Monday, May 18, 2009

Lost Season 5 (REVIEW)

To me, LOST is a show that works because of one thing: mystery. It presents you with a series of unexplainable or mysterious phenomena, and then proceeds to give you a series of clues--or lack thereof--which allows viewers to postulate all sorts of crazy ideas and theories about what's going on. In my opinion, everything else comes as secondary to that. Sure, you have great characters who conflict with each other, and you have all sorts of plot strands and backstories, but what ultimately keeps me watching is the idea of explaining the unexplainable--of picking up these little strands and pieces of dialog and forming them into a hypothesis in my head. It is that experience that makes this show so satisfying.

So now we come to Season 5 of LOST--a season that is predominantly plot-focused. This isn't bad, perse, except it means that we're not focusing on the mystery and instead focusing on the narrative-vehicle in hopes of arriving at the destination the show wants to take us. Unfortunately, this means that the characters can take a backseat and ultimately become arbitrary plot devices to keep this story going. Jack can try to come up with any reason he wants to find this H-Bomb and blow up the island, but it all feels forced by the plot--the plot compels the characters to arrive at this loop because the new dichotomy of time-travel demands it. This means that we're not so much getting drama or story created by characters and their decisions--think back to Season 3, Jack saves Kate & Sawyer during Ben's surgery, or even Season 2, when the characters argue about interrogating Ben--instead, it means that the plot creates the characters, which makes it much less effective and believable. One thing that I think could have helped this situation was to add one or two more episodes in between the crucial plot decisions. Many of the episodes felt rushed without much time for the characters to contemplate their current predicament and forge their own motivations while being out of place in 1977. Instead we, as the audience, are rushed through these characters' decisions to a predefined conclusion.

However, season 5 does have its fair share of mysteries. The opening scene from the season finale is perhaps the best case in point. Ever since season 3, the show has taunted us with the idea of Jacob--who is he, what does he do, and what is his role in all of this? We are finally given a glimpse of this new character in a dialog that hints at the ever-expanding mythos of LOST, perhaps dating centuries back in time. The pieces of this dialog are just a plethora of clues for the viewers to deconstruct and then place in their own personal theories. It is the dialogs like these that make the show's mysteries what they are.

Lastly, I'm going to talk about the notion of receiving answers. As a viewer, I want to know more about the Dharma initiative, so what would be the best way for the show to give us that information? Through endless backstory flashbacks that contain no immediate suspense or tension or relevance to what's happening at the current time? Nope, so here comes the introduction of time travel to place our favorite group of stranded castaways in the midst of the great Dharma initiative to give the viewers the answers they long have waited for. As I've said before, this allows the show to give us exposition in the context of something else: the LOSTies' search for survival and reunion. With this added sense of tension and character placement, the viewers are given the exposition while at the same time caring for the characters in the context of the exposition. Jack, Hurley, and Kate could die at any moment--this couldn't happen in a flashback. Essentially, the time-travel plot-device, however illogical or nonsensical it may be, works extremely well to explain backstory.

But in the end, what do we really want from the show? More answers? Because as time drags on, I start to doubt if that's what I really want from this show. Do I really want to know how and why the smoke monster operates, where the whispering voices are coming from, and why dead people, stallions, and visions pop up all over the jungle? Sometimes, I, as a viewer, just want clues, and more clues to draw my own inferences to decide what's going on. I don't always need a concrete explanation, because when you have an explanation, you don't have a mystery, so why keep watching?

It reminds me of a magic trick. First, LOST has given us the pledge: the normal plane crash on the deserted tropical island. Next, it has given us the turn: hatches, polar bears, statue feet, mysterious Others, unexplainable phenomena. Finally it must give us the prestige: the truth, the answers to all these mysteries.
However, It's been five years however since the pledge. The Prestige seems to be coming, finally, but we'll have to wait for the final season to figure out if it was worth waiting for.

So, see you in nine months.

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