Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nothing Is Irreversible

The final season of "Lost" kicked off last night with another seismic shift to the series' already brain-twisting storytelling style.

In the first few seasons the main story arcs were fortified by extensive flashbacks. Later, they shifted from flashbacks to flash-forwards, which energized the storytelling immensely. This probably led the writers to dispense with narrative temporal shifting entirely and go with something more visceral, like actual time-shifting. The characters proceeded to temporally shift in Kurt Vonnegut Jr. fashion: In fact, they bounced through time so much they got nosebleeds.

So in this final season, as what appears to the ultimate narrative topper, "Lost's " creators split the show into two almost unrelated storylines. One picks up the more-or-less direct narrative thread and keeps our core characters on the island-- in 2007, rather than 1977, but still more or less where they were before all the temporal rambling began. The other is quite intriguing: it picks up at the exact moment in 2005 when Oceanic 815 was supposed to crash-- but doesn't. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hugo and company land in LAX, and their stories carry on as if The Island didn't exist (it did, but it was under 1000 feet of water, which apparently neutralizes it's spooky powers). This is the ultimate refutation of the flashback as a narrative device: Just run the characters through both timelines, and let the audience sort it out.

(And I'm going to take a moment to appreciate the charms of Evangeline Lilly, who plays romantically confused woman of action Kate Austin. Her emotional control is amazing, her range is wide and nobody can work in close-ups better. In contrast, Josh Holloway (Sawyer) just has to convey shades of wiseass, and Matthew Fox (Jack) was little more than a constipated refusenik for the entirety of the last season. But most of all, she is one of those rare beauties that looks amazing with tangled hair and covered with dirt and blood. When we see her all cleaned up, Lilly just doesn't pop. Maybe it's the freckles.)

So anyway, we're now seeing two stories unfold: the continuing struggles on The Island, and a glimpse of life if the crash of Oceanic 815 never happened. Because these storylines are apparently either divergent or completely parallel, the death of any character can be completely negated. Shannon, Charley, Locke and Sayid are all alive and kicking on the plane. On The Island, supernatural intervention has apparently reanimated Locke (bear with me) and Sayid (huh?).

It's hard to say where this is all going, which is why "Lost" is one of the best shows on the air: It consistently delivers unfathomable surprises. This is because the producers have created a new form of serial storytelling, one that allows them to kill any character that want, with no consequences.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the current up-front showrunners, are admitted Sci-Fi geeks. (I couldn't help but notice that J. J. Abrams is keeping a low profile in this last season: I think he's trying to dissociate himself from TV in favor of his new feature-film ventures.) They were raised on anthology Sci-Fi shows like "Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits" and "Night Gallery." Anthologies are great. They have amazing storytelling possibilities: You can blow up the world, kill all the characters, set earwigs into their brains, whatever-- tune in next week, and it's all new. The disadvantage is anthologies lack the intense emotional attachment audiences create for characters in serial programs-- An attachment that can translate into consistent ratings.

So the showrunners simply suspended empirical reality, and voila-- "Lost," the serial anthology. A show with long-running , beloved characters who can die at any time, and still come back. In fact, the characters are also held safely in reserve in an entirely different timeline, just in case.

The only regular I knew was going to die-- die, period, and not come back-- was tipped off by the intrusion of actual reality. Poor Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), last seen hammering on a plutonium bomb in last season's finale, didn't make out of this season's two-hour premiere alive. Ms. Mitchell is currently the star of another Sci-Fi series, "V," which ran promos during the show. Unlike "Lost's" universe, Ms. Mitchell can't be in two places at once.


  1. Man, I'm happier than ever that I didn't get sucked into that vortex. To date I have seen not more than 6 accumulated minutes of Lost. In a way, I constitute an alternate reality version of American televsion viewer for whom none of those characters exist.

    One day, when I get the time, I'm gonna rent the whole series and power 'em down, one after another. In the meantime, don't tell me.

  2. If you try to OD on back episodes of "Lost," your head will explode.

    And believe me, you're in good company: I know a lot of people who are completely indifferent to the show. Zeros on the lost-o-meter.