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Monday, September 19, 2005

Getting Lost



Update: SPOILER WARNING for international readers. Reader Expat Teacher has just informed me that the first season has not been completed in the UK, so some details in this post might be unknown as of yet...

My wife and I just spent the last two weeks watching the entire first season of ABC’s Emmy award-winning show ‘Lost’ on DVD. After all, we needed another look at the big picture and the small clues before this Wednesday’s second season premiere. I have to admit that when I first saw the previews for this show last fall, it looked silly: ‘Gilligan’s Island’ meets ‘Survivor’ meets ‘Castaway,’ and not in a good way. But after hearing of a positive critical buzz, I tuned in and got hooked like I rarely have for a TV show. The premise: the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight #815 (from Sydney to Los Angeles) leaves over 40 survivors stranded on an unknown island in the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of the season, we find that the survivors and island itself are full of secrets. As the plot unfolds on the island, aided by the use of flashbacks, we learn that the main characters each have back stories of tragedy, disappointment, desperation that are in large part the very reason they were on the plane. The island experience becomes a sort of purgatory where pain is processed and redemption is possible.

Characters drive the show, combining with an intricate and intriguing plot to set the hook. The crash survivors find out why no one will be coming to rescue them. They learn to survive and live together despite ongoing friction and the threat of death. They learn unsettling truths and confounding mysteries about the island: There are polar bears and a potential monster (subjects ‘Lost’ manages to treat without descending into ridiculousness but with the right amount of uncertainty and incredulity). They are not alone, as the presence of a French woman stranded sixteen years earlier demonstrates. Then there are ‘The Others,’ whose identity and intentions remain hazy despite the evidence of clear malice toward the survivors. Two of the survivors find a hatch that may represent a refuge or, more likely, a new set of problems.

‘Lost’ succeeds because of good writing, compelling characters, and the mythical sensibilites buttressing its plot. It is unusual for network television because of its cinematic scope, its haunting score, its large ensemble cast, and its international context—Australia, Britain, Korea, Iraq are the homes of characters and back stories in addition to the United States. But as a fan, I worry that its very presence on network TV will seal its ultimate fate (See this New York Times piece for a good discussion of the subject). ‘Lost’ is a show that should have its life span mapped out from the beginning. However, if history is an indicator, ABC will ensure that it stays on the air beyond its ability to tell compelling stories with verve and verisimilitude. After all, there is money to be made, which explains the network phenomenon of extending shows well past their creative expiration date. 'Lost' likely will have its jump-the-shark moment. Fans and critics will lament that it crossed its artistic Rubicon. Just like ‘The X-Files' but unlike BBC's 'The Office,' whose brilliance was preserved by ending the show at its critical peak.

In the meantime, I’m giving myself over to the moment (and fighting the temptation to read messageboard spoilers): What’s in the hatch? What becomes of Sawyer, Jin, Michael and especially Walt? Who are the Others? Are there other crash survivors on the island? Is Locke a force of good or evil? What of the ongoing faith-reason debate? What will come of Jack and Kate’s relationship? What will come of Driveshaft? Seriously, get Lost….

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