Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jumping the Island: LOST Critique Part 2

by Jason Pyles

This post is in response to Bill Barnes's comments found at the bottom of the post below this one. (More spoilers are probably found herein.)

Jumping the Shark

Natalie asked about jumping the shark, so for those who don’t know: In “Happy Days” Fonzie was portrayed as the coolest guy on the planet. He could hit the juke box in just the right place and it would play — sans coinage. He could get in a rumble and barely mess up his hair (except in my favorite episode when — spoiler alert — he fought Tom Hanks). But in one fateful episode he was waterskiing and he successfully jumped a shark. (Bill said he jumped it on a motorcycle, which is unlikely since motorcycles typically don’t travel in the ocean ... but then again, on “L O S T” there are no parameters, so anything could happen.) Anyway, I guess that dumb shark thing was the last straw with Fonzie’s coolness. (See for yourself.) It was just too far, and from then on, anytime a show derails and crosses over into stupid territory, they say it “jumps the shark.” You know, like “L O S T” did on just about every episode after Season 3?

[Note: If you watch the shark clip, it’s really not all that far-fetched. Perhaps the new “jump the shark” term could be adapted to “jump the island”!]

Bill— I loved the ending to your comment on the post below this one … so much, in fact, that I almost surrendered on the merits of your cleverness alone. Alas, instead I must rebut.

I was reluctant to list any specifics — especially concerning my interpretations — in my initial post, because I knew such a theory-laden show could yield countless counter arguments. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s just say I’ll concede that I have wrongly understood the underlying premise, and I will defer to your well-studied theories, which, I might underscore, are interpretations themselves — yours and your fellow Lostie fanboys and girls online.

Nevertheless, Sir, you should know that my personal take on the meaning of it all was one of the few things that I was fond of concerning the series. So, if you tell me that my take was altogether wrong, then I am impressed with “L O S T” even less.

And it must be said, obviously, there are lots of theories. Surely you aren’t claiming that all of the other Losties have reached the same conclusion you have. Again, and more to the point, how can you be sure that your interpretation isn’t way off? And if it is such a brilliant show, then why can’t a reasonably intelligent person, such as myself (or hundreds of other disoriented yet intelligent viewers) successfully follow along and arrive at the writers’ intended vision? … That is, if what you’ve described is, in fact, their vision. I’m not so sure. How can we be sure?

And if you should claim that the brilliance of the show lies in its depths wherein multiple interpretations are possible, then shouldn’t I be afforded my own stake in that brilliance with my own little theories?

Really, my problem wasn’t as much what “L O S T” was about; it was, as Roger Ebert says, “how it was about it.” My original post, though lengthy, just addressed my general, overall feelings about how the series was poorly executed and delivered to us, the audience. You took a small portion of what I wrote and refuted it. That’s fine, but don’t miss my overarching point. Your response doesn’t speak to the heart of my problem, which is how 70 percent of the show’s lunacy need not have happened at all and is ultimately unrelated and irrelevant to the grand scheme, even as you have described it.

Effective storytelling is progressive and driven forth by cause-and-effect events and relationships that build upon one another. “L O S T” portends that its mysteries will come back around, but most of them dangle limply. Loose ends from loose storytelling. More on this below.

Some questions about what you wrote: I understood the flashbacks and the flash-forwards, but when you say “sideways flashes,” are you referring to the alternate/parallel universe flashes? This reminded me of the film “Sliding Doors” (1998). Is that accurate? That’s how I understood it — as an alternate reality. Or, as Little Texas would say, what might have been.

How would the purgatory theory render the entire show’s point moot, exactly?

I whole-heartedly agree with you about Sayid’s true love, but they needed to incorporate Shannon somehow, since nobody else liked her — not even her brother.

And no, I don’t need every question answered. To answer every single question is poor form for a storyteller. But the major questions should have been addressed. You call this mystery, I call it biting off more than they could chew. They couldn’t deliver the goods. Did you not watch that hilarious video about all the unanswered questions? Was that not brilliant?

You know, you’re right. Not all of those questions needed to be answered in the end. Why? Because many of the questions raised were absolutely pointless. They were tangential indulgences — mere shark-jumping — in the name of entertainment value. Listen to the list of questions again in this video, and you’ll notice that most of them have nothing to do with the overall design. That’s my complaint. Why drag us through all that intrigue if it’s not going to be addressed — or even matter in the end!

I know you love “L O S T” like a fourth child, but can you not admit that some of my gripes have merit? I can admit that there are things to admire about “L O S T.” To add on to my initial list, the casting was great and the performances are almost always excellent.

I’m not so sure anymore that my viewpoint is a small minority. On Monday, I think it was Charlie Anders of io9 who wrote this on Twitter:

All along LOST seemed 2 be a story. Until the end when it wasn’t. In the end it was just a bunch o/stuff that happened" http://bit.ly/9Jm1VC

Or how about what happened just today at work. I sit in a room with several people. I’m new there, so I don’t know some of their names. Two guys (smart I.T. guys) began talking about “L O S T.” I immediately started dictating, word for word, because I’m a fast typist, and their conversation validates these posts:

1st Guy: So, I quit watching “L O S T” around Season 3 or 4. What ended up happening?

2nd Guy: The island is a mystical place. Down in a cave is the heart of the island and it glows. There’s a smoke monster, and they have to try to kill the smoke monster, but the keeper of the island gets killed. So they need a new keeper. The new keeper is chosen from survivors of the plane crash. The first keeper guy was in charge for hundreds or thousands of years — probably hundreds. The smoke monster’s goal is to get off the island; the keeper wants to keep him on the island. (Pause)...

1st Guy: Well, I stopped watching during the whole time-warp thing. ... So, how was the finale?

2nd Guy: It was good except for all the unanswered questions.

1st Guy: Yeah, that’s the problem I had with it. Every episode created more questions and more mysteries and more dead-ends. ... What was the whole point of the Dharma Initiative?

2nd Guy: I’m not sure.

We should note that the 2nd Guy never even mentioned what happened at the end when everybody “moved on.”

Bill, you think we’re like Jack and Locke; I think we’re like Jacob and Johnny Cash (The Man in Black, aka The Smoke Monster). You try to “protect” the island, and I just want to leave.

My cousin, Kellie, is another “L O S T” apologist who said today, “Why do people have to pick it apart? Why can’t they just leave a good thing alone and let us enjoy it?”

Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell her my position. But that’s just the way the world is: Some people call dandelions flowers and others rightly call them weeds. But regardless of whether you call a dandelion a flower, it’s still just a colorful weed. And so it is with “L O S T.” When the color fades and it dries up and blows away, its weedy identity will be revealed. When all the fantastical and melodramatic, soap opera fluff is peeled away, “L O S T” is a flawed and brittle story.

You may have the last word, Bill Barnes. I'm finished ranting about "L O S T."


bill said...

sorry about my erroneous happy days recollection. it's been years since i saw the episode (and i believe i said he jumped a shark in a tank, so ease up on the snark).

you're entitled to your opinion, but i sense a lot of defensiveness here... and my statement that the island really happened isn't so much a theory as it is recanting exactly what we were told at the end by a character (christian). as far as the unanswered questions, i think you miss the forest for the trees. the best parts of LOST were always trying to understand who these characters are, how they were flawed, and how could they achieve redemption. it saddens me that you're disappointed, but i'm not surprised - knowing that you've been off the lost train for several years. it's sad because you were a "jack man" (at least until your guy-liner boy-toy showed up in season 3) and LOST ultimately turned out to be jack's tale of redemption.

i don't think i claimed the brilliance lies in the interpretation of what happened... i think i said there's value in having open-ended mysteries with which to theorize (i.e. the dharma pallet drops, walt's abilities, etc.). i think the story was pretty clear that the island was real and the sideways world (not my term, btw - EVERYBODY calls it this) was "purgatory" all season long. not much room to interpret that.

my final 2 cents: after watching on sunday night, i wasn't sure how i felt about it. i wasn't even sure i knew what the writers were trying to say because my brain was going a 100 miles a minute trying to absorb it all. i was able to rewatch it again on monday, which is why i suggest rewatching the last 20 minutes again... the point is that i can't stop thinking about it. i was more emotional during the 2nd viewing. michael giacchino's score is stuck in my head. i replay jack's bamboo forest death scene in my mind. it's stuck with me. that's good TV.

i hope a show does for you what LOST did for me. ;)

Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...

Well played, Bill Barnes. Sorry, no snark or defensiveness intended. I promise. You're a worthy advocate for "LOST" (and whatever else you're advocating, for that matter).

I'm glad you love it. And yes, there is such a show that I love as much as you love "LOST": — "The Wire." So get watchin' it! Andy's a recent convert, and I bet you will be, too. Thanks for the lively debate.

Your pal,

Kawika said...

Haha, Jason, I really liked the LOST unanswered questions video.