Friday, February 5, 2010

Thoughts on The Beginning of the End

I try to be unbiased about Lost. I don't want to be some geeked out fanboy who will scarf down even the crumbs from the desk of Cuse and Lindelof. I want to watch and review each episode with the cool objectivity of some seasoned TV critic. So why is it then, that after most episodes, all I can manage to cough up from my college-educated, English-major vocabulary is, "THAT WAS FREAKIN' AWESOME!"

And actually, it seems like even those cold, seasoned TV critics are wetting the bed in anticipation of this final lap of Lost. This is what we've all been waiting 8 long months for, and the way I see it, this premiere was a promise--an engagement ring, if you will, which turns out to be a perfect symbol on multiple levels. We are circling back, back to Oceanic flight 815, where it all began. More than that though, this is a pledge, from the producers of the show to the fans, that this season will be every bit as awesome as Season 1. Let me clarify.

I'm definitely not one of those people who think that Season 1 was great and it just all went downhill from there. Lost has certainly had its ups and downs (a lot more ups, imo), and personally, I thought Season 3, especially the latter half, was sheer brilliance. But on the whole, there's just no denying the superiority of Season 1. I'd be willing to bet that almost anyone who has gone back and watched that first season after having seen 1-5 will say the same. And the remarkable thing is that Season 1 had very little of the mythology that has engulfed the show now. Sure, it held out some mysteries and teasers to get us curious and searching for answers (What's the monster? What's in the hatch? Who else is on the island?). But ultimately, what Season 1 did better than anything else was it got us invested in the characters. It wrenched our hearts with a handful of stories about people whose unfortunate status of being lost on an island was merely a microcosm of their need for rescue in the real world.

It's easy to see how Season 6's ongoing question, "What would have happened had they never crashed?" is functionally the same as Season 1's ongoing question, "What happened before they crashed?" For over 5 seasons now, John Locke has been telling the other castaways, as well as us, that there is a reason they crashed. It was no accident; they were brought to the island by someone/thing. What better way to test that theory than to to be able to see precisely how things turn out when they don't crash? I get the feeling that Locke will ultimately be vindicated.

Going forward, each episode will now be character-centric; that is, each one will focus on one particular character. (There'll be a Kate episode, a Locke episode, etc., etc. SPOILER ALERT: I hear we'll finally get a Richard episode!) We're now getting to the true heart of the show, and by the end of the season, we will know the answers to the most important questions: Why are these people on this island? and How will they find redemption? And oh yeah, along the way we'll find out more about the Smoke Monster, Jacob, Richard, the Island, etc. And don't get me wrong--I'm no mythology-hater. I wouldn't be very happy if these kinds of questions weren't addressed. In fact, next to the exchange between Jack and Locke near the end, my favorite part of the premiere was when Locke/MIB morphs into Smokey, throws people around like some pissed off giant squid, then tells Ben with a confident smirk, "I'm sorry you had to see me like that." Are you kidding me! I jumped out of my chair when he said that!

So I'll just say right now that I'm throwing any pretense of objectivity out the window of an 8-story building. Season 6 will be the ultimate ALT version of Season 1: character-driven, redemptive stories, but this time with answers instead of questions. Freakin' awesome.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lost Rewatch: Week 5

Yeah, so, I missed a few weeks. I'm persevering though, and I am currently on track. This is week 5 of the Lost Rewatch.

". . . In Translation" "Numbers" "Deus Ex Machina"

In various interviews, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Jack Bender have all been proclaiming that Season 6 will be very much like Season 1. They haven't said much more than that, so it's hard to say exactly what they mean by that. I think one thing we can be fairly certain of though is that S6 will really hone in on the themes of redemption and rebirth that were so central to S1. Actually, even though these themes are central to the entire series, we have yet to seem them featured so explicitly as we did in S1.

These three episodes for this week are particularly heavy on the redemptive notes. ". . . In Translation" is primarily about Jin and Sun, and how their relationship has been marked by wrongs done and then being forgiven. The big question is, how many times can they "start over"? And their story just pulls on our heartstrings to answer, "Please, one more time." Jin and Sun are the perfect example of the true focus of the show. Even though their characters seem to be among the least important to the mythology of the show, their episodes are always among the most beautiful and heartwrenching of each season. Also in this episode, Shannon, after a great pep talk from Locke, decides that she can also start over and find freedom from her odd relationship with Boone.

"Numbers" follows the story of Hurley and his struggle to be believed. Oddly enough, he finds some redemption in an encounter with a character who had recently shared his struggle, Rousseau (see S1E9, "Solitary").

In a temporary inversion of these themes, "Deus Ex Machina" presents us with a Locke who seems to be having his second chance taken away from him. He, of course, got a fresh start the moment he crashed on the island and his paralysis was healed. In this episode however, he has a crisis of faith after his paralysis starts to come back, Boone gets severely injured, and he repeatedly fails in his attempts to open the hatch. In the end, a deus ex machina saves the day when a (literal) flash of light renews his quest.

And throughout it all, we have a subplot that appears to be, on the surface, nothing more than good comic relief, but it actually holds a much deeper meaning. Sawyer battles severe headaches and eventually finds out he should be wearing glasses when reading the books he's become so fond of. The particular book he is seen reading in these episodes is Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, a children's science fiction/fantasy novel in which the characters travel through space and time (via a wormhole-like concept called a tesseract) to a mechanistic dystopian planet to save their dad from an entity that appears as a dark cloud and is referred to as "The Black Thing." Those resonances with Lost aside, it's the themes of the book that truly strike a harmonious chord. By the end of the novel, the characters have learned two essential lessons: 1) That love and faith can conquer any obstacle, including space, time, and evil; 2) Heroes are usually called from the least likely of places. L'Engle puts a passage from the Bible into the mouth of one of the characters to support this idea:

"The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are." (1 Corinthians 1:25–28)

Jin and Sun are full of weaknesses that hamper their marriage. Shannon has been called "useless" and is certainly not very wise. Hurley can't seem to catch a break in life and doesn't seem very "mighty" or "noble." Locke has been fooled, conned, deceived, and used more times than we would care to count. And yet, as Damon Lindelof recently stated, these characters do indeed have a destiny. Whatever surprises and answers to mysteries season 6 brings, we can be sure that these characters will finally find their respective purposes, the reasons they were brought to the island in the first place.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Hey, just checking in. I'm going to put up a new Rewatch post soon. In the meantime I though some people might be interested in this great essay I found on the book of Job. Job is one of my favorite books, and I believe Lost has lots of Jobian resonance, especially in the S5 finale. Not to mention that it has exactly 42 chapters! Dun-dun-dunnn! Here's the link:

It's a good chunk of text, but it's an excellent overview of the books plot and its message. I've looked at a number of published commentaries on Job, and this is much better than most of them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lost Rewatch: Week 2 (Belated)

Man, I can't believe I've gotten behind already. I'm gonna try to catch up in time for this weekend, which means this post and the next one might be a little shorter.

It's unfortunate that the Rewatch schedule has "Walkabout" and "White Rabbit" split into 2 separate weeks. I really feel like they belong together. In fact, the first 5 episodes seem to be somewhat of a "Act I" for the whole season. Post-"Pilot," the episodes focus on three characters: first Kate in "Tabula Rasa," then Locke in "Walkabout," then Jack in "White Rabbit." All 3 characters emerge as leaders in their respective episodes. In Kate, we see her compassionate side and her adeptness at keeping peace. When Sawyer uses a gun to shoot the polar blear, Kate strips it right out of his hands to ensure that he causes no further harm. The rest of the crew on the "transceiver mission" elect Kate to be the one to hold on the gun. In "Walkabout," Locke emerges from the jungle after a seemingly transforming encounter with the Monster and a successful boar hunt. Finally, in what can be viewed as a climax if the first act, Jack emerges from his own jungle trek ready to finally be the leader everyone has wanted him to be, culminating in the famous "Live Together, Die Alone" speech.

"White Rabbit" is a very astute title then. Many have pointed out the multi-tiered significance of Lost's obsession with the works of Lewis Carroll, so I won't rehash. But I would like to point out the structural significance of a white rabbit, which means the end of an introduction. Going down the rabbit hole is a sort of head-first dive into Wonderland. And even though Lost begins in medias res, episode 5 still feels like the end of an exposition stage of the narrative.

At the same time, the thematic focus of the show shifts at episode 6, "House of the Rising Sun." (I'm wondering if the word "Rising" here could be a reference to "rising action".) Even though focus on particular characters remains a central part of the show, the next few episodes begin to revolve around the new community that these characters are forced to create. Episodes 6-8 constantly make reference to political and social ideas. A few quick examples:

Jin being handcuffed and virtually "imprisoned." Also, as Sayid approaches Michael regarding to talk to him about the whole incident between he and Jin, Michael sarcastically shoots, "Now what? I already gave you my statement, sheriff." (House of the Rising Sun)

Locke's unorthodox way of handling Charlie's drug addiction. When Charlie asks Locke why he doesn't just throw the heroin away, Locke replies "If I did that you wouldn't have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing that separates you from him [points to a boar]" (The Moth)

The struggle over Sawyer's outlaw behavior, the use of torture and punishment. Jack says to Kate, "We're not savages, Kate. Not yet." (Confidence Man)

What's more is that Sawyer is seen with a copy of Watership Down, which is about anthropomorphized refugee bunnies who struggle over how to build a new community from scratch.

I'm going to have to cut this post short unfortunately, but before I do I just want to leave with something to think about. I'm working on a theory that perhaps this first season of Lost was intentionally divided into a five-part structure, like a play. I'm thinking that there may even be a literary tie-in in each "act" and that indicates transitions from one to another. Watership Down would definitely mark the transition from Act I to Act II. I'll see what else I can come up with as I continue watching the episodes.

One other thought: I noticed in these episodes that we are constantly seeing Sawyer chopping wood. With several allusions to The Wizard of Oz peppered throughout the show, it makes me wonder if Sawyer is some type of Tin Man, and his quest is to find a heart. More on that later.

Thanks for reading! Sorry it's so curt, but I am determined to not fall another week behind.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Checking In

I just read an excellent 1st week Rewatch blog from Jopinionated. She does a great job pointing out a lot of the foreshadowing that was going on in those first 4 episodes.

I'll be putting up my week 2 blog this weekend, and I'm very excited, especially about "White Rabbit." Lewis Caroll, here we come!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lost Rewatch: Week 1

It has begun. For the next 7 months, the Lost Rewatch is in full swing. For those unfamiliar with the Lost Rewatch, has all the info. Basically, many of us among the online community of Lost fans are rewatching all 5 seasons of Lost over the next 7 months, leading into the 6th and final season of the show in January. In addition, many of us are blogging about new insights that we can gain by rewatching the old episodes, knowing what we now know after 5 full seasons. I have decided to participate, so without further ado, here is my 2 cents on the first 4 episodes of Lost: "The Pilot Pt. 1," "The Pilot Pt. 2," "Tabula Rasa," and "Walkabout".


*Just a quick note before I begin: considering the fact that anyone who would read this has likely seen the episodes at least once and is now rewatching them at the same pace as everyone else, it would be superfluous to recap the episodes. Besides, I want to focus on the thematic material and general theories more than all of the various plots and subplots. So, rather than breaking things down and doing an episode-by-episode analysis, I'll just write on the things that I find most intriguing. Okay, now:

The Selva Oscura

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

These are the first three lines of Dante's Inferno, part of his epic poem The Divine Comedy, first in the original Italian, then in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's English translation.

Ever since Dante was translated into English and popularized in Britain and America, the selva oscura, or, as it is most frequently translated, "dark wood," has enjoyed a rich history of allusion. It has come to be a potent metaphor for being lost. The dark wood is a place where a person is no longer certain of the precepts he has built his life upon, and indeed no longer certain of who he is. The selva oscura is an obscured self. The Modernist poet T. S. Eliot was particularly fond of the image. In his "Four Quartets" he writes the lines:

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

From the very first scene, Lost is about knowledge, and the fault-prone nature of perspective. A close-up of an eye is always an indicator of this kind of theme. And as the viewer's eye (the camera lens) backs up from Jack's eye, we see he, like Dante, has also awaken in a dark wood, the sunlight obscured by foliage. He only remembers the plane starting to go down, and, as he later explains to Kate, he had blacked out. To this day we still don't know how Jack ended up in the woods when everyone else from his section of the plane was on the beach. The resemblance to Dante is uncanny:

"I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path."

These first few episodes of Lost seek to establish the dark wood, both metaphorically and literally. After all, in the very first episode we come within earshot of the soon-to-be-famous monster, terrifying the castaways and the viewer by roaming through the jungle and moving trees in its path. Immediately the jungle backdrop of the island becomes a place of mystery and unknown terrors, and we frequently hear conversations like this one from "Tabula Rasa":

SAYID: We should make camp.
SHANNON: What, here?
SAYID: Yes, here.
SAWYER: I'm not stopping. You all have a nice cookout.
SAYID: Excellent, walk through the jungle in the dark.
SAWYER: Oooo, afraid the trees are going to get us?
SAYID: No, what is knocking down the trees will get you.
(Transcript obtained from Lostpedia)

At the same time, this literal dark wood becomes a symbol for the metaphorical selva oscura. The primary focus is on the characters and not the mysteries, as the producers of the show have stated on numerous occasions. And as indicated by the central narrative device of the flashback, we quickly learn that the island will be a place in which these characters are confronted with their pasts. Jack struggles with the fact that the other castaways seem to have appointed him as their leader. (We will learn in future flashbacks exactly why that's so hard for him.) Sawyer seems to have the past of a badass, and we see him periodically looking at his letter. Charlie has his heroin problem. Sayid finds his picture of his lost love Nadia. And of course there are the pairs of people that have troubled histories with each other: Claire and Aaron, Boone and Shannon, Jin and Sun, Michael and Walt. But the two characters we learn the most about, in episodes 3 and 4 respectively, are Kate and Locke.

Kate Austen: She's Dangerous

After rewatching "Tabula Rasa," I concluded that it should probably rank at least in the top 5 in all 100+ episodes of Lost that have been produced. I get choked up every time I watch that last scene. It's technically our first character-centric episode, we get some major info in learning that Kate was the fugitive on the plane, and at the end of it all we're left pondering the nature of past sins and forgiveness. Not bad.

The title of the episode is a reference to the theme that holds the whole thing together. The English philosopher John Locke argued that every human person begins life with a tabula rasa, a "blank slate," and that a person's life can take any of an infinite number of directions, depending on circumstances and choices made. After an episode-long debate between Jack and Hurley, who find Kate's mugshot, about how much Kate's past should affect how they view her and treat her now, Jack comes to the conclusion that their island experience is a rare opportunity for a type of second tabula rasa. He even employs language of death and rebirth:

Kate:I want to tell you what I did - why he was after me.

JACK: I don't want to know. It doesn't matter, Kate, who we were - what we did before this, before the crash. It doesn't really matter—3 days ago we all died. We should all be able to start over.

KATE: Okay.

JACK: Okay.

Jack's words echo what Farmer Ray told Kate in one of the flashbacks: "Everyone deserves a fresh start."

Of course, as always with Lost, it's not that simple. Through the flashbacks we see that Kate's proclivity for always being on the run has continued to manifest itself on the island. And when Kate tells the Marshall that she finally got away, he insightfully replies, "You don't look free to me, Kate."

And so the title and theme of the episode, no sooner than it has registered with the viewer, is immediately called into question. Do these characters truly have a clean slate? After season 5, I would think the answer would have to be an emphatic no. We now know that there are forces who have been influencing the fates of the castaways throughout their lives. I still believe, however, that all of them are being given an opportunity for a second chance, but none of them have got there just yet.

Even so, the conclusion of the episode allows us to enjoy a brief and joyful glimpse into the power of forgiveness and second chances, as all the conflicts that have arisen on the island seem to be, at least temporarily, "washed away," as the lyrics for Hurley's music indicates. And just as you're starting to get a little emotional, a little teary-eyed, okay, now sobbing uncontrollably, we cut to Locke, in his familiar pose, meditating on the beach, and the most creeptastic music ever tells us that maybe Kate isn't really the dangerous one.

John Locke: Light or Dark?

The image above is probably one of the most telling about the character of John Locke. As I was rewatching "Walkabout," something about the light in the shot stuck out to me. The light coming from the left side just seems especially intense. I don't know if the sun was shining just right during that day of filming or if they brought in some artificial light. Regardless, the way the scene is shot is undoubtedly intentional. Locke is being shown with one light side and one dark side, just like the backgammon pieces he showed Walt in the previous episode.

In contrast with the end of the previous episode, which really tried to creep us out about Locke, this one does everything it can to garner our sympathies for the man, who, as we learn through this episode and many more to come, led a tragic and pathetic life before coming to the island. But of course, if there's one person on the island to whom tabula rasa really applies, it's certainly the man whose eponym most fully expounded the idea. This is the episode where we find out that Locke was in a wheelchair before the crash and was somehow healed on the beach. And we now know how Locke ended up in the wheelchair (his dad pushed him out of an eighth-story window). So we can also surmise that Locke's healing isn't simply physical. The physical healing is perhaps an indication that he can also be free from the daddy issues that have plagued him his whole life.

And if that isn't enough, we also have images of rebirth in Locke's first encounter with the monster. Locke is presumed dead by Jack and Kate. When Jack sees his dead dad in the woods, he pursues him, but then runs into the presumed-dead Locke walking out of the jungle with a slain boar in tow. So just like when he was pushed out of that window and was revived by Jacob, and just like when he was denied what he thought was his destiny, only to be transported to a place much better and receive back the use of his legs, the seemingly hopeless Locke is given yet another chance.

Paradoxically, however, we also see in this episode that Locke is a believer in destiny, which is a motif of this episode, almost a mirror opposite of the previous "Tabula Rasa." It would seem that the ideas of a pre-ordained destiny and that of being born a blank slate would be mutually exclusive. But we seem to be given every indication that both types of forces are at work in the lives of these characters. Jacob seems to be a sort of incarnation of this duality, as he governs the paths of the castaways while at the same time emphasizing their free will. My hunch is that Lost will end in such a way that will allow us to believe in both.

Lost itself is indeed a selva oscura that does everything it can to challenge our assumptions and judgments. And even though this show has way too much moral ambiguity to be a strict allegory like The Divine Comedy, rewatching season 1 assures me that Lost has always been a show about good and evil. It just so happens that it is also a show about the faultiness of our perception of good and evil. The dark jungle of the island is a place where an incomprehensible terror romps about, where dead men walk, where polar bears inhabit tropical climates. In other words, it's a place where all our logical expectations are defied, and we are truly lost.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Kate and Locke seem to be the 2 characters most willing to enter the dark wood. Kate, throughout these first 4 episodes, jumps at every opportunity for a mission into the jungle. Locke steps up as the hunter, wanders the woods alone, faces down the monster, and emerges triumphantly with meat for his new family. And at the end it of all, we are being set up to follow Jack for his entrance into the selva oscura, to find Christian Shephard, his dead father.

Hope is a very dangerous thing to lose (Sayid, "Tabula Rasa")

All hope abandon, ye who enter here (Dante, "The Inferno")

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Can These Bones Live? Reconstitute = Resurrect

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"
I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know."

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.' " (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

Ever since the end of season 3, it has been my dream that the theme of resurrection that has been woven into the tapestry of Lost would one day play itself out in the form of literal resurrections in the plot. And so, even though John Locke is my favorite character on the show, I was ecstatic to see that it was he in the coffin at the end of season 4 because it meant that, in all likelihood, he would be raised to life again, i. e., resurrected. And somehow, though it seems like it should have been so obvious, I didn't see it coming.

However, one thing I did dream up at that time, over a year ago, was that perhaps the pit of the skeletons of former DI members was intended to be a reference to the valley of the dry bones in the book of Ezekiel. In this story, God gives the prophet Ezekiel a vision in which he is shown valley of dry bones belonging to dead Israelites. God instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones and tell them to live, and the bones begin to reconstitute themselves and grow tendons and flesh. They become an army of living Israelites ready to take the promised land back after a long exile. The vision is given to Ezekiel as a message of hope for he and his people, that God will indeed restore them to their land. (I have quoted part of the passage above. If you'd like the read the rest, you can do so here.)

And now you might see why I'm getting excited all over again by the new Dharma video that was debuted at this year's Comic-Con. Our beloved Dharma tour guide, Dr. Marvin Candle (who reveals his real name to be Pierre Cheng), pleads with whomever might see his video that they must reconstitute the Dharma Initiative. It's an interesting word choice. There are numerous other words that could have been used here: reform, recreate, rebuild. Better yet, he could have worded it as "form a new Dharma Initiative," which would seem to be much more in sync with the whole Octagon Global Recruiting gimmick. Reconstitute though seems to have the connotation of taking old parts and putting them back together again. ( gives the words reconstruct and recompose as close synonyms.)

My theory is that the scene from season 3 with Locke lying in the pit of Dharma skeletons was a bit of foreshadowing in more ways than one. Locke will be raised from the dead, and with him will be an army of formerly dead DIs, ready to take back the promised land. Now THAT will be something to see!