Category Archives: Lost

John Locke was a sucker

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I came to Lost after watching the first season on DVD a short time before the second season aired. I immediately fell in love. It began as an odd engaging story about an interesting group of characters. The writers threw monkey wrenches into the castaway narrative and tapped into cultural anxieties and preoccupations with subjects like torture and technophobia. The world was rich and the puzzles were interesting. As the series has worn on, it has lost that initial flare. Season three meandered around; then it found its footing again in season four (after it was given a future end point to aim for). Season five’s detour into the past and Faraday’s version of a “time wimey wibbly wobbly” universe was an interesting narrative twist that allowed the story to stay fresh while also pushing it forward to something big.

Though the story had remained intriguing enough on its own, the ball was dropped when it came to character development. Love interests shifted, new characters were introduced to keep things lively, but the original lostaways stagnated. Kate runs away. Jack has daddy issues and a fix it fetish. Hurley is meta. Sun loves Jin. Jin loves Sun and learns English. Sayid is tortured by his past as a torturer (so clever!). Sawyer is a savvy con man with a heart of gold, and so on. These are all things we learned about them in season one. Here we are now, in season six, and no one has changed. It’s telling to me that the most interesting and engaging characters, Desmond, Ben, and Richard (his episode this season was a noteworthy highpoint) are not part of the original group of castaways.

Season six continues to lack momentum with regard to the characters; even in the sideways universe everyone is essentially the same. But aside from my issues with the lack of character growth, last night’s episode crystallized for me what’s been lacking in throughout all of season six.

Last night on Lost, Jack and notLocke finally had a chat. After first exchanging meaningful gazes illuminated by eerie torchlight  (where do they come from – btw), the MIB revealed why he chose Locke for his grand plan, which essentially boiled down to Locke’s misplaced faith that he had a destiny, that he was special, and that the Island needed him. But really he was just a sucker, an easily manipulated sad sack of a little man, who was used and abused his entire life. Don’t tell him what to do but tell him he’s special and he’ll do anything you want. Now, this could all end up changing in the last few hours of the series and Locke might prove himself heroic in the end (maybe in the sideways world), but as it stands at the moment, John Locke is sad little man. “John Locke was not a believer. He was a sucker.”

When FauxLocke* declared this to Jack, I realized I also felt like a sucker. There’s been a conversation going on between the people who want answers and the people who are content with watching characters they know and love trying to finally find whatever it is they’re going to find. I’m firmly entrenched in the latter camp, and have always been more interested in how Lost told its stories and the central mystery: what is the island? For me, this is the key and was set up in the pilot when Charlie asks “Guys where are we?”) and how Lost told its stories (flashbacks, forwards, and across time).** We’ve learned some answers this season, the Island is a like a cork in a wine bottle keeping darkness (evil?) from the world. Okay, I can get behind that. But where’s the tension. What exactly are the stakes? What really will happen if the Smoke Monster is unleashed into the world? What’s Widmore’s stake in all of this, and why isn’t there more of Eloise because she is awesome? The danger doesn’t feel real. The end of world very well might be nigh, but Jacob and Widmore are  vague about what that might actually mean. Each episode, the game continues as pieces move around the board, and it’s all supposed to be leading to an explosive finale. Except all the moves have been boring and even predicable. Lost had always been exciting. Season six just hasn’t been exciting to watch. Even The Last Recruit’s big explosions were boring.

I also have trouble buying the argument that though it might seem slow and not adding up to much right now, it will all make sense in the end and be awesome when you watch it on DVD later. I want it to be awesome now. I’ve spent a lot of time with Lost. It was a major case study in my dissertation. But right now, I feel a little like John Locke. I believed it would all be worth it in the end, but really, I feel like a sucker. I never hoped that all the questions would be answered. It doesn’t bother me that we’ll never learn what was special about Walt, or about any of the other countless other mysteries and red herrings thrown into the mix. Just take me on an exciting adventure and I’ll be happy.

*All of the different names for the MIB/Locke are fun. Why not use as many as possible?

** Despite initially also being drawn in by certain characters.

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Dollhouse’s sense of an ending

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I haven’t blogged about Dollhouse since way back in February. There I wondered if the series would ever get to its meaty center of philosophical questions about identity, the mind, body and experience. It’s safe to say that season two has delivered on all counts. “Meet Jane Doe” does a decent job of making the engagement of the week episodes of season one relevant to the development of Echo’s composite personality. Still much of what happened in the early episodes wasn’t necessary to demonstrate the full implications of Echo’s new abilities. Dushku has come into her own through the Echo character and Enver Gjokaj continues to amaze us all with his power to become anyone and everyone.

But I started this post not so much to ruminate on the awesomeness of the series (which has, by-the-by, become one I heartily recommend – even if it is with the strong caveate that you must make it through the handfull of painfull first few episodes before getting to the good stuff), but instead I’m wondering how much the pacing this season, the tightness of the storyline, and its singular focus stem from the fact that the series was canceled. Part of me seriously doubts that season 2 would be as good without the constraint of having to end the story. In fact the story has already ended on the DVD episode “Epitaph One” which was partially created as a way to finish off the series if it had not been granted a second season and as a means to fulfill contractual obligation for the DVD’s release (at least so sayeth the wiki entry).

In The Sense of an Ending Frank Kermode wrote that “We project ourselves–a small, humble elect, perhaps–past the End, so as to see the structure whole, a thing we cannot do from our spot of time in the middle.” Prime time serialized television benefits from a clear sense of an ending. In Dollhouse‘s “Epitaph One” we see the aftermath of a technological apocalypse and desire to know how the hell they got there.* Having been forced to project the series past its end allowed a structure and a more clearly defined purpose to emerge. A similar thing happened with Lost; it appeared to have a strong, if convoluted, sense of where it was going, but by season three was floundering around looking for itself. Once the decision to end it after 3 more shorter seasons it reasserted its narrative drive and became a much better series again because of it. It isn’t telescoped in the way Dollhouse was; we don’t actually know yet where Lost is going (this promo might give us some idea). Battlestar Galactica OTOH appeared to suffer from its overdetermined (find earth, have plan, shape of things to come, etc.) sense of an ending that its finale was less than satisfying. Knowing the end helps give structure to where we are now – to find meaning in the middle.My desire to consistently situate myself within whatever narrative world I’m currently living in encourages my preference for spoilers.** The surprise/reveal endings are much less interesting than how they got there and what they mean for the future. Knowing the end helps give structure to where we are now – to find more meaning in the middle. The release of “Epitaph One” as a kind of official spoiler has made this season (and through it the previous season) much more rich and interesting.

The changing nature of television, particularly network television is a perennial discussion, so much that it can get a little boring. But within this discussion, what strikes me as really odd is the sheer amount of resistance the industry has towards playing with the standard “a TV series must go on forever to be profitable and successful” line of thinking. Imagine if Dollhouse was originally only meant to be 10-13 episodes long. There’s no guarantee that it would be great – it could have been terrible- but the anxiety over cancellation, over whether or not the story would be fully told, or if we’d all be left hanging, would not have clouded our experience of it. Now, it is quite possibly the case that successful short-run series might be reliant on  writer-producer show runners with name and style recognition and fan bases, but the mere thought of mixing this type of structure into the prime time line up is unheard of.

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*The Whedonverse is littered with apocalypses; Buffy is constantly thwarting them, Angel and co. go out with a bang fighting against one, and the Firefly kids are finding their place after one.

** Case in point, all the twittering about the surprise, game-changing ending of last night’s Dexter finale lead me to search out what has happened. Once I found out I thought, wow, I cannot wait to see how it got there. I didn’t feel cheated at all, but I’m aware that this is my preference and not shared with everyone.