Not A Dream! Not An Imaginary Story!

Why I haven’t had much to say about “Lost” this season

For a while there, the recaps of “Lost” were the only thing keeping this weblog going. I haven’t had anything to say about Season 6 so far, and I was kind of hoping nobody would notice. There are three main reasons for that:

  1. I haven’t had much free time.
  2. The only character/actor I cared about any more left “Lost” for another series.
  3. I don’t know what the hell is going on this season.

It bugs me to say “I don’t know what’s going on” because I get the creepy suspicion there’s some Echelon-style technology that some executive at ABC is using to scan the internet for “Lost” confusion and present a spreadsheet explaining exactly why the series should be dumbed down. I can’t think how else to explain the “pop-up videos” thing they do for the previous week’s rerun, which does nothing more than explain the scene that you just watched as you’re watching it. This is indeed a series that plays around with varying timelines and packs a ton of detail into each episode; that’s a big part of why people love it. And I’ve seen every episode of the series, and I still can’t remember all the details and side characters enough to pick up on all the call-backs and cameos (e.g. the “Always Sunny” guy was on “Lost” before, apparently). It’d be helpful to have something pop up and say “this guy appeared in season 3” or “this is the book that was used in Juliet’s book club.” It’s not helpful to have something pop up and say “Claire is Jack’s half-sister!” or “Claire just killed a guy with an axe!”

But even though I’ve never been able to keep up with the details, I’ve at least been able to follow the meat of what was going on. And although the biggest complaint about the series has always been with how they withhold information, that’s also one of the best things about the series. (The other is the enormous range of reference material they draw from, including numbers stations and 70s science communes and horror fiction and introductory-level philosophy). They mastered the art of telling stories in parallel, and then went on to throw in a twist in subsequent seasons: the flashbacks turned into flash-forwards turned into outright time traveling.

With season 6, though, they’ve kind of broken it. Anybody could understand the concept of flashbacks to before they landed on the island. And the reveal of the flash-forwards was done with a brilliant season-end twist; we all started out the episode believing we were seeing more flashbacks, and then realized at the end of that episode that we’d jumped forward in time. And later, when they introduced the time traveling, there were a ton of complaints that the show had suddenly “gotten weird.” But it was easy enough to ask, “Where the heck have you been?” and point out that the show’s always been weird. Time traveling, I can handle, especially with weaselly Dr. Faraday (whose name I already had to look up, see above re: my faulty memory) acknowledging that that’s what’s going on.

Now, the big two remaining mysteries of the series, the only ones that we’re going to get real closure on, are: 1) Who are Jacob and the other guy, exactly? and 2) How do these flash-sideways connect to the ongoing storyline? Lindelof and Cuse have claimed, repeatedly, that we’re going to get answers to both questions, and I don’t doubt that. They also acknowledge that it’s a risky move, and it can be confusing, and that it’ll require patience, and that’s where I have a problem.

Not that it’s risky — I think a huge part of why the show is so successful is that they rarely let it get too conventional. Or that it’s confusing or requires patience — it’s too easy to counter with “they shouldn’t dumb the show down” or, if you prefer, “maybe you should go watch ‘NCIS’.” My problem is that it’s unnecessarily confusing; I think it’s withholding the wrong kind of information. When you strand people on an island and tell me that I’m going to have to wait to find out what the island is and why they’re there, that’s fine; I’m intrigued. When you hold out on the entire premise of the season, though, that’s where I just get annoyed, because I don’t have any context as to why I should care.

I make a habit of not reading too much of the online chatter on message boards or fansites, both because it tends to be kind of lame (that whole ARG that supposedly explained what the numbers were turned out to be a massive disappointment), and because I don’t care about the extraneous details and would rather let the show speak for itself. But this season, there’s a lot of stuff that’s relevant to the story that you can’t get just by watching the show. You’ve got to read interviews and watch extra-content videos, stuff that used to give an “extra dimension” to the show, but now is a prerequisite. In that Entertainment Weekly interview, they casually drop that alternate-Kate killed someone other than her stepfahter, which was revealed in some Comic-Con video. But then they claim that that’s not important. Well, yeah, guys, that’s pretty damn important if we’ve got any hope of making sense of what you’re expecting us to watch each week.

I’d seen a mention somewhere that they were refusing to call the flash-sideways an “alternate reality.” I took that to mean that it’s all part of one reality, that the bomb detonation had somehow rewritten history, and that the parallel storylines would converge in 2007. There’s a recurring theme of fate and determinism, so it seemed fitting that even wildly different histories could somehow play out to bring about the same events; e.g. even if Oceanic 815 hadn’t crashed, they all would’ve found themselves on that island somehow. It wasn’t until last week’s episode (“Sundown”) that suggested that wasn’t the case (Dogen’s story in the present conflicts with the version we saw at the piano recital), and then this week’s (“Dr. Linus”) all but confirms that’s not the case (Ben talks about stuff that happens in the “real” timeline that directly contradict things we saw in the “sideways” timeline).

So in short (too late): each week, they’re broadcasting 30 minutes of clean-up on a series, mixed in with 30 minutes of a different series that I don’t really care about. The clean-up sections are still “Lost”-style frustrating — did we really need to introduce yet another character who refuses to answer questions? Haven’t the castaways learned by now that if you ask somebody a question and they don’t answer, you punch them repeatedly until they answer? And what possible reason could there be for not just looking to see whose name was on number 108 in the lighthouse?

The other series would be like if Marvel had replaced their entire comic line with “What If?” stories. What if Jack had a son with his own daddy issues?! What if Rose worked at an employment agency?! What if Ben had been a history teacher?! You can’t tell me that I’m going to care about these things, later on; I need to care what’s going on right now, when I’m trying to make sense of the whole thing.

I will say this, though: Emile de Ravin has been really good in her limited appearances. Claire was always in the running for least interesting character on the island, but as it turns out, she plays kind-of-crazy really well.