Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Locked on Lost

Note: This is an extremely long entry for my blog. But, length is relative. What follows is actually incredibly brief. Warning: If you don’t know the story of the TV series Lost my post contains tons of spoilers.

I don’t watch many television shows. The one series I currently follow is Lost. When Lost won the Emmy and the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series back in 2005 it caught my interest. Jennifer and my daughter were going on an all-girls family trip to the beach so I decided to pass the weekend they were away with buying the first season on DVD.

I watched the entire season in two days. I literally couldn’t stop. It is obviously intended to be a “popular” series and has all the trappings of that…a love triangle, a lot of mystery and suspense, gripping action sequences, a gorgeous beach on a tropical island.

But, there’s more. A lot more. So much more that now, as Season Five starts, it is pretty much impossible to summarize the program except to say that there has never been a series on television with more character depth than Lost and the series has evolved into to something that only vaguely resembles the situation presented to the viewer in Season One.

The series centers around a plethora of main characters. You can’t say it is about any two or three or four of them. It’s about ALL of them. A typical episode of Lost is structured around the main story of what is happening on or due to (you’d have to know the series to understand what “due to” means) the tropical island and the “back-story” of the life of a different character each episode. The storyline advances as more and more character depth is presented (over the course of several seasons). The featured characters rotate so you learn about each at more or less the same pace.

This makes Lost incomprehensible by now to any wannabe or curious viewers and an absolutely must-see weekly event for many millions in the US (many more world-wide) that are totally hooked on the ride.

For example: Here’s my brief synopsis of my favorite character, John Locke (does that name ring a bell?). Locke (played in Emmy award winning fashion by Terry O’Quinn) was just another passenger on Oceanic Flight 815 returning to Los Angeles from Australia when the plan crashed on September 22, 2004. Miraculously 48 passengers survived.

Early on Locke seems remarkably content about his tropical surroundings. Though uncertain as to what to do next, he gradually becomes a hunter of the wild boar that are plentiful on the island. He manages to kill with select knives from a collection discovered conveniently (this is television) in the plane’s wreckage. Initially, the survivors feast on the meat Locke provides.

But Locke, like every other character on the show, has a secret. It is revealed in the jaw-dropping fourth episode of the first season. When Locke got on the plane he was in a wheelchair, paralyzed. But, upon surviving the crash he could suddenly walk again. I say “again” because in “flashbacks” of later episodes featuring him we see him living a normal, mobile life. How did he come to be paralyzed? Well, we have to wait for that.

Locke has lived a frustrating life. His mother was a teen who abandoned him. He was raised in foster homes. He’s never held a job of consequence. The few loves of his life all ended in disappointment. He is a bright, adventurous individual trapped in a mediocre life without any direction, largely an outcast from society.

Until he meets his father. A genuine friendship develops between them. Locke is happy for the first time in his life. His father turns out to be a successful man financially. The two of them go hunting and share similar interests. But his father is going to die. He needs a kidney transplant. John, naturally, freely offers one of his own. The operation is successful but…

…Locke’s father abandons him after receiving his kidney. His father is a con man and he used his son just to save his life. Locke is crushed again.

Back on the island, Locke is the most adventurous of the survivors. While most everyone else is trying to figure out how to get off the island, John ventures further in, discovering all sorts of mysteries, becoming in tune with the island, strong in his belief that he (and everyone else) was brought to this island for a purpose. He can walk again, after all. Isn’t that proof of something?

Locke becomes a man of faith. He believes in the island. He survives some of its greatest mysteries (like an attack by the island’s “smoke monster”). He trusts that the meaning of it all will somehow be clear. Eventually he discovers something very odd…a Hatch in the ground.

The Hatch cannot be opened from the outside but, ultimately with the help of others, he manages to blow it open. This unveils a whole new world for the series. It turns out the island has a half dozen or so of these underground facilities. They are remnants of an experimental community that used to live and conduct research on the island back in the 1970’s. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In The Hatch there is a timer. Every 108 minutes the timer must be reset to avoid an electromagnetic anomaly that could possibly destroy the entire island. So, John and a few others push the button to reset the clock that defuses the electromagnetic energy build-up every 108 minutes. Locke feels he has found his reason for being on the island.

But, in the course of discovering the other (abandoned) hatches Locke learns that the whole 108 minute thing might be just a behavioral experiment. In another hatch there are monitors watching The Hatch with instructions to observe the actions of those in it. He is crushed to realize that he is “just a rat in a maze”…again.

The frustrated Locke decides there is no meaning in any of it and actually prevents the few other survivors who remain faithful to pushing the button. The timer ticks all the way down and The Hatch is subjected to a violent electromagnetic release that literally implodes The Hatch and has possibly other ramifications for the island and the survivors. The electromagnetic pulse causes certain people searching for the island (because of its many special properties) to find it. And what they want could well mean the death of everyone on it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Back in flashback-land Locke hunts down his father and attempts to prevent him from pulling off his latest con. An argument ensues and his father pushes John out of a window many stories up. John miraculously survives the fall but is paralyzed and trapped in a wheelchair.

On the island the survivors discover there are remnants of the former experimental community still inhabiting the island. They are still conducting various experiments and largely live a very modern and comfortable life with all the comforts of home in a secluded compound. They travel to and from the island by submarine. One of our survivors manages to negotiate his way off the island. But before he can leave, Locke blows up the submarine.

Locke believes that no one should leave the island. This is not some evil working in him. It is part of his faith. Naturally his actions infuriate many of the other survivors when they learn of it. But, as the survivors slowly start to come unraveled from their time on the island (which across four seasons totals about 100 days of “real time”) a helicopter is heard overhead.

Oh…but first I should tell you this. While living temporarily at the compound with the island dwellers John discovers something miraculous and horrible. Somehow, inexplicably, John’s father appears out of nowhere on the island. (Weird stuff like this is happening all the time.) The island dwellers know that Locke has been healed and they believe this is because he has a unique and special relationship to the island. In order to “prove” himself as worthy of their respect and adoration, the leader of the island dweller’s (the character of Ben) insists that John murder his father, as a sacrifice to the island.

John, the outcast, cripple, wannabe hunter, man of newfound faith, simply cannot do this. The island dwellers lose some respect for him except for one guy who has apparently been on the island a lot longer than most (the character of Alpert). Through him John learns that his father is, in fact, connected to another major character in the series. (Everyone seems to have some sort of connection with at least one other survivor of the crash only they usually aren’t aware of this – only the audience is.)

Sawyer is that other major character. Sawyer is a con man as well, inspired to become that due to the fact someone conned his mother out of a lot of money when he was just a small child. The trauma of losing all the money led to his mother’s death with little Sawyer nearby to hear it all. The child wrote a letter of vengeance that he would one day find the man who conned his mother and kill him. He has carried the letter with him since the first episode. Well, you guessed it, that con man was John Locke’s father. So, while Locke can’t kill his father he knows Sawyer can. And Sawyer does.

When Locke brings the island dwellers the corpse of his dead father, then Ben has no choice to but live up to his previous promises to John to reveal the nature of the island’s secrets – something Locke has demanded ever since meeting Ben.

Ben takes Locke to a cabin where John hears the voice of what is apparently a spirit that supposedly no one else can hear other than Ben. Ben realizes that this means his position with as leader on island is in jeopardy. He shoots Locke and leaves him for dead. But…

…the bullet penetrates through where Locke’s removed kidney would have been. If he had had his kidney it probably would have killed him. But as it is, he was only wounded and, as we’ve seen, the island heals him rather quickly.

Now, back to that helicopter. A rescue team has come to save the survivors, finding them with the aid of the large electromagnetic pulse released by the imploding Hatch (which at this point in the story happened two seasons ago). Only Locke doesn’t believe they are genuine. He manages to hobble around well enough to kill the leader of the rescue team before she can deliver an important message about their location on the island. This creates even more tension between Locke’s extreme faith and actions and most of the other survivors.

He begs the survivors to follow him back to the compound where the islanders were living (they have abandoned it when they learned that the “rescue team” was coming). Locke claims that it’s the only safe place he knows until he can think of something else to do. Again, he acts without actually having a clearly defined plan. He simply trusts a way will be shown to him.

It turns out that the opposite of his intent occurs. The rescue team, in fact, is composed of two groups. One group consists of scientists who are fascinated by learning about the mysterious qualities of the island. They end up with the survivors that did not follow Locke’s group. Instead, John and his people are left to deal with a team of mercenaries sent in to kill everyone – except Ben who they are instructed to take prisoner.

Very few survive the attack on the compound. But John and several other major characters do. Ben tells Locke that John is now the leader of the dwellers. They will follow him. The power of the island has passed to him. At the end of Season Four Locke sets off, alone, to be welcomed by these strange people, some of whom have been on the island for a very long time.

Oh yeah, then the island disappears. The whole thing simply vanishes leaving nothing but open sea. Oh...another thing. Locke is dead. I guess I’ll have to stay tuned for what’s up with all that. Season Five starts tomorrow night. I can’t wait.

Lost is unique is so many ways. One significant distinction is that everyone affiliated with the series has agreed that it will end after Season Six. So, the show has a definitive timeframe, allowing the writers to create a definite story and character arc. I don’t know if this has ever happened before with a major network television series. Anyway, everything that happens is leading up to a conclusion already known to the producers.

Oh, the love triangle I mentioned at the beginning? Well, that’s Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. And that’s a whole other story. Actually three stories among a dozen more just as complex and intertwined as Locke’s. That’s Lost.


Bogatir said...

For God's sake, man, get a grip!

The girl with far away eyes said...

Now let's hear you explain last night! lol!

Keith said...

LOL. Wellllll...I thought it was a great start to the season. Am I puzzled? Yes. I think I'm supposed to be though...right?