21 February 2009

The Six Worst and Six Best Things LOST Has Ever Done

Time for a break from the weekly episode reviews for a quick editorial overview of some of the best and worst decisions made by the LOST writers throughout the series' history. As amazing as LOST is, there have been some missteps along the way, so I will run down my list of those first. Then I'll count down the best moves those same writers have made.

I invite you to comment on the results and to add your own "best" and "worst" writing moves in the comments!

The Six Worst Things LOST Has Ever Done

6. Leaving ARG questions unanswered

LOST's Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) have hooked hardcore fans between seasons with new content in the LOST universe. But what about those of us who didn't participate? Damon and Carlton have repeatedly said that all the information you really need to know will be presented on the show itself, and that the ARGs are just icing on the cake. But while ARG participants have known for years about the meaning of the numbers and the connections between Hanso, Widmore and Paik Industries, it's starting to look less and less likely that those who just watch the show will be clued in.

5. Doing away with centric episodes

Maybe it's just a temporary deviation, but I've felt that the decision to no longer center each episode around a particular character in season 5 has weakened the narrative focus of the season 5 installments. It doesn't affect the larger mythology, but I think each episode of LOST should feel like a chapter within a chapter of a book. Even if larger plot points were not resolved in previous years' episodes, there was some sort of resolution given to a character issue. This was true for both the flashbacks and the flash-forwards, but the show is so segmented now that it's hard to feel connection to individual characters in a single episode.

4. Killing off the Tailies

The initial gang of 22 Tailies first dwindled to Bernard, Eko, Ana-Lucia, Libby and Cindy, and has now dwindled to... just Bernard. A lot of stories have circulated about the whys and wherefores of each Tailie's dismissal from the Island. The writers say Ana-Lucia was only meant to be a one-season character, and that Libby was added to the Michael double-homicide to give it more impact since most viewers hated Ana-Lucia anyway. But in doing so, they have left dangling for nearly three years now one of the most bizarre mysteries of the series-- Libby's presence at Hurley's mental hospital. Eko's abrupt departure was beyond the writers' control, but combined with Cindy's conversion to Otherhood, it leaves the season 2 saga of the Tailies feeling all but superfluous.

3. Forgetting to stop and smell the roses

Nearly everyone has praised the fast-paced, answer-filled storytelling LOST has enjoyed since the 2010 end date was set. Still, it sometimes feels that the writers have forgotten that some of the gentler moments have been just as enjoyable as the dramatic cliffhangers and huge reveals. "Tricia Tanaka Is Dead" remains one of my favorite episodes of the series-- a lighthearted Hurley-centric episode that would never find a place amid LOST's current pace of storytelling. Sawyer's reading glasses, Sayid's beachside romance hut, and the famous golf course are all examples of the fun side of LOST that just isn't as prominent anymore.

2. The Mini-Arc

The six-episode block often called the "captivity arc" or "mini-season" brought LOST's narrative to a grinding halt in the beginning of Season 3, and it wasn't with the aforementioned fun stuff, but with an overwrought, dragged-out plot that tested many a fan's last nerve and delivered a noticeable blow to the show's ratings. The idea was to give people a carrot to wait for the remainder of season 3 in January 2007, but it only served to frustrate us with episodes that seemed to go nowhere and pushed many fan favorite characters to the side in favor of an almost exclusive focus on Jack, Kate and Sawyer. The producers themselves have admitted that the mini-arc was a major miscalculation.

1. The death of Charlie

While many main cast members have been killed on LOST, none of them seemed so arbitrary and unnecessary as Charlie. He brought levity to the show that is sorely missing now. I still maintain that the writers essentially painted themselves into a corner when they introduced the notion that Desmond's "flashes" would continually predict Charlie's death. They then felt obligated to kill Charlie so as not to pull a bait-and-switch on the audience, but by the time he died in the season 3 finale, there had been so many fake-outs that I don't think most people cared anymore-- they just wanted Dominic Monaghan to stay on LOST. His absence is more obvious than that of any other former cast member.

The Six Best Things LOST Has Ever Done

6. Getting the Oceanic 6 back to the Island quick

Most people believed that the cast of LOST would be split for the entirety of Season 5, and that only at the season finale would we see Jack wake up in the jungle as he did in the pilot episode. Thankfully, the writers' room had the forethought to realize that people would quickly grow tired of watching Ben and Jack play round-up with the rest of the Island survivors for an entire season. LOST is an ensemble show and works best when all of the characters are able to interact with one another. As the season is shaping up, it looks like we'll be able to see all the Losties interact while simultaneously filling in the gaps of their time off-Island with flashbacks.

5. Destroying the hatch

"What's in the hatch?" was the biggest mystery of season 1, but by halfway through season 2 the audience's attention had moved on to bigger quandaries once the secrets behind that little glass panel were revealed. Much of the Island flavor in season 2 gave way to too much time spent cooped up in the Swan station, throwing around dishes and beating Ben to a pulp. Fans breathed a sigh of relief when the hatch was thoroughly obliterated by season end. The writers assured us they were done with the hatch, and we haven't looked back.

4. Constantly bringing in fresh blood

You'd think writing a show about people stranded on an Island would make it difficult to introduce new characters. On the contrary, LOST rotates its cast more often than just about any other show this side of Law & Order, and while some of those changes have hurt the show (see above), others have been moves of pure genius (see below). Either way, you can never say for sure how the cast of LOST will evolve next. From the Tailies to the Others to the Freighties, the constant injection of new faces is one of the top reasons the show stays so interesting.

3. Giving us bigger bad guys than the Others

At first, the very notion of mysterious people on a supposedly-deserted Island was positively terrifying, but by the end of season 3, the others weren't so mysterious anymore. We knew where they lived and how they operated, and even got to like a few of them. Tom himself said that the next bad guys would make the Others look like "humanitarians," and he was right: Keamy and his mercenary ilk were true villains, and that's to say nothing of Widmore himself and whatever thugs he has waiting down the line. As another side effect, the Others seem more enigmatic rather than truly evil when stacked up next to Widmore's crew, making them more interesting than ever.

2. The flash-forwards

The single biggest turning point of LOST came at just the right time to redirect the show when it needed redirecting the most. Late season 3 flashbacks were becoming more and more repetitive, with episodes like "Left Behind," "D.O.C." and "Stranger in a Strange Land" being among the low points. The flash-forwards did away with rehashes by introducing the concept of life after the Island. On a grander scale, the flash-forwards made it clear that LOST was not ultimately a show about being rescued from a deserted Island. Happiness did not await those who escaped; instead, it would only be a matter of time before they knew they had to go back. Finally, and perhaps most notably, the revelation of the first flash-forward was far and away the biggest shock twist of the entire series.

1. Keeping Michael Emerson

It's hard to imagine what LOST would be like now without Michael Emerson. The established character actor, originally hired for only a brief role as a captured Other, went on to establish himself as a dominant personality on LOST, often threatening to overshadow the original crash survivors with his presence and awkward charisma. Ben is the best kind of character-- he's villainous, but not without sympathetic elements; he's manipulatively powerful, but surprisingly vulnerable; he's insidious and despicable but sometimes wry and funny. All of this is due both to the writers' room, which obviously has a blast writing Ben, and to the incomparable abilities of Michael Emerson himself. In many ways, Michael has made LOST his own.


maven said...

Totally agree with this great post. Especially keeping Michael Emerson!

Puella Docta said...

I have to say that I definitely miss Charlie, but you're so right: when he finally died I was a bit relieved, because knowing he "had" to die was kind of looming over me. Relieved pressure, I guess.

But yeah, Michael Emerson is absolutely awesome. But yeah, that whole thing with the Tailies I never thought about. Still, you're right! I want to know about Libby/Hurley, but I suppose all we get is a wave from Libby via. Anna Lucia.