Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rules and Rebellion: Considering Lost Some More [updated]

Lots of people are upset about last night's episode.  About the timing and the quality of the answers, apparently.  Here are some explanations:

First, for all the folks upset at the precious antipenultimate episode lacked action and was spent on an origin story, it had to happen after the previous episode.  For reasons I do not entirely understand, Cuse and Lindelof thought that they had created doubt about Smokey's nature and that the sub-tastic betrayal finally proved his nature.  Well, I never had any doubt about Smokey once they revealed his ties to the Man In Black, but if they were sincere in this belief, then it makes sense that this episode happened now and not earlier.

Second, Cuse/Lindelof follow several of their own rules that govern their construction of the show:
  1. Do not lecture the audience in endless exposition about why things happen.  In their podcasts, they refer to the Matrix Reloaded where the Architect tells Neo everything.  And boy, we loved that movie.  Oh, we didn't?  Gotcha.
  2. Not only do they not feel compelled to explain everything, they feel that too much explanation can undermine everything a la midi-cholorians in Phantom Menace.  So they provide some answers.  But leave mysteries that we can ponder--what is the golden soup?
  3. They love ambiguity.  They do not want to provide definitive answers--they expect the Lost theorizing to continue after the show is over.  The finale will resolve some stuff but not answer everything.  So, they have the voice of "truth" be a crazy woman.  
One of my fb friends said that only two mysteries were resolved.  But I have nine listed in yesterday's column, and you can disagree with my counting, but it is certainly more than two.  And the mysteries were big ones: what is the Island? where did the rules come from (even if I am not satisfied with their binding qualities)? what is Jacob's origin?  what is Smokey's origin?  Who is the Man in Black (what is his name?  No clue.  Well, Esau perhaps, but Claudia is not a biblical name....)?  Donkey wheel.

And I realized in the shower this morning that this episode somewhat resolved the nature vs. nuture debate: twins were treated differently and they ended up becoming different.  That is, unless you think Jacob and MIB/Smokey are identical in their behavior.  Again, ambiguity that gets us thinking.  But one of the central themes of the show is about parents--not just fathers but mothers, too.  We have actually seen most of the parents of the major characters: Jack's, Kate's, Sawyer's, Hurley's, Sun's father (I have lost track of her mom), Jin's father, Locke's, Ben's, Penny's Dad, Daniel's parents (killed by one), Sayid's father, I think, and so forth.

[Updated: This raises a question--why did Jacob pick as potential candidates folks with such flawed parents?  Jack's Dad is an alcoholic, his mom a co-dependent perhaps.  Kate's Dad was worth killing and her mom facilitated.  Locke's Dad was a con artist.  Sawyer's Dad engaged in murder/suicide, Mom fell for a con artist.  Sun's father is a mob boss.  Jin's father and Hurley's mom seem to be the only good parents in the bunch.]

Similarly, Jacob's choice to drink is a key part of the fate versus free will theme as well.  Lots of choices in this episode.  Did the Step-monster have to kill the real mom?  No, she chose to do so.  Did MIB have to leave the cave and join .... The Others?  No, but he chose to do so.  Did they all have to kill each other?  Doesn't look like it.

Was this the best acted and best written episode of the season or series?  No.  Was it the most compelling and persuasive?  Probably not.  Was it necessary for the telling of the story?  Cuse and Lindelof think so. 

What is the nature of the universe?
The most widely known version appears in Stephen Hawking's 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which starts:
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!" [From wiki]
This applies to the show--"each question and answer leads to more questions."  Indeed.  So, we have an origin story for the key protagonists of the series.  You may or may not like it.  But it is pretty fundamental to the show.  You can accuse the Lost creators of many things, like, they probably didn't have a plan at the beginning of season one.  But they do have a plan now and they are incredibly conscious and conscientious.  Whether you like their story or not is up to you.  But I pushed my chips all-in a while back and am willing to follow them on this ride.  Could they have done stuff better?  Sure, but it has been a fun ride and will continue to be one.

One last note--lots of fans of Chuck were upset when Chuck and Sarah did not get together earlier this season--but it paid off when they did, and I don't just meant that we saw Sarah in lots of lingerie.  The story is not over yet.  We can only really judge it after it is over.  Of course, we can opine heaps while it is going on or else I would lose much of my blog material and most of my readers.


Unknown said...

Well said! Bottom line is the episode was fundamental to the back story and like it (or the execution of it) or not, we sure are talking about it! Just as I suspect we'll be debating the finale. Btw, good call re The Matrix/architect thing -- that ruined it for me. Well, not quite ruined - I still love it ...

Unknown said...

I just saw your update - that question kept me up last night. I don't know the answer but I do agree that it was done on purpose.

Steve Greene said...

I don't question that this was an important and necessary episode, just that it should have been better (i.e, more imaginative and creative). Again, I love when a secret is revealed and my mouth just drops. Not even close on anything revealed here. Just too much like midichlorians.