Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lost: Locke just isn’t himself these days…

Note: This is a follow-up to my post of January 20. It was written after I had a chance to re-watch last Wednesday's Season Five finale to Lost. It is filled with spoilers about the previous five seasons.

A man eats fish on the beach, observing a sailing merchant ship as it approaches 2-3 miles off shore. He is dressed in a white hand-made shirt, pants and sandals. The time is a couple of hundred years ago. Another man, dressed in dark hand-made shirt walks up.

Man Two: Mind if I join you?
Man One: Please. Want some fish?
Two: Thank you. I just ate.
One: I take it you’re here because of the ship.
Two: I am. How did they find the island?
One: You’ll have to ask them when they get here.
Two: I don’t have to ask. You brought them here. You’re trying to prove me wrong aren’t you?
One: You *are* wrong.
Two: Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
One: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.
(Pause. Waves crash on the beach.)
Two: Do you have any idea how badly I want to kill you?
One: Yes.
Two: One of these days sooner or later I’m going to find a loophole my friend.
One: Well when you do I’ll be right here.
Two: Always nice talking to you Jacob.
One: Nice talking to you too.

This scene takes place under Jacob’s home – the base of a gigantic statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret.

So begins the finale of the fifth season of Lost. In typical Lost fashion, we have never met either of these characters before. We know in a vague sense who Jacob is, but we nothing at all about the other character. (Or do we?)

Lost has a knack for shifting gears on the audience. The series started out in 2004 as an incredible story of survival by a dozen or so major characters from the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 on an uncharted island.

But then the survival story becomes an adventure in subsequent seasons. There are other people living on this island. In fact, two hostile groups of people have been living on this island. Their past is slowly revealed and it becomes increasingly intertwined with our survivors. Then yet another group (mercenaries this time) comes to the island to take it over. So, the character of Ben makes the whole thing vanish before our eyes.

Several of our major characters get rescued and return home. Meanwhile, the island goes skipping through Time (repeat – skipping through Time) with terrible effects on those left behind.

Through the seasons, there are plenty of shocks, surprises, and action-adventure to keep the story lively but the core to it all is not any of that. It lies in the characters themselves. No television series has ever given its audience more character depth than Lost. These characters are connected in ways they themselves aren’t aware but the audience knows. Then again, they are connected in surprising ways that the audience discovers at the same time as the characters. The writing is often brilliant and solidly based on fleshed out, characters that feel very genuine to the viewer.

Yet, there is this other, underlying level to the show. The metaphysics of Lost. This aspect of the series has been only hinted at now and then throughout the previous four seasons. As Season Five ended it is brought front and center, though it is still nebulous and even the most ardent viewers do not understand it. (Though everyone really wants to debate their personal theories about it all.) I have a feeling that Season Six, the final season of Lost, will focus on this underlying metaphysical theme that has been hinted at all along. So the show will morph yet again into something that it wasn’t.

I have no solid idea what this metaphysical aspect might be, although my guess is that it probably has something to do with quantum physics and the quest for power. And with John Locke. Or rather the “non-Jacob” character somehow reborn as John Locke.

Locke began the season dead and ended the season both alive and dead. Whoever has been John Locke the last portion of this season – the John Locke who is alive back on the island after having escaped the island only to be murdered off the island by Ben – is something greater than Locke. Locke returns to the island in a second passenger plane crash (this time a crash landing). He returns in a casket along with those who escaped the island (though they are not dead but flying first class). Only after the landing Locke is suddenly up and walking around, eating mangos, watching the surf and seemingly on a mission only he knows. Eventually, Locke has Ben stab Jacob to death – apparently. But before Jacob is murdered he looks at Locke and says: “I see you found your loophole,” obviously referring back to the episode’s opening scene.

So, Locke isn’t Locke but probably this non-Jacob dude. This kinda sucks for me because Locke is my favorite character. Hey, but there’s no whining in Lost. You have to roll with this stuff if you want to be a true Lostie.

It is also worth mentioning that Terry O’Quinn (who portrays Locke) and Michael Emerson (who portrays Ben) are absolutely jaw-dropping dynamite in scenes together. These two accomplished actors are worthy on their own but together they create a chemistry that is the height of the traditionally crude and shallow television art.

There is a deep mythology to Lost that I do not understand. We know the historical “reasons” why Flight 815 crashed but we do not know the metaphysical reasons of why these people who survived the crash are so important. Each of them obviously is, however. Jacob visited many of them in the past. Sometimes as children. Sometimes as adults. Each encounter was mundane. The characters wouldn’t remember him. It was apparently important for Jacob to physically touch each of them (shake hands, exchange an item, etc.). The viewers just don’t know why.

Ultimately, you have to accept the fact that Lost is not only a series of great adventure and tremendously dense character back stories; it is making a statement of some kind about Time and the nature of human action in life. We have no idea at this point what that statement is, however. In fact, when the series started it wasn’t about this statement at all. But, it has nevertheless always built to this point. Hopefully the final season will fill in some of the details.

Although there is always a risk when you start revealing the nature of mysteries. Several shows (the X-Files comes to mind) have butchered themselves trying to explain their mysterious nature.

Nevertheless, Lost has given us bits and pieces to tantalize the very active and thinking 9 million U.S. viewers this show possesses (even when it is directly up against that behemoth of a TV show – American Idol). You don’t casually watch Lost. You either watch it, re-watch it, discuss it, analyze it, think about the character depth, the mysteries of the island, but you sure as hell don’t just watch it now and then just because you’re bored. If you don’t watch it every week and repeat the viewing before the next episode then you truly are “lost”. That’s the cultish nature of this incredible television series.

Season Five did not disappoint. It was filled with the metaphysics of time travel and the deep human anguish of survivor’s remorse. Half of the many major characters were skipping through Time, the other half were miserable (with the notable exception of Desmond and Penny) after being rescued. Inevitably they returned – although in doing so they became scattered in Time themselves. Some in 1977. Some in 2007.

Hey, deal with it.

Lost is great for its suspense, its complexity, its quirkiness, its clever writing, its not giving a shit whether anyone can even follow it anymore (We'll go up against American Idol without making any sense to even our most rabid fans because we are soooooooo cerebrally hot!). I love the feisty attitude of the show. Most of all, I love these characters. They are fleshy and deep and complicated and real. Once more, they are unique in television history in the fact that we know so much about them. Lost is more like a novel than a TV show in this respect. And, in the end, regardless of what mysteries are and are not solved...the characters are what carried this show into an out of the ordinary classic.

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