Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lost - Seasons 1 and 2

This is not your conventional review. I say that because I've seen Lost before, all of this is familiar to me. But I haven't seen it knowing what I know now, learning everything that happens in the final season of the show. Lost is much like a mystery; it is full of sudden surprising reveals that cast everything you've seen before into doubt, or into a new light. Some of these are epic. Others are shit. But, for lack of another show to passionately watch many episodes of back-to-back, I thought I'd return to one that I have a very strong affection for, and to see how it was on a return viewing.

This will be rife with spoilers.

The Rise and Fall of John Locke

Man, do I feel sorry for this guy. Unfortunately, Locke is a character who was built up into a mystic old man capable of leading everyone to salvation, and then replaced with one who is tired, embittered, and ultimately killed off so that the ultimate big bad could adopt his form like some fucked up body suit. I watched seasons 1 and 2 again wishing I didn't know this. After all, Locke at the beginning is just so awesome and inspirational. He gets Charlie off of his heroin addiction, he helps Jack resolve some of his father issues while simultaneously teaching him lessons on what it takes to be a leader, he motivates Boone to separate himself from the unhealthy relationship he has with his sister, teaching him that being his own man is something desirable and ultimately within his grasp. Locke (at first) has all the promise of an island Obi-Wan Kenobi, the kindly old man who teaches you something crucial about life before vanishing mysteriously into the wilderness.

I miss that Locke. Instead, what I watched (knowing what I know) was a borderline delusional old man seeking some purpose out of life that is ultimately ephemeral for him. Season 1 Locke finds purpose in helping others through their problems, but he then fails to learn that this can be an end in itself. Instead, he begins to fixate on how the island has nominated him for some undefined greater purpose, believing in this so utterly that he starts to forget that he cares for the people around him. As season 2 ends, we find him in the hatch, everything crumbling all around him, endangering everyone on the island, with a terrified expression on his face. “I was wrong,” he says. This moment is indicative of everything he does from here on out.

Locke has always been one of the most interesting characters in the show for me, but I found watching him at his best to be far more bittersweet now that I know what happens to him in the end.

Born to Run

As is infamous among anyone who knows me, I've always had a loathing of the character, Kate Austen. It wasn't that she was necessarily annoying to watch (Claire wins the award of most annoying female character), it was that her love triangle with Jack and Sawyer DOMINATES the show. Tvtropes would call this a Romantic Plot Tumor. By this logic, I should hate Jack and Sawyer too, but I don't. The fact remains that, due to Kate's perpetual inability to commit to anything, she acts like a ditzy, scatterbrained moron, flip-flopping wildly between the two men, driving pretty much every other character and the audience to insanity.

This time around, though, I... *sigh*... I kinda liked her.

The thing is that, in paying closer attention to her character and trying especially hard to empathize with her, it finally clicked. Yes, her back-and-forth was still a little aggravating. But I connected more with her psychology. With Jack, it makes sense (from her backstory and personality) that Kate would be attracted to him as a pinnacle of goodness that she strives for but has never been able to fully reach. It made sense that she would want to simultaneously flee from that because of her history of inevitably hurting those good people who get close to her. With Sawyer, it makes sense that she'd be attracted to him as another renegade with experiences similar to her own. And with him, it also made sense that she would be skittish about committing his way. Kate wants to be something more (like Jack) than what she perceives herself to be (equivalent to Sawyer). And so, as we see later on, she only seems to decide on Sawyer when she feels divorced from everything else, or when she's going through a bout of self-loathing.

I don't know how easy that was to follow, but the short of it is that I suddenly found Kate intensely interesting to watch. Her personality is so rife with paradoxes and opposite desires that, if you can see what is going on with her, it becomes easy to empathize with her struggle. People have passions that conflict with reality. Everyone has an aspiration of who they want to be struggling against what they know as truth. In that sense, Kate becomes a mirror of humanity, a reflection of our dichotomy of wants and needs.

Damn, that's heavy stuff.
This, while having nothing to do with what I'm talking about, is awesome
Differences in Quality

Other than those characters, the other thing I noticed about seasons 1 and 2 is how many more good episodes are in the former versus the latter. I thought about it for a while and then I figured out what it was. It's all in how the story is shown to us.

In the first season, we are introduced to Lost's now famous method of inserting character-centric flashbacks into every episode. This continues on throughout the entire series, though later on it starts to get silly tricky with flash-forwards, flash-sideways, and all sorts of crazy bullshit. But season 1 & 2 are flashback only. Yet one is better than the other.

What I found was that season 1 did a much better job of tying the flashbacks of the character-of-the-episode into what is happening on the island. Jack gets flashbacks of how his father's dominance and cynicism consumed his childhood; we see him overcome these issues in a cathartic odyssey through the jungle. Sun gets flashbacks of the difficulty of her marriage with Jin; we see her reenact similar problems with him on the island and then ultimately reaffirm their love together at the end.

By contrast, by season 2 we get flashbacks that have, at most, a distant relation to what is happening on the island. For example, with Mr. Eko we get flashbacks of how he became the scary, intense guy he is today, but it doesn't have that strong of a connection with anything that happens on the island. It's like watching another TV show and then being given a biography of one of the characters to read during commercial breaks. It could be interesting, but isn't altogether relevant to what's happening in the show, and so makes it harder to get into the episode as much as you could if it were more concise. It's distracting. As any Lost veteran knows, the best episodes are the ones where the flashbacks and the main plot are seamlessly woven together into something that keeps your attention solidly focused on one point throughout.


It's also worth noting that (with season 2) the hatch takes us from the novelty of having the show on a tropical island, and forces us into a small, enclosed location where even the characters are frustrated by how not much happens. It is part of the challenge for them, but it is also a test of patience for the audience themselves.

Rewatching Lost like this has been interesting, and I'll undoubtedly have more thoughts to come as I continue to delve through it (as I get time). More to come later!

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