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26 Jan 2008

Season three of Lost – Last weekend, Hyunjin and I finished watching the third season of Lost on DVD. As has been my custom, I’m going to share my thoughts about it here (if you’d like you can read my reviews of the second season). I’m a big fan of Lost, and as such there is a lot I could say. In fact, I probably have too much to say. I could write a hefty entry on the season finale alone. This being the case, I am going to avoid one of my favorite topics when discussing Lost: the way they depict Korea on the show. That deserves an entry in and of itself, and if I find the time and motivation I would like to take some screen shots from the first three seasons to illustrate some of my points. Today, though, I will set that issue aside. The only thing I will say is this: Daniel Dae Kim’s Korean has improved dramatically with each season. Hyunjin and I were quite impressed (which is more than we can say for some of the flashback characters).

“Frustrations aside, I am looking forward to the next season.”

Ah, where to begin? Well, I suppose a brief summary of the season would help focus my thoughts. Unfortunately, trying to summarize a season of Lost is like trying to perform brain surgery on an unanesthetized cat. Believe me, I tried. I got through three full paragraphs before I realized how hopeless it was. So, no summary. Instead, I’m just going to touch on one major point and then go from there. What follows is a bit of a jumble, but so is Lost at this point.

I want to start with the mystery of the island. In season one, we had the trauma of the crash and its aftermath plus the horror of the Monster to ratchet up the tension. Then you throw in the hatch and the Others, who are at that point still just an amorphous presence, and you have lots of mystery and suspense. Both the Others and the Monster were given closer treatment in season two, but this treatment only served to heighten the mystery. In season three, we get as close as look at the Others as we could ever have hoped for. In fact, the first episode starts with a psych out similar to season two—we are shown a group of people seemingly living normal lives, but then we discover that these are the Others and they’re on the island. I liked the way they did that, and I’m sensing a positive trend for season openers. In season one, everything led up to the hatch, and in season two they dove into the hatch from the very start. In season two, the confrontation with the Others seemed to have reached an unwelcome conclusion, and in season three they dove right into the question of who the Others were. The answers didn’t all come right away, of course, and some of them still haven’t come, but we saw them as real people rather than a mysterious, ominous force.

So let’s look at the scorecard and see how we stand with some of the initial mysteries of the island. The hatch? Well, we learned pretty much everything there was to learn about the hatch in season two, and with the destruction of the hatch at the end of the season, it’s unlikely we’ll learn much more (although we may learn more about how the hatch, or the Swan Station, fit into the bigger picture). The Others? They are definitely less mysterious than they were, but we still don’t have all the answers. It seemed at first that they were there to perform fertility tests and experiments, but it soon becomes apparent that the fertility experiments were brought about by the particular circumstances of the island, and Richard makes it clear that he thinks the fertility issue is preventing them from doing what is really important. Yet we never find out what that really important stuff is. Pretty much all of the militant Others have been killed, and Ben is once again held captive by our castaways, so the Others don’t really pose much of a threat anymore. They still hold some mystery, though.

How about the Monster? Considering how big a part the Monster played in the first two seasons, we see very little of it in the third season. It’s big appearance is when it kills Eko, and it would seem that Eko’s vision of Yemi was a manifestation of the Monster. I’m not really sure about that—it was kind of weird. Suffice it to say that we don’t know much more about the Monster than we did before. Well, we do know that it is repelled by the Others’ sonic barrier, but none of the mystery of the Monster has been solved. During the episode where Ben takes Locke to see Jacob, though, there was what appeared to be a long, black hose or tube resting atop a trough that was filled with a gray powder. My first thought upon seeing the powder was that it might be gunpowder or black powder, and that this might explain the black smoke—that is, the Monster isn’t made of smoke, the smoke is just camouflage for the Monster. I have no idea if this is right, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the Monster (even if it was just a deception created by Ben to trick Locke into thinking what I just said).

Then, of course, there is the issue of the DHARMA Initiative itself. In season three we encounter three new DI stations: the Hydra (where Jack, Sawyer, and Kate are held hostage at the beginning of the season), the Flame (where first the DI and now the Others communicate with the outside world), and the Looking Glass (an underwater station that is also apparently a communication station). We also get a lot of new information about them, including the revelation that Ben was once a member of the DI but sided with the Others (“the Hostiles”) in a purge that wiped out most of the Initiative. It would seem that we know mostly everything there is to know about them: they were a bunch of hippies who thought they could create a better life on a remote island in the South Pacific. Of course, it’s much more complicated than that, and there is still a lot we don’t know. And here’s something that you might not know if you only saw the television broadcasts: one of the DVD special features is a series of outtakes from an orientation film for a station called the Orchid. In it, we learn that the Orchid is billed as a botanical station but is in fact not, and we see an experiment apparently gone wrong. The guy who appears in all the orientation films (but seems to introduce himself as a different person each time) is holding a rabbit stamped with the number 15. Then another rabbit appears with the number 15 stamped on it, and everyone panics. Was the rabbit duplicated? Phase shifted? We don’t know, but apparently there is a lot more to the DI than we were led to believe throughout the third season.

The only real new mystery is what happens to Desmond after the hatch implodes—he gains the ability to see into the future. This becomes a mystery because most of his flashes of the future seem to have to do with Charlie dying. This is a constant source of tension throughout the season, as he continually intervenes to save Charlie’s life. With the introduction of this mystery, though, Lost enters uncharted territory. No matter how weird things may have gotten over the first two seasons, you always had the idea that there could be a rational explanation for what was happening. But there is no rational explanation for what happened to Desmond. Simply put, whatever happened in the hatch gave him a supernatural power.

Desmond’s new-found ability introduces another problem, and it is a problem that I’ve discussed before here at Liminality: the problem of free will. What does it mean for Desmond to see the future? Doesn’t it mean that the future is already set? Well, not quite. Apparently, what Desmond sees is only one possible future, but if he intervenes he can change this future. The extent to which he can change the future, though, is limited. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that he can only postpone the future, not really change it. A phrase that is spoken twice, once by some sort of time guardian (it gets a bit weird) and once by Desmond himself, is “the universe has a way of course correcting.” That is, Desmond can stop a particular event from happening, but the ultimate end of that event will eventually be reached unless Desmond continuously intervenes. There is also a bit of butterfly effect thrown in for good measure: if Desmond changes one thing, the future that he saw ceases to exist. This sets up a dilemma: saving Charlie’s life is very important, but what if he sees something happen in the future that is more important than Charlie’s life? This is exactly what happens, of course, and Desmond has to make a hard choice.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I really want to comment on is the string of mysteries we are faced with on the island. I enjoy these mysteries, and I enjoy the tension they create, but the problem with dramatic tension is that it only works if we eventually experience some sort of release or resolution of that tension. You can only string people along so far before the tension becomes too much or before it becomes apparent that no possible pay-off could be worth it. The writers try to work around this by giving partial resolution and introducing new mysteries and new tension, but after a while it all seems to run together. Several times during the third season, the characters openly comment on the frustration of not having any idea of what is going on around them. Every time I heard such a comment, I got the impression that the writers were saying, “Hey, we know. Just stick with us and everything will work out.” I guess I’m still willing to stick with them, because the show is indeed keeping me intrigued, but there needs to be a balance. Too much tension, fear, sadness, and other negative emotions need to be balanced by some sort of emotional reward.

Now I can get back to the issue of Desmond’s hard choice in the season finale. And just so you’re prepared, what follows is going to be something of a rant. Why? Because they killed my favorite character, Charlie. I don’t know why he was my favorite character, but I really liked him. Maybe he reminds me of my musician brother Brian. I always sympathized with him, even when it appeared that he was being “evil.” So when Desmond’s premonitions began to occur and they introduced the idea of Charlie’s eventual death, I hoped and prayed that they would not go down that road. But they did, and Charlie is dead. This is depressing on a number of levels. Like I said above, he was my favorite character. But it’s also depressing because it reinforces the inevitability of Desmond’s premonitions. It takes away free will. Yeah, Desmond may be able to act as he wishes, but in the end it doesn’t mean anything because the universe is going to “course correct.” It strikes me as very fatalistic—the opposite of hope. And if Lost viewers need one thing more than anything right now, it’s hope.

It’s futile to argue that Charlie’s death was right or wrong, though. The writers decided to kill him, and that’s the way it was going to be. I can be upset or angry about it, but I really can’t fault them. I can (and will), however, be extremely pissed about the way they did it. Here’s what happened in brief: Desmond saw a premonition of Claire and Aaron (her baby) getting on a helicopter and flying off the island, but he also saw Charlie flipping a switch in an underwater room to turn off a jamming signal and then drowning. Remember, if one thing in Desmond’s premonition doesn’t happen, none of it happens. At least, that’s supposed to be the way it works. But we saw in Charlie’s previous brush with death that events continued to move forward even though Desmond saved him. Whatever, we’ll leave that issue alone for now. Let’s assume that it is true that everything has to happen exactly as Desmond foresees it or it won’t happen at all.

OK, so Desmond and Charlie are in the Looking Glass, and Charlie types in a code to turn off the jamming signal. The downed helicopter pilot is able to communicate with her ship, or at least she would have been if Locke hadn’t thrown a knife into her back and killed her. Anyway, Jack picks up the radio and talks to the ship, and it would seem that the castaways are going to be rescued. So Charlie has succeeded, right? No need for him to die. Well, unfortunately, one of the Others has escaped and swum outside the station to the porthole right next to Charlie. He detonates a grenade, smashing the porthole and causing water to rush in. Charlie quickly shuts and locks the door to the small room and drowns. My question is this: why did he shut the door when he was still inside? Why didn’t he leave the room first and then shut the door? There was a wheel on the other side for opening and closing the door, so it would have been possible to secure it from that side. Even if he couldn’t get the door shut from the other side, he and Desmond would have had plenty of time to secure diving equipment and leisurely swim to the surface. So why did he lock himself inside?

The only answer I have for that is maybe he thought his death was necessary because everything had to happen exactly as Desmond foresaw it. But there’s one problem. Charlie never flips a switch. He types in a code instead. This clearly varies from Desmond’s vision. Whichever way you look at it, Charlie’s death was pointless. If elements of Desmond’s vision can in fact be changed without changing the outcome, Charlie didn’t need to die. On the other hand, if the slightest change in the vision changes the outcome, then the absence of the switch would have been enough to scrap that whole future, and again Charlie dies in vain. And to throw another wrench in the works, what about the “course correcting” idea the writers introduced? In doing so, they kind of shot themselves in the foot. Yes, it makes Charlie’s death inevitable, but it also introduces doubt: is it only death that is inevitable? What if it was inevitable that the castaways would get off the island? How do we know that the universe wouldn’t have “course corrected” even if Charlie had survived. I am not convinced that Charlie’s death and rescue were inextricable, mainly because the writers did a piss poor job of convincing me. The bottom line is this: if they had killed Charlie off in a way that made sense, I would have been upset at his death, but I would have accepted it. The way they did it, however, was just stupid and frustrating.

Speaking of stupid and frustrating, I wasn’t too happy with the rest of the season finale, either. The big shocker, of course, was the flash-forward. We see Jack in off-island scenes and assume it’s another flashback, but then at the very end he meets Kate, and suddenly we realize that all of this is happening after the island. But there’s a reason that we have a compound word for “flashback” but have to hyphenate “flash-forward,” and that reason is this: flash-forwards make no sense! Barring Desmond’s visions (which he describes as mere bits and pieces), you can’t flash forward to events that haven’t happened yet. What a “flash-forward” really does is make everything that happens on the island into one mega-flashback, and that just throws everything out of whack. The content of the flash-forward is pretty depressing, too. Jack nearly commits suicide, he has a drinking problem, and he is convinced that they made a mistake in leaving the island. Anyone who thought that Lost was going to have a perfectly happy ending was living in denial (how can you have a happy ending when half of the people die?), but still, how about a little sliver of hope?

I could go into the whole free will/determinism argument again, but I won’t. Frankly, I’m a bit tired of it. I will say this, though: if all of this happened after the island, why does Jack say, “Get my father down here, and if I’m more drunk than he is, you can fire me”? Jack’s father died in Sydney before he ever got to the island. It was pretty evident in the scene that Jack had been drinking, but he was still articulate and lucid. Definitely lucid enough to remember that his father is dead. Or is he? Hmm. This hadn’t occurred to me before, but the thought just entered my mind that maybe Jack’s father isn’t dead. On the other hand, when Jack was trying to fill a prescription that was supposedly written by his father, he says that his father is “out of town” and can’t be reached. So I have absolutely no idea what is going on. But I guess that’s normal, right?

Frustrations aside, I am looking forward to the next season. I haven’t been keeping up with the latest Writer’s Guild strike news, though, so I don’t know if there is even going to be a fourth season. I hope there is, because I am pretty emotionally invested in this show now (although admittedly less so now that Charlie is gone and a lot of the other characters have become much less sympathetic). And I still have hope that the writers will be able to pull something out of their hats (and not their bums). If nothing else, they’ve shown that they do have a long-term plan for the show. I just hope it’s worth the wait.

I’m pretty sure this is the same way I ended my review of the second season, and I’m guessing it will be the same way I’ll end my review of the fourth season. Will I be able to hold on until the sixth season (which is supposed to be the final season)? Only time will tell, but I think it’s safe to say that I’m in this for the long haul.

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