The Nighttime Novelist...accomplishes more in about 240 pages than a dozen other "how to write" or "craft your novel" books have ever done.

--Helen Gallagher/Blogcritics




Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LOST: Thou Art Redeemed (Part I)

Like John Locke with electromagnetized forks flying at him, I have to admit: I was wrong.

I believed that LOST had lost its way in its sixth and final season...that, in fact, the show was probably meant to be only five seasons long, that they'd already told all the stories they had worth the telling and now the writers, especially VIPs Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, were playing reckless catch-up, not really caring if what they did made sense but needing it to be done...fifth-graders who forgot they had homework due and scribbled down some nonsense during morning announcements. ("See, there was this magical cave, and the lady from The West Wing was there...")

And I certainly wasn't alone in this. On, the official message board for the show where fans flock after each episode to stare at screencaps, offer theories that range from inspired to deranged, and rate the night's performance, the May 11th episode "Across the Sea" prompted a backlash unseen in the show's history: in the "Loved It" thread, a mere 20-some posts, all of which were from fans (so it appeared to the disgruntled) who would've loved it even if the episode had been a 49-minute closeup of a fly crawling across a turd. In the "Didn't Love It" thread: over 400 angry, depressed, some actually despondent posts lamenting that the posters had spent six years on what they believed had been revealed, to borrow from grifter and Southern ungentleman Sawyer, to be just a very long con.

I didn't post. But that's where I would've, and that's probably what I would've said.

The show seemed to be committing two flagrant, even amateurish mistakes of ending a long story, or a short one, for that matter: 1. forgetting where the story started, and 2. changing the rules of the story in mid-story.

This second one was really the root of the rage directed at "Across the Sea" and S6 in general. We'd been lead to believe that the show we'd watched since 2004 was about 40-odd survivors of a plane crash who, through their own actions and inactions, through their own faults (or, if you prefer, sins) and their attempts to overcome them, had spent every week trying to get better, trying to get by, to survive. What "Across the Sea" seemed to say was, "What? You thought the show was about the crash survivors, and that everything they did over these seasons was meaningful? No, it's actually about two other characters you barely know, Jacob and this other guy. That's what the show is about, and everything that happened to this point was really just sleight of hand while we waited to tell the real story now, three episodes from the end."

This seemed like a textbook rule-changer, something that should've been revealed right up front but was withheld until the very end...or to put it another way, it seemed to be, like a sprained ankle or late-season Chubby Checker, a very bad twist. All the deaths that had come before it, that made you cry, were purposeless. Shannon and Boone died for nothing, Eko, Ana Lucia, Scott or Steve, Nikki and Paulo (ahem), none of it mattered because these weren't people with free will but mere pawns being sacrificed on the bigger board by two guys we didn't even know were playing. And by "two guys," I mean both Jacob and MiB, and Cuse and Lindelof.

I think of John Locke taking Ben to see Jacob in the S5 finale, complaining when Richard tells him that he can't take anyone else in with him, that it's against the rules, "You know, Richard, I think you make these rules up as you go."

That was the same general consensus and frustration of S6. The producers had set the rules early on and the audience trusted them, only to be told they were foolish for trusting the rules to begin with. And, just to drive the point home, Locke wasn't even the one to complain about the rule-changing. It was UnLocke, the MiB, who looked like John Locke, though no one watching S5, or even Terry O'Quinn playing the character that season, knew that was the case until the end.

You Changed the Rules
Examples of S6 (and earlier) rule-changing could be found just about everywhere you wanted to look:
  • Locke was not Locke but was instead the smoke monster. The confidence you see in Locke--at last!--in S5 wasn't really confidence earned by Locke because it wasn't Locke. Locke was a fool. Locke was dead.
  • The flash-sideways alternate reality wherein nothing on the island, none of what we'd been watching since 2004, actually happened or mattered...even the stuff still happening on the island in between digressions into the mirror universe.
  • The introduction of brand new characters in the very last season, further distracting us from the Loastaways we thought the show was about. (Then, just when we get sorta used to and felt sympathetic toward the new cast, kill 'em all.)
  • The introduction of brand new mythologies when the old ones were pretty great (and years, centuries, deep already, going back to the Dharma Initiative, Richard, the Black Rock, the statue...) and the audience wanted to see how that mythology played out, not what was going on with the temple and its Shogun leader, or with Jacob and Smokie, or magic waterfalls, or the island as corked wineskin, or...
As I sometimes tell my writing students, changing the rules in the middle of a story is like when you play HORSE with your older brother. You get H-O-R-S on him, and he says, "Let's play HORSES." You get H-O-R-S-E on him and he says, "Let's play HORSESHIT." The effect, when it's your bully older brother or a story, is one of frustration: I thought I understood the rules you set out, and I abided by them thinking I would be rewarded. Now you're keeping me (or, the audience) from the promised reward by rewriting the conditions that YOU (or the author) set out.

With LOST this season, I came very, very close to taking my ball and going home. And with 2.5 hours left--a mere 2.5 hours--I really didn't expect to see anything that could change my mind.

Read PART II of this rambling blog.

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