Sunday, September 2, 2012

Lost - Season 3

Season 3 takes a different tack from the previous two. Instead of being with the main group of survivors on the beach, we are put into a scenario where many of the main characters are captured by the enemy, splitting our attention between the faction of the Others and the “Losties”.

Is this good? Not really. I'm going to make an extremely nerdy reference now:

In Dungeons & Dragons, if you are the 'dungeon-master' in charge of the players, the last thing you want to do is let players go off away from the group. Once this happens, the overall pacing of the adventure slows to a crawl. You have to describe different things to different people, construct entirely separate events and challenges. And, while you do all of this for the splinter group(s), everyone else has to sit back and twiddle their thumbs. This is what turns an hour-long masterpiece into a six hour slog.

The same applies for Lost. This season is where events grind slowly to a halt. We are introduced to two pointless new characters who get killed off in the same episode they get introduced in. Jack shows off his tats. Hurley fixes a van and goes joyriding (admittedly, this was awesome, but had zero relevance to the overall plot). Claire gets an episode... Stuff like this creates drag.

Then the writers miraculously realized that this show won't last forever, and that they needed to take it somewhere. Shit goes downhill, starts to swirl around, and then goes out of control (do not visualize that). And the island is finally opened up to outside intervention. All things considered, this was a pretty good season, no time spent in a stupid hatch, and with genuinely interesting questions being asked and character moments being had.

Benjamin Linus

Ben is one of the more remarkable characters in the show. Perhaps the funniest part about him is that his character was written to be killed off within two or three episodes of his introduction but, because the fans loved Michael Emerson's performance so much, they essentially rewrote him into being something close to the main villain for the entire series. Part of me is impressed by the flexibility of the writers in doing this. The other part of me is horrified at all the plans they must have shifted around crazily in an effort to accommodate a character who was never supposed to be around.

But it was a wise decision. Season 3 is where we see Ben at his strongest, leader of his little island fiefdom, every single person on the island either subservient to his wishes or wanting to kill him but not having the power to do so. Rewatching this, it was particularly interesting to watch the extent of Ben's authority and its slow erosion. Things spiral rapidly out of control for Ben and his people during this season, but Ben constantly adapts and shows himself incredibly flexible, utilizing his powers of manipulation as adroitly as he can in an effort to keep control over everyone.

And yet, watching this made me notice just how fragile Ben is as a character. It also illustrated to me how unlikely it was that he would ever find true happiness. We see Ben's youth as one where he was completely powerless. He is constantly held as an unwanted curse by his alcoholic father. He is largely friendless, grown up on a tropical island surrounded by people indifferent to his interests or activities. Ben is near completely bereft of human connection, a situation which the writers set up as a way to justify his willingness to murder and use others as pawns later on.

And so we see Ben dominate the island as some sort of tropical Machiavelli. But it occurred to me that this is the closest to happiness he'll ever be. Ben's comfort derives from control; he constantly seeks to make everything subservient to what he wants. And, to some extent, you can't blame him. His youth left him with no control at all, no goals outside of getting through the day without getting put down by his father. It is only on this isolated island, with people that have next to no choice but to obey him, that he can create his own society that is dependent on what he wants. You also see this in how he treats Locke. He is jealous of Locke's status as a sort of prophet to his people and, once Locke is able to hear something that Ben cannot, this is the last straw for Ben. Ben doesn't want to live in a world again where his opinions no longer matter, where he is just forced to follow in the wake of someone else like he did with his father long ago. So he kills Locke, not because Ben loves to kill, but because he can't stand sharing power. Ben doesn't want to face a world where he is not paramount. It's remarkable how powerfully our childhood can shape our lives, and Ben is a perfect example of how a lack of caring can result in someone doing 'villainous' things in an effort to feel whole and happy in the world.

Juliet Burke

Juliet is a really odd character, and one that I found particularly interesting as I rewatched the series this time around. I say this because, for lack of a better comparison, she's like a bizarre mix of Ben and Kate's characters. She has a personality that often is akin to Ben's, and her motivations are comparable to Kate's. Juliet faces life with a mask. It's hard to tell what she's thinking, and we quickly gather that this is a shield from getting hurt or too attached to anyone. Like Ben, she's more than willing to engage in manipulation in order to get what she wants. The only difference is that manipulation defines Ben; with Juliet, we get the feeling that she uses it more because she feels like she has to in order to survive.

As for comparing her to Kate, I found Juliet to be a fish out of water. Like Kate, Juliet is constantly discontent, looking for a home but simultaneously unable to feel like she's home anywhere she goes. Both characters focus on survival before anything else. Then the comparison starts to deviate. Juliet neither identifies with the Others or identifies with the “Losties”. Nobody really accepts her, and her detached personality doesn't help matters any. But you almost get the sense that Juliet's okay with that.

You know, she's actually surprisingly hard to write about. But I wanted to try nonetheless, as I found that her time with Jack as her captive was powerful stuff. I'm still not sure if their bond was a genuine one created by both of them feeling like they were separate from everything else, or if it was a complicated form of Stockholm Syndrome. Juliet's attempts to stage a coup to overthrow Ben also were really cool. Their struggle for authority is an interesting back-and-forth, and her relationship with Ben is complicated and well done. I look forward to watching her character more and trying to get a better sense of what makes her tick.


This saddens me, because the quality of Lost really starts to flip-flop drastically from this point on. Things start to get ridiculously convoluted, with flash-forwards, time-travel, and more. I'm also not sure how much I look forward to watching it because I find the parts where they go back to the real world to be relatively uninteresting compared to what happens on the island. But I shall soldier on.

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