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Friday, June 11, 2010

Kate's Horse

At the end of Lost ...

..and it should be noted that when I say "end of Lost", I mean the final episode of the final season of the TV show and hence, everything in this post is nothing but a series of serious spoilers for anyone still planning on watching the show. So if you haven't seen the show to the end, I would go find a video about a cat playing piano or something.


At the end of Lost we discover that the Smoke Monster was a cigar ...

Ah. See? Big spoilers. Now go away.

Now let's see if I can do this in one grammatically correct sentence:

At the end of Lost, we discover that the Smoke Monster was in fact an entity transformed when his brother Jacob, protector of the island, tossed him into a well of mysterious light and that his (if in fact genderless amorphic beings can be called such) prime motivation was to kill Jacob and any candidates for Jacob's position as protector so that he (the Smoke Monster) could leave the island.

OK: here is my first piece of evidence that Lost failed as a show. I'm betting that if anyone just starting the show ignored all those warnings and just read that bit, they wouldn't make it past season three.

Why? Because of Kate's Horse. See, the sad thing is that even if it is nearly an accident of convenient writing, the fact that Smoke Monster can't directly kill the candidates but rather must trick them into killing each other or offing themselves is a neat premise. Kind of like Saw but with brains, which is something I wouldn't mind watching.

And this is the main conflict of season six - that the candidates must save the island before Smoke Monster figures out a clever way to end them.

So why is Kate's Horse a problem? Because it shows that this wasn't the main conflict of the show ... just season six. In fact, I don't think Lost ever really had central source of conflict - it was always just Man versus Crazy Shit The Writers Made Up. If we were to believe season six as the "reveal" of the show, then we would be able to look back at past seasons and see how it was all playing out.

But let's look at the Smoke Monster's victims have died: crushed in tree, chewed off arm, crushed in tree, crushed against tree, slammed into tree, buried alive, stabbed by Ben, slammed against floor, slammed against person, slammed against person, crushed by ceiling, slammed into cage, blown up, drowned, broken neck, shot, slit throat.

You'll notice a theme. A lot of slamming, and a few creative incidents like getting Nikki buried alive after biting her in the shape of the spider. Oh, that Medusa Spider was the Smoke Monster, confirmed by producers. You can hear the mechanical sound when they approach and (thankfully) setup Nikki and Pool Boy for their final scene.

So in other words - occasionally Smoke Monster stuck to the premise, but usually it just slammed things around. When it wasn't slamming things around, it would occasionally appear as Christian Shepherd.

Or Kate's Horse. Why would the form of Kate's Horse be useful to the goals of the Smoke Monster? Well, it wouldn't. But gee golly it was neat, wasn't it? Where did that horse come from?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Lost was written. Just a series of distractions lumped in a row. So without any further adieu, my final final thoughts on the show:

It was a character driven show that ran out of character development
The first defense people give for Lost's feel good reunion of a finale is that Lost was, in fact, "all about the characters" and not really about the origins of smoke monsters or how the island does stuff or DHARMA or anything. Prior to the finale, the producers stated they would only answers questions about the show "the characters cared about". Which considering how bad these characters were at figuring out what was happening around them meant: not much.

The first three seasons of Lost had a consistent formula: character backstories interwoven with island mystery. It was getting pretty obvious by Season Three, though, that most of the relevant history of all the main characters - even the Tailies that had been added in Season Two, had been well illustrated. In Season Three, Lost fans suffered through two completely unnecessary characters: Nikki and Paulo, for more backstory fodder.

In Season Four - we start to get flashforwards and other twists on the backstories ... but they serve little in the way of adding to these characters. Actually, at this point most of the "off island" content actually serves the mystery plot. Who is the person in the coffin? Why does Jack want to return to the island and how will they get that done?

Truthfully, the characters of Lost work well as sketches and often in ways to offer up some brilliant dialogue ... but the note that the show ends on ... that love is what will get you to heaven ... is easily the weakest part. The motivations the characters have to fall for each other, with obvious exceptions like the Kwans, is often somewhat forced and probably best attributed to jungle fever as opposed to "the most important thing in their life".

Here's my proof on this: can anyone tell me why Kate loves Jack? What is it about him? They've already endured one failed relationship. She often acts closer to Sawyer than anyone else (particularly physically - the only steamy scenes we get with Kate are with Sawyer, not Jack). And Jack - oh, Jack. People - Jack is a complete loser. Every one of Jack's plans fails miserably throughout all six seasons and all the way up to the last episode. In fact, the only version of Jack which is isn't a loser is the one that wasn't even real. No, more likely Kate "loves" Jack because at the last minute the writers decide that love conquers all and Sawyer made a little more sense with Juliet.

The writers became pathological about not revealing anything
If the crown jewels of the show was the characters, as the producers like to say, then why was it that the writers went so far out of their way to only offer explanations about the island in short discrete bursts, usually during season opener and closers? By the end of the show, the cast includes two characters - Ben and Juliet - who once were part of The Others, the mysterious antagonistic group for most of the first half of the show. Ben was the leader of The Others, and nobody ever bothers to ask to get even basic answers from them like who they are and what they want, except to get inanely vague answers like "We're the good guys."

Bizarre examples from the show: Sawyer at one point has Karl, a refugee from The Others with certainly no love for Ben at gunpoint. Instead of bringing him back to camp, he tells him to run off. When Sayid, our stalwart interrogator/torturer asks why - Sawyer doesn't really have an answer. Locke at one point inexplicably destroys an entire DHARMA building, despite the building having tons of documentation and apparently access to the outside world.

Or my favorite: Man In Black had a name, people. It was Samuel all along. The point of making it such a secret? They just wanted to give the audience one more thing to guess about. Anyone looking for deeper meaning in the absence of his name will come up empty handed.

Much like everything else about the show.

The finale capped off six seasons' of inconsistent, convenient writing
Even a defender of the show recently admitted the Smoke Monster started off as a mindless beast, to some kind of calculating security system, to an actual man - and it is not an easy or smooth transition if you go back through episodes. It has the appearance until about Season Five that they are simply revealing new aspects of the creature, but the revelation that it is Jacob's brother and the rules that go along with it breaks that trend and any sense of cohesion that was being setup in the first half of the show. The Smoke Monster can't hurt the Losties? He is stuck in Locke's form? If you were to re-watch the show from the beginning now, what used to be a great and original threat is now shrouded with questions like, "doesn't Jacob control this thing with his rules anyway?".

And in the finale the show can't even follow the same concepts it had outlined episodes ago ... even within the same season, Jack's interaction with the Magic Light Cave is completely different from Jacob's in Across The Sea. For some time the show makes a big deal about details, lists and rules - but by the end credits of the finale it is hard to find any that the show itself decided were worth paying any attention.

There was an underscored theme of Season Six: why ask questions?

The big questions that fell off the table after Season Three are numerous. The sickness, a massive portion of the island events early in the show, is never really explained despite having Doctor Juliet join the cast. One might be lead to think that pregnancy and children are very important to some deeper mythology of the show, but one would be wrong. One would be simply thinking too much.

It would work better as a dream
Why is Kate's Horse in the jungle? There is no reason plausible based on the events of the show. What happened, happened - and it apparently always about faith and not reason.

The only way to reconcile six season's worth of dropped plot concepts is to accept that normal logic just does not apply. This is why I think so many people mistook Jack's final scene as an indication that they were dead all along - it makes the cognitive dissonance required to watch the show beginning to end so much easier. As Neil Gaiman might say, sometimes dream logic is the only way to tell the story.

And here is why I am so disappointed in Lost: they couldn't even give us that much. They couldn't even give us a cliche excuse of an explanation but instead pulled a mass cop out and went for the heartstrings. And then acted as if the show was never really about the mysteries of the island in the first place.

Meh. Lost, we had some good times - but I wish I had broken up with you seasons ago. Now I get to listen to The Girl brag about how right she was about the show until the end of time.

So, you know, thanks for that.


Josh said...

Footnote: I think when writing this I realized my litmus test for a show like Lost.

Try explaining this show to someone without sound like a complete idiot, especially if you add spoilers.

Unknown said...

Serendipitously, I was thinking of your commentaries and LOST over lunch today. It occurred to me that one metaphor you used, "moving pieces into place", during the last season was ultimately ill-suited to what really happened.

They had us hoping -- you, others, and me -- that there was a big game board and that something important would be revealed in the end that made at least a large part of the structure make sense.

But we were wrong. They were charlatans and we should recognize them as such.

Josh said...

Yeah, when I looked back at old posts I realized that I had given the writers that excuse several times. But chess pieces only do good on a chessboard.

With people, you know, playing chess. And not just making up rules as they go. Otherwise you're just shuffling things around to create distraction.

Josh said...

Also, I think I've decided that many TV reviewers exist only to service hardcore fans.

Steve said...

Let it go man. Just let it go...

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.