Wednesday, May 19, 2010

WWDMCD: LOST's Final Countdown

LOST has been limping towards the finish line these last couple weeks, speeding along in a bizarre three-legged race of island mythology, castaway survival games and Sideways World drama. Its final season has been intriguing, invigorating and occasionally frustrating, and no two-episode span better captured that than this latest one-two punch of “Across the Sea” and “What They Died For”.

As the penultimate episode in a historic series, “What They Died For” gave us some serious answers and did some serious setup. But I’d also argue they made some serious mistakes. As LOST winds down, I can’t help but feel that the great and formidable minds behind it are moving to the wrong beats. There isn’t enough time. There isn’t enough pull in the story. And when we DO get the motivated drama the final countdown calls for, it just doesn’t seem to hit right.

I felt it when I was watching last week, and I felt it again this week. Something’s…off. And nothing put that into perspective as much as viewing this week’s episode of 24.

The coinciding third to last hour in the series finals days, 24’s Jack-on-the-run episode hit with power and purpose. Over the course of the season our hero has slowly disintegrated into a single-minded, no-thread beast of a man. He’s at war with virtually everybody. Even his allies don’t think he’s in the right. And as Jack has devolved into a brute-force weapon of personal justice, the stakes have never felt higher. There is no coming back from this, and we know it.

This is what LOST is supposed to feel like, and in some ways it does. But the question of “How will it end?” is overshadowing our implicit emotional understanding of the finality we’re about to witness. People are dieing off left and right in LOST’s final days, and more are sure to follow. But these deaths feel cluttered and occasionally meaningless. They happen more because they are supposed to, and not because the story NEEDS them to. And they are too often a missed opportunity.

So while it’s borderline (or entirely across the line) blasphemy to suggest what the geniuses behind LOST should have done differently, this is a WWDMCD entry, so I feel obligated to do just that.


In “What They Died For” we witnessed the deaths of two key LOST characters, and one count of collateral damage. Richard, powerless and meaningless in the LOST universe now that his mystery is gone and his deity is defeated, walked into a field and into a certain death we all saw coming. Sure enough, Smokey swooped in and took him out without a word. He may NOT be dead – we haven’t seen his last breath. But we can assume since Smokey, like the series, no longer needed him that Richard is no more.

Really, Richard has been useless since his origin story episode, which itself only existed to give us answers. Since then he’s been a sidekick, and not a very interesting one. Now if they’d just gone ahead and killed Richard off in that very origin story episode, his death would have had kick. It would have been isolated, and a standout. “They just killed the immortal! No one is safe!”

Instead they lumped him in with Smokey’s warpath, and we were left to wonder why he was even there at all.

The same can be said for Charles Whidmore, a man who spent the entire series trying to get back to the island, only to return and essentially do…nothing. He brought a sub. And more importantly, he brought Desmond. But in the end it seems that was his only real purpose, his supposed “war” with Smokey a non-happening. Considering how easily Smokey and his manipulated crew dispatched Team Whidmore, you have to wonder why we spent so much time on them in the first place.

The answer, of course, is mystery. Intrigue. The LOST foundation. And with that out of the way, Whidmore and his Annoying Nerdy Woman Assistant bought the big one. It was fitting that Ben was the one to end Whidmore’s life. But it would have been MORE fitting if there was any sort of showdown or other possible outcome in the scenario. Whidmore was in that room to die. I have no idea what he thought he could do in the first place. But if you contrast this with Ben’s showdown with Whidmore’s special forces team two seasons back, and the emotional outcome of that showdown’s deathly result (Ben’s daughter being executed) it’s plain to see how this non-showdown pales in comparison. Whidmore showed up. Whidmore died. The end. How very, very uninteresting.

Death was something LOST used to do well. Ben’s daughter, AnnaMaria, Michael etc. – all met a fitting end. And most important, their deaths had impact. At this point LOST is just dispatching useless characters. That isn’t impactful. That isn’t raising the stakes. That’s just inevitability, and poorly felt inevitability at that.

A few episodes back, LOST hit us hard with the Jin/Sun/Sayid sub-slaughter. They probably threw in Lapidus to boot, though he falls more logically in Richard’s “probably dead” category. For Sayid, there was purpose. This was his chance at redemption, and redemption is what LOST is all about.

But for Jin/Sun, the deaths didn’t feel quite right. They were written off for the same reason as Richard/Whidmore, of course – they’re multi-season long quest for a reunion had ended, and their LOST purpose was fulfilled. You can just feel in the LOST writers sitting in a room and thinking “well, we’ve got everybody trapped in a sub with a ticking bomb. Someone has to die. Plus, we need to show our viewers that no one is safe. The easiest way to do this would be to kill Jack, but we need him. We could kill Kate or Sawyer, but they’re too important. And no one wants to see Hurley go, the big lug. So how about Jin/Sun? Why, that’s perfect! They’ve finally reunited. Let’s make sure they can never be apart again…”

You can see the logic behind it. You can argue that it had to happen. But the story reasoning is terribly transparent, and their deaths will forever be lumped together, a casualty of a bigger and more important story beat.

Obviously there’s a great deal of logic behind these decisions, and these are hard decisions to make. But you know what would have made a lot of these tough decisions easier and more convenient? Not spending an entire episode on island mythology.

The only thing I could think when Jacob finally sat down his candidates for a fire-pit powwow last night was how perfectly it would have fit into last week’s episode. The benefit of blending the fireside soiree with the Jacob/MIB back story of "Across the Sea" would have been twofold – it would have continued the through line of island drama in last week’s episode, and it would have given more weight to the fire pit sequence. Jack’s decision to take on the Island Protector gig was huge, if also inevitable. In correlation with Jacob being forced to, we could have better felt that moment. It would have hit harder. And it would have been more appropriate.

It’s all about the drama, and the drama in LOST’s final stretch has felt a little blasé. I love this show. I respect the people behind it. I know they’re under a lot of pressure, and I know there’s a lot to wrap up in very little time. But that’s precisely why you don’t spend an entire episode avoiding your main storyline.

LOST isn’t infallible. They’ve taken some wrong turns, pressed the wrong buttons before. And they’ve always come out strong in the end. I remain confident that they will again do just that. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have done it better.


Amy said...

Nicely said, thanks Dub Mc.

The Bru said...

Very well done, sir. May I also add my frustration with how Sayid was dispatched after all that he's gone through in the series? And after all the "Sayid is evil" track that he's been on this season? The death of Jin and Sun was sad. However, Sayid's death just came out of nowhere (which is good) but lacked the emotional punch it would have had if we had had some moments to reflect on it.

DubMC said...

Bru - I agree that Sayid's death came as rather sudden. And it was obviously a casualty of plotting. That evil thing really never went anywhere, and was never really explained. And that all sucks.

BUT...I would also argue that "everything he's gone through this season" is precisely the reason he needed to go out the way he did. It was very Michael.

I dunno. Sayid has always been a hot/cold character to me, and it feels like he got shafter a bit this year. Maybe even the last TWO years. So I feel your dissapointment.


Related Posts with Thumbnails