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19 Jan

Season two of Lost – My wife and I recently finished watching the second season of Lost on DVD. Last year’s season finale was somewhat disappointing—we had been wondering about the hatch for quite a few episodes, and the season ends with the hatch getting blown open and Locke and Jack looking down into a hole in the ground? It was an unbearable tease, and didn’t bode well for the rest of the show. (I realize that just about everyone who is going to see season two has already seen it, but I feel compelled to warn you that this entry is going to contain major spoilers. So if you haven’t seen season two of Lost yet and are planning on doing so at some point, stop reading now. You may also stop reading if you have zero interest in Lost, since what follows won’t make much sense to you.)

“Since I’m not a Lost writer, I’ll give you my conclusion up front: season two had its frustrations, but overall I enjoyed it. ”

Having committed to watching the second season entirely on DVD, I deliberately kept myself ignorant of all things Lost, which meant avoiding fan sites and the temptation to search Google for various tidbits (I did succumb to the temptation once and in that ten-second lapse learned about Shannon’s death, which really pissed me off—learning about it in advance, not her death, although that kind of sucked too—so that was the end of my curiosity). Still, the occasional critical comment slipped through on sites that weren’t necessarily devoted to Lost but happened to mention it. I was worried when I saw that most of these critical comments weren’t good. Even though the A.V. Club’s discussion-style piece on “The Best TV Of 2006” came out after we had already watched most of the season, it is still pretty typical for critical commentary that I read before watching the season. One discussant accused it of being one those shows that, “in an effort to pace themselves for runs well into the indefinite future, spin their wheels rather than tie up story threads.” The other discussant mentioned Lost but then said it was not “good enough to bring into a discussion of the best TV of this year.”

Since I’m not a Lost writer, I’ll give you my conclusion up front: season two had its frustrations, but overall I enjoyed it. Let’s start with the beginning. The first episode blew me away. After being jerked around with the hatch in season one, I expected to have to go through the ringer before finding out what was inside in season two. When the show started with the person we later learn is Desmond waking up and going through his routine, Hyunjin and I figured it was a flashback. Hyunjin is obviously not too familiar with modern American architectural styles, so I told her that everything looked (and sounded—Mama Cass was a big hint) very seventies. We were trying to figure out who was old enough to have been a young man in the seventies—Locke? If it were the late 70s, yeah. So that was our hypothesis, but it didn’t seem right.

Then we heard the explosion, saw the dust fall from the ceiling, and watched as the camera traveled up the hole and turned to face Jack and Locke. The moment of realization was great—like I said, it blew me away. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the season. But I will admit that I got a little frustrated when the show seemed to slow down after leaping out of the gate. Granted, starting in medias res like that is going to require a little back-tracking, and it was good to see what happened to the survivors of the raft (at least Michael and Sawyer) but when the second episode ended at exactly the same point as the first episode (with Desmond revealing himself and Jack saying, “You!”) I was beside myself with frustration. I guess that’s really the only complaint I had with the opening episodes, but I suppose it was done on purpose.

After that the season started to pick up and things moved forward. When the “tailies” (i.e., the people from the tail section of the plane who had survived the crash) were introduced I was relieved to see that the 48 days they had spent on the other side of the island were wrapped up in one episode (appropriately named “The Other 48 Days”). As I mentioned above, I already knew that Shannon was going to die, and when she started seeing Walt in the jungle I knew that the chain of events leading to her death had been set in motion. I did not expect her to be shot by one of the “good guys,” though. It definitely made for some tension between the two groups, and I was worried for Sayid (one of my favorite characters).

The two other deaths came as quite a shock. Even though it was obvious that Michael was not to be trusted, I didn’t expect him to gun down Ana Lucia in cold blood and then kill Libby as well (and, as Hurley pointed out, he would have killed Libby even if he did have time to think about it, so you could say both killings were in cold blood). His son is being held captive but is alive and apparently well—how does he feel justified in killing two innocent people to get Walt back? He lost whatever sympathy I might have had for him in that moment, and only made things worse when he didn’t tell his friends the truth and instead led them into the jungle to be captured. I don’t know if he comes back in season three, but there is nothing he could ever do to redeem himself. The way I see it, he is the most evil character in Lost right now. The Others? They never killed anybody—they may have abducted a bunch of people, but they never outright killed anybody. I don’t know, I was just really angry with what Michael did—he is lost to me as a sympathetic character.

Also, I noticed that the three deaths this season were all women, and they were all romantic interests of main male characters. True, it might be a bit of a stretch to call Ana Lucia a romantic interest for Sawyer, but they did sleep together. Who knows what might have transpired had she lived. Libby’s death probably upset me the most. I did grow to sympathize with Shannon more as I saw more of her flashbacks, but Libby seemed to be more of a sympathetic character. Mainly, though, she was left unexplored, only appearing as a “connection” in other character’s flashbacks, and I thought that was a shame. And I also felt sorry for Hurley.

I guess there’s a lot more I could say about the season, but next I want to focus on something most American viewers probably don’t pay much attention to—the Korea flashbacks. I realize that everything is shot in Hawaii, so there is a limit to what can be done to make the locations look like Korea, but I find myself totally unconvinced. It’s not just the locations, although that certainly is a big part of it. It’s all well and good to fill interior windows with CGI views of Seoul, and in the commentaries they seemed to be pretty proud of this, but the exteriors look nothing like the city of Seoul. I don’t understand how they could use the CGI shots of Seoul and then come up with exteriors that look nothing like the big city Seoul is. And that river that appears a number of times? Doesn’t exist in Seoul. I think they might be going for Cheonggye Stream, but Cheonggye Stream is far more interesting than that (and also happens to run down an avenue lined on both sides by tall buildings).

Still, I really can’t blame them for the locations. Like I said, there is only so much you can do to make Hawaii look like Seoul, and they did put a lot of effort into Korean signage and such. What really shatters my suspension of disbelief is the depiction of Korean society. It is pushed to the extreme, and is more of a depiction of what some American writers think Korean society is like rather than what Korean society is really like. I felt this in season one, and it was still there in season two. A lot of it is the little things that are hard to explain, like the way characters act and interact with each other, but a couple of instances stick out.

One example is when Jin takes the job at the (non-existent, of course) Seoul Gateway Hotel, he is subjected to severe regional discrimination (that is, he is looked down on and mistreated because he is from the countryside and not Seoul). While it is true that regionalism is a problem in Korea, it is not nearly as severe as what is depicted on the show. And it’s not just a matter of level of severity—some of the interpretations are way off base. Like when the shabbily dressed country fellow shows up with his son and begs to be let into the hotel to use the restroom. Jin lets them in and is reprimanded by his boss (and subsequently quits the job). Hyunjin and I watched this with puzzled expressions. I have never seen anyone turned away from a hotel door in Seoul—hotel staff are exceptionally friendly and accommodating here. The idea that a country fellow like Jin would never be allowed to set foot in such a hotel is absurd. This is important, because this discrimination is the underlying theme in the flashback—and an underlying theme in Jin and Sun’s relationship. They could have easily made it realistic and still had plenty of discrimination left over (although they would have been better off playing the rich/poor angle rather than the city/country angle).

Another example is when Jin and Sun go to the doctor to find out why they can’t have children (Hyunjin pointed out that no doctor’s office in Korea looks like that). The doctor lies and says that the problem is with Sun (when it’s really with Jin), and Jin and Sun get into an argument right in front of the doctor! We were flabbergasted. There is no way a Korean couple would start slinging insults at each other in front of someone else like that. And then, to top things off, Jin stands up and angrily sweeps papers off the doctor’s desk! It was so out of synch with Korean cultural mores that it was ludicrous. One of the writers is a Korean-American, and I have to wonder if she is really that clueless about Korean society and culture or if she was overruled by the other writers who wanted to present a more “dramatic” picture. On the commentary for this episode, the writers (one of whom was this Korean-American) talked about how great it was to be able to put Seoul in the window of the doctor’s office, but they didn’t say anything about how the characters acted or about Korean culture—it was all about the external things.

It would also help if they cast actors capable of speaking Korean well, especially since these actors are only speaking Korean. They seem to be doing a better job of that in season two, but there are a number of characters (Sun’s mother comes to mind) who really can’t speak Korean all that well. It’s just really jarring to listen to Koreans speaking like... well, like foreigners, I guess. That being said, I give Daniel Dae Kim a lot of credit. His Korean was excruciatingly poor at the beginning of season one, but it has gotten a lot better. He holds his own quite well now in conversations with Sun. I was really glad to see that, because that was one of the things about season one that really threw me. I couldn’t listen to his dialogue without flinching.

Hyunjin says I’m being too critical, since the show is made for American viewers, not Korean viewers (or American viewers who happen to live in Korea). She also says that they probably got things wrong for the other locations (like Australia, England, Nigeria, etc.), and I’m none the wiser. She’s right, but that’s just the way I am—hyper-critical to the end. To be honest, though, these complaints are really only a small part of my reaction to the show. Mostly my reaction was positive. I do have a lot of questions, though, and I’m hoping these will be answered in season three. There are two types of questions, of course. The first kind of question is the question of curiosity, like questions about the mysteries of the island. What the heck is that black smoke? And what’s up with the polar bear and black horse? And Shannon’s visions of Walt—up to a certain point they could have been hallucinations, but then Sayid and Shannon both saw him shortly before Shannon was killed. How did that happen? Who are the Others? Questions like that.

The other kind of question stems from curiosity as well, but deals with things that don’t quite make sense to me—places where the story doesn’t quite jive. Like my questions about the Swan and the button. The big inconsistency for me here is Desmond’s attitude toward the button. He pressed that thing religiously for years, and he didn’t take off until he finally found someone to take his place. We learn in a flashback that the timer ran out one day and all hell broke loose—in fact, this might have been what crashed the plane. So why would he let Locke convince him not to press the button? That just doesn’t make sense to me at all—he had a basic knowledge of what was going on and knew that failing to press the button was a very bad thing. Yet it was only when Locke told him about the Pearl that he realized things might be the other way around—that the “observers” were the subjects of the experiment and their “subjects” were actually performing a real and important task (I had thought that they were both subjects of an experiment, actually, so I was fooled on one point).

I don’t think any amount of explanation can smooth over this wrinkle. The fact of the matter is that the writers needed to set into motion a series of events that would prevent Eko from getting to the button and drive him to try to blow open the blast door—and Desmond was the only person who knew how to fake a lockdown. But then you have a problem because Desmond needs to know what is going on, and he needs to have access to the key and the lock that deactivates the containment field (at least that’s what I’m assuming it was). So either you figure out another way to accomplish all these things without introducing plot inconsistencies, or you bite the bullet and hope no one will notice in the heat of the moment. Was there another way? Locke could have ambushed Eko and restrained him, but this wouldn’t have brought about the apparent destruction of the hatch. But the hatch was already pretty much screwed, so did we really need the fireball on top of it? Or maybe Eko died in the blast—I hope not. Despite the fact that he kind of weirds me out, I like his character.

There are other questions about the button, of course. Like why did Henry lie about not pressing the button? Obviously he pressed it or they wouldn’t still be alive. But he also must have waited until the last minute and seen the clock begin to flip over to the hieroglyphics (if I remember correctly, he mentioned seeing the hieroglyphics). What reason would he have to lie to Locke about it, other than the fact that every word out of his mouth was a lie (including when he said, “I’m done lying”)? If he knew what the button did, why would he want Locke to stop pushing it? And if he didn’t know what the button did, the same question could be asked.

More important, though, is this question: why on earth would you leave such an important task open to the possibility of human error? It would have been easy to just automate the process—why contrive this elaborate scheme that requires someone to enter a code and press a button every 108 minutes? I’m not necessarily saying that this is a plot hole, it just baffles me at the moment. I’m fairly certain that the writers have a good reason. At least I hope they do. If they don’t, then yes, it will constitute a major plot hole. I can’t imagine that they would be that careless.

Like season one, season two ended with a lot of questions (are Locke, Eko, and Desmond still alive? Who are the Others? What is going to happen to Jack, Kate, and Sawyer?), but I found the finale to be much more satisfying than the season one finale. The season one finale wasn’t much of an ending at all, but at least the season two finale wrapped up most of the hatch story (while at the same time beginning a new chapter). Although a lot has been left unanswered, I think we got the payoff (or at least part of the payoff) that we were robbed of at the end of the first season.

I realize that the first few episodes of season three are available for viewing on the internet, but I wouldn’t watch them even if I could (they are not available for viewing outside the U.S.). I’d rather do season three like I did season two, in a week or so of frenzied consumption. Yeah, it means waiting another year for the next season, but I can do that. I just put it on a back shelf in my brain and let it hibernate. Besides, by the time we get around to seeing season three, it will have been two years since we watched season one, so maybe we can occupy ourselves in December with recaps of season one and season two. If we watch an episode a night we can stretch it out to over a month and a half, maybe two.

What does the future hold for Lost? Good things, I hope. Sure, there are problems with the show, but I’m really enjoying it, and for me the criticisms I’ve heard have been off the mark. I don’t think the show is spinning its wheels, and I don’t believe the makers intend to keep it going indefinitely. The ongoing stories in serialized television are both boon and bane. The story makes serialized programs far more riveting than non-serialized programs, but if the producers try to keep the story going too long than it falls victim to the complaint about non-serialized programs: that we’re seeing the same thing over and over again. In fact, I would say that a serialized show that has gone on too long is worse than a non-serialized show that has fallen into a rut. At least the non-serialized show has its proven formula, however hackneyed. But the serialized show needs to keep its story moving to stay alive. I’ve seen it happen time and time again with Korean dramas—a drama becomes popular, encouraging the producers to try to milk it for everything it’s worth, and they end up killing it by spreading it too thin. I am praying that the same thing does not happen with Lost. In a documentary included with the season one DVDs, one of the show’s makers said that they had material for about five seasons. I really, really hope that they stick with that and don’t try to stretch it out. Yeah, it’s a great show and it will be sad in a way when it ends, but I’d rather have it end then peter out into pointlessness and get cancelled or something. What works as a fast-paced story is not going to have the same effect stretched thin.

So there you have it: my thoughts on season two of Lost. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way I can let the show sink into my subconscious, where it will lurk until I get the season three DVDs.

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