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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (2/8/10) 12:47pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  <none>
TV:  LOST [6x01] [um... spoilers]
Books:  <none>

LOST [6x01] [um... spoilers]
The Alamo opened up ticket sales for the Village showing of the season-six premiere nine days before the broadcast.  They sold out after four days.  Then the Alamo opened a second showing at South Lamar.  Then that one sold out.

This shouldn't have surprised me.  Season five ended with a cracking cliffhanger.  We're going into seasons six knowing that it's the last season of the show, which is both bizarre (TV shows don't set end dates, they get cancelled) and incredibly exciting, since this is where it all gets settled.  And the fans have had to wait eight months for this premiere, as opposed to the traditional TV four-month 'summer vacation'.

I nabbed a ticket to the Village the first day (the first hour, I think) it was on sale.  This meant I got to see the premiere in a packed theater surrounded by every other TV-geek who had been pinging the Drafthouse web site.  ("Are tickets available now?  Okay, how about now?  Now?" *click click click*)

All of this is a round-the-houses way of saying, "I might be biased."  I saw this show in the best possible circumstances:  in a packed theater, surrounded by LOST-obsessed improv peeps, holding a LOST bingo card (center square:  "Someone says, 'What?'"), and being served food.

First off:  I love the new storytelling device.

After season five, everyone concluded one of three things:  "It'll work and the crash never happened," "It won't work and they'll land in 2009," and "It'll work but they'll still remember all the events that happened."  Nobody I knew guessed we'd get a split timeline, but it makes a sort of intuitive sense.  Faraday was a smart guy, so sure, the hydrogen bomb could undo everything -- but then you have to sidestep the grandfather paradox somehow.  Up to this point, we've seen the "self-consistency" answer.  Now, we see the "many-worlds" answer.

In retrospect, it almost seems simple.  Now the bomb has a consequence *and* is consistent with the timeline so far.

But my real reasons for liking this device are far less technical.

One of my favorite scenes from the first season is towards the end of the first-season finale, "Exodus".  We cut away from the nail-biter where the raft is getting Molotoved, the Others are coming soon, and Jack's planning to blow open the hatch, and we cut to... Oceanic 815.  And there's no real *scene* in this flashback -- no conflict to resolve, no tension about how it will turn out.  Instead, we just watch all these characters get on the plane.  It's as simple as that.

That flashback damn near made me cry.  It's kind of hard to put my finger on why that is[1], but I think one of the reasons has to do with introversion.  In my experience, being an introvert makes your world very small and self-contained.  Sure, you have that childhood revelation that "OMG, all these other people in the world have thoughts and ideas and personalities and histories of their own," but somehow that realization never really 'takes' in your day-to-day life.  Other people are there, around you, but you're busy focusing on your own thoughts instead.

It may be that one of the important functions of fiction is to make the world around you seem bigger and richer.  You watch stories onscreen, and you feel like there are more stories out there in the world.  You see far-flung locales, and you realize that there's more to the world around you than the office, the apartment, and the local theater.  And you see characters having adventures, and you realize that the world is *full* of characters.

So when you watch these dozen or two central characters all getting on that plane, all strangers to each other, it's a simple, powerful illustration that every single stranger has a whole story of their own.  Hurley is everywhere.

The "flash-sideways" functions the same way.  There's something powerful to seeing a world where everyone is a stranger to each other, but the audience knows the characters so well.  It makes the real world seem fuller somehow.

It's also interesting to note that, even when you tell a story non-chronologically -- or in this case, you flip from one timeline to the other like changing stations -- in some ways, a viewer *always* responds to a story in the order it's presented.  For instance, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind goes all over the place with memories, recordings, and different levels of reality -- but if you look at the basic structure of "what happens on which page of the script", it times out with the same beats of a standard RomCom.  They meet-cute on this page.  They're separated on this page.  The lead risks everything to get the love interest back on this page.  And you, as an audience member, respond to that sort of structure, even when the timeline is jumbled to hell.

Okay, back to LOST.  When you see (say) the scene where Jack offers Locke his business card, yes, you know that this is in 2004 in an alternate timeline.  But the bottom line is, you're still seeing this scene after five years of watching Jack and Locke fight tooth and nail.  You're seeing this after Locke has *died* and Jack has been reduced to a drunken wreck.  And no matter what you know about the timeline(s) intellectually, on some level, you're thinking that after all this conflict and misery, there they are, finally getting along, finally friends.


I mean, imagine if you saw Daniel and Charlotte happily married in alterna-2004 with a couple of twitchy, ginger moppets running around.  Some part of you would sigh and think that yes, in spite of it all, those two crazy kids finally got together.

I know full well that there are risks with this structure.  The alterna-storyline at this point has no consequences.  If alterna-Kate gets shot dead by the cops, does it really matter?  The Kate we're *invested* in is still running around the Temple!  I assume the showrunners are aware of this issue, and will somehow make the events of alterna-2004 have some impact on the main storyline.  I further assume that they'll have the good sense to end the sideways flashes before that device runs out of gas.

The post-Ajira storyline is satisfying as well.  Lots of people complain about the massive list of questions LOST has accumulated.  (I don't know if this has ever occurred to you, but it turns out that they may not be able to answer all of them by the end of the season.</sarcasm>)  But the thing is, questions are fuel.  So now we're at a point where nearly everything that happens in the main storyline resolves some question we'd had earlier on.  "What is the Temple?"  "What's the deal with the black ash?"  "What was in the guitar case?"  And so on.

That said, the story itself did feel at times like it was mainly shuffling pieces into place.  Okay, we have to get the exploded-losties to the temple.  We have to get Esau out into the jungle.  There were great scenes along the way -- Esau talking about Locke's dying thoughts, for example, or Ben trying to fast-talk his way out of admitting he killed Jacob[2] -- but you could kind of see the seams in the overall plot.

One last note:  I'm fascinated by how well this show navigates the new six-act structure that dramas have these days.  Basically, they've got to hit a cliffhanger every six minutes, which is insane.  I think, again, it's a matter of having so much fuel to work with.  Having all these questions means there are a ton of dramatic reveals they can throw at you.  Having three different storylines helps too.  If there's no cliffhanger available right now in the flash-sideways storyline, then hey, maybe there's something exciting going down at the Foot.

So I think that's a promising pilot.  I suppose the show could fall apart in the very next episode, but that's pretty much always the case with LOST, and also part of the fun.

But remember:  I saw it at the Drafthouse.  I could be biased.

For next time:  more Chuck, starting in on Glee, maybe more Dexter, maybe starting in on City of Men.  More of Old Man's War, too.

[1] ... although one of the reasons has to be "Peter is so unmanly as to show visible emotion while watching TV."

[2] Hurley got some beautiful lines as well.  "I died an hour ago."/"Sorry, dude, that sucks."  "Goodbye, dude.  If you ever wanna talk, I'm around."  I love how they no longer make a meal of how Hurley talks to the dead -- instead, it's just an accepted part of his life.

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Date:Monday (2/8/10) 1:00pm
"...twitchy, ginger moppets..." Nice.
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