May 19, 2010

Finally Not Lost

[I don't want to irritate anyone by spilling the beans, so there are spoilers in these here woods.  If you haven't watched last night's episode, or if you plan on watching all six seasons prior to Sunday night, don't read this.]

The final season of Lost is almost done.  On Sunday, we will be treated to a glut of Lost that rivals the Super Bowl: a two hour retrospective, a two and a half hour finale, and then a one hour Jimmy Kimmel about Lost.  If you have no interest in the show - just avoid ABC on Sunday.  (And avoid the Food Network tonight.  I am very excited about the Dinner Impossible tonight from the set of Lost.  I love seeing the cast when they aren't in character, like on the Ace of Cakes from over there last year.)

I have been a fan of Lost since the first season, sixth episode ("House of the Rising Sun").  That was when I stopped listening to my friend Toney telling me all the awesome stuff that was happening and started to watch it myself.  I never missed another one - and we have all the seasons on DVD.  I bought season one and went back and watched the whole thing to make sure I had seen all the episodes.  I have read Doc Jensen's excellent and challenging work in recapping the shows over at since the very beginning.  Yes, I have had my falling outs with them.  When Michael inexplicably shot Ana Lucia and Libby in Season Two, I just about quit watching the show.  It had become too violent for me.  But, somehow, it lured me back by the next week.  Like most Lost fans, I hated the Paolo and Nikki storyline and was happy they got whacked.  And, while I didn't have as many issues with the time travelling lines as some people, I started to get frustrated late last season.  And that carried over into season six.

I have gone on record on this blog, in my Facebook posts, in conversations with people that I now am watching Lost out of obligation instead of excitement.  I've invested too much into the show to not see how it ends.  Heather still enjoyed the show, but I was more excited about Glee and Castle and the USA stable (Psych, White Collar, Royal Pains).  I grew weary of the convoluted plots, the introduction of new mysteries and characters so late in the game.  And I just got worn out from always trying to read into everything.

But something changed last week during the episode "Across the Sea."  Many people got very mad at the episode, feeling it just brought more mystery than answers.  But, to me, it clicked everything into place.  That continued this past week with "Why They Died."  I feel that I finally get it - finally know what the show is all about.  I also finally completely grasp the genius that went into the show.  And I can't wait to Sunday.

To understand Lost, you need to play video games.  Think about when you are playing one of the Mario games.  You land into this place and go off:  fighting all these enemies, figuring out puzzles, putting your life at risk.  You battle koopa troopas and goombas and guys riding on clouds.  And then at the end of the level, you battle what you think is the bad guy.  Only that turns out to be one of the lieutenants.  And all you really did was gain access to another set of battles - followed by another lieutenant.  Eventually, after busting through all these pretenders, you are finally left with a battle with the main bad guy.  This is the person behind it all.  He's the one who built all the intricate and overly difficult traps.  He's the one who kidnapped the princess or stole the magic beans or whatever.  When you beat him, you finally have won - unless it is one of those really mean games and they surprise you with yet another person who was actually the one behind it all.

Lost is something like this.  What's the point?  We finally have found out that the island contains this special light - the source of goodness and all that awesomeness.  And that light needs protected.  The true battle is good vs. evil - defense of this light vs. its destruction.  It is more than Others vs Castaways.  It is more than Castaways vs. Smokey.  It is even more than Jacob vs. Man in Black.  It is protecting the light.  All of those other things were like layers (or levels) that had been wrapped around that defense.  The closest level is the one of Jacob against the Man in Black.  This has been going on for apparently centuries.  But they are just the latest in a long line of protectors and destroyers (kind of like the long line of button pushers in the hatch).  The drama of Jacob vs Smokey drew our castaways into the fray.  Jacob was looking for a replacement, knowing that he couldn't stay alive forever.  So he recruited and interjected himself into their lives.

Once they arrived, they faced the dangers - but it wasn't immediately being drawn into the true battle for the light source.  Sure, that battle was there.  Smokey (Man in Black) made an appearance in the very first episode and his influence was felt throughout the whole series - Jack's father, for one example.  These castaways were not ready for the true battle.  They were selfish and broken and weak.  The gauntlet they would have to face would change them.  At first, it was largely due to the rough terrain.  Then it was Rousseau shooting at them - and her warning about the "sickness."  There were The Others.  The Hatch.  The Dharma Initiative.  All of that looked like it was the main reason for everything.  We spent hours trying to figure out the etchings in the Hatch, trying to glean info on what was going on.  We watching the Orientation Film dozens of times, reading into every word.  It looked like the mysterious Dharma Initiative was the main thing.

Then the focus switched to Ben Linus and the Others.  We had the super-annoying Tailies diversion.  It seemed like a whole season was spent learning about a group of people who all got whacked in short order.  (I am thoroughly convinced that Season Two was merely because the show runners had to come up with stuff to keep the show going until they were able to get into the final battle.  ABC's decision to let them have an end date saved the series.  Otherwise, we all would have had to put up with seasons and seasons of those kind of diversions.)  And all along the way, there were these crazy and mysterious things happening.  We wanted answers.  What's the deal with the polar bears?  What is up with the numbers, the whispers, the skeletons?  Soon, the Dharma Initiative was tossed aside and many fans went with it - angry that so much time was spent on some goofy group of hippy scientists.  Every time they popped back up (like in Season Five's trip to the 1970 era Dharma world), we would hope this would bring answers.  But, like Will Smith found out in I, Robot, it was about asking the right questions.

The castaways were working their way through all of the battles to get to the final true battle.  All of those other conflicts - the Others, Dharma, Widmore, Freighter Folks, Flash Forward, Flash Sideways - they were actually caused by people trying to get to that Source.  The Dharma group was there trying to tap into the amazing properties of the Island that was generated by the Source.  So there was a whole series of mysteries involved in each group that came into the battle.  And each one of those would divert us from the main battle.  Once the castaways broke through a set of conflicts, the show just jettisoned them - and left tons of questions unanswered in the process.

This is what drove people, myself included, nutso.  "How dare they suck me in to how Hurley and Libby were at the same institution and then just kill her?"  But, we were getting distracted by the side issues.  Frankly, it was like getting really far into a video game and then wondering what the Goombas' motivation for doing something was.  When you are about to fight Bowser in the final showdown, should you still be getting thrown off by why some Koopas can fly and only some can throw hammers?

If you think back on the series, it was all constructed for this moment.  Everything was about getting to this point.  But there was a maze to get to this point.  We can look back and see Jacob's hands all over the place.  His emissary Richard popped up all over.  Jacob had led the castaways there.  And his desire to protect the Source had led to many of the conflicts.  The Man in Black was present throughout.  He was trying to kill the candidates.  He was wrecking havoc.  He was trying to find a way to kill Jacob.  And then he was trying to find a way off the Island.  The creators of the show had this battle raging behind the scenes from the very beginning.

It was a classic Hero's Journey from literature.  Just like Odysseus had to traverse multiple battles on his way home, the castaways also had to fight their way to the one true answer.  Their questions many times when unanswered.  "What do the numbers mean?  Where is Cindy the Stewardess?  Why do The Others kidnap kids?"  They would get distracted or get involved in another skirmish.  They would suffer the effects of another group's attempts to gain control of the Island.  Bad guys and good guys would flip like Othello pieces when they realized what was really at stake.  More questions.  "What is the importance of Miles and Hurley being able to talk to the dead?  Did Sayid turn Ben bad?  What's the deal with Dogan?  Why did Kate get her name crossed of?"  And then finally, around the fire in last night's episode, Kate asked the right question.  She asked Jacob what all the people had died for.  And Jacob exhaled with a look of relief and satisfaction on his face.  He didn't come up with a snarky response.  It wasn't another red herring.  It was as if he was relieved he finally had the opportunity to enlighten them.  "If you sit down around the fire, I'll tell you why."

And then he laid it all out right there.  There is a Source.  If it isn't protected, things will get bad.  If Man in Black doesn't get killed, things will get bad.  There is a war.  YOU have to finish it.  And then Jack took the job of protector (was there a doubt?).  They finally had the answers.  They didn't then respond with, "OH YEAH?!?  Well, then tell me how that black horse showed up in season one!"  They came to grips with the reality of the situation and readied themselves for what promises to be a thrilling final battle.  Smokey did his part, removing some of the extra baggage (Zoe, Widmore).  [For the record, I don't think Richard is dead.  I know that was a big throw, but wasn't he immortal?  And if Smokey could have killed him, he already would have.]  What we have left is the final combatants.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley on one side.  FakeLocke on the other.  Ben on his own side.  Desmond as a weapon to be manipulated.  And, unfortunately for him I fear, Miles is there as another piece of cannon fodder.

I'm not sure of the way the Sideways World plays into all of this.  I am sure it plays a part into how to get rid of Locke.  But it is just another piece in the overall battle of protecting the Source.  (I also think it was created through yet another attempt to manipulate that Source.)  I kind of feel like the Castaways.  As a viewer, I have been through a lot.  I have had my heart broken, my trust shaken, my pulse quickened.  And now, I am finally understanding and ready for the final showdown.  I cannot wait for Sunday's show.  All of my questions may not end up being answered.  But I have a feeling that at the end, I won't care if they aren't.  It really has been a brilliant show.

Of course, if the show ends with it all being a dream of some guy in Vermont or the castaways end up in a jail cell or if it just ends with a black screen, I reserve the right to reject everything I just said.

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