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Lost 3.01 - "A Tale of Two Cities"

The heart of Lost lies in its characters, much more so than in its plot. Sure, I'd like to see the (many) mythological elements tied together and resolved eventually, but if it weren't for the constant flashbacks that reveal the backstories, desires, secrets and fears of the castaways, Lost would be just another genre show. The parallel structure hardcoded into the concept is what gives Lost its uniqueness and strength.

This is why I don't mind that the mythology arc is taking so long to unwind itself and has so many disparate threads. Ultimately, it's not about the monsters, or the encounters with impossible people from the past, or the mystical healing power of the island ...

Well, actually it is about the monsters: but the monsters that lie within. And it is about the encounters with people from the past: as seen in the past. And it is about the healing power of the island: but the wounds that are restored are psychological and emotional. The SF/F devices are metaphors and catalysts for the internal journeys that our characters must go through. They serve to illuminate and transform the characters, rather than the characters serving and enabling the plot.

And as people make peace with themselves and their demons, they bond and a community is formed. These moments - many communicated without dialogue - drive the show's over-arching theme and account for some of the strongest scenes in the series: someone offering an outsider food to show she is being accepted, people who were once at each other's throats finding that they can put their lives at risk for each other, the group welcoming back those they thought were missing, those they thought were lost.

Dramatically of course, an unconflicted character is unexciting. That's why Ana-Lucia's death near the end of season two was no surprise. Her arc had concluded, so she was sent packing. (Or, more likely, the reverse happened: after deciding to kill the character, she was given a button.)

That's also why Libby's death in the following episode was a shock. Her backstory had not been revealed, only hinted at, and her internal demons nowhere near dispelled. Hopefully we'll see her whole journey now come out in the flashback sequences of others, this would be a nice variation on the established pattern.

What's also unexciting is if the character's conflicts don't progress. That was the fundamental problem with "A Tale of Two Cities". After a nice opening (for a second I though we were having a Donnie Darko moment) we were introduced to what I imagine will be a key element this year: the society of The Others. And the island scenes worked fine: unspectacular, but solid.

What didn't work were Jack's flashbacks. In short: did we learn anything new about his relationship with his father? Fundamentally, I don't think so. Sure, he got paranoid thinking it was his father who was sleeping with his wife, but that was just a plot device to illuminate the breakdown in their relationship. Except that we've seen this relationship examined so many times, it felt we were just treading over the same old ground.

This is a paradoxical downside of being the star in this show: Matthew Fox gets two or three Jack-centric episodes every season, but that well just isn't deep enough to justify dipping into it that often. (This is a problem with the fundamental conception of the character, not with the acting, which is fine.)

So while I think it might be frustrating that, say, Emilie De Ravin only got one Claire-centric show in season two, ultimately I think her character is served better by a more judicious pacing of her revelations. (Though, ironically, in Claire's case, the flashbacks were more plot/arc-oriented than character revealing.)

This is also why going into the pasts of supporting characters like Desmond or Rose was a good move: by show's end I want to feel like I know the souls of everyone on the island. (Though, as it so happens, both of these characters were promoted to regular status in season three, which I guess was foreshadowed by virtue of their flashback episodes.)

My own view of how the show should progress? Keep rotating cast members through the ensemble. Give us new, exciting characters. Tell their stories; then move on.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 6, 2006 7:13 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Doctor Strange - The Oath #1.

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