Sunday, October 08, 2006



Following several months of anticipatory cult TV drool, the third season of Lost premiered this past week in fine form. I'm not among the marginal contingent of former fans who think the show took a nosedive somewhere near the end of season two; despite the annoying intermittent interruption of reruns and an occasionally lagging pace, the scripting follows a structure that I think makes it near impossible to lose footing completely.

The storyline is fascinating because it leaves open so much room for speculation at every step of the way, while revealing enough details bit-by-bit to suggest that there is, indeed, something really going on behind the curtain. I never find this frusterating to the point where I'd like to shut off the tube and turn to South Park (although it also debuted a new season on Wednesday, maintaining its typically admirable wit).

Granted, the creators may have shot themselves in the foot by allowing so many passengers on the downed plane to survive and then introducing a wealth of natives with personalities of their own requiring careful development. It seems virtually impossible for everyone to recieve their due attention, and often this results in the marginalization of certain characters over others (or Others, in some cases). In this week's episode, for example, we spent the whole time in Othersville (when we weren't crawling around in Jack's woeful memories of his divorce), where our three pretty faces from the planewreck meet their captors within the confines of an enigmatic labryinth more befuddling than your garden-variety magnetized hatch. That leaves a ton of favorite faces (Sayid, Hurley, Kim) lingering in the mysterious threads unspooled in the seaon two finale. Personally, I couldn't care less; practically every installment of Lost has at least one utterly entrancing moment, and I can't think of a single episode that didn't end with the one-two punch of a mini-resolution and a toe-tingling cliffhanger to keep the dedicated viewer contingent on edge.

I'm not going to bother with recapping every fabulous moment of season three's debut, since so many others have already done a fine job. The brilliant, virtually unprecedented phenomenon of the Lost Experience is more than just a clever marketing tool. The show is smart and invariably complex, inspiring some serious dialogue that requires analytic insight on par with any literary interpretation. Each week a new episode generates a heavy historiography, which I appreciate even though I'm not one to peruse every fansite out there-- I'd prefer not to mar my appreciation for the plot twists by attempting to make them fit in with this or that conspiracy theory. The best writing about Lost focuses on aesthetic appreciation for everything that makes it great: The multi-faceted performances, money shots, music cues, random nuggets of pop culture. Speculation about the larger scheme is ultimately irrelevant, since the drama on the show is involving no matter what the big picture may be. Still, culling together clues can be fun from time to time. Lost chroniclers who find the right balance between enjoyment and investigation (rather than gushing approval or pure business-like inquiry into the supposed facts) are nailing the appeal exactly where it lies: subjective perspectives on truth. This is a story about confusion surrounding a puzzle where a solution seems practically impossible, but not altogether illogical, and it requires an inquisitive open mind. I'd like to single out two from this week:

Christine Fenno at EW, taking over the trenchant reigns from Scott Brown, does a fine job deconstructing some of episode's better moments, including Michael Emerson's increasingly eerie role as the apparent head baddie (although his minions might not be as bad as he) and the introduction of Juliet as a troubled mind divided between her island duties and...something that gets her all chocked up when she listens to Petula Clark's "Downtown." There's nothing like a attractive woman with sympathetic eyes and a hidden tough side to spice things up for world-weary, dad-deprived Jack.

Andrew Dignan at The House Next Door engages with the show from several fascinating angles, although he's a tad too critical, if you ask me. I enjoyed Jack's background story, since it shows his vulnerability and inhibits his determination. It's sometimes hard to tell where the conflict lies on the island, since so much has yet to be understood, but these sort of flashbacks underline the pervading gloom that hinders everyone for their own reason-- and, chillingly, how the island often seems to provide respite from a crueler world. But Dignan makes a fair point, even if I disagree with the resolute pessimism in his tone, about the way the show sometimes awkwardly oscillates between simplistic characterizations and dense storytelling strategies to please the core contingent in addition to all its brethren.

And now, a little speculation: The book club at the beginning. What was up with that? Are we dealing with some sort of cultish gang of ex-Hanso members, banding together behind dictatorial Ben's back to generate open-minded discourse? Juliet's sarcastic disavowal of free will right before the island shook was, in a word, awesome. And I though I was being clever when I paused my DVR-preserving tube to find out which Stephen King book was being far as I could figure, it was either Firestarter or Carrie. Turns out Gary Susman's eyes are stronger than my own, although at least I was sort of right. But Firestarter would've worked too, I think, since both books deal with telekinesis, which seems to come into play in the larger plot thanks to Walt's valued abilities (he may be gone, but the idea that his capabilities were of some value to the Others certainly holds potential for speculation).

Is it possible that this is a Bermuda Triangle-inspired alternate dimension? As Fenno points out, the spectacular aerial view of the island at the beginning of the episode shows that it's way too large for anything in the South Pacific that wouldn't already be discovered and monitored by the rest of civilization. Ben's immediate, methodological reaction to the plane crash suggests that there's a specific protocol for dealing with people who arrive on the island; maybe the invisible locale has been turned into a selective Shangri-La that doesn't like visitation from anyone devoid of merit in the eyes of the Others. I'm sure there's more to it than that, and that there's more to the island than just the Others (remember that statue with the four toes?). But I can't help taking a shot in the dark, because it would be a lot less fun with the lights on.


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