Thoughts on Enter 77 and the Future of Lost Part I
Thoughts on Enter 77and the Future of Lost :Part I
This was too long to post in one part so I broke it into two. It’s about 2300 words, so know that going in.
One can make all the obligatory puns: “Has Lost Lost its way?” “The characters are Lost but is the Plot too?” or this little gem from a brain wizard and EW reader: “If a show roars back and nobody watches it, does it make a sound?” Yes, that reader managed to incorporate a bad pun with even more egregious an insult, dime store philosophy. Still, amongst all the rumblings and the not-so-deft turns of phrase that are popping up of late one cannot deny that the common denominator seems to be a genuine frustration with a show that seems to have strayed off course. I might even go so far to call it desultory if I wasn’t sure in my own mind that all of it was leading inexorably toward a definitive end.
The problem is not, however, in said ending but in the path that we are taking to get there, one which is in fact becoming desultory. ABC and the executive producers of Lost are at some odds as to when the show should end. CC and DL have stated that 100 episodes would be their ideal terminus (though they have now said five seasons) while ABC wants six. Herein lay a dilemma of much greater resonance than how long, namely, how long can we keep interest? Lost didn’t even make the top 20 last week.) Thus I ask myself how can TBTB sustain this show for 2-3 more seasons when even this season finds viewers abandoning ship in alarming numbers. Now, certainly the vagaries of television production and ratings demand for jumps up and down in the Nielsen’s but there does seem to be an alarming trend occurring, certainly ABC executives are concerned that their cash cow is being drained far too quickly, and the creative team is surely trying to figure out how to sustain the artistic level of excellence they have demonstrated previously.
What I feel is far more consequential, as a viewer and admirer or art, is not that the ratings are plunging but that the content seems to be giving suggestions of doing so as well. By necessity TBTB must tease out the dissemination of the plot with deliberate pace. They have 2-3 seasons more to get through before the biggest revelations and as such they cannot afford to info-dump in any great quantities. This is something that I’ve accepted and I think any fan that remains ardent has largely done the same. But there is an unspoken agreement between audience and creator that mandates the audience receive something in return, this is where the show seems to be faltering.
JJ and DL have said on numerous occasions that this show is about the characters. The point could be made that nearly every successful television show is about the characters, viewers return to watch the topography of the emotional landscape of their favorite characters shift even if the landscape of their external world remains fixed. Indeed, television is largely based on the premise that environment and plot remain fairly static (at the very least thematically) and that the shifts are one of affect rather than structure.
What this necessitates then is character development and interaction which seem to have recently come to a ponderous pace on Lost, in the last two episodes nearly halting. I’ll take Enter 77 as my prime example, but I think last week’s episode, Tricia Tanaka is Dead, also reinforces my points.
Enter 77 is a Sayid flashback. we have, as we most often do, three plots running through the episode. We have the “A”plot which is the present day discovery of the Flame station and its consequences, we have the “B” plot which is Sayid’s flashback and should serve to underscore the emotional content of the “A” thread, and finally we have the “C” plot, which is the ping-pong game between Hurley and Sawyer. Together these elements should make up an episode that satisfies on several levels. The creators both succeed in part and fail in part in my estimation. Let me explain.
Structurally, CC and DL are right on the money with this episode as pertains to the A and B threads. The two strains of plot seem to be completely divergent in theme and resonance until the final acts of the story in which it is revealed that it’s Sayid’s experience in the dry storage room of the restaurant that makes him give reprieve to his current captive. Lost follows this V structure (and I will give Pynchon a shout out here) for most of its episodes. The A story and the B story start off with a high degree of polarity until they eventually converge into one thematic, emotionally resonant, whole. This is very well demonstrated in this episode from a structural point of view, it’s the emotional resonance I have issue with.
If, as I’ve already asserted, Lost is going to have to tease out plot revelation for some 72 plus more episodes, then the characters are going to become even more vital than they are now, vital in the sense that they will provide the weekly continuity as opposed to the serial structure of the plot. They will be the fabric that holds the show together. I think they have always been meant as such, to be that existential glue, but of late the adhesive isn’t working as intended. This episode illustrates why.
If you’re basing the thematic continuity around your characters then said characters must reveal new layers throughout the development of any given arc, or season, or any other time frame you wish to delineate what Walter Moseley calls, “The structure of revelation.” Moreover, the characters’ relationships to each other need to shift, to morph, to become catalyst for even deeper revelations into who they are and how that relates to their relations with one another. In Enter 77 as in Tricia Tanaka is Dead we find that the characters are more static than they are evolutional.
Sayid is a torturer, he is plagued by this role in his past and in his present, we know this, we’ve known this for awhile. There is little gained in terms of character in yet another revisit to Sayid’s past as interrogator. He tortured a woman, well, so what? This isn’t a revelation, it doesn’t really add another layer to Sayid, it merely compounds an aspect of self we already know to be volatile for the character. Emotionally however, it doesn’t evolve much. Moreover, the forgiveness we see in this episode on the part of his victim doesn’t feel earned. It unfolds over the course of 43 minutes, most of which aren’t devoted to this emotional element. What we are left with is Sayid learning that forgiveness and mercy (shout out to Hurley’s mercy rule) are possible. But the thing is, I don’t buy it in context.
Re: Thoughts on Enter 77 and the Future of Lost Part II
For the wife, Sayid’s victim, I can almost buy into her forgiving Sayid, really the cat anecdote saves it, another brilliant bit of writing there. But whether she forgives Sayid or not should never have been the point, it’s about Sayid coming to terms with himself. This is something that should be playing out over several episodes, part of Sayid’s character arc. Yet in this episode I feel that CC and DL missed a few grand opportunities to play out the inner torment of Sayid her layer of emotional content to his character.
His refusal to initially admit what he did should have come from two different emotional places than it did. Indeed, I’m not clear what was motivating Sayid to lie except for self-preservation. That is certainly valid but does nothing to texture Sayid. He should have lied initially out of shame, playing out that would have had more resonance. Sayid is ashamed of his actions and by extension some part of his self. Yet admitting he was guilty might confront the shame issue but what if he had continued to refute his guilt instead?
He should have then continued to lie, insisting on his innocence, not because of the shame, but now because he wants to be punished. Yes, quite right, I think the emotional action would have played out much better if Sayid had baited the husband into torturing him, if Sayid had sought out that judgment, that punishment culled from his deep past and visited upon him by his victim. This would also map back nicely to Mr. Eko’s ultimate fate and punishment at the hands of his victim, Yemi. Indeed, the final scene between the wife and Sayid could then have played out as a new form of punishment where she does the worst possible thing she can do, she forgives him. For it is his own forgiveness that Sayid seeks and if the victim chooses not to mete punishment then the aggressor cannot feel he has paid for his transgression. In this fashion forgiveness itself becomes a weapon, an emotional barb for Sayid. The quality of mercy could still be a lesson he takes from the wife, but the emotional thread of Sayid attempting to forgive himself could unfurl for several episodes to come. It would add a new layer to Sayid. We know he’s a torturer and is tormented by that, now we add in his own want to be punished and we get ourselves into deeper emotional terrain both ostensibly paradoxical and understandable (not to mention getting into Michel Foucault territory but that’s a digression I won’t pursue.)
In the evolving “A” story involving Mikhail and The Flame, Sayid and Locke might have gotten into a heated argument about taking responsibility for one’s actions. John has allowed the prisoner to escape and blown up valuable intel and communication potential in the station. Sayid could go at John for not accepting this reckless abandonment of responsibility while at the same time knowing that facing the consequences of his own actions in the past is making his present unbearable. Sayid would attack John verbally precisely for something he himself hasn’t resolved. Sayid might have observed, “Our actions have consequences, John, not only for ourselves, you might do well to remember that.” This would be a new aspect to the character, one in which his well disciplined emotional structure reveals fractures and the violence within himself again escapes.
Further, the scene in which Rousseau asks Sayid why he isn’t going to kill him might have played out with Sayid answering, “Because that’s what he wants me to do.” Indeed, it seems that Mikhail did, pointing the gun at himself after killing Ms. Clue on what seemed to be her bequest. Sayid denies him the same punishment he was denied and again we are left with his emotional terrain being left open for later revisiting and ultimate resolution.
This would have left a lot of emotional baggage for Sayid to yet deal with, while instead we seem merely to recap the emotional terrain previously uncovered and do not move deeper into it. The same holds true for Hurley in the previous episode, learning about his father does not layer the character in any appreciable way for me. Further, showing more fallout from the cursed numbers (we already knew the shack got hit by the meteor as well) doesn’t do anything for expanding Hurley nor that plot element. That episode has it’s resonance in the theme of hope, but the flashbacks reveal little about this theme or Hugo. I won’t get into a review here except to say that I think the A story of Tricia Tanaka is Dead should have been a B story.
Finally I would like to suggest that the flashbacks have always been a dicey proposition, purely from a standpoint of viability, how much can you really reveal, week after week, about a given group of characters relying on action that has already unfolded? This is part of the reason that I believe they keep adding new characters, to keep those flashbacks fresh. It’s a great device but it doesn’t come without hindrances. I’m not suggesting they lose them, that would wreak havoc on the continuity of the show’s thematic structure, but I do think that we have to see a shift beginning. What I’d encourage is a shift from past centricity to present centricity as regards the characters.
Here we are, possibly about midpoint through the series, the perfect time to begin shifting focus from the relationships in their past to their relationships on the island. The past informs the present and we realize that these characters particularly feel that weight of being rooted in a succession of yesterdays. Yet now, by a necessity of structural mechanics a character a shift can and should occur. What will keep viewer interest ardent is the way in which the characters react to each other, how their relationships evolve in the present thread. This will give buoyancy to the series as the plot is stretched out, perhaps even more than its conceptual limits had initially allowed for. We’ll be tuning in more to see what happens with Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Juliet et al then we will to be given the next bit of mythological lore.
This change is necessary, it is vital, it is, I believe, speaking to the intended heart of the show, the characters. It’s time they become the focus again, their conflicted pasts need to move into deeper emotional terrain in the form of complex relationships, feelings, outbursts, resolutions and the like. All of it moving toward yet another inexorable finale, that of the characters coming to terms with themselves, finding their own pace, finding redemption in being lost by ultimately being found.
Re: Thoughts on Enter 77 and the Future of Lost Part I
While this post was made two episodes ago, I'm going to respond to a lot of it.
Thus I ask myself how can TBTB sustain this show for 2-3 more seasons when even this season finds viewers abandoning ship in alarming numbers. Now, certainly the vagaries of television production and ratings demand for jumps up and down in the Nielsen’s but there does seem to be an alarming trend occurring, certainly ABC executives are concerned that their cash cow is being drained far too quickly, and the creative team is surely trying to figure out how to sustain the artistic level of excellence they have demonstrated previously.
I'm not sure they are. Lost has been picked up for a fourth season since the time you wrote this. As far as the dropping numbers go, the big drop post-hiatus is almost entirely due to the time change, something ABC knew would happen as is the nature of all 10:00 PM television programming. Another factor is the change of lead-in shows. Only coming a very distant third behind these two major factors would be people who have decided to drop the show, and it's not because of perceived drop in quality-- it's people who don't have the patience to keep up with a serial or are unable to watch it regularly.
Moreover, the characters’ relationships to each other need to shift, to morph, to become catalyst for even deeper revelations into who they are and how that relates to their relations with one another. In Enter 77 as in Tricia Tanaka is Dead we find that the characters are more static than they are evolutional.
While the characters do need to have continually changing relationships, I think you're failing to see a lot of them. Would Hurley have bear-hugged Sawyer a season ago? Would Jin have been hanging out with Sawyer post gun-con? Would Kate and Sawyer have the rocky relationship they have now without their time in captivity? Would Sayid and Locke be at such odds? They barely interacted in season 2.
He tortured a woman, well, so what? This isn’t a revelation, it doesn’t really add another layer to Sayid, it merely compounds an aspect of self we already know to be volatile for the character.
Well, you're overlooking the extra layer that the writers gave us, namely the ambiguity of whether Sayid actually did torture the woman, or was merely telling her what she wanted to hear, which I think was left deliberately ambiguous. That gives a whole new level of depth to the flashback.
Sayid could go at John for not accepting this reckless abandonment of responsibility while at the same time knowing that facing the consequences of his own actions in the past is making his present unbearable. Sayid would attack John verbally precisely for something he himself hasn’t resolved. Sayid might have observed, “Our actions have consequences, John, not only for ourselves, you might do well to remember that.”
For someone worried that the pacing of the show could drive away viewers, you seem to want to add a lot of excess dialogue that would spell out conclusions most people can reach on their own. You're right about all of what you say above being themes that run between the A story and the flashback, but I guarantee you that most viewers "got" a lot of that without being told so by cumbersome dialogue.
Further, the scene in which Rousseau asks Sayid why he isn’t going to kill him might have played out with Sayid answering, “Because that’s what he wants me to do.”
Again, that's exactly what happened but without the cumbersome dialogue. It seems more like you want things spelled out to confirm your own conclusions about the characters.
I just have to say that I would hate for the show to get bogged down by a bunch of expositional dialogue like what you're suggesting. The show would become extremely slow-paced if the characters had to spell out for the audience what they should be getting out of each flashback or interaction. Lost has to strike a balance of mystery, drama, action and humor-- no easy task. They also can't fit all of that into each episode. I think it's important to avoid putting too much stuffing in the turkey.
Re: Thoughts on Enter 77 and the Future of Lost Part I
Well this thread has two excellent posts - sorry Anomoly - but I am going to have to side with RodimusBen on this one. I was sceptical during the mini-arc and the ending left a sour taste, but since then Lost has been back and better than ever.
I don't want to write too long - that's already been done. I would just like to make two points, the first about the dialogue and exposition.
During the scene's of Sayid being tortured I felt nothing but pity for the poor, innocent man being accused of something he did not do. The dilemma of pride vs. pain (blunt, I know) was good in itself considering the strong character that Sayid possesses. When he admitted his guilt, I was shocked, but pleased to see an element of realism creeping in. The imperfect hero is ever so hard to get just right. Now that RB has raised the issue of the admission being a possible lie, the twist becomes absolutely delicious. Did he, did'nt he? I love it. The other thing the OP points out is the "I won't kill him cos he wants to die" line Sayid should have said. I, like probably many others, thought the exact same thing will bcome out of his mouth during that scene. It was a pleasant surprise when it did not! We know the characters by now, we know what they are thinking. We do not need it spelled out for us
Secondly, and I quote from the original post:
It’s time they (the characters) become the focus again, their conflicted pasts need to move into deeper emotional terrain in the form of complex relationships, feelings, outbursts, resolutions and the like.
I really do not want to offend, but it sounds like an episode of The OC! These relationships are there, they exist but they are brought over by the great, subtle acting of our cast. These things do not have to be spelled out, it's the little looks and shrugs that count. Remember the Losties are not young, their core personalities would already have been formed. Half the fun is watching them adapt to this unbelievable situation they are in, and sure, some of them will go through revelations and changes. But not all and not all the time, please.
Anyhow, good discussion Personally I hope the show keeps the same formula that's made it compelling viewing for most of so far. Most people seem to bemoan the lack of answers, but I'm in the camp that the more questions the better. Speculation is part of the fun, let's just hope it will all be satisfactorily explained at the end.
Re: Thoughts on Enter 77 and the Future of Lost Part I
Don't know much about ratings, but I do know I hardly ever watch Lost on television anymore. I watch it Thursday morning at ABC.com because it works better with my schedule. There must be some fans who are doing the same thing.
However, at Christmas, another woman who used to get together with me and some friends went on a diatribe about how she had given up Lost because she felt used and manipulated by the turn the story took when Michael killed Ana and Libby. Another friend who was an avid Lost fan gave up this fall and hasn't watched since the return in February. No doubt there are many others who feel much like they do and have found something else to watch or do Wednesdays.