All told, I think I did a pretty good job of ignoring “Lost” for years, in spite of all the raves and recommendations from friends. Mostly, it was out of self-interest; I couldn’t afford the time investment that another hugely complicated television series would require, especially one that seemed to inspire such obsessive fandom. But now, living with a “Lost” devotee as I do, I find I can no longer willfully ignore the persistent phenomenon that is J.J. Abrams’ labyrinthine television saga. I started watching a handful of episodes here and there last season, and when the show’s sixth season debuted on Tuesday evening I joined Laura on the couch to take in its latest two hours.
Here’s my assessment so far: it’s a superbly crafted entertainment but it executes itself haphazardly. I find myself easily drawn into its fundamentally strong storytelling tactics, but even after watching the best episodes, the momentum of the series inspires no real confidence that the next installment will be any good.
And, frankly, I don’t really get what’s happening. What is this show about? A time shifting island? A fractious fraternity of metaphysically-challenged losers? A just-in-time catalog of bogus belief systems? I have no idea, really, but to the show’s credit it’s all good enough to keep me thinking about it. Herewith, then, are some random notes from a Viewer New to “Lost”
All Stick, No Carrot
Granted, I’ve logged only a meager number of hours in the “Lost” universe but already it seems apparent to me that the pleasure that the show evokes has very little to do with unraveling its many mysteries. Rather it’s about the state of being mystified, bewildered and maybe a little bit frustrated too. Which is to say that, if you ask me, most of its devoted fans secretly don’t really want to understand what’s happening at all.
They watch each episode under the pretense that the narrative is moving towards some sort of resolution and that they’re participating in that resolution. But in fact they really tune in so that they can have their expectations and assumptions confounded, cut-off, detoured and further confused. In this, “Lost” obliges profusely and frequently, usually when the writers seemed confused or at a loss for purpose themselves.
(To that end, I have to say that the show also has to be one of the most appropriately named television shows I can think of, exceeded in aptness only by “Cops.”)
Secret Asian Men
Can I just say how terrific it is that this is a show that makes honest, straightforward distinctions between Asians of different origins? It’s kind of shocking to me to see, finally, television that’s discerning enough to recognize that Chinese American and Korean characters should be portrayed differently and according to their own narrative maps. I can’t think of another show that even acknowledges that Asians are anything other than homogenous and monolithic. Big thumbs up here for this.
Do They Have to Draw Us a Diagram?
If you could diagram the plot lines of “Lost,” I bet the resulting visualization would be quite marvelous. The show’s intricate mesh of time shifting, reversals, and now duplicative story arcs has got to make for a graphically fascinating chart. The problem of course is concretizing what amounts to an incredibly ambiguous structure, finding a way to translate a bizarre narrative jumble into lines, boxes, arrows. I’d wager that the show’s writers have something like this on a white board locked away in a room somewhere. My guess is that it’s also a mess.
“Lost” brings to mind at least a few television series that also followed ambitious narrative arcs, like “The X-Files,” “Heroes,” “Battlestar Galactica” and even “The Sopranos.” One thing I learned from these kinds of shows, to my disappointment, is that they never really deliver on what they repeatedly promise.
Their very nature is that they’re structured to bring viewers back, week after week. They use plot twists, new characters, new groups of characters, new themes and good old fashioned cliff-hangers to sustain ratings — and they use them cleverly and expertly enough to create impossible expectations for thunderbolt-style resolutions that never materialize. In my view, it was only “The Wire” that as a series ever truly delivered on the promise of its episodes — and that show also happened to be the best-written show ever, if not the best show of all time, period. Frankly, “Lost” doesn’t seem like it’s in the same class as “The Wire,” at least not to me and not at this point. So I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that a lot of viewers will be disappointed when the series concludes. They’ll be sorely disappointed, actually, by how little will ultimately get explained in any convincing way. In case you don’t believe me, let me rest my case on just two words: smoke monster.