Lost in Translation

My VERY hastily written two cents:

Well, the day we were all waiting for has come and gone.  Lost’s two and a half hour series finale aired last Sunday.  I want to make a few general comments about the show and I will post several more specific posts about different aspects of the show in the future.  Three things I will blog about later are the significance of the number sequence (4,8,15,16,23,42), the literary allusions in Lost, and the mystical import of the series.

For now…general comments:   I think the first season of Lost is as close to perfection as a television show can be.  Every episode advanced the plot, while at the same time introducing new mysteries.  Every episode revealed new information about the characters through their present actions and through the show’s innovative flashbacks.  I remember my pleasure at watching the first season–it seemed like a 26 hour film–I thought, finally a show that has the quality of a motion picture, but uses the extra length that a television show affords to superb effect.  Every 1st season episode was brilliant (even the Sawyer/boar episode).

The writers and producers of Lost admitted being influenced by The Twilight Zone, which was, in my opinion, the greatest science fiction show of them all.  What made The Twilight Zone so effective was its great writing with its famous surprise endings, but also the advantage that an episodic television show has in being able to continually present the audience with new and innovative plot twists.  Star Trek profited by a similar episodic structure:  each week entailed a new mission and a new adventure.  

The first season of Lost was similar in having new adventures each episode (for the island was mysterious), but also its depiction of strong and well-developed characters that only deepened the more we found out about them.   These early episodes of Lost had the perfect balance of novelty (in its plot) and increasing depth (in its characters).

Lost’s second season began to narrow the show’s focus and solve some of the mysteries of the island.  The writers went in a direction that I certainly would not have, but it was still entertaining and the characters’ lives and natures continued to deepen.  Mr. Eko was a very promising character–a priest that the “monster” seemingly could not attack, but then the actor who portrayed Mr. Eko decided he was tired of the show (specifically tired of filming the show in Hawaii!), so he left it.  Thus, Mr. Eko was retconned to have been a fake priest and the character was killed by the emboldened “monster.”  My favorite second season episode was “Dave,” an insightful psychological drama.

The show’s third season was, in my opinion, a disaster.  Nothing new was really revealed about the characters and the viewers spent twelve episodes watching Jack sitting in an empty aquarium tank.  The simultaneous following of multiple plot lines essentially ended and we were forced to watch either Jack sitting in an aquarium for an ENTIRE episode or to watch something seemingly random and meaningless happen at the beach.  The best episode was “Expose.”  An episode that contained flashbacks to the previous seasons.  Hmmmm.

In seasons four and five I found myself frequently asking what the hell is going on.  The plot unfortunately seemed to have been reduced to different groups of people or even individuals walking back and forth on the Island.  Walking from the beach to the Orchid Station…from the Barracks to the forest…from Jacob’s cabin to the Hydra Island…etc, etc, etc…The flashforwards were interesting and there was some suspense at trying to figure out who the “Oceanic Six” were, but ultimately there seemed little point to six of them getting off the island, only to have them all go right back.  When the freighter people were first mentioned I was interested:  wow, freighter people, cool.  Are they ghosts, aliens, ruthless “others” who will capture the survivors and perform genetic experiments on  them?  None of the above:  they were scientists who were meant to replace the characters who had been killed off already on the show.  😦

Season six began with two plotlines running:  one if the Island had blown up in 1977, and one where it hadn’t.  The parallel plotline (if the Island blew up in 1977) seemed to have completely random changes in the characters’ lives.  It might have been interesting, but it seems they were all really dead in the parallel universe anyway, so it’s almost like it didn’t matter.  “Alliances” between characters switched in every episode and I never understood who any of the new characters were or what they were doing.  Who are the “others”?  They became less powerful, interesting, and well-defined with every passing episode.  Jacob is the Island’s protector, but what is the Island?  Why does it need protecting?  The show had moved away from the Island being a mystery since the second season when the show became about the conflict between the different groups on the Island for control of the Island, for reasons that remain unknown. 

The parallel plotlines of season six had the characters reliving many moments from earlier seasons:  Desmond watches Charlie fall into water, Kate helps Claire give birth, Ben Linus is beaten, etc, etc, etc….I wanted to scream:  “I don’t need to see Claire give birth again; I saw it the first time.” 

 

One of the greatest disappointments for t.v. viewers in the 1980s was the series finale of the hospital drama St. Elsewhere.  In the St. Elsewhere finale, it was revealed that the entire show had been an autistic child’s fantasy.  Viewers were not happy.  People like to think they are watching something real…it aids in our illusion that we are not wasting our time watching t.v. in the first place.

With Lost’s finale, I definitely got the sense that we were to understand the Island as a type of dream-purgatory (although–not a purgatory in harmony with a Christian understanding of the term, but an understanding of purgatory formed from popular psychology).  I think we were supposed to understand the entire series as the dead passengers’ chance to find meaning before they move on to “the light.”  So, then, does the Island represent our subconscious…what we have to make peace with before we move on?  Does it represent our collective unconscious (that might explain the seeming White Goddess imagery used in “Across the Sea”)?  

Hmmm…not a good basis for a t.v. show, in my opinion.  Especially since it seems a little narcissistic for a purgatory to exist for the sake of helping incomplete people to discover their lives’ true meaning and significance:  the Island as psychotherapist.  If this line of thinking is correct then Jacob and “the Monster” would represent different aspects of our unconsciosness…how “archetypical.”

So to summarize…Lost is a show that took its greatest strength (its focus on character) and turned it into its greatest weakness.  While the characters advanced or gained depth in season one and two, they seemed to move in circles by seasons three through six.  Plot became almost non-existant by the series’ end.  The show became a perpetual character study that was perpetuated by events that were illogical from a plot standpoint, but necessary to continue to focus on watching characters interact.  The mysteries of the Island seemed to disappear by season three:  the “others” had no point, the island did not seem to have a point, the Egyptian goddess statue did not have a point, Jacob did not have a point, etc…

I think if the writing had been tighter from the beginning the show would have been much better.  If the writers would have had a clear vision of the story’s overall plot-arc, then some of the inconsistencies and false starts could have been avoided.  Over all–it was an enjoyable series to watch, but I feel it could have been much better.

–pio

3 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Pio, very interesting post. However, I disagree with your assertion that the entire show took place after they all died in the plane crash, and that all of their experiences on the island were some kind of afterlife. In the finale Christian Shepard explicitly says that everything the losties experienced on the island was real and it was the most important time in their lives.

    In my opinion (although all of this is open to interpretation of course) the only scenes that were in purgatory, for lack of a better word, were the alt. universe scenes in season 6 where all the characters were reunited and “dealt” with their issues.

    I do agree that the writing could have been tighter and certainly the mysteries of the island could have been incorporated into the stories of the characters more (hitting two birds with one stone) but I think it is essential to see the majority of the show as “real” and not a dream or afterlife.

    Overall, despite the problems with Mr. Eko leaving, and other such writing dead ends I think the show really pushed boundaries and explored interesting territory in faith, identity, and reality among others. Frankly, I think it changed the scope of television. I’ll be posting more later on this, but I would suggest a rewatch with the ending in mind throughout the first five seasons. I suspect the producers had some form of the ending in mind throughout the show.

    KEM

    • Kev,

      I agree the show pushed the boundries of s.f. on televsion. It is an amazing show that will be watched and studied in years to come. Part of my angst comes from what I perceive to be such a drop in quality from season 1 to 3. If the show had not been so good in the first place, I would have a different take on the whole thing I’m sure.

      I probably need to think this through more carefully…once summer comes perhaps, but it seems to me that the “island” is not a real place at all. How was Locke’s father brought to the island? He died and woke up on the island–hmmmm. I think the hole that Jack filled was a hole representing his mind, his life essense perhaps.

      Think about it: a woman (nature) gives birth to Jacob and his brother. Another woman (the human subconscious) destroys their animal nature and raises them herself. They are in conflict (which is the situation Robert Graves describes in WG). The Hero and his Weird. Graves was not big on viewing this in terms of mental projections, but we could see this conflict happening in the human mind…in Jack’s mind.

      He dies in the plane crash and gets to find his meaning before he can move on…he needs to become a fully realized human being. On some level at least I think this is what is happening…as “The Battle of the Trees” says: Under the tongue root a fight most dread, and another raging behind, in the head. “In the Head!” A mental battle–a battle within our imagination–a spiritual battle if you will.

      Several characters mentioned they were in Hell…maybe the island was a mental testing ground to see if one could ascend out of his/her personal Hell?

      Too tired now….more later………

      cheers,

      pio

    • Don’t forget…the book next to the Swan Orientation Film: The Turn of the Screw….classic GHOST story. I think the island was inhabited by ghosts who needed to move on…Hurley seeing the dead…Jacob not being visable to all…….

      ……..we should read The Third Policeman…it is supposed to contain insights into the meaning of the show.

      word to your other,

      pio

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