Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jacob's Foot: Answers Won't Make or Break LOST

NOTE: I wrote this in August and it ran in an online-only version of The Quad in August two weeks for the first print edition of the semester was released. It probably would've been more effective to post it now rather than in August but oh well. Heck it might even be a better idea to re-post it on Feb. 1 or Feb. 2 but, you know, it's already available on wcuquad.com so it doesn't really matter. So, if anybody actually reads this, please read it. It's decent prose. I'll post an all new entry tomorrow or Friday. It won't be too exciting. I've got some ideas floating in my head for next week so keep checking back, if anybody actually reads this, for there will be new content up to and through the sixth season which is now less than two weeks away. WOOOOHOOO! Oh, and don't forget ABC will be re-airing The Incident on January 26 at 9PM.

Originally printed (digitally): August 17, 2009

One the finest aspects of LOST is its mystery. I know many fans will be clamoring for answers and will feel like they've been following the show for six years for nothing if Lindelof and Cuse don't provide a satisfactory amount of answers to the abundance of questions raised during the show's run.

The problem with this, as noted by Doc Jensen, is the subjectivity of the audience. What are the most important questions? Depends on who you ask. Some want the nature of the Numbers unearthed. Others want to know about the Monster. Those stuck in 2004 are still puzzled about polar bears.

But really, the endgame of the show will not be constructed on what the audience wants. The endgame of the show is going to reflect the vision Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have worked five plus years to create

In the end, LOST is a story. It's not a complicated math problem that needs to be figured out and solved. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end like any other story. It's a story about these characters, their problems, their weaknesses, their past. It's a story, like all of the great stories in Western literature, that touches on the big questions in life: death, life, religion, philosophy, relationships, uncertainty, and destiny.

The evolution of television programming has lost the art of storytelling. Reality television is devoid of it Those shows are a series of happenings stringed along by a 'theme.' Scripted television also suffers from a lack of storytelling. There's barely a whole picture now at the end of a season. What happened in the beginning of a season has no bearing on the conclusion of the season. There's no cohesion, no building towards a climax. The end of Buffy marked the beginning of the end of serialized, story-based storytelling. The fifth season premiere of Dawson's Creek marked the end of any hope for honest storytelling in a teenage drama and these procedural dramas have no idea what a season of television entails.

The blame can be placed on the television industry of course. It's hardly a safe haven for storytellers. A new show exists on an episode-by-episode basis. Money drives everything. Advertising runs television. Commercials are responsible for three minutes being trimmed off an hour long drama. However, to blame the industry for a world of hollow storytelling is to make the industry a scapegoat when blame can placed on the shoulders of creators and showrunners. While the current structure of the television landscape is not in the best interest for a series, it is still the responsibility of the creator to have some sort of vision apart from the pilot and the first batch of episodes.

Take for example Joss Whedon, a veteran of the television business. He's run two successful television shows (Buffy, The Vampire Slayer and Angel). His one abrutly cancelled television series, Firefly, ended up on the big screen in 2005. His secret to success? A plan. He believes in what I like to call 'The 5 year plan.' In interviews he gave following the cancellation of Firefly, he repeated that he had five years of story for his show. Likewise, prior to the debut of Dollhouse, he said that he also had five years of story for Dollhouse. Of course he made a critical mistake of starting off the series terribly slowly but, that aside, when the story really kicked into gear, when the show found its focus, it took off creatively and made waves critically. And is still on the air.

The viewing public can sense this focus, this sense that there's actually a story. The most remembered television series of the last decade won't be any lousy police procedural or reality show. The most remembered shows will be shows that told a damn good story like The Wire, Mad Men, The Sopranos, and, of course, LOST.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, on numerous occassions, have compared the structure of LOST to that of how Charles Dickens published his novels. Dickens published his novels in a serialized fashion, in increments. In addition to their love for Dickens, they have constantly alluded to great works in Eastern and Western literature. The battle between science and faith as represented by Jack Sheperd and John Locke was represented in a season two episode by the authors Ernest Hemingway and Fyodor Dostoevsky (and used by Ben (under the guise of Henry Gale then) to mess with an already fragile psyche). The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Flies, Watership Down, The Little Prince, and Ulysses among many, many more novels have been alluded to throughout the series. LOST knows how to tell a story.

Consider then that some of the mysteries are meant to remain just that--mysteries. Consider: maybe it's better to not know who the skeletons in the cave are (personally, i would like to know because i think it would be a very satisfying). Consider maybe that it's best for the skeletons to remain a symbol of the long history of The Island. Consider that it IS better to not know the mystery of the Numbers or who ran over Nadia or why people who are dead appear to our favorite characters on The Island. The most important thing with all of the mysteries and intrigue is that they led to excellent character development and helped progress storylines.

Nestor Carbonell (Richard) echoed a sentiment that I myself agee with: there has to be some mystery at the end. Yes, they need to provide answers. We need to know why Claire disappeared, we need to know what the Others are definitevely, we need to know the deal with the whispers as well as why Richard doesn't age. They will indeed provide answers.

Simply, do not judge the worth of the show on answers alone. First and foremost, the show is about the characters. Their struggles, weaknesses, problems, their destiny, and biggest of all, the show is about why these characters were brought together on an Island of miracles. And remember, it's Damon and Carlton's show, and that it's a story and not a math problem that needs to be solved.

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About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.