Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lost - Sundown: The Long Journey Right Back to the Middle

Either the Lost writers are total geniuses and are building to something so unbelievably awesome that I can’t conceivably predict what it might be; or more likely, they have totally gone off the rails and spent the last couple of years throwing darts at an “idea board” in the hope that something would stick. After last night’s “Sundown,” I am going with the latter. I have a great deal of patience with Lost; even writing last week that I was content to sit back and watch the cards fall as they may. I wrote about how my patience level remained intact because of the character development-focus this season had employed. And then I watched “Sundown,” and instantly dismissed any positive collateral I’d kept from “The Lighthouse.”

“Sundown” was a classic example of marketing a solution to a problem needlessly created. Think: cutting down trees that could fall on powerlines. It makes no sense to punish the tree for our own folly. This is exactly what Lost has done with Esau AKA Dead Locke AKA the Smoke Monster. To illustrate, I’ll start with the ending of the episode first where Smokey runs roughshod through the temple scooping up those unfortunate few stupid enough to stick around the temple after the sun went down. Smokey picked off each one by one, except for Kate (hid with Claire), Miles, French chick, et al (hid in the wall?). He was like Terry Tate Office Linebacker but less funny. My problem with the Smoke Monster here isn’t his inclusion in the story necessarily because the concept is fine. It's his sudden all-encompassing importance in the storyline. A storyline, I might mention, that has been seemingly created out of nowhere for the sake of creating a new antagonist in a place (the coolest, craziest island of all time) that didn’t need anything else pushing the protagonists anymore.

Of all the questions Lost has created over the years (too many to count), why would the writers choose to make this storyline the central focus of the show’s last season? Ignoring for a second the alternate timeline, a total throwaway in this episode, the Lost writers have gone a long way to basically find themselves right back square in the middle of a plot line that makes almost no sense. Sure it boils down to the fight between good and evil (I assume), but they’ve done it in a way equivalent to an author starting off a chapter by saying, “In this chapter I will talk about how evil so and so is and I will show you that when he kills someone.” Is the Smoke Monster evil? Of course, we knew that in previous seasons. Is it an all-powerful being, a literal unstoppable force, with end game unknown? For the most part. Can it inhabit and change others? It appears so. Did we need four episodes of new character intros (Dogen, his translator) only to have Sayid unceremoniously kill them just to prove the point? I vote no. It’s just lazy and needless. It’s especially puzzling because it begs the point: why bring Dogen and his crew in the temple in at all? Smokey destroyed it just to prove to us that he’s got some violent chops. Again, we already knew that.

So now the temple is gone (back to square one), Claire and Sayid are with Smokey (nothing really too outlandish considering Sayid’s character would probably never be redeemed), Kate is with them (not for long), Miles, Sun, Lapidus and the French chick are in the wall (starting the resistance?) and that’s about it.

Another frustrating aspect of Esau’s recruitment of the various Losties is how exactly he sways them. You can get off the island and go home, you can get Nadia back. Great, except that this theme has been retread ad nauseum throughout the entire history of the show. If Lost has proved one thing it's this: Once you’re there, you really can’t leave. You can even blow up a nuclear bomb. You know what happens? You end up right back on the island. Once you lose something, it’s gone. Even if the characters are inclined to believe him, why should the viewers? Ultimately, that might be the point: empty promises are just that. They are especially false coming from something evil like smokey. Or maybe he really IS the only way off. I suspect Sayid and crew will learn it the hard way.

Now, the diagonal time reality. (I really don’t know what else to call it). This episode’s arc with Sayid reuniting (kind of) with Nadia was particularly frustrating in its lack of movement. Again, here, Lost goes a real long way to end up in the exact same place. The diagonal reality is supposed to mirror the island story line in its themes and character development. We learn that as much as Sayid wants to be a good and peaceful guy, he can’t. Again, this is something we were already well aware of. Did we really need him popping off some low level mafiosos (even if one was the soldier from two seasons ago, don’t remember his name) in order to show that Sayid is too far gone to ever seek redemption? I am growing increasingly concerned that the diagonal reality theme is strictly a device to show that these characters are hopelessly connected for better or worse. In this case they’ve done almost too much showing and not enough telling. Throwing random Lost folks into each of these little flash sideways lost its appeal totally for me during this episode. Because the more they bring them in, and kill them off, the less and less it means to everything else that’s already happened. Even finding Jin in the freezer wasn’t enough to pull everything back towards any intrigue because at this point, who the hell cares how Jin got there?

Next week will almost certainly be a Jin or Sun-centric episode where we find out exactly how diagonal Jin got out of the airport security and into the freezer. It will probably mirror some problem Jin is having on the island (finding Sun, etc), but it’s just too much too late. Until all characters are reunited and begin conflicting on a meaningful level, the rest of the story is strictly filler.

Look, I’m not saying I need answers all the time. And I certainly don’t mind new answers producing new questions; that’s one of Lost’s go-to devices after all. The problem with “Sundown,” was that it gave us neither. Literally, nothing was accomplished. Nothing of real, end of series, only a limited number of episodes left, importance. Again, Lost went a long way to bring us right back to the beginning of the episode.

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