Sunday, February 8, 2009

Yesterday & Today with Those Time-Jumping Castaways

ABC via DVR and Season 2 DVD's

I spent a while trying to think of something specific to address to last week's new "Lost," "The Little Prince." But it didn't take. After a truncated, slam-bang Season 4, I think the producers are taking advantage of the first slack time they've had in a while to recenter the surviving characters a bit. Until Ben, Jack, Locke's body, and company get back to the island, major revelations will have to wait. (The non-demise of Jin not being any kind of surprise, just like Michael's re-emergence in Season 4, due to the actor's name's telltale presence in the credits.)

Being trapped inside most of the weekend with the flu gave me the chance to watch a good chunk of Season 2 carefully for the first time since the DVD's initially were released. It's interesting what improves and what doesn't when returning from such an advanced point in the series' ongoing storyline. The first time through, the pileup of flashback episodes for characters whose histories and motivations were already established (the worst offenders were Jack and Locke) was infuriating in light of the glacial progress of the real-time story. Going back now, knowing that the present-day plot simply isn't going to advance in Season 2 until the last three episodes, it's easier to appreciate some of the past stories. Terry O'Quinn's acting is particularly good in the painful episodes showing Locke's failed relationship with Katey Sagal's Helen; knowing what we know now about Locke's destiny it's hard not to feel more deeply for the guy. People had been telling him his whole life he was special because he was, but it must have seemed like he was going to have to wait forever to find out why.

But then there's a lot of stuff that didn't play so great then and seems even more marginal now. Let's consider the sad, unloved people of the tail section for a moment. Why couldn't they have just blown into the ocean and saved us a lot of trouble? Well, for one, among their number was Bernard, Rose's Bernard, and that paid off dialogue from the pilot. Which is always good. But as for Libby, Ana Lucia, and Mr. Eko, all sort of took up space on the show, then died. All are now completely forgotten, save for Hurley's occasional hallucinations. At some point we might still learn why Libby was in the same mental institution with Hurley pre-crash, but it's hard to imagine how that could be relevant to what's going on in the show's now.

It seems to me, having read some more interviews with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (since Season 4 restored their show's reputation and they've been giving more of them), that much of what went wrong in Season 2 had to do with the writers' utter confusion about how much more show they were responsible for providing (or failing that, leaving for future scribes). They had to find a way to bring in new characters so they could have fresh flashbacks, and also so they could kill off some dead weight. (That latter reason I'm all for -- if you're forgetting redeeming things about Season 2 other than Desmond and Ben, don't forget dead Shannon!)

So the Tailies were born to be placeholder characters, never an enviable position in which to be born. "Lost" was a phenomenon in its first season, as the newspapers say, and ABC probably wanted the thing to run for 15 years. The writers came back from their first vacation and spit up a bunch of characters who were new, but not new. Ana-Lucia was a cross between Sawyer and Kate, Mr. Eko a blacker, buffer Locke, I don't even know about Libby because she never got her own episode. The writers weren't really that committed to these characters, and the logic of the plot (once it finally got moving again) shoved them aside quickly.

Since then, with the exception of the disastrous Paolo and Nikki (who were such punchlines that the writers were taking swipes at them themselves before finally killing them in the most unpleasant possible manner), solid work has been done to make sure each new regular matters. Juliet: The Reluctant Other. The freighter people: Outsiders from the "real" world who have a conscious connection to the island (vs. the mostly unconscious ones we've seen with the castaways). Ben: Well, he doesn't need any argument on his behalf. I often like to evaluate fictional characters by pondering how they'd do plopped into the realities of other shows, and if Ben were somehow to turn an icy wheel and show up in the world of "Heroes," even with no superpowers or other assets, he'd be the Emperor of Earth in about four days flat.

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