Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The journey is over, just in time for the fall TV season to begin. It took about four months – this long summer – for me to watch every episode of Lost from beginning to end (core episodes, not “specials”), all of it except the series finale for the very first time. (Okay, so I caught portions of Season 6 episodes, and I could have sworn that I had seen the pilot when it originally aired, but having watched it at the start of my marathon, I doubt my own memory, because it was nothing like what I thought I had seen six years ago.) SPOILER-laden interview follows:

Was it worth it?

Yes, absolutely.

Did watching the series finale before anything else ruin the show for you?

No. In fact, watching the finale and liking it very much was the only reason I was motivated to watch the whole series.

What advice would you give to newbies to the show, which you yourself once were?

You are the lucky ones. Watching the finale, and then seeing the torrent of commentary in the blogosphere, much of it negative, I realized that there is a strong counterargument to those who say that watching the series as it happened was a special experience. I have no doubt that it was special to be there as it happened. But I truly believe that watching as I did, more or less a blank slate, at the rate of an episode a day, but knowing that I could watch it whenever I wanted, never having to wait a week between episodes unless I wanted, never having to wait months between seasons at all – this is the better way to do it. I can well understand how disappointed a die-hard fan would be at not just the finale itself, but numerous other moments and aspects of the show as concluded, if they had to wait six years to see what it all was, and then, to realize that they would never understand what it all was. For me, there was no significant disappointment at any point throughout the series. There were questions, of course, and lingering ones at the end. But at the speed I went, I suppose I didn’t have time to invest myself in mysteries and mythologies that the writers and creators were ultimately unable or unwilling to explain. I think I was most sensitive to the stuff that mattered most – the characters and what they valued – which doesn’t suffer from overanalysis, as the plot obviously does.

Why were you originally skeptical of the show and its rabid fans?

In hindsight, I suppose I was skeptical of one segment of the fanbase – that which considered the show to be a mysterious wonderland where your mind would drink of their magic water and become elevated, then eat of their magic mushrooms and grow bigger than a house, before deflating down into a fuming yet liberated pile of goo. The show is clever, but it wasn’t that clever. Very little about the show was truly shocking. I remember watching part of one random episode because my brother had it on one night, on its original airing, and in the scene, a bearded wanker has just been shot by a cold she-devil of a woman, and in his agony he looks up at her – “I’m your son!” I cried out, two seconds before the wanker said it himself. I had never seen these characters and knew nothing about them. Did I have some kind of psychic moment? No. How could the scenario not be obvious? I must have seen it countless times before, or else, instinct suggested this high-probability scenario. I thought that this kind of hokum was the only reason people liked the show, and I was wrong. But there are some fans who think the tortuous enigma of the island is the chief charm of the show, and I think they’re mistaken, too.

So what is the chief charm of the show?

It mastered the art of delayed gratification. From episode to episode and season to season, I lived with these characters, these people, reveling in their adventures and their flaws, so easily did they become real to me. So it means something when, at long last, Sawyer fulfills his vow and blows away the guy who abducted Walt (and rubs it in). It means something to get to see Alex as a baby, after she’s already died. It means something to find out who Pierre Chang is after seeing all those absurd videos. And in evoking one of my personal favorite relationships on the show, it meant a lot when Locke announced that “Boone was a sacrifice that the island demanded,” the first time with confidence, the second time, a season later, with self-disgust.

What’s the one lingering question that matters most to you?

Why weren’t the whys more important? Looking at various lists of unanswered Lost questions online, I can accept that these questions don’t really need to be answered. But that doesn’t mean that both the characters and viewers should not constantly be asking why these things are, why these things happened, why they’re stuck on this island of ordeals. I don’t buy that the characters wouldn’t be curious about the mysteries of the island and why they somehow seem chosen for this peculiar agony. They would be the most curious, because they’re stuck in a place where they can’t take anything for granted. There is no excuse for letting their minds relax. And I don’t buy that we as viewers shouldn’t ask questions or wonder why. “Why” is the central question of humanity and the very essence of philosophy. To say that you shouldn’t bother to keep asking, or that the writers need not have worried themselves about these questions is to deny the philosophical groundwork that the show purports to be built on. It seems like the writers have attempted to nullify the question, “Why am I on this island?” by addressing the admittedly larger question, “Why am I here in this life?” But then, why all those little details about the island itself? It seems like an awful lot of distraction, rather than reinforcement of the importance of a life well-lived.

What bothered you most about the finale?

Why aren’t Michael and Walt in that church? (And I’m not talking about real-world crap like contract disputes or unavailability or whatnot; I’m talking about the reality of the show world. If the writers didn’t think they belonged there, they should have explained why. If they wanted them there but couldn’t get them, they should have found a way, whether it’s showing a photograph or having one of the other characters say something relevant. Yes, it would have seemed stupid. But it’s okay for the writers to have to do something stupid. It’s not okay for them to evade an important issue and hope the viewers won’t notice or care, because then they’re acting as if the viewers are stupid. . . . The only explanation I can think of is that Walt can be assumed to have lived a good long life with experiences that hopefully outshined his time on the island, so what would he have appeared as? An old man played by some completely new actor? That would have thoroughly wrecked the atmosphere of Lost’s final moments, obviously. But throw me a bone here, Vincent. Don’t leave me hanging.)

Any other problems?

Many people have already mentioned this, but Shannon instead of Nadia? Really? Nadia would not have made sense, I acknowledge, because she wasn’t an Oceanic or otherwise connected to the island. Shannon would have made sense, but not when Nadia has been a constant presence all the way up through Season 6. Sayid didn’t just forget about her, though if the writers had known they were going to wrap it up this way, they might have preferred that she had never shown up again. Maybe Sayid and Shannon could have just been good friends in the church, without all the nuzzling.

Favorite season?

Season 1, before all the craziness. Most great shows have some growing pains; not this one. Most of the best characters come from Season 1, and in a strange way, I’ve even become kind of jealously protective of some of them (specifically, the ones who die early in the show), in opposition to latecomers who seem to have eclipsed those early characters, with no real justification in my mind. Michael and Boone are great characters, and every time they appeared on later seasons after long absences (Michael in the flesh, Boone in flashbacks and visions), I wanted to pop open a bottle of champagne. They’re much better than, say, Juliet or Miles or simpering idiots like Daniel and Charlotte. I can’t say that I ever really liked Shannon, but the way Sayid and Boone felt about her endeared her to me. And what can I say, I actually missed Charlie after he was gone (though he went out very badly, as did most of the dead on this show, cough *Rousseau* cough). Even though I didn't necessarily like him, I liked the show better with him on it. To be sure, there was a lot of nonsense in Season 1 as well, such as the Rose character, through and through. But Kate was never as attractive a person as she was in the first season. I guess once you’re hooked, you’re hooked, but the Kate that Jack loved in Season 1 was never really to be seen again.

Favorite character?

I don’t have a single favorite, though I can say that as much as I grew to relish in the hammy bit players (Pierre Chang, Richard Alpert) and the linchpins of the expanding island (Linus, Desmond), I always feel warmest toward the Season 1 castaways.

Least favorite character?

Old Eloise Hawking, simply because I can’t stand that smarmy Fionnula Flanagan (yes, I hate her more than Michelle Rodriguez, though miraculously, I didn’t mind Ana Lucia so much after she died and appeared briefly in fan-service flashes.)

Fond memories of Mr. Eko and Yemi?

No, people, no. These aren’t the Nigerians you’re looking for.

Best Sawyer nickname?

Frogurt. (That was just a nickname, right?)

Care to offer any fun trivia?

I knew I recognized Jeff Fahey’s name, but I didn’t realize that crusty Frank Lapidus was once the Lawnmower Man!

Final thoughts?

I kind of want to watch the whole thing over again.


Henry said...

On the contrary, I say that the best way to watch Lost is to begin with Season 2, watching one episode a week (maybe take some extra weeks off at mid-season), and taking several-month breaks between seasons.

In all seriousness, I think I have a special attachment to Season 2, not only because it may have been the best, and not only because it was where I started, but because that was the one year where I actually got to follow it live alongside other real-life viewers (at work).

The workplace conversations never went anywhere intellectually interesting, but merely getting to listen to others genuinely sharing my enthusiasm instilled, let's say, uncommon warm sentiments of the sort that made me feel not alone. Obviously it wasn't something that I absolutely needed, and inevitably some lunkhead would go on about how much they loved Hugo or Charlie, and I would have to distance myself from that. But the good feelings outweighed the mean ones, and overall it did enhance my enjoyment of the show.

Even in later seasons, when watching Lost became mostly a solitary pleasure for me, I sometimes caught myself wondering if some lost connection, some mostly worthless former coworker was watching at the same time, and I would picture their reactions based on how I remembered them. Hmm, a tad pathetic to say so now, and maybe I do speak only for myself.

Also, keep in mind that I didn't "wait six years to see what it all was," but I always looked forward to the next episode. By contrast, I would think that watching many episodes in quick succession would expose a lot more plot holes, because you wouldn't have as much time to forget things alongside the writers. That's something that used to happen a lot when monthly superhero comics were collected into paperback volumes (e.g. Watchmen), and it was also something I noticed when I watched Angel reruns daily on TNT. Seasons 2-4, which were very comparable to Lost in their serialized density (and destiny), were full of plot twists that were, to anyone keeping score, complete nonsense, such that I eventually had to learn to take each episode just in the context of the adjacent episodes before and after. I suspect a marathon viewing of Lost would demand a similar rule. But if it worked for you, then I guess that's all that matters.

Czardoz said...

Early morning TNT reruns of Angel used to be the only thing getting me out of bed most days. As far as I remember it, my only experience of most of Angel was through watching daily reruns. That was another show that had ended before I committed any significant time to watching it. Unlike Lost, I didn't have any particular feelings about it before I watched it, probably because it was less popular than Lost and left less cyber-litter in its wake.

I think you're right about the plot of both shows; something like a trash bag being stuffed with more and more material, even as holes opened at the bottom, letting stuff leak out all over. I guess with both shows, it didn't hinder my enjoyment.

Ultimately, I like Angel more, and I don't know if it's necessary to get into the reasons why. I'll only point out that there were a lot fewer characters, and I liked all the main protagonists. Death was necessarily rarer on Angel, and when it came, it made a huge impact that Lost never did (and I almost wonder how hard they tried). None of the deaths in Lost comes close in poetry to the death of Fred, and as far as "heroic" deaths, I think Doyle's death in season 1 of Angel is much better than anything they attempted in Lost (Sayid blows up? Come on, that kind of thing happens to schmoes like Arzt and Ilana, not a heavy hitter like Sayid.)

I watched the last four seasons of Angel before ever getting a peek at the first season, and when I finally got a chance to see season 1, I was rather touched by it. I think you'll have the same experience if you go back now and watch season 1 of Lost.

It's interesting what you say about work, because the office is exactly the kind of place where I would hear fawning praise of the show, and have my ignorance greeted with 1) incredulity, 2) elitist self-congratulation, and finally 3) cult-like exclusion. I'm sure not all acolytes would act that way toward infidels, but what do you think the reaction would have been at your workplace if you hadn't watched the show, and then one day as you listened to their conversations, you asked, "So what's so great about Lost?"

Henry said...

It's interesting that neither of your Angel examples is from seasons 2-4. Looking back, as brave an experiment as those middle seasons were, I definitely believe that season 5 was by far the high point. I don't know whether they were going for broke or acceding more to network pressure, but, either way, I think the final season was the show at its best (and Whedon at his). Season 1, meanwhile, was by far the worst, but the Doyle arc was something that perhaps no other show will ever pull off as well.

On workplace infidels, if I had been the one to ask, with my usual sincerity, what Lost was all about, I can well imagine the reaction. First, they would ask, more excited than astonished, "You've never seen it?!" I would answer simply and honestly, "No." Then they would get carried away with this perceived excuse to run through the episode-by-episode entirety of season 1, also inserting their many inaccurate fan theories, spending many words to ultimately say nothing. Then, charmed by their sheer enthusiasm, I would say, "I'll have to check that out sometime." And they would say, "Oh man, you've got to watch it, Henry!" Maybe they would even offer to lend me their VHS tape (which indeed they often had at work, since scheduling prevented them from watching it live).

(Then perhaps I would go home, find that, contrary to what I'd been told, Battlestar Galactica was some kind of nightmare, and I would know to never show an interest again.)

Henry said...

And if they tried to invite me to their weekly BSG fellowship, I would say, not with any sort of pride, "I just don't think it makes any sense for me to be there. But please have a good time."

Czardoz said...

You think Season 2 of Lost was the best??? Come on, there were like three Mr. Eko episodes! Always Yemi this and Yemi that. That was also the Michelle Rodriguez season. No thanks.

Would you rather go to the BSG thing or the Jesus book club every week?

Henry said...

Thanks as always for making explicit what I was trying to talk around.

And fair enough on the Eko and M-Rod. But Season 2 also had my favorite Clancy Brown lines:

"See that brown stain there? That's Radzinsky. He put a shotgun in his mouth while I was asleep. The bitch of it was I only had 108 minutes to bury the poor bastard."

"Screw the button, man. Who knows if it's even real."

Czardoz said...

Maybe I was just slow, but when Radzinsky finally showed up in the flesh, I had no idea this was the guy who, so long ago, was referred to as a brown stain. Only when they explicitly made the connection on the show did I realize it. Sometimes, the delays take so long that they no longer gratify.