Thursday, October 12, 2006

Has LOST lost me?

No-oo-oo. Not quite yet at any rate.

After what I felt was a really disappointing season 3 opening episode, a week ago Wednesday, I'm happy to say that LOST had me on the edge of my seat again last night, clutching my husband's hand and happily watching through the static-y haze of our awful television reception.

LOST is actually the only television show we watch anymore. Without cable, a luxury we've not been able to afford for a while (time or money wise) we can get almost no reception in our area. Yet we've discovered that if we wiggle the knobs and adjust the rabbit ears on the old t.v. set in the bedroom, we can, wonder of wonders, get in a mostly discernable ABC. Sometimes when the weather outside is stormy, like it was last night, the images flicker once in a while as well as appearing in a snow-like static. Of couse, all of this just increases the fun of watching a show that thrives on dark jungle scenes and mysterious nano-second glimpses of creatures or monsters that reeeallly shouldn't be on a tropical island at all.

Either our reception is improving or I'm just getting used to it, but sometimes I hardly remember that we're challenged viewers...until there's an emergency in the hatch or it starts raining buckets in the jungle, at which points we both find ourselves moving several feet closer to the set and muttering things to each other like "Did I just see what I think I saw?" and "What did you see?" "No, wait -- I'll tell you what I thought I saw at the commercial!"

So oddly enough, the bad t.v. reception is part of the fun for us now. We're grateful to my oldest sister and her husband, who actually tape the shows and send them to us now and again (it's great! We can catch up on weeks' worth, and actually see action that we could only guess at before!) but Wednesday night at 9 has become a standing "date" for us. So I'm relieved beyond measure that season 3 looks to be shaping up after a shaky beginning.

Maybe it was just me though. I've had my doubts and perplexities from the beginning of season 2 onward, as to whether or not the writers of the show really know where they're going with this story or are just winging it as they go. What makes me stick with it is the characters, whom I've actually begun to care about (in that vicarious compassion we all feel for fictional characters from time to time...for me, usually far more intensely in books than in movies or television).

From a writing point of view, this show is a dream. You've got a fairly intense but ordinary situation to start out with: plane crash, survivors needing to cope on a deserted (or so they think) island. The characters are very definite "types": the doctor, the con man, the soldier, the spoiled rich girl, the struggling married couple, the addict, the ex-convict, the pregnant woman, the overweight guy who likes to play the class clown... and as time progressed, a few other tried and true type characters emerged as well, like the ex-cop and the priest. But because each week gives the writers a chance to discover more layers of one of the character's story through flashbacks (see what I mean about it being a writer's dream!) none of these characters feel typical or "stock" at all. In fact, most of them have rather complex back stories...which is probably true of most of us in real life if you stop to think about it. And the situation of being on a mysterious island, an island that turns out to be inhabited after all (though we're still not entirely sure by how many people, how many groups, and who they all are/what they're doing there) and dangerous, brings out the best and worst in these characters. They find surprising strengths when the need arises, but they also find themselves stumbling into their worst weaknesses and fears.

The writers have played all that brilliantly: how the struggle to survive on the island brings out the dominant traits and engrained habits in these people, for better or for worse. Everything gets magnified: Jack's ardent need for control; Kate's tendency to run; Sawyer's instinct to con; Locke's hunger for mystery and meaning; Sayid's war-time training, and on and on.

If I were writing this show, or writing this as a novel, I know I would have taken it a far more theological direction. What struck me as interesting from the start was how the dangers and mysteries they encountered on the island forced these people to deal with their inner struggles, their sins, their weaknesses, to come face to face with losses and deferred dreams in their lives. And since the writers have made much of some of the seemingly strange "coincidences" that brought some of them to be on the plane in the first place, and even some odd connections between the characters (or between people the characters knew) in "real life" off the island, it all just had the scent of Providence. These characters were on the plane because they were supposed to be, and because they needed to be in this particular time and place to work out their lives, perhaps for some of them even their salvation (in fear and trembling).

Well, that's how I'd write it, anyway. It's not how it's being written, which I guess is pretty much to be expected. When the show does try to tackle issues with any spiritual depth, they often stumble. But I had hoped they would at least retain more of a sense of the mystery of the island. Instead, as time goes on, it's become more science-fiction-like, with "rational" or "scientific" explanations for almost everything (though with lots still to be explained). Welcome to the reductionist, materialist world of the 21st century (she says with a sigh).

Still, it's a good and creative show. Despite the fact that I kept thinking intelligent, talking apes or possibly storm troopers might show up in this season's first episode, I'm going to hang with it. It's interesting storytelling, and it keeps me thinking about what makes written characters really work and not work -- what makes us care about the fate of "fictional people." For now, LOST hasn't lost me -- even when I have to watch it through the snow!


Erin said...

Hehe, that's encouraging to know LOST is still good enough that you're willing to troop through the fuzz for it. I'm still a season behind, but I'm taping this season - and this time I think it's working - so I do believe I will catch up one day... *crosses fingers*

Beth said...

Hee! Yep, last night hooked me again. At least enough to keep trying to watch it.

Season Two was not nearly as good as season one in my humble opinion, though it had its moments. I think I was especially disappointed by the way the season ended, and since that's the storyline they had to pick up in season three, it just wasn't working for me right away. All in all though, I still think this is one of the most creative t.v. shows I've ever seen!