait, there’s a damn magic box on the island, a literal deus ex machina, and I’m supposed to keep believing they aren’t making this up as they’re going along?

  4. I hate it. I love it.
    Loved last night. I had been a victim of Lost. Reading blogs. Buying books referenced in the series. Searching for answers. Season 2 lacked at times. This (3.5) season, I think has picked it up. Season 3 was crap. Is there Lost medication to stabilize this condition?
    Clicking on this link just to read your thoughts show that people (me including) are still talking, reading and writing about the show.
    Could be worse, could be talking about Dancing with the Stars.

  5. Entertainment aside, the show is also a very interesting media experiment to watch.

    The fake commercials that used to run during the commercial breaks is an ingenious ploy to get people to sit through the ads. The Dharma Corp / Hanso Corp have cool fake Web sites to tantalize Internet sleuths. Amazon book sales skyrocket for the titles that get shown on the island, attracting people looking for clues. Fake blogs, real blogs, etc., etc.,

    The writers are telling the story across different mediums and have turned it into an immersive experience for those who want it to be one. The audience can experience as much or as little of the story as they want. The fans also become involved in the story through debate and speculation (like this), and a lot of the mystery is getting filled in by the viewers’ imaginations.

  6. Amen to that, The Beat! I totally agree with you. I love the show, and though it can be maddening sometimes, I really get annoyed with the whiney fans. If you’re going to sit for a story, you have to trust the storytellers.

  7. First Season was great, because it relied heavily on Flashbacks that added to the characters. Season 2 added a bunch of new survivors (now mostly dead or gone) and focused on them quite a bit and the hatch. Which weakened the storyline a bit. Season 3 has been better than 2 not as good as one so far, thought last nights was the BOMB (pun intended). The whole conversation with Ben and Locke was fantastic. Can’t wait to see the whole origin of Ben episode :)
    Glad you joined the club Heidi

  8. Each season has suffered from having about half a season’s worth of actual story. In the first season the dry period came in the second half, in which they had to concoct silly conflicts and poisoning schemes to mark time until they could blow open the hatch at the end. The second and third seasons have both suffered from having the foot-dragging in the first half, and in the current season people are getting impatient because they’re far enough along that they expect the narrative to be going full steam ahead, hence the notion that the show has lost its way or never had a plan to begin with. Looks like we just turned the corner.

  9. As far as The Prisoner goes, didn’t they make a wrap-up show years later and explain everything? Is this part of TV continuity that we pretend never happened (a la Mopee)? Or am I just going crazy and I invented the whole ending myself?

  10. Letting fans on the internet drive your writing? Bad idea.

    “Snakes on a Plane,” anyone?

    And frankly, when I can say the line before the character does, that tells me these boneheads are getting paid too much, because I could write it. Way too predictable when you allow others to do your job for you. Write it yourself, doofus, and then maybe it’ll be worth watching again.

  11. Good post, Heidi!

    At First Second we have our ritual Thursday morning chat (see the doodle from day 1 of Season 3: http://firstsecondbooks.typepad.com/mainblog/2007/02/are_we_getting_.html )

    The gripes are there, but damn is the thing enjoyable. It’s funny, the last few months when I’ve been editing our authors, my comments refer most to two sources for examples of things: McKee’s STORY and LOST SEASON 1.

    It’s true, storytelling should stay away from polls, but I like the way LOST feels both controlled and out of control. Or that Jack was originally due to be killed off in episode 1.

    And what’s with the foot statue with four toes?

  12. Steve B: I know that they filmed the last episode a year after the previous episodes had finished production, but I don’t believe they did do a show that explained everything. It remains an unsolved puzzle.

    By the way, could some one clue me up on the hate-on for Bai Ling? I recall her from The Crow and maybe an episode from Angel (and was she in the segment of Dumplings too?), but haven’t come across her since. What did she do?

  13. By day, I edit comics. By night I lead a second life writing about Lost.

    Cheap plugs for some major posts of mine on The Fuselage:

    *Relating the show to The Watchmen: http://www.thefuselage.com/Threaded/showthread.php?t=38267

    *Using the phrase, “Live Together, Die Alone” as a lens through which to examine the show: http://www.thefuselage.com/Threaded/showthread.php?t=70094

    And here’s my episode recaps: http://spirespike.livejournal.com/tag/lost+my+mind

    I agree with all your points Heidi, except for the need for the characters to talk to each other more. While it may make for less frustrating TV, I think it’s unrealistic to expect them to trust each other enough to share everything with each other. We want them to do it only because we already know so much.

    This Wednesday’s is supposed to be quite a special event…

  14. Bai Ling was in the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

    My sister and I tune in just to hear what nickname Sawyer can come up with next for his fellow plane crash survivors.

    They had an episode where they all had a bet with Sawyer to see if he could stop doing it for a week.

    Oh Heidi – there were 17 episodes of the Prisoner – not 16.


  15. I”m a little late on this, but i note that i agree with most everything you say.

    I will add one comment becuase this site is the only place where someone will understand.

    During season 1 Locke reminded me alot of J’onn J’onzz.

    It was partly cause of the baldness, but that weird mysteriously helpful all knowing aura he had about him sort of strenghned it.

  16. Great analysis, except for the one major note-

    Fans are bad? Sure, fans are vocal, passionate and demanding- but bad? Is there nothing to be said for the equity built up for watching, supporting, interacting and promoting this show? Yeah, comics is by-far on the extreme end of this scale, but one of the reasons LOST is so great is that the writers don’t lock themselves away in some isolated hatch. They hear their fans reactions and theories so they can deliver a greater suprize. Maybe people stopped watching in Season 3 because they STOPPED listening to fans like they did in Season 2. Don’t worry Heidi, you’ll become jaded and frustrated with us live watchers soon enough.

    You better hope the LOST writers don’t follow your advice or else… they won’t… listen to your advice anymore. :?:

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