Saturday, May 28, 2011

LOST – One Year Later

Oh, My Bad:
Needless to say, I apparently lied a year ago when I said I’d be back for more analysis. Although, come to think of it, I’m back now and I never specifically said WHEN I’d be back, so that makes me not so much a liar as it does a very, very bad person. My primary excuse is that I was life-changingly busy this past year finishing up the post-production on a feature length special effects extravaganza of a film that two of my buddies and I made in our garage. Hopefully you’ll hear a lot more about it soon – and hopefully from someone other than me!

But busy though I may have been, I was reminded recently while commemorating LOST at Nikki Stafford’s phenomenal blog that if you truly want to do something, then you somehow find the time. And so I guess I must admit to myself that my desire to write about the show was indeed somewhat diminished after it ended. Part of this I’m sure had to do with the freshness of theorizing having worn off, and part of it had to do with the surprisingly vitriolic atmosphere of fandom immediately after the conclusion of the show. For months I kept finding that every time I started to talk LOST, I found myself on the defensive explaining why I didn’t think the finale “sucked hard” or why I didn’t think that the entire show was a “train wreck.” It was wearying, and I didn’t like having to take the role of an apologist for a show I felt needed no apology. I certainly thought a few stumbles were made through the run of the series -- particularly in that final season -- but I genuinely enjoyed the finale and still truly LOVE the show as a whole.

But now that a year has passed, and some of that poisonous atmosphere has thinned, my inner English-major has kicked in, and it’s becoming more and more fun to think about LOST analytically as a literary work and as one whole piece of storytelling – something we were entirely unable to do while it was still an ongoing experience. So while I might not be able to commit to regular posts at the moment, I was truly moved by reading Ms. Stafford’s blog to throw my hat back in the ring at least one more time and journey back to that crazy whacked-out wonderful Island with you.

Living In A Post-LOST World:
This makes me sound like a bad fan, but I actually haven’t sat and watched an entire episode of the show since a repeat viewing of “The End” last May. That said, I’ve watched a good amount of special features on my mega-awesome complete blu-ray collection, listened to many of the episode commentaries, and spent an absolute countless amount of hours listening to maestro Giacchino’s opus of a score from that final season – generously released on four CDs last Fall. I think if any creative force behind the show stuck the landing 100% or beyond, it was him. Those soundtracks are fabulous.

I can guarantee I’ll watch the show many more times in the future, but I think the biggest compliment I can pay it currently is just how much I have missed it. No show has taken its place. Heck, no storytelling property has taken its place. I watch The Clone Wars (getting better every season), The Office (getting worse every season), and Parks & Recreation (favorite show on TV) – but I have yet to find anything that could remotely fill the void LOST has left in my entertainment life. Good thing I’ve been too damn busy to mourn it much!

What We Know
At the end of my last LOST post, I offered that despite many accusations to the contrary, the show has given us all the most important answers already, despite having been stingy with the details. You can hop back to that post if you wish to read precisely what I said then, but in summary: We know what the Island is. It’s a physical place filled with so much electromagnetic energy that it has all kinds of powers and is the heart of existence as we know it. We know who Jacob was. He was the most recent in a line of Island protectors dating back before anyone can remember, and he wanted a replacement. We know what the Smoke Monster was. It was a man who was merged irrevocably with the Island and its powers, and he wanted to mess with Jacob and leave. We know who the Others were. They were Jacob’s followers, who arrived piecemeal through the years starting with Richard. We know what the Dharma Initiative was. A community of scientists, it was the most recent of mankind’s attempts to conquer the Island’s power.

And the rest is history: The Incident was the result of Dharma trying too hard. The Purge was the Others’ ultimate reply to them. Flight 815 crashed because A) Jacob willed it, and B) Desmond forgot to press the button in the Swan hatch (Dharma’s attempt to put a band-aid over the wound they gave the Island). Let’s not forget that even though Jacob and the Island seem to will things to happen, there are generally always real-world, character-motivated reasons these things happen as well. And that, I believe, is at the center of the entire show and its story: faith and reason, co-existing in equal measure.

Stingy With The Details
Also in my previous post, I suggested that while there are indeed all sorts of nagging questions, quibbles, gripes, and dangling plot points that remain to haunt us, most of these things can be grouped under four major categories of missing details that make it a lot easier for us to deal with them. The categories I offered were: The Others, The Dharma Initiative, Special People, and the Island’s Vast Array of Powers. While asking everyone to stay tuned an entire year for an exploration of these categories is indeed preposterous, I offer in apology the following analysis of each of those categories as well as a Unifying Theory of LOST that brings them together in support of a “simple as possible” summation of the meaning of the show. Let’s do this:

The Island’s Vast Array of Powers:
The Island is far from simple, but six seasons of evidence can at least give us a good idea of what the place can do. And each ability revealed is one more piece of evidence in determining exactly what it is. I offer the word “evidence” here as a blanket term to cover all the show’s details that otherwise seem disjointed or marooned by the larger story strands. With rare exception, no detail is entirely orphaned, each providing insight, context, and information about the show’s settings and characters. For the Island, it all boils down to electromagnetism.
  • Electromagnetism: Everything important and odd about the Island comes down to the massive amounts of electromagnetism contained in pockets all over it, and most grandly at its core. The most simple answer to “What is the Island” is that it’s exactly what it seems: it’s a damn island. It just so happens to be the source of all the world’s electromagnetism. Which on another show might not have been anything particularly special, but in the world of LOST, electromagnetism is the stuff of life and death, space and time. It represents that blurry line between science and magic, here being science we don’t understand. Now, I’m sure a real scientist could explain what exactly electromagnetism is and what it can and cannot do far better than I ever could – but the writers of LOST were counting on the fact that most television viewers hadn’t already determined their own acceptable limits of what electromagnetism can and cannot be responsible for in a science fiction show. And depending on who you talk to, said writers either pulled it off, jumped the electromagnetic shark, or perhaps just took a leap of electromagnetic faith. But as far as the show is concerned, electromagnetism is the source of everything in the LOST universe, and can be manipulated in all kinds of cool sci-fi ways if harnessed via the Island it all comes from.
  • Physical/Temporal Location: So all this electromagnetic build-up has made the Island a real chore to find. It can move through space; it can move its occupants through time and space (i.e. not only all of Season 5, but also the aftermath of the hatch implosion and the crash of Flight 815), and it can only be found through very specific bearings obtained through very complicated scientific calculations. This movement likewise makes the Island very difficult to leave, creating the snowglobe energy effect that kept Desmond sailing repeatedly back to it, and brought a time-skipping sickness to any who passed through the surrounding energy unsuccessfully. The nature of the Island’s enigmatic location caused Ben to speculate that God can’t see it, and meant that Penny had to wait for Desmond to blow the hatch in order for her team to pick up his current whereabouts. This separation of the Island from the natural flow of time and space for the rest of the world led to much speculation that it was, in fact, a realm beyond life and existence as we know it. But the ability of characters to come and go from the place (even with difficulty) proved that the Island was a real location, even if it houses the energy that makes up life beyond existence as we know it. Further exploration of that avenue would be relegated to Season Six’s controversial “Sideways World.”
  • Visions: Those on the Island were subject to seeing all kinds of crazy things. Sometimes these took the form of dreams. Sometimes animals. Sometimes the visions were experienced only by one person, sometimes jointly. Frequently, as with the rationale for Flight 815’s crash, we’re left with dual explanations for these visions. For instance, was Charlie’s vision of Aaron in danger from 2.12 [Fire+Water] the result of his lingering heroin addiction, or was it Island-sent? Was Locke really communicating with the Island in his smoky tent in 3.03 [Further Instructions] or was it all just his wacky paste doing its thing? Did the Island show Kate and Sawyer a black horse in 2.09 [What Kate Did] or was that just a lingering resident of Dharma’s zoological Hydra Station? Most visions could have simpler explanations than “the Island willed it” – but you and I both know (because we watched the damn show) that the Island was certainly capable of messing with people. And if not the Island itself, then frequently the dead people whispering in its wind were responsible. After all, electromagnetism is the stuff of life and death in this world.
  • Healing/Destruction: Like any power worth pursuing, the Island’s energy can be used for both good and ill, healing and hurting. The healing powers of the island are blatant – from Locke’s legs to Rose’s cancer – but its destructive powers are what make it worth protecting. Even when bottled, the Island’s energy causes sudden storms and induces pregnancy troubles in those too close to it. Once unleashed, the electromagnetic energy brings down planes, causes earthquakes, and if left uncorked will allegedly destroy all of existence. Judging by the evidence provided by the show, I don’t see a reason to doubt that claim. But if you do doubt that the entire world was threatened by the Man In Black’s actions in “The End,” then I suppose this would render Jack’s sacrifice somewhat moot and leave the narrative of the show rather piss poor. So we might as well believe Widmore when he tells Desmond how vital it is that the Man In Black be stopped. As far as the show is concerned, the destructive power of the Island is very real, and (once again) tied directly to its role as the source of the energy that makes up life and death.

Special People:
Much like the LOST universe takes for granted the power and capabilities of electromagnetic energy, it also assumes that there are some people out there in the world who are naturally more tuned-in to this energy than other people. Folks like Isaac of Uluru from 2.29 [S.O.S] come to mind. He was able to harness the energy of a location in Australia to cure some diseases and ailments, and told Rose that his spot wasn’t the location for her. But there are people the show specifically referred to as “special” that were far more important to the narrative than Isaac. And each of these people were equipped with powers in sync with what we’ve already discussed the Island could do. Their abilities are just the Island’s on a smaller scale.
  • Jacob: The Island’s chief protector appeared to have mastery over just about everything the Island is capable of: Jacob could move through time and space, appearing off-Island to Locke, Sayid, and Hurley. Jacob could induce visions, showing a young version of himself to the Man In Black and perhaps being responsible for any number of the other character’s visions throughout the series. Jacob could heal, dealing with Juliet’s sister’s cancer, Dogen’s son’s injuries, and Richard’s immortality. The powers of the Island equaled the powers of Jacob. And it seems that certain places he touched took on the Island’s erratic spatial/temporal qualities as well: the cabin and the lighthouse come to mind as places only visible when entered from certain directions, and (in the case of the cabin) can move about the Island in the same way the Island can move about the earth.
  • The Man In Black: Where Jacob’s special nature seems to have been given to him by the Island’s previous protector – passed on by her will -- the Man In Black was said to be special of his own accord. Even before his transmogrification into the Smoke Monster, he was able to see his dead mother and harness the temporal/spatial power of the Island to create the frozen donkey wheel mechanism. As the Smoke Monster, he became a physical embodiment of the Island energy’s destructive capability, could move around in spatially surprising ways, and could induce visions on a massive scale. To his regret, his new form left him permanently tethered to the Island, and also left him subject to a number of Jacob’s restrictions for which he had to find loopholes.
  • Desmond: Beyond Jacob and the Man In Black, the other tapped “special people” had a more limited spectrum of Island abilities. Whether inherent at birth or Island-given during the hatch implosion, Desmond developed an immunity to the destructive powers of the electromagnetism, and exhibited an unmatched mastery over the Island’s temporal fluctuations, whether witnessing flashes of the future or mentally travelling into the past. There’s a chance Eloise Hawking had some similar shade of his future-telling ability (combined with Daniel’s journal from his trip to the past).
  • Hurley & Miles: Both could interact with the dead in different ways.
  • Locke & Ben: Both seemed particularly susceptible to the Island’s energy, whether it was Ben seeing his dead mother, or Locke regaining his ability to walk. It’s possible both were just being played by Jacob and/or the Man In Black, but their mutual empathy for the Island’s powers led to their cutthroat competition with each other and convinced the Others of their potential candidacy for leadership.
  • Walt: Perhaps the biggest plot thread left to dangle, Walt was early evidence of both the existence of these special people, as well as the Others’ interest in such people. Walt seemed to have a bit of Desmond’s psychic powers as well as Jacob’s ability to be seen where he isn’t or cannot go. Unfortunately for Walt, he didn’t seem to have any control over his powers whatsoever. And unfortunately for fans of narrative continuity, working a child actor into the show’s overarching strategy proved to be too problematic for the LOST show runners. Unfortunate.
The Others:
Jacob’s followers were a diverse lot who arrived at the island at different times and in different ways. Many were offered deals for their service (Richard, Juliet, Dogen), others seemed meek enough to follow what seemed to be “the way of things” on the island (Cindy, Abducted Children), and other were power-hungry enough to want in automatically (Ben, Locke). Just as Jacob appeared to gain his mastery of Island powers from his predecessor, the Others appear to have been granted certain powers on a need-to-have basis via Jacob – but, again, they’re all dialed down versions of the same powers the Island inherently has, and the “special” people have freedom to tap. They’re granted immunity to the time-skipping electromagnetic waves, they seem to be able to hop spatially, appearing and disappearing at a supernatural speed, and some even have the ability to appear (or flash-travel) off-Island. In 4.08 [Meet Kevin Johnson], Tom even hinted at the exclusivity of being granted this ability when he visited Michael. But just as Jacob was able to put rules and restrictions on the Man In Black, so too he put them on his followers. Juliet was de-Othered via branding for killing one of their own and subsequently wasn’t tethered to the Island like the rest of the Others when Season 5’s time-skipping began. Ben and Widmore apparently couldn’t kill each other while Jacob was alive. Being an Other brought its perks and its restrictions, but for the most part, Jacob just let them handle things their own way – hence the sheer number of motivations and strategies they employed throughout the show’s seasons:
  • Season 1: The Others’ interest in pregnancy problems, children, and special people lead them to kidnap Claire and Walt. Ethan’s attachment to Claire causes him to go a bit berserk when she escapes.
  • Season 2: It’s revealed that the Others also took a great many “worthy applicants” from the Tail Section of Flight 815, while primarily trying to keep the less tame-able Fuselage survivors on the other side of the Island via theatrics and scare tactics that ultimately don’t work. Walt’s powers prove too much for them to handle, so when the opportunity arises, they exchange his freedom for Ben’s. Ben’s need for spinal surgery leads to the kidnap of Sawyer, Kate and Jack.
  • Season 3: Ben’s Machiavellian tactics successfully get him the surgery he needs, but Locke’s arrival on the scene threatens his grasp of leadership over his people. Ben’s obsession with the pregnancy problems cause him to go a bit too far in his fight with the Flight 815 survivors and get a load of his people killed and himself captured. He is unable to stop the summoning of Widmore’s freighter. The bulk of the Others retreat to the Temple.
  • Season 4: Ben survives the freighter assault with the help of the 815ers. He and the Others let a few of them leave the Island via helicopter in exchange for their aid. Ben banishes himself via the Donkey Wheel in order to save the Island and leaves Locke in charge of the Others.
  • Season 5: The Donkey Wheel being left off-kilter allows the Man In Black to intervene in Island affairs and take his position in Locke’s body, tricking the Others into leading him to Jacob, and tricking Ben into killing Jacob.
  • Season 6: The Others are massacred by the Man In Black at the Temple. Further Others are taken out by Widmore’s bombs. Any that remain will have to be rounded up by Hurley and Ben once the MIB is defeated and the last 815ers depart the Island.
So the Others’ story during the run of the show is really the story of their un-doing. They protected the island in cruel and authoritarian ways, much a reflection of Jacob’s apparent uncertainty toward the merits of mankind. And their in-fighting, distrust of outsiders, and over-trust of Jacob in many ways led to their downfall. Illana and her ilk were just another offshoot of the Others, followers of Jacob who dutifully played out their roles off-Island to gather the Candidates, and were dismissed without a second thought when their duties were fulfilled.

The Dharma Initiative:
The reason the Island needs protection – the reason that Jacob and the Others and the Island’s previous protectors existed – is because mankind is curious, power-hungry, and seeks advancement. For mankind, the Island and its electromagnetic energy represent the ultimate “MacGuffin.” A MacGuffin is a screenwriter’s term for an object of immense value sought by all parties in a story, such as The One Ring, The Lost Ark, The Holy Grail, The Maltese Falcon, The Dead Man’s Chest, The Fountain of Youth, The Rabbit’s Foot, The Death Star Plans, Et Cetera. The Island is like all of those things rolled into one huge temptation: it contains the ultimate power capable of being wielded for good or evil and offers mankind an unprecedented opportunity to study the unknown - to figure out all that is mysterious in our world. While some viewers may have been disappointed that 6.15 [Across The Sea] didn’t offer a more conclusive origin story for The Island, its Protectors, and its Invaders, that episode instead showed us just how long this cycle has been going. Just as Mother sought to protect the Island from those ancient visitors who manufactured the Donkey Wheel to harness its energy, protectors have been defending the Island from such entrepreneurs for as far back as anyone can remember, hence the ancient Egyptian artifacts and multiple sites of ancient ruins.

The Dharma Initiative was simply mankind’s most recent and most advanced attempt to harvest the Island’s power, just as Jacob and the Others were the most recent organization to take up the Island’s protection. But while the last days of The Others were played out before our eyes over the course of the series, the downfall of the Dharma Initiative had already taken place before the show began. They moved in en force; they spotted the Island with their various stations; and they dug too deep, injuring the Island and incurring the Others’ wrath. The story of Dharma was over before the story of Flight 815 began, even if time-skipping allowed the 815ers to play a surprising role in Dharma history. The importance of Dharma was the legacy of technology they left behind and the warning their story represents.

My Unifying Theory of LOST:
So what does this all add up to? Only the formula for the entire show: The existence of a location that houses the ultimate source of power/life/death leads to an exploration of the duality of Faith and Reason, represented in-show by a series of dualities held in precarious balance:
  • The Others and Dharma / Protectors and Conquerors: Do you loose yourself and your scruples doing whatever it takes to protect the power, or do you throw caution to the wind and explore all the potential uses that power could have?
  • Magic and Science: Is the power light that can do anything at the will of a magician, or electromagnetism which has a limited number of uses that can be harnessed via machinery and manmade devices built by scientists?
  • Locke and Jack / The Inexplicable and the Explicable: Do you believe in the power of this place even if you don’t understand it, or do you refuse to believe unless you can find a rational explanation?
  • Jacob and the Man In Black: Do you blindly accept your role as protector even if you’re not that best man for the job, or do you do everything in your power to fight your fate?
  • Destiny versus Free Will: Is the power of the Island controlling your decisions and making your actions inevitable, or are your decisions leading to your actions and allowing the power to survive?
  • Faith and Reason: When it comes down to it, do you really have to choose one or the other – or is finding balance possible?
The Others and Dharma offered extreme examples of protective zealots and intrepid invaders. The hubris of each led to its own destruction. The same is true of Jacob and the Man In Black. We may not know how the Faith/Reason duality will continue under Hurley’s reign as Island protector, but we have reason to be hopeful that he’ll find a better balance. And that reason is that throughout all the grand plays for power, throughout all the chess moves and incidents, throughout all the deception and manipulation, the fate of the Island was NOT decided by The Others, or Dharma, or Jacob, or the Man In Black, or really any of the major power players. The fate of the Island was ultimately decided by a doctor with daddy issues, an ex-con full of self-loathing, a murderer turned mother, a torturer turned protector, an average joe with a heart of gold, and a cripple who just wanted to be great. No matter how much observation and influence Jacob placed upon the 815ers, their decisions were ultimately the results of their individual character stories. We know this. We watched them unfold for six seasons.

The ins and outs of the Island’s powers and the details of Dharma and the Others, could have filled six more seasons of episodes. Maybe they should have. But the show we got offered those details to us as evidence in uncovering the meaning behind the world into which our heroes found themselves unexpectedly thrust. LOST took a story of organizations and “gods” fighting for power, and followed it from the perspective of a ragtag group of bystanders interjected into the midst of the conflict via a plane crash. Bystanders who, through their unique set of circumstances and individual stories, came to accept the grey area that exists between the duality of faith and reason, put an end to the current Island fight cycle, protected the energy of life and death, and saved the world. It didn’t take gods; it just took ordinary people. But those people had to have a little faith!

A Final Thought On The Elephant In The Room:
Yeah, I didn’t talk about The Sideways World much, did I? I’ll admit that’s because I find it the least well-executed aspect of the show’s plot – primarily BECAUSE it can be so easily excised from a discussion of everything else that happened in the show (you know, in the REAL world portion of the show). I think the controversial nature of LOST’s finale mainly came to pass because of just how the resolution of the Sideways World plot was handled. It was clunky, and fought against details and plot points that were already held close to our hearts such as the effect of Juliet detonating the Jughead h-bomb and the reason the Island was at the bottom of the Sea when Sideways Flight-815 passed over it. We were very ready for there to be a clearer connection between the real world and the Sideways world, and so when it was revealed to be a realm outside time and space where our characters reunited post-death… well that just didn’t seem simpatico with the rest of the show’s careful juggling of faith and reason, and reeked just a bit too much of a “gotcha!”-style twist. But it’s something that fits better with contemplation when the trickery of its reveal is removed from the equation. After all, the energy of the Island is the stuff that makes up life and death, so it’s not outside the context of the show to speculate on existence beyond life. Exploring the Sideways World allowed us to appreciate what the 815ers were fighting to protect: their right to not just life itself, but things beyond. All while allowing the individual character archs to play-out full circle and give our favorite heroes a few more moments of on-screen happiness amidst all the sorrow and sacrifice they endured to save the rest of us. Not that bad a way to go out :)

Stay LOST, my friends!

PS: A hearty thank you to for maintaining such a great gallery of screen captures!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where Have I Been? THIS Is Where!

Not that anyone's reading anymore since I've been AWOL for nearly a year, but if anyone is still curious what happened to me... this is it:

I'm the guy in the red suit all through the trailer, and one of the "three guys working from their garage" who put this movie together :)

For more info, visit


Now to get back to talking LOST and reviewing TV shows... just... need... free... time!